RELATIONS are said to have gone “very sour” between management of Ennis National School and the owners of Westpoint Business Park as the impasse regarding the country’s biggest walking bus continues.
In September, an investigation was launched by Clare County Council into the cancellation of the walking bus to Ennis NS which had used Westpoint Business Park as its assembly point for eight years, the situation changing following the opening of an HSE outpatient department in March of last year. The school said it had been refused admission by the owners at the “eleventh hour” at the start of its term while the business personnel involved stated they advised in July that parking controls would be implemented and that temporary solutions “were ignored”.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Ennis Municipal District, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) asked that the legal advices be shared with elected representatives on the rationale for the planning department’s decision not to pursue the matter from a planning enforcement perspective.
Executive planner, Gareth Ruane in a written response said the planning authority “cannot comment publicly on any enforcement matters under investigation so as not to prejudice any particular outcome or decision. In general for enforcement files, any legal advice received is written in contemplation of legal proceedings and as such is legally privileged. For this reason therefore, the Planning Authority cannot provide a detailed response in respect of this motion or cannot provide a copy of any legal advice received”.
Board of management at the school shared their concern “at the lack of willingness” from Westpoint Business Park to continue with their facilitation of the walking bus. A condition of the business park’s development was to accommodate the walking bus, she recalled. “As a lawyer, I totally understand and appreciate the terse response we’ve received but it did not deter me as public representative to have it in the ether, when are planning conditions put in by authority to be enforced, what is the point and certainty for all affected by these conditions when we have a bespoke enforcement of them”. She said it was “uncomfortable” to accept a situation where conditions were not enforced for developments, “it is a motion of local importance, to the health of our children”.
Mayor of Ennis, Cllr Ann Norton (IND) advised her colleagues to be “very clear and careful” when speaking on the matter. She referenced the “huge amount of communication” between the school and local authority. “We agreed to meet to look at solutions and that’s what we’ve looked at from the outset, we are coming to hopefully an agreed place that will support the walking bus”.
There is “huge frustration” among the Board of Management, Cllr Mary Howard (FG) noted. She expressed her disappointment with the Council failing to share the information on the reasons for not pursuing the enforcement. “The walking bus was a condition from the word go, there was huge engagement with the Ennis MD and our engineers for its design, it was seen as an exemplar in best practice around the country”.
Students and teachers have felt the impact of its absence, she said. “Students came in ready for learning and the day, they had great energy and were in great form after doing the walking bus, now they are coming in tired and are dropped into the school. The benefits to the students were enormous. We showed leadership before and it’s important that we show leadership again,” Howard commented and requested a timeframe for proposed solutions.
Enforceability of conditions for planning on a private authority in the future by law “remains to be seen,” Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) observed. He acknowledged that the walking bus contributed to the recent success of Ennis Tidy Towns. A meeting to discuss solutions is “imminent,” he said with the Board of Management to put forward alternatives, “they have taken the view that they can’t wait for the planning issues to be sorted out”.
Permission granted at the site for the application lodged in 2018 “requires the facilitation of the walking bus,” Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) emphasised.
It is time for Plan B, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) maintained. “This is a very delicate matter, I know Brian Lohan, Martin O’Malley and Brian Troy well, I know communication is nil and it is gone very sour, I don’t even like it being discussed in public,” he told Tuesday’s meeting. He suggested that the grounds of Éire Óg be considered as the new assembly point for the walking bus.
Senior executive officer, Leonore O’Neill appealed to Cllr Daly not to discuss the particulars of the individuals involved to which he responded, “that is what we are here for”. She said the key points from the debate would be brought to the planning department’s attention and confirmed a meeting will be held on Friday with the Board of Management, principal, Cllr Norton, Cllr Murphy and staff from the Ennis MD, liaisons with the owners of the Business Park are a matter for the planning section, she added.