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Clare’s longest serving local elected representative has described the county as “the most anti-rural” so far as planning regulations are concerned.

Comments from Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) were disputed by Council Chief Executive, Pat Dowling at the November meeting of Clare County Council. They followed a motion of Kelly’s which asked “that the planning contribution scheme be amended by discount adjustment in order to ensure that planning contributions are the same for rural areas and villages.”

Senior planner, Brian McCarthy in his reply flagged that the Council is required to source “considerable amounts of money annually to fund a variety of public infrastructure projects”, a lot of which is done through the Development Contribution Scheme that was adapted in April 2017. “The Development Contribution Scheme governs 16 different categories of development, of which 15 have the exact same level of contributions for rural areas and villages”.

“To enhance our rural villages and maintain vibrant rural communities, one of the categories in the adopted scheme provides for a lower contribution payable for residential development in our rural villages, thus incentivising residential development in these villages. The Council is also currently operating an early payment scheme to reduce the contributions payable for all single rural houses in the countryside,” McCarthy outlined.

He warned that any reductions to the scheme would have “significant implications” on the delivery of public infrastructure. “Any such amendments cannot be provided for under this current scheme and would necessitate the preparation and adoption of a totally new Development Contribution Scheme. Such a new scheme would need to be prepared and adopted in the context of the next Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029”.

Planning regulations have regularly been highlighted by Cllr Kelly in the Chamber, of the adoption of the Scheme two years ago, he said “woof woof and bow wow was maintained”. “Eventually it dawned on us that we made a mistake with the County Development Plan. There is very flawed thinking here, the future of rural villages depends on a rural hinterland that is alive and thriving. We have done nothing to ensure the rural hinterland is alive and thriving”.

In the eyes of the Lissycasey representative newly elected councillors “are pro-rural” while he said that other councillors have come to him and admitted they were unaware what exactly they were sanctioning at the time. Kelly claimed the Chief Executive “is touchy when accused of being anti-rural but I can console him by saying the policies were brought in before his time”. He added, “Clare is the most anti-rural county in Ireland on planning”.

One of the newly elected councillors, Joe Killeen (FF) seconded the motion. “At the moment we have a huge difficulty in rural areas, there is a difficulty in maintaining our populations and resources with schools maintaining their existence”.

Director of Service, Liam Conneally highlighted that the County Development Plan “must be intrinsically aligned” with the Development Scheme. “We had proposed to commence an area review of the County Development Plan in 2020 in order to absorb the new policy direction of the Regional Spatial Economic Strategy that we will be compelled to do next year. We could look at commencing a review of the contributory scheme in tandem with this process. To do it without that, I think is premature”.

East Clare councillor, Joe Cooney (FG) admitted he “could see where Cllr Kelly is coming from” but felt “it would make more sense to do the two together” if commencing a review. Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) said “there needs to be a review and a new scheme adapted”.

“From what I’m reading, everyone is paying the same amount but it’s cheaper in the villages,” Cllr Roisin Garvey (GP) commented, “That’s completely correct Cllr Garvey, the incentive is on the village side and that was following national guidelines,” Conneally replied.

Disagreement to the motion was voiced by Cllr Pat Burke (FG). “Listening to Cllr Kelly’s opening remarks, I’m trying to get my head around the claim how building more one off houses in the country improves the centre of the village? How do we get people into the centres of towns? I can’t agree with Cllr Kelly’s motion because of that”. Kelly answered, “Look at declining villages in rural West Clare, there is a parallel when the population declined so too did the services, people in the countryside used services in the centre of villages”.

Kelly challenged the Director of Services to “put in writing” the section of the act which could not be amended. “Close down rural Ireland is the agenda, if we close it down we won’t have to pay for potholes or schools. I hate to say it but I have seen it, these are the guidelines that are proven to be anti-people”.

Shannon’s Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) disputed remarks that “we were asleep at the wheel,” however Cllr Cooney admitted “We were caught out on the day and the contributions are way higher”. Flynn stated that any scheme debated by the Social Development Strategic Policy Committee for which he is Chairperson “was brought into this Chamber”. “The development contribution scheme if you look at the response, it governs 16 different categories of development. We would be fool hardy to do anything in relation to amending the scheme in place”. Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF) who also sits on the SPC agreed, “We have a system which has worked well for the county”.

“I support the spirit of what Cllr Kelly is trying to do which is strategically trying to prioritise rural development,” Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) told the meeting. “It seems we’re fighting over €600 of a difference, I don’t think anyone will make a decision to live in a village or not based on €600. Positive discrimination to get people to live in our towns and villages, I’d broadly welcome that,” Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) pointed out. Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) acknowledged “the sincere concerns” of Cllr Kelly regarding discrimination but reinforced the previous speaker’s view that the difference was “not too much”.

Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of the Council felt the motion “no doubt is well intended, it’s not to be vexatious or excessive. There is still an element of concern I have that a member is pursuing an agenda at all costs”. He pleaded with elected officials to allow them review the Development Plan in 2020. “I will keep defending this Council and county that we are not killing rural Ireland despite Cllr Kelly’s best efforts to say that we are”. The matter will now be reviewed by the Economic Development SPC and brought back before the Council, Dowling confirmed.

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