Almost two decades after approving measures to exclude non-locals from building homes in rural areas, members of Clare County Council now want the policy removed.
Back in 1999, the Clare County Development Plan (CDP) included a policy prohibiting non-locals from building new homes in rural areas. It defined a local person as anyone born in the area or with immediate relatives living there, or any person who resided in the area and/or whose parents have been resident for a minimum of 10 years.
Now, with the passage of time, the policy has become an impediment to rural development and is contributing to declining populations.
Two motions called for the policy to be changed. Fianna Fáil’s Cllr PJ Kelly and Independent Cllr James Breen both strongly expressed the need to change the CDP “with a review to repopulating these areas”.
Cllr Kelly suggested that the biggest impediment to the success of Clare’s new Rural Development Strategy is the council’s own planning system. According to Cllr Kelly, nine people want to build houses in the Kilmihil area but their applications will not be processed as they are not considered local as defined in the CDP.
In addition, he claimed there were two instances of people who wanted to set up an industry in the area. In the first case, an individual wanted to take over an old business but was refused permission to build a home beside it. A second person sought to develop a tourism project but did not qualify to build a home in the same area. In both cases, the prospective investors moved elsewhere.
“This provision has been over-applied,” said Cllr Kelly as he called for “a root and branch” review of the policy as set out in the County Development Plan, as well as providing policies that respond to the needs of local communities.
Noting that population trends show a decline in pupils attending national schools in rural Clare, Cllr Kelly said, “Unless something is done to allow development so that people must no longer prove to be local, then parts of this county will continue to be severely disadvantaged.
In response, Brian McCarthy, acting director of economic development, said the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023, “proactively seeks to work toward the creation of strong and vibrant rural communities and the betterment of our rural areas.”
Mr McCarthy stated that the Rural Development Strategy aims to be a catalyst for rural growth and development across County Clare and he emphasised that the strategy will actively support the implementation of the Clare County Development Plan. “Both policy documents share the same core values and in this regard, the Clare Rural Development Strategy and the Clare County Development Plan are complementary and closely aligned with each other.”
However Cllr Gerry Flynn did not quite see it that way, and he pointed out that Mr McCarthy had not addressed those impediments in the CDP referred to by Cllr Kelly. Quoting from comments made by chief executive Pat Dowling, Cllr Flynn noted that the CEO had said, it “challenges the thinking that urban living is the only model for the future. Our strategy aims to deliver jobs, multi-service centres, co-operating towns and parishes, environmental programmes, age-friendly communities, vibrant rural ways of life, digitally-supported communities and a range of infrastructure. A partnership approach that engages the community, business, local authority, State agencies, Government Departments and key influencers is required to achieve these objectives.”
Cllr Flynn contended that Cllr Kelly’s argument is more apt than the senior planner’s response which seemed to imply that nothing is wrong with the present system. He urged the council to review the CDP and remove any measures incompatible with the actions that are being taken to boost rural regeneration.
In his address, Pat Dowling said he is very conscious of the sentiments expressed by councillors. He noted the CDP had been completed after a lengthy process and was then adopted by councillors this time last year. Mr Dowling said the local authority has taken on rural development as a new area of work to deal with the future of rural Clare. He added, “There is no panacea to solve the problems in rural Clare that have evolved over the past decades. To reverse those will take time, effort and resources.”
Having recently completed the County Development Plan and a Rural Development Strategy, Mr Dowling said the council must ensure that these complement each other. “If there are areas where they conflict or have impediments to achieving our objectives, those matters have to be looked at going forward.”
He said the council will formulate a rural development work plan in the coming weeks and present details early in 2018 of the actions deemed necessary. “If this challenges our existing thinking, then we must look at that”.
Mr Dowling added that there is a statutory provision to commence a review of the CDP in its second year and others areas may also be subject to review. To achieve the objectives of the rural development strategy, he emphasised, the council must not take the view that these matters are set in stone. “We must take stock now and see how we go forward. Where there is a need to remove impediments, we will do so,” he said.