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*Doolin. Photograph: John Mangan

A ‘dezoning war’ is likely to lead to Clare councillors rejecting a proposed County Development Plan with the survival of rural parts of the county on the line.

Strong sentiments were issued at Monday’s virtual sitting of the local authority as councillors from across the county. Deep worries have been raised in places like Broadford, Carrigaholt, Doolin and Cooraclare that their absence of wastewater infrastructure will result in lands being dezoned and disabling the potential of future developments in a residential and commercial sense.

Condemnation was also voiced at a decision to defer a motion which outlined the councillors planned stance to reject the Development Plan if the two tier approach to land zoning as contained within Appendix 3 of the National Planning Framework was followed. Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) admitted to being “played” by the proposal’s deferral.

While this was removed from the agenda, Cllr Joe Cooney’s motion for the Council to have “a cautious approach” to dezoning lands in rural areas without access wastewater treatment facilities remained on the clár.

Land-use zoning within settlements is to be reviewed as part of the preparation of the Clare County Development Plan 2022-2028. “It is the intention of the Council in doing so that opportunities will be explored with Irish Water towards delivering appropriate wastewater treatment solutions to facilitate the future sustainable growth of rural towns and villages currently with no or inadequate wastewater treatment infrastructure. The growth and prosperity of our rural towns and villages which also serve their rural hinterlands is vital to sustain our local economy,” Director of Economic Development Liam Conneally stated.

Speaking on Monday, Cllr Cooney highlighted the serious concern brewing in communities on the subject. “There is no point saying there isn’t serious concern for zoning of lands that don’t have proper infrastructure, a lot of these in our county, most of them in the rural parts and a fear is there that they will be left behind”. Parts of the county will be left behind waiting on the infrastructure from Irish Water, he said.

Contents of the NPF were labelled “disturbing” by Cllr Michael Begley (IND) specifically content which stated lands in rural communities should be zoned and also de-zone previously zoned lands due to the absence of wastewater infrastructure. “We really need to smarten up here. We’re going to hit a crisis point if there isn’t something done in the near future,” Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) remarked. Carrigaholt is waiting 64 years for a treatment plan, Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG) vented.

A “word of warning” was issued by Cllr Pat Burke (FG) that a different approach will be taken when it comes to voting on the Plan. “It it’s our plan we’re going to deal with it differently this time while An Post close in Broadband, Bank of Ireland close in Tulla and we’re asked to dezone lands, I won’t be led on what to do for the village of Broadford”. Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) responded, “It is supposed to be our plan but I have my doubts, it is our plan up to a point, if we don’t act on our reserved function plenty of Executives will act on our behalf. The debate has to happen”.

Rural areas are feeling the brunt of population decline due to the missing infrastructure, Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) maintained. “Has science not moved forward enough to allow innovative wastewater treatment solutions. We cannot allow dezoning”. Irish Water’s refusal to add the infrastructure to Cooraclare and Carrigaholt was akin to the “HSE saying they won’t treat sick people,” Cllr Murphy said.

Plans for affordable housing to focus on large towns plus the tiered approach rang alarm bells for Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG). “If that objective and strategy follows this forget a perfect storm it is a perfect tsunami and no rural town will survive. Zoning land alone will not provide population, there is plenty of land zoned for last 20 years, this isn’t about Doolin or Carrigaholt, it is about our whole county”.

Local authorities are constrained by Government policy, Conneally told the meeting. “This is a countrywide issue, it is an issue that will have to be raised at a national level. The eye isn’t off the ball here, we’re very sure on where we want to go, it is just how we get there, will be using every available tool to us”.

Senior Ministers have been spoken to on the matter, Chief Executive Pat Dowling confirmed. “One fundamental has changed, we’ve lost control, we’re dealing with another state body – Irish Water”. He said it is “glaringly obvious” power needs to be returned to local authorities to build the water infrastructure.

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