*Antoinette Bashua Baker. 

TWO CHALLENGING candidates in the Ennis Municipal District for the local elections on June 7th have slammed the proposed plans for Abbey Street car park as part of the Ennis 2040 Strategy.

There has been strong public opposition to the plans of the Ennis 2040 DAC to construct a mixed-use development which will take over a considerable portion of Abbey Street car park in the county town.

Hilary Tonge (SD) who is bidding to become the first Social Democrat councillor in Clare has expressed serious concern about Clare County Council’s use of Designated Activity Companies (DACs) to facilitate community development.

She called on the Council to halt all DAC projects until the DAC structure had been independently examined and further called on Cllr Mary Howard (FG), Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) and Cllr Ann Norton (IND) who sit on the board of Ennis 2040 DAC to clarify their positions. “If elected, I can guarantee the people of Ennis that I will not form part of a DAC or any other structure if I feel it might impair my capacity to perform my role as a councillor”.

Tonge added, “The Abbey Street proposals have raised questions about the functioning of DACs that are so serious they can really only be considered alarming. Is it appropriate for community land to be set aside for commercial development without prior community consent? Can sitting members of Clare County Council also sit on the board of a DAC without a conflict of interests? Who exactly is responsible for the DAC’s liabilities,” she questioned.

A DAC is not the “appropriate corporate structure” for the spatial and economic strategy, the founder of Mná ag Gáire said. “DACs have become popular amongst local councils, including Clare County Council, as a means of ensuring that the authority can promote a development without being exposed to the responsibility for completing the work or for liabilities which might follow. The use of DACS is controversial with critics pointing to the fact that they lack clarity, transparency and accountability. Obviously, we need a vehicle to allow community development to take place. However, we first need to ensure that the structure we put in place to allow the development to happen is suitable for the task”.

Hermitage based, Antoinette Bashua Baker (FF) who is running for Fianna Fáil said the plans for Abbey Street car park are at odds with the County Development and the KPMG Clare Retail Strategy 2023-2029. She claimed, “I have been told that the building is going here because the site is free. Hardly a sound town planning reasoning and completely at odds with the County Development Plan”.

Antoinette said, “I haven’t met many people who agree with building on Abbey Street carpark. Is it not time to listen to the businesspeople, their customers and the town users? Is it time to listen to the elderly and the disabled who need access to the centre of town? Yes, we want the town to develop, to grow, to evolve. Yes, we want to refurbish our vacant sites and upgrade our local amenities. But not at the expense of our existing carparks, our green spaces, civic spaces, and our business stakeholders”.

According to KPMG’s Retail Strategy survey findings, a substantial 81% of participants identified car travel as their preferred mode of transport for all types of shopping, underscoring the significance of parking for consumers. She questioned “will losing Abbey Street and Parnell carparks kill the town we are trying to fix, will the cure kill the patient”.

She concluded, “We need additional carparking, not less. We have vacant sites standing dormant for years. We should develop the site on Harmony Row as outlined in our Development Plans and develop the Ennis National School and Buttermarket sites. We have derelict buildings that need to be developed to enhance our new streets. We should develop our park and ride facilities. There is so much progress that could be make that would bring the people of Ennis together, rather than pulling us apart”. She said it is time tear up the existing plan and properly consult with the business stakeholders and the residents of Ennis and come up with a plan that will ensure a town in the future for us all.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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