*The Auburn Lodge is one of the many hotels in Co Clare no longer available for tourists. 

ENNIS’ shortage of bed capacity is impacting on the county town’s ability to retain tourists overnight.

In a proposal before the Ennis Municipal District, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) requested that “a serious look” be had at the “hotel and hostel accommodation sector in the town presently; clearly there’s a huge shortage of bed capacity”.

According to Daly, “it’s now time we invite in the head planner with Clare County Council to discuss this serious situation with a view to the possibility of zoning land through either a Material Contravention or a Variation in the County Development Plan, to accommodate at least new new hotels and a hostel for the future, that will ensure many more tourists come in to the town”.

Senior planner, Helen Quinn in a written reply stated, “Ennis has a thriving tourism sector and tourism is recognised as being highly important to the local economy of the Ennis area. The sector is supported at planning policy level through the Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029, which provides a range of policy supports for the ongoing development of the tourism economy and product including the development of Ennis as a year-round tourist destination, ‘tourism hub’ and gateway to the wider county”.

She said the provision of tourism specific accommodation is set out as a strategic aim in the County Development Plan. “This policy support demonstrates the commitment of the Planning Department to the tourism sector in Ennis and further afield”.

Ms Quinn outlined, “While it is acknowledged that there is a shortage of bed space capacity across the county including in Ennis it is not considered necessary at this point in time to zone additional lands within Ennis to accommodate either a hotel or a hostel offering. Under the Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029 significant parcels of land were zoned for Mixed Use, Commercial, Tourism and other uses across the town, where the zoning objective is compatible with a hotel/hostel offering”.

Developing hotel or hostels can be facilitated on a number of existing zoning objectives, she flagged. These include lands zoned for tourism “where development proposals of this nature are considered ‘acceptable in principle’. Proposals for hotel developments will also be considered ‘acceptable in principle’ on land zoned for mixed use development. Proposals for hostel accommodation are ‘open to consideration’ on land zoned Mixed Use, Existing Residential and Commercial use. In total there are 20 hectares of land with a Tourism zoning objectives and 98 hectares of land with a Mixed Use zoning objective in Ennis as set out within the existing Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029”.

Staff in the Council’s planning department “will engage with any developer who wants to discuss a proposal to deliver a hotel or hostel across the county and it will also continue to monitor the availability of land in Ennis to facilitate such uses throughout the life of the current development plan”.

“There is no doubt there is a huge shortage of bed capacity in Ennis, we’ve six hotels but Killarney has forty,” commented Cllr Daly. He said Ennis needs to be competing with Killarney, Clifden and Westport and pointed out students were forced to stay in Galway recently due to the shortage of accommodation in Ennis. “We need to zone land so more hostels and a hotel can come on board,” the Mayor of the Ennis MD stated.

“We’re very much aware that if we want to build our town we need to look at this, we’re in a very difficult situation,” Cllr Tom O’Callaghan (FF) commented. “We are suffering on the other side which is our tourism industry, if we can increase our night stay,” he added.

Concern was voiced by Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG), “tourism in Clare and Ennis is in crisis”. Tourists have been lost in Clare due to the use of hotels and hostels to accommodate displaced Ukrainians, he said, “it has had a huge impact on our economy”.

Flynn continued, “a local taxi company used to have thirty runs to a Gort Rd hotel per day and now it only has one”. To read in the local media that the Abbey Hostel will no longer be used to house Ukrainians and will instead look for asylum seekers was labelled as “disturbing”. The use of the building was to be for tourism purposes, he maintained, “it is very unfair on residents if it will be used for a more beneficial profit from the State”.

Losing the Rowan Tree has been “massive,” Cllr Mary Howard (FG) remarked. “We need to identify some property in the town that is accessible to everyone. We have a dearth of accommodation, we need to time it for accommodation throughout the county”.

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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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