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*Cllr PJ Kelly, Cllr Pat McMahon & Cllr PJ Ryan in UL. Photograph: Alan Place

Planning rules and regulations have resulted in rural Clare being “sentenced to death” according to one of the most experienced elected representatives on the County Council.

Over recent months, Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) has sought detail at meetings of the local authority on the criteria applied by Clare County Council when it comes to making decisions on applications for rural dwellings.

At the most recent sitting of the County Council, Cllr Kelly requested in writing “all aspects of considerations applied in the assessment of visual impact on the various landscapes and the complete and detailed “modus operandi” used in reaching a logical and clearly defined conclusion”. He outlined that his reason for tabling the motion was in “the interest of legal compliance and public interest”. Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) seconded the proposal.

A three page response from Director of Service, Liam Conneally was issued to Cllr Kelly. He stressed that all planning applications “are validated, processed and assessed” in accordance with the Planning Acts and Regulations with reports available for inspection online and in the Council’s office. He said that the reports set out details such as “visual impact”.

Different landscape character areas of the county are included in Chapter 13 of the Development Plan, Conneally stated. It identifies landscape types such as settled landscapes, working landscapes, Shannon Estuary working landscape and heritage landscapes. “The designation of these routes is not intended to prohibit development but rather that any development on these routes does not hinder or obstruct scenic views”.

Conneally advised that each policy includes a common provision whereby developments must demonstrate an avoidance of visually prominent locations, site layouts avail of existing topography and vegetation and the design reduces impact of visual impact through “careful choice of form, finish and colours”.

“Generic use is not appropriate” where visual impact is concerned, the Director of Economic Development commented and pointed out that it varies from site to site. Each application has “specific characteristics and issues”, he added, “The planning application process is one of the most open, transparent and inclusive processes in government”. Conneally concluded, “It is not practical or possible to give full details of all considerations in the assessment of visual impact for all development application sites due to the variance in types and locations of developments throughout the County”.

Reflecting on the amount of motions he has penned on the subject, Cllr Kelly remarked that he has received “a substantial amount of half answers”. The Lissycasey man was keen not to blame planners as he flagged that only 22 houses were built in West Clare last year. He believed further schools will follow the two in the Loop Head peninsula that closed permanently. “The people of West and North Clare are being blackguarded by the Council that is supposed to protect them”.

“There are prescriptive areas where development is not being allowed. We have sentenced part of rural Clare to death, in other words there will be no more houses left. Why should people put €5000 together on an application when they know they are going to be refused. It is ironic that we can talk about developing rural Clare and at the same time curtail development there”.

Conneally repeated his view surrounding the transparency of the Irish planning system. “It not only allows third parties to make submissions in certain timelines but they are given the right to appeal if they are not happy. I don’t agree with the assertion that there is an alternative modus operandi”.

Chief Executive of the County Council, Pat Dowling told the local authority’s longest serving councillor that he will be getting the same replies if he continues to raise the matter. “We have sought to provide clarification on numeral occasions on this debate”.

Positive discrimination is needed, Cllr Garrihy believed. He urged the Council to build on the example set by its rural directorate. “We should be going out of our way and discriminating favourably to encourage permanent residents, we also should be looking to encourage families to come back to live here on a permanent basis”.

Opposition to the motion was voiced by Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND). “There is transparency, we can challenge”. The Shannon representative said the policy can be interpreted in “a certain way”. He added, “I commend the response from the Chief Executive, it is about time you called it”.

His namesake, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) observed that the debate was “worthwhile when we consider issues of rural development and rural depopulation”. He expressed his support of the planning authority.

Concluding the debate, Cllr Kelly said that he respects the qualifications of Mr Conneally but that he held differing views. “Houses in rural areas are a sign of life, as it stands we’re wiping out parts of West Clare”.

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