A heated discussion occurred at the January meeting of Clare County Council with Cllr PJ Kelly accusing the local authority of a lack of “equity and fairness” by neglecting rural areas.
Kelly proposed that “That the sum of €1.2m being the amount of planning contributions for 2016, be divided equally between the four municipal areas and that each municipal area advise of the distribution within each.”
In a written reply, Director of Economic Development, Gerard Dollard stated “The proposal set out in the motion is contrary to the statutory requirements governing development contributions and, as such, is outside the scope of the Members and executive to implement. Planning contributions (or development levies) are levied in accordance with a statutory Development Contribution Scheme and must be administered and accounted for in accordance with that scheme and in accordance with the statutory provisions of the Planning & Development Acts as amended”.
Upon seeing Dollard’s reply, Fianna Fáil Cllr Kelly admitted he regretted not bringing this motion forward sooner and a problem has developed. Of rural areas he said, “we have made them the more neglected areas because we haven’t stood up on their behalf”. PJ felt that some of the arguments from the council were “indefensible”.
Talks of developing a cycling route from Ennis to Ennistymon frustrated the Lissycasey man. “What we want there is a road not a cycle lane”. He felt this situation is Ennistymon was laughable as it “could turn Ennistymon into a cycling route”. Kelly added “It is only fair that we adopt the principle of fairness, deprived people are asking why we’re not protecting them”.
Cllr Christy Curtin a fellow member of the West Clare Municipal District supported the views of Cllr Kelly. “I’m not concerned about the semantics I’m concerned about fairness and equity”. He called on the council to “live up to the criteria of value for money” and highlighted that rural towns need something to drive them on. “At the end of this term we must have something to show the four municipal district”.
“I don’t often disagree with the two skilled debaters”, said Cllr Johnny Flynn. The Ennis councillor said planning is granted on the basis that the infrastructure cost would be paid by developer and said it wasn’t “to do with infrastructure deficits but liability that might be incurred”. Flynn agreed with the spirit but not the motion.
Shannon councillor, Gerry Flynn praised the motion. “Kelly is hitting the button”, he acknowledged. “Aspirations of previous government promised a lot but delivered a little”. He offered to take CEO, Pat Dowling on a tour of Shannon in a bid to find easier traffic movements in the town seeing as smarter travel was referred to by PJ Kelly.
Dollard addressing the elected members said he understood the sentiments of the motion but informed them that it was dealing with a statutory levy scheme. He said that opening the monies collected to all four municipal districts was not an option.
Cllr Kelly asked for time to debate the matter with Dollard to Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr Bill Chambers. He then told the council director that were a number of sub-titles to the scheme such as; “recreation, amenities, roads”. He questioned Ger as to “what priority does a cycle lane get in interests of infrastructure, what does it do for infrastructure”. Dollard accepted the principle of what Cllr Kelly was saying before CEO Pat Dowling interjected “Income generated through the schemes has to be spent as adopted by the budget, we must comply with the schemes”.
Cathaoirleach Chambers was then keen to move on with the meeting as Cllr Kelly demanded his “right of reply”, however Chambers declined his request.
As the meeting progressed, Kelly referred back to the issue saying he had no problem with works in Ennis but stated the council was “forgetting the gnáthdaoine”. He continued “somebody will shout stop otherwise the council office in Ennis will be surrounded by very angry rural people”. PJ informed the top table that he “will be back with legal opinion”, “beidh lá eile”, he concluded.