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Positive discrimination towards rural Clare in the guise of reduced planning contributions has been put forward by West Clare representatives as a means of tackling population decline.

Seven of the nine West Clare elected representatives recently tabled a motion before Clare County Council asking that a discount of fifty percent be applied to planning contributions to future planning permissions “in areas of population decline”. Cllr PJ Kelly (FF), Cllr Joe Killeen (FF), Cllr Shane Talty (FF), Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG), Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG), Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) and Cllr Bill Chambers (FF) signed the proposal.

Determination of contributions is set out in the Development Contributions Scheme 2017-2023 with the charges applicable following “significant consultation,” Director of Services Liam Conneally stated. “In order to address rural decline and maintain vibrant rural communities, a separate category of contributions was introduced as part of the scheme for residential developments located within the settlement boundaries in the county’s rural villages,” he added, these contributions are almost 40 percent lower than those in other areas.

Provisions for amending the scheme are not included in the planning acts, the Director of Economic Development flagged. “Any changes to the terms or charges would require the preparation and the making of an entirely new Development Contribution Scheme”. A full review could be conducted following the adoption of the new County Development Plan. He outlined that “a variety of public infrastructure projects” are funded each year as a result of development contributions.

Intake on the Development Contribution Scheme thus far in 2020 was “fifty percent of what we took in last year,” Conneally told the meeting.

A change is “long overdue because of the declining population in rural Clare,” Cllr Kelly replied as he urged steps be taken to “revive rural Clare”. Cllr Keating explained, “We would be looking for a special concession for people in rural Ireland from the planning department”.

Lowering the contributions would “allow for increased populations in rural areas,” Cllr Killeen felt. “We would wish for a greater influx of people who would be willing and able to set up home, have their family, support the schools, the GAA and the social clubs of their communities. A number of people have chosen to live in the built-up environs of Ennis rather than paying for planning applications and waste water treatment. We need to show positive discrimination”.

Noting that a review had been ongoing from the Economic Development SPC since last November, Cllr Talty asked for a timeline on its completion. “Cllr Kelly never gives up on his defence of rural Ireland,” he acknowledged. “Reduction levies are one element of the County Development Plan that shows a commitment to rural Clare and rural dwellers, we need to see consistency, parts of North Clare are deemed vulnerable to further development”.

Hesitancy to the proposal was voiced by Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF). “I would hate to think we would have a two tier system or that people living in a built up area may be charged more or discriminated against. I agree with the thrust of motion but I wouldn’t like to be pitting one against the other. All people of Clare deserve to be treated fairly”.

In response, Cllr Kelly stated, “People in rural Ireland are already discriminated against, they have no services, you can’t build a house if it can’t be seen by the road”. He claimed that the previous Council which brought in a 25 percent reduction has left councillors with red faces.

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