RURAL councillors will have to “toughen up” to ensure that smaller communities have a chance to develop in the face of a new national directive which threatens to de-zone lands without wastewater treatment facilities.
At a discussion this week of a review of Clare’s Rural Development Strategy, members noted the challenges facing communities in accessing such infrastructure. Clare is still the only county to have a rural strategy and Director of Service Leonard Cleary told members of the Rural Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) that it is now being reviewed to take account of changes including those caused by the pandemic. Councillor Pat Burke said that committee members would have to work hard to have their concerns addressed in the new County Development Plan. The forthcoming blueprint will have to take account of the National Planning Framework, which stipulates that lands where there is no prospect of wastewater infrastructure being built in the lifetime of the plan must lose their zoning status.
At outset, Councillor Pat Hayes noted that, “Certain things will have to be reviewed in terms of efforts to get people working from Clare, which is the aim of our remote-working strategy.”
Councillor Cillian Murphy supported this view. “Housing, planning, broadband – all that sort of stuff needs to be looked at,” he said.” If we’re going out to the world, telling the world that they’re more than welcome to come and live here in Clare and we can’t provide them with places to live and houses that they can actually buy, it’s a pointless exercise.”
Mr Cleary noted a particular challenge around wastewater treatment infrastructure. “In order to have housing there has to be adequate wastewater capacity in towns and village, he said. “The Irish Water investment programme looks more towards large population centres with a view to economies of scale. There does need to be a concerted effort as part of Clare’s Rural Development Strategy seeking to pilot some wastewater treatment schemes that are currently not getting the funding or approval to proceed.”
He paid tribute to Minister Heather Humphries and her department for increasing several rural support schemes, but said “gaps” remained.
Councillor Hayes asked that the SPC would have a key role. “That’s our remit and there’s a very big challenge ahead of us. Housing and infrastructure are really important.”
Councillor Burke noted that rural councillors will have to engage to ensure the Rural Strategy feeds into the process of drawing up the new County Development Plan. “We can’t be preaching every day about rural development and, at the same time, dealing with a County Development Plan that may de-zone land in villages that don’t have treatment plants. This particular plan is going to be one of the most crucial in all of my time on the council. We’re told all of the time that this is our plan, but I think we’ll have to toughen up a bit going forward into the county plan to make sure the rural strategy is taken into account in it.”
Councillor Murphy added, “There is no ‘may’ about it, according to the office of the directive coming from the Planning Regulator. We’re being told that we will have to de-zone land. It’s down to us to decide how hard a stance we want to take on it.”
Mr Cleary noted that the review will be “a participative process for the public for the SPC and the elected members and the statutory partners in the local community organisations”. “There will be an opportunity for input and submissions,” he said. “We’re preparing a brief and setting out some time lines.”