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*Cllr Cillian Murphy. Photograph: Eamon Ward

PRELIMINARY CENSUS findings for Clare are “so far away from population projections for the county that we’re in a different galaxy,” a West Clare councillor has remarked.

Based on the projections of the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES), the proposed core strategy population allocations for the County Development Plan allows for a projected growth of 9.94 percent to 130,454.

However, preliminary data published by the Central Statistics Office for Census 2022 showed a 7.2 percent increase in Clare’s population, up 8,602 to on the 2016 figure to 127,419.

Ambiguity presently exists with a response from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage plus the Office of the Planning Regulator sought on the consequences of the CSO figures to the core strategy, by Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF). “Clarity is required as to whether Co Clare will be restricted to the same population allocation, a growth of 3,035 in real terms, over the 6 year lifetime of the plan”.

Acting senior planner with Clare County Council, Helen Quinn confirmed that the OPR had “no comment” to make when clarity was requested while “The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage have indicated that they do not intend to review the Housing Supply Targets Methodology”. Census data will be finalised in 2023 and further reviews will be considered by the Department then, it is likely that the County Development Plan will have to be approved by this juncture.

Quinn assured councillors that the planning department has “had regard to the CSO census preliminary figures” in preparation of the Chief Executive’s Report to elected members on the submissions received for the County Development Plan.

Speaking at a meeting of the County Council, Cllr Murphy who said the OPR’s response to say they have no comment was “mind boggling”. The Kilkee representative took aim at the OPR, “An unelected body will run the rule over what we’re told is our County Development Plan and will not offer any clarity on what we can do in the circumstances”.

He labelled the projections as “utterly redundant”. Murphy continued, “the preliminary figures are so far away from the projections that we’re in a different galaxy”. The tourism consultant insisted the data was proven to be outdated, “we are already building far less houses than we need,” he said while warning of the impact of the projections.

OPR’s reply was “quite disappointing,” Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) agreed. “Our population has grown, it will be difficult to resolve the issues from the County Development Plan,” he predicted. Similarly, Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) felt it was “very disingenuous” of the OPR to reply in such a manner, “it is absolutely ridiculous to give a response like that. We need to stand firm as councillors and emphasise that we won’t take this lying down”.

Efforts of the planning department were acknowledged by Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND), “The figures were not comparable to the growth we saw on the ground, that is the reality. Helen said we will have ample time to discuss that”.

Councillors have to be “selective” in the issues brought forward at Council, Municipal District and SPC meetings due to time pressures, Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) observed. “We need to get a group of councillors and experts together, put them in a room, lock the door and let them known whatever they want out of each other”.

Increasing competition for housing and the “huge shortage” associated with it was clearly visible, Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) commented while flagging that extra resources would be needed for smaller villages as work continues as the Ennis 2040 and Cliffs of Moher strategies.

Clare’s longest serving councillor, Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) said, “it was important to let the powers that be know that some of the plans may never take place”. He recalled a recent conference where population allocations was queried and resulted in “a huge verbal speed wobble” and mention of legal advice, “population allocation is not legal or constitutional, I’ve no doubt in the world that it will be challenged. John Joe (nickname for Department official) will have to tell the Minister what to do when the challenge comes up. It is based on something which has since changed. The planning regulator is visiting us in the autumn, I hope if we have written questions that we will only settle for written answers”.

Chief Executive of the Council, Pat Dowling noted, “this aspect of our County Development Plan has dominated our debate for the last two years”. He predicated “an interesting few months ahead” and said 1,015 valid submissions had been received for the document. Setting of targets will be “at the discretion of councillors,” he stated.

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