AN Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had high praise for the Ennis 2040 plan, saying he wanted to stress the Government is behind it.
“It’s a really ambitious plan for Ennis, which is the largest town in Munster, Co Clare’s capital town and the public and private sector have come together to develop a really exciting plan to increase the population of the town by 1.6% a year, to secure 5,000 jobs for the town and to develop the whole concept of Ennis being a ten minute town, where everything you need or want is within a ten minute walk or cycle of where you live.
“It’s really ambitious and I’m here not just to launch it but to offer Government support and endorsement. I think it’s exactly the kind of thing we want to see other county towns developing around the country. I’m really excited to see it being launched today and look forward to it being implemented.”
At the moment Ennis is struggling to house the population it has, and seeing its population increase by one third will inevitably mean challenges, but Mr Varadkar said moves the Government has made of late will help.
“One of the things we have seen in Clare over the last couple of years is an increase in the number of homes being built. Over 400 homes were built in the county last year, but it’s not enough.
“We have a rising population and more people coming into the country so we need to get that increased. In terms of what government can do, we’re setting up the Land Development Agency, which will get involved in building. It’s essentially a State developer, which I think can help to change things.
“Also, crucially a tax on zoned land that’s not being developed. One of the things a county official said to me here today is that a lot of the land that’s around Ennis that could be developed is actually under the ownership of people and institutions that don’t want to develop it and I think that land tax on zoned land can make a big difference.”
While he said most development in Clare should be in and around Ennis, there is also scope for more rural housing.
“If you look at our spatial strategy, we talk about 200,000 more people living in rural Ireland by 2040. The population decline has reversed a long time ago and we see more people living and working in rural Ireland in the last couple of years than was the case before.
“Remote working enables that, the National Broadband Plan enables that, and we need to make sure as well that housing development is possible in smaller towns and villages and not just big towns like Ennis.”
The Ennis 2040 plan stresses the importance of being ready for climate change, but one of the major components is the development of a data centre. Asked if there was a certain contradiction, Mr Varadkar said there is not.
“I suppose it depends on how the data centre is powered. Every time we bank online, every time we buy a ticket on the internet, every time we use our phones or send a tweet or post on Facebook we’re using data, so we need data centres.
“The question is where in the world they’re going to be, it’s the same atmosphere wherever you put them. We think the best place to put them is in places where they can be powered by renewable energy.
“The vision for Ireland and Clare and the Mid West is to make this a renewable energy hub, to harness the wind power that we have off the west coast, to turn that into hydrogen as well, that we can use when the wind isn’t blowing.
“The way we see data centres into the future is they’d be connected to green energy and helping to fund green energy as well. Some of the operators are willing to do that, by signing a purchase power agreement, specifically to power data centres by renewables.”