*Members of Save Ennis Town pictured on Harmony Bridge. Photograph: Ray Conway
ABSENCE OF engagement prior to the commencement of an archaeological dig at Abbey Street car park has been met with strong criticism by the Save Ennis Town group.
Work commenced on Monday on the dig in Abbey Street car park for ground investigations to to shed light on the archaeological heritage of the site before any proposed development takes shape.
Plans for the construction of a mixed-use development comprising a retail and office space are included in the Ennis 2040 Strategy for Abbey Street car park. Over 3,700 people have signed a petition requesting all 28 county councillors not to agree with the development at the location and to develop vacant derelict sites in Ennis instead.
On Wednesday morning, members of the Save Ennis Town group which was founded in May following a large meeting at The Temple Gate opposing the plans, gathered at Harmony Bridge overlooking The Clare Echo’s offices and the Abbey Street car park as part of a mini-protest. Its membership is comprised of business owners in the town, concerned citizens, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) and Cllr Tom O’Callaghan (FF). Among the business personnel present were Gerry Connellan of Abbey Newsagents, Edel Reidy of The Snack Shack, sports store owner Tommy O’Donnell, Noel Tierney of Tierney’s Cycles and John O’Connor from Custys Music Shop.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, Cllr Flynn said the ‘big dig’ was “another waste of public money. This loss of up to 25 scarce carparking spaces for over five weeks is to enable Ennis 2040 progress their unnecessary big box development proposed for on the carpark”. He added, “The loss to the Council of parking charges income from these 25 affected parking spaces, one fifth of the available spaces in that location and loss of turnover to affected businesses during this period of disruption and damage to public area is of serious concern”.
He disagreed with the need to undertake a historical analysis of the car park. “Ennis has already a magnificent historical record published in 2012 by the Royal Irish Academy (RAI) of what was built through the centuries in Ennis including in the Abbey Street Carpark already. That well researched A3 document ‘Ennis Historic Town Atlas’ is number 25 of the Irish Historic Town Atlas series published by the RAI was written by historian Brian Ó Dálaigh an Ennis native and had five qualified supervisory editors”.
Chairman of Save Ennis Town, Gearoid Mannion said the dig was taking place “without any public consultation and clearly indicates that Clare County Council and Ennis 2040DAC intend to push ahead with their destructive plans for this vital public amenity despite widespread public opposition”.
Engagement was requested by Save Ennis Town with the Council and the DAC subsequent to their public meeting but Mannion said “this was refused with an assurance that there would be ‘ample time for engagement with stakeholders’ in September. He stated, “there has been no engagement with local business owners or the people of Ennis. Instead, there are shovels in the ground already in the Abbey Street Car Park. What does that say about engagement with the people of Ennis or about local democracy”.
He added, “Their actions this week clearly demonstrate that 2040 is coming sooner than we think. This is happening now, not in 2040, and we urge the people of the town and county to familiarise themselves with these ill-conceived and irreversible plans that threaten to rip the heart out of our county town
Mannion flagged that Save Ennis Town agree with “many of the initiatives, aspirations and plans outlined in the Ennis 2040 Strategy” but felt the fundamental necessity of parking to the retail businesses of the town was not considered.
A travel counsellor, Gearoid said, “Their planned retail/office block on Abbey Street Car Park would, in normal circumstances require the provision of approximately 190 car parking spaces. But not only does their plan not include any such spaces, the proposed building and surrounding plaza will eliminate all existing 128 spaces in the car park! This makes no sense. You simply can’t have retail without parking. An anchor tenant won’t commit to the proposed building without parking spaces – and customers won’t come to shop without somewhere to park”.
Removal of a civic space and transfer of publicly owned land into private ownership are other concerns flagged by Save Ennis Town plus the low demand for office space and high vacancy rates for commercial properties in Clare.
Estimations from Save Ennis Town are that the proposed development will cost in the region of €20m to construct and fit out. “The rental income which would be required to create a return on an investment of this scale would have to be in the order of nearly €2 million per annum. Finding tenants of this scale will be extremely difficult, making this whole project highly questionable from a financial point of view,” Gearoid concluded.