ANGER has been expressed by West Clare councillors over national planning policies which they fear will stifle population growth. Tabling a joint motion at the recent municipal district meeting, Councillors Cillian Murphy, Ian Lynch, Shane Talty and Joe Garrihy sought details of population growth targets under the forthcoming County Development Plan. All voiced frustration at the reply, which was described as “a non-response”. “We’ve been briefed on now the new plan will have to tie in with the regional spatial strategy and so we’re now looking for clarity on the population allocation for West Clare,” Councillor Murphy said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling that any national policy would restrict any county’s ambition to develop. We are the district most likely to be affected if Ennis gets city status. That puts the development focus on the Limerick-Shannon-Ennis corridor. We have to question where we will get a chance to be ambitious for the growth of our area.”
Councillor Lynch described as “a play on words” the official response, which said the information sought isn’t available at this time and outlined the time-frame for drafting the development plan and ensuring consistency with the National Planning Framework (NPF) and strategy for the Southern Region and other policies relating to population targets. “The planning department have done huge work and we want to know where they are getting the rationale for the population allocation,” he said.
According to Councillor Talty, briefings around the new plan suggest that elected members have “great autonomy”. “In reality, planners are operating to constraints and must have guiding figures,” he said. “What are they? There must be targets there.”
Cathaoirleach of the district, Councillor Joe Garrihy said the response was “very, very dispiriting”. “There seems to be a desire not to give direct, honest answers in case the information is unpalatable,” he said.
Councillor PJ Kelly said barriers to allowing people to settle in West Clare could be tolerated in any circumstances. “I thought it was birth control they had in mind, when I heard of population constraints,” he said.
Projections under the NPF “could be difficult for rural Ireland and West Clare,” said Councillor Joe Killeen. “We now know that people can work for companies in Dublin and even overseas, from the likes of the Ennistymon hub.”
Director of Services Leonard Cleary described the discussion as “very healthy”. He acknowledged members’ disappointment with the reply to the motion. “We need population in rural Clare to sustain services,” he said. “Our Rural Strategy is designed to sustain population and we need jobs and services.” Mr Cleary noted that the county’s Rural Strategy is to be reviewed in order to make sure it’s getting traction.
The cathaoirleach welcomed a suggestion from the director that a briefing “to tease out” the questions raised by the motion.
The written response to the motion outlined how, after a deadline of March 25 for directions from members, a draft county development plan will be drawn up for review. At that point a draft Core Strategy will be issued. “The Core Strategy will be in accordance with Section 10 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) in terms of ensuring consistency with the National Planning Framework, the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Southern Region and all Ministerial Guidelines and Policies relating to population targets,” the response stated.