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Third time lucky for wellness centre?

DEVELOPERS eager to build a time-share “wellness centre” on the edge of the Burren are hoping it will be third time lucky when Clare County Council decides whether or not to give the project the go-ahead next month.

The local authority received an application for the construction of the 10-unit project on agricultural land in North Clare earlier this month. This is the third time permission has been sought for a tourism development at the site in Ranaghan, Ruan.

Fintan O’Brien and Kieran Casey of Corofin and Brian O’Shaughnessy of Tubber applied for planning permission to build a reception office with a manager’s apartment, a “wellness treatment centre”, “10 wellness tourist accommodation units”, a storage and plant shed, a gazebo and a wastewater treatment system, along with all associated landscaping, a 23-bay car park and associated site works.

Developers intend the centre to operate 24 hours per day, every day of the year. Documents submitted to the council state, “there will be in the region of 12 employed to maintain the development at various times. This includes the management and staff to operate the development, along with outside supporting contractors as necessary.”

The proposed development, according to the application, is intended to “service the international tourist market, whereby a majority of customers will be picked up and dropped back to Shannon Airport and will be brought to local tourist sites as a day trip. It is anticipated that approximately 25% of the customers will self drive. It is also anticipated that there will be in the region 45 to 55 traffic movements to the site each day.”
An application by the same men for a wellness centre on the site was granted by Clare County Council in 2011 but was subsequently overturned by An Bord Pleanála, following an appeal. Both applications pertain to the .89ha site acquired by the men in 2005.

Michael Corey, of Michael Corey Associates, Ruan, agent for the applicants, described this development as a “small-scale unique tourism enterprise” and said it was “a much-reduced proposal” from the one refused by An Bord Pleanála. He noted that the local applicants are in partnership with Clare Resorts, a company that was involved in the development of Dangan Lodge, Fisherman’s Lodge on Lough Derg and 21 holiday homes at East Clare Golf Club in Bodyke.

Mr Corey said the men are trying to create employment in an area that “has no other tourist-related employment or tourist accommodation in existence”, adding that “there are no tourist facilities servicing the eastern part of the Burren and it is considered that this small-scale tourist enterprise will bring an economic boost, while not impacting on the unique landscape”.

The application notes that the site is in a “working landscape” and is “located outside the designated Burren complex, although being in its immediate proximity”.

The “wellness centre”, if it goes ahead, will target the premium end of the time-share industry. According to Clare Resorts, “Health and wellness is now becoming the new ‘buzz word’ within the global tourism industry and unless accommodation providers change and develop new products to embrace this new and growing market that is now being demanded by the visitor, the present tourism industry will flounder.”

The documents submitted by the company, which was founded by Emelyn Heaps and Gina Sivyer, were highly critical of the Bacon report commissioned by the Irish Hotel Federation and published in late 2009.

“This report failed completely in its remit of looking for alternative markets or solutions for the Irish hotel sector and issuing a statement suggesting that 25% of the hotels should be closed is bordering on criminality, as it is akin to them being asked to produce a report on crime in Ireland and suggesting that 25% of garda stations be closed.”

Clare Resorts claimed, “at no time was the possibility of these hotels entering the time-share industry examined or recommended. Clare Resorts has proved how the time-share industry can benefit tourism in this country and inject tourism euros into the area that had no previous tourism industry.”

The comment from Clare Resorts adds that if it is built, the centre will “inject approximately three million of tourism euros into the immediate area”.

The location at Ranaghan, according to Clare Resorts, is “critical to its success”.

Clare Resorts states that 85% of the members of the time-share company it deals with “come from city and towns, with motorways and congestion a way of life. While they have to endure similar surroundings when they take a sun holiday, they do not want that situation when they visit Ireland. This is the first major component that the guests look for when they decide to visit here and this type of operation cannot, under any circumstances, operate within the location of a town.”

It added that moving the development into an urban area, in line with the current County Development Plan, would “have a major negative effect on developing eco-tourism in this country”.

Clare Resorts claimed its Dangan Lodge facility, between Quin and Tulla, is “at all times 100% occupied, simply because the guests crave this type of peaceful location”.

The company claims that because of its “annual €7m a year injection into the immediate area, it can be stated that this development will inject over €3m a year in tourism money”.

“Through its marketing programme of primarily promoting the Burren, it will also generate further interest in this area and this will lead to assisting the local accommodation providers in the locality,” the documentation from Clare Resorts states. It also claims that in 2008 and 2009, Clare Resorts was “responsible for generating over €50,000 in ticket sales for the Bunratty Folk Park alone”.

The company praised Clare County Council for granting planning permissions for Clare Resorts in the past, adding it “should take the credit for [its] foresight in allowing these resorts to be constructed, as they can now state they have helped in contributing to the large tourist product that has been created in East Clare”.

In 2005, OOC Construction applied for permission to develop a holiday home development incorporating 14 units at the Ranaghan site but this was refused by the local authority.

OOC Building and Renovation Contractors is a company registered to a Fintan O’Brien of Aglish, Kilnaboy. The local authority will decide whether or not to grant permission for the development next month.


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