*Photograph: John Mangan

SENIOR OFFICIALS in Clare County Council refused to be drawn on who carried out the demolition works on Francis Street for the county’s first affordable housing scheme.

As first reported by The Clare Echo last month, Clare County Council applied for a Section 179A planning exemption which enabled the granting of planning permission without any submissions from the public or elected representatives to begin knocking the row of cottages on Francis Street in Ennis.

In October 2022, the Council acquired the block of six cottages. Initially the Council had intended knocking the cottages to build a temporary car park at a fee estimated to be €1.1m. These plans were later scrapped following public campaigns with the site to now become the county’s first affordable housing scheme with 39 apartments to be built.

At the March meeting of the Ennis Municipal District, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) clashed with the Director of Services, Carmel Kirby when he claimed that demolition works had commenced “without planning permission”. She assured elected members that the correct process has been followed by Clare County Council. “The affordable housing scheme needs to be completed by the end of 2025, it was always planned we’d carry out the works as quickly as possible”.

On Monday March 4th, the High Court was notified of a judicial review on the application. In response, Cllr Flynn highlighted, “normal practice is works don’t proceed until there is a decision on a legal case”. Kirby stated that enabling works started prior to this and legal advice had yet to be received following the High Court hearing.

This activity prompted Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND) to describe the Council as “the dodgiest of dodgy developers”. He said he was “shocked to see that the Council was demolishing the houses, one of which was only built in the 1990s and was described when for sale in 2022 as a ‘superb 133.5sqm, 3 bedroom residence’ with an ‘AMV [of] €265,000’ and others, which were older, had been lived in or occupied as business premises in recent years”.

Deputy McNamara told The Clare Echo, “I was even more shocked to learn that the Council had done this after being served with legal proceedings in which the High Court had granted Leave to judicially review the permission the Council had granted itself to develop the site. In such circumstances, the usual practice is for developers to await the outcome of the Court case before proceeding. Clare County Council is now acting like the dodgiest of dodgy developers”.

In an update as part of the Council’s monthly management report for April, it was stated, “demolition and enabling works are progressing on the site while the site hoarding has been enhanced with graphics showing what the planned proposal is expected to look like subject to approval”.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of the County Council, Cllr Flynn questioned who carried out the demolition works.

In response, Director Kirby stated, “in relation to Francis Street, the site is subject to court proceedings and judicial discussion so we’re prohibited from discussing it”.

Cllr Flynn retorted, “I asked who carried out the work over the weekend in question, was it Ennis 2040 or Clare County Council”.

“We have to reiterate that it subject to court so we’re not at liberty to discuss,” Director Kirby stressed.

At a recent meeting of the Council’s Social Development Strategic Policy Committee, local election candidate Tommy Guilfoyle (SF) queried the involvement of Ennis 2040 DAC in the Francis Street site.

Adrian Headd, acting senior executive engineer in the housing department of the Council said the local authority was involved with the site and was progressing a Section 179A application and with the development of an affordable housing application with the assistance of Ennis 2040 DAC.

Chair of the SPC, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) said the site was bought by the Council and remarked that Ennis 2040 DAC have no business being involved in housing.

Director of Services, Anne Haugh outlined that the Council would be involved in parts of the scheme right through to delivery and it will be included in their housing targets as the site remains in the ownership of the Council. Ennis 2040 DAC will be involved under the supervision and oversight of the Housing Department.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

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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