Co Clare zoning decisions rejected over lack of wastewater facilities

Councillors rezoned lands around Broadford and Cooraclare in anticipation of both villages getting water treatment plants which have not yet been approved

Councillors in Co Clare have been directed to reverse 20 zoning decisions in the County Development Plan after an intervention by the office of the planning regulator and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning.

Minister of State at the department Kieran O’Donnell issued a direction to the local authority over the weekend instructing it to revert lands to their original zoning, which was mainly agriculture. Many of the rezoning decisions were around the villages of Broadford and Cooraclare.

However, Clare County Council chairman Cllr Joe Cooney and local Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe have argued there were strong and compelling reasons behind the decisions of councillors with regard to zoning decisions in the areas concerned. They said both villages were in line to get adequate wastewater treatment facilities that would allow them to grow. They said the rezoning decision was in anticipation of those facilities being approved by the Department of Housing this year.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien last year announced that he was earmarking €50 million in funding for a pilot scheme that would grant wastewater treatment facilities to around 10 villages which were not part of Uisce Éireann’s capital programme. A number of villages in Co Clare applied, including Broadford and Cooraclare.


Mr Crowe said Broadford was located close to Limerick city and had great potential for sustainable growth, but that it would not be possible for it to expand without proper wastewater facilities. He acknowledged that providing such facilities for smaller communities was expensive, but said the criteria for evaluating such projects focused mostly on value for money and did not have sufficient regard for factors such as the environment, sustainability and the potential for growth.

“It’s a chicken and egg situation. None of these villages are allowed to rezone new lands for residential use because of the lack of wastewater facilities. However they can’t apply for wastewater facilities at the moment because they are deemed too small.”

Fourteen of the grounds for the direction from Mr O’Donnell related to Broadford and Cooraclare. Councillors decided to change the zoning on the basis that both would be included in the pilot scheme.

However, Mr O’Brien has not yet decided which communities will benefit from such facilities, estimated to cost at least €5 million for each village. He told Mr Crowe in the Dáil last month that an announcement was “imminent”.

Mr Cooney, a Fine Gael councillor, has argued that many towns in Clare have been left in a Catch 22 situation in relation to wastewater treatment. He said there were 50 settlements in the county which have no such facilities and it was impossible for them to be allowed to zone new lands as residential in the hope that the villages would grow in their absence.

“Some of those villages don’t have a shop at the moment and don’t even have post offices. School numbers are dropping. In my own village of O’Callaghan’s Mills, two of the three shops are closed down,” he said. “We have a fine community centre, a GAA ground, a church, and a national school, but the numbers are falling at the school and there’s a possibility that we are going to lose a teacher.”

He said the council had taken the chance that the decision would be made and had now been told to revert the zoning of the lands. “We have been given a slap on the wrist,” he said.

The department was not in a position to say when the announcement on which villages would get funding for wastewater treatment will be made.

The direction by Mr O’Donnell to the council also rejected rezoning decisions unrelated to wastewater. It pointed to zoning in peripheral locations, for residential zonings that would allow direct access on to national roads, and zonings on lands that had flood risks.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times