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*Photograph: John Mangan

Rural Clare’s ability to have a sustainable future is under a serious threat, county councillors have warned.

Clare County Council’s planning department were called on by Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) to identify “a range of appropriate sites in our small towns and villages which are suitable for low density high quality serviced site development” which would be zoned accordingly in the upcoming County Development Plan.

Persons wishing to live in these communities would play “a central part of the regeneration and revival of our rural towns and villages,” he stated.

Settlement plans and strategies will be included in the Draft County Development Plan, Director of Economic Development, Liam Conneally outlined. Specific zoning objectives and designations will be identified for individual parcels of land. “It is anticipated that a range of sites will be identified as suitable for future residential development and will be zoned or designated as such. Specific commentary relating to those sites including commentary relating to possible densities and housing mix will also be included in the relevant settlement strategy”. Public submissions to the draft plan can be made next month, Conneally advised.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the local authority, Cllr Garrihy declared, “the agreed consensus is that rural Clare is under threat to have a sustainable future. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result,” he said as he sought fresh thinking when the County Development Plan is finalised.

There is a lack of creativity when it comes to assessing why people are choosing not to live in rural areas, he felt. “We’re looking at dezoning land and not being creative enough to look at this detail coming down the road to attract people to live in low density areas and get good quality homes like in Lisdoonvarna. County Development Plans haven’t gone into depth before,” Garrihy remarked. He said the “flawed thinking” of the Southern Regional Economic and Spatial Strategy and National Planning Framework was “fatal for parts of rural Clare”.

“I am trawling through every policy and planning framework looking for positives for our rural future and I’m really struggling,” he conceded. Garrihy noted that St Breckans, Corofin, Kilfenora, Michael Cusacks and Ballyvaughan all made the knockout stages of respective adult football competitions in Clare this year fielding over 300 players, “in fifteen years time, do we want it to be possible for these teams to be able to field or would we rather Éire Óg run out and have no opposition only themselves”.

Motions like Cllr Garrihy’s must continue to come before the Council, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) stressed “because we’re suffering greatly”. Clare’s seven Oireachtas members must exert more of an effort in this regard, the Shannon representative insisted. “There are wide and varied solutions to the provision of housing options for people who want to live in rural areas, that is what we’re trying to explore”.

Innovative ideas have been commonplace since Garrihy’s election to the Council in 2019, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) observed. “We need to start thinking outside the box, the killer for an awful lot of villages and towns is for people to live there. We need to look at affordable housing, we’re getting a load of tripe from the National Planning Framework. We need to be our own Republic and be far more innovative”.

Communities are losing out when people that could contribute to different clubs or organisations are unable to build a house in parts of Clare, Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) acknowledged.

Potential buyers are being turned off Ennis by the “Soviet apartment blocks that An Bord Pleanála are trying to force the development of,” Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) claimed. “High density enforcement is not wanted by the market,” he stated.

“It is vital and important that the mix and size of house is given consideration in our next County Development Plan going forward. If Éire Óg and St Breckans will meet in 15 years time, St Breckans will not be giving a walkover and Cllr Garrihy will tog out if he has to,” Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) quipped. “If I’d to tog out this evening, we’d be in trouble,” the Lisdoonvarna man replied.

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