*Marty Morrissey joining the Ennis NS walking bus in 2017 at Westpoint Business Park.

Anger is brewing in Ennis as the country’s biggest walking bus faces cancellation with one primary school and business park owners at loggerheads.

Clare County Council’s planning department has launched an investigation into the current cancellation of the popular walking initiative while The Clare Echo has learned that security personnel have been hired to prevent Westpoint Business Park from being used as a meeting point.

Ennis National School have had a walking bus in operation as far back as 2009 in its former premises. Since the school moved to its current site at Ashline on the Kilrush Rd, the car park belonging to Curley’s Furniture and now Westpoint Business Park has been used as the assembly point each morning at 08:30am for the past eight years.

Frustrated parents and guardians made contact with The Clare Echo when it emerged in recent days that the initiative was at risk of cancellation. The school said it received notification at the “eleventh hour” from the owners of the Business Park that the walking bus could no longer proceed, the school said they had been refused admission by the owners.

According to the owners of the Business Park, the school was informed in June that parking controls would be imposed and the Council in July. “We proposed various temporary solutions to facilitate the use of the property but even though these were agreed, they were ignored,” a statement from Westpoint Business Park highlighted.

School principal, Brian Troy previously told The Clare Echo that Ennis NS’s walking bus was “the biggest and most successful in Ireland”. RTÉ broadcaster, Marty Morrissey previously partook in the walking bus in 2017.

A spokesperson for Clare County Council confirmed that they had been made aware of “access issues” at the Business Park for school drop-offs. “This matter has been referred to the planning section for its investigation”.

Safety of students is top priority, Ennis NS outlined in a statement while confirming its Board of Management was reviewing the situation as it pledged to work with the local authority and Westpoint Business Park “to resolve this issue as quickly as possible”. The statement added, “the entire school community is most disappointed at the development over the past few days. We believed that we had the co-operation of Westpoint Business Park up to recently and we hope that we will have it again in the future”.

Management of Westpoint Business Park detailed that they have been “dealing with this matter” for the past eighteen months, its management includes current Clare senior hurling boss Brian Lohan. “The parking at Westpoint has been made available to the school for the last number of years, given that the property was required for the Walking bus which we were advised would require parking for 7/8 vehicles and would be required in the morning before 9.00am. We confirmed in correspondence with Clare County council on the 5th October 2020 that we were prepared to ‘facilitate the on-going use of our property subject to a written agreement with ourselves as owners and the school and its board of management’ and this was acknowledged by the planning authority as being acceptable”.

After the HSE opened an outpatients department in March of this year the “situation on the ground has changed substantially,” management commented while adding that the walking bus to school is now operating “with up to sixty to eighty cars using the premises twice daily. It is not sustainable that a private developer on private property is required to meet the parking requirements for the Ennis National School with all the associated costs and insurances”.

Attempts to have engagement with Ennis NS and the Council has persisted for eighteen months, management said. “We have repeatedly asked for our basic conditions namely and indemnity from the principal and the board of management and the increased costs of insurance to be met. The school claim that their insurance cover will cover our liability is simply not true. For the record, two insurers have refused to quote us with the other increasing the premium by 12% simply because of the presence of the walking bus.”

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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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