SENIOR DEPARTMENT of the Environment officials are to meet Clare County Council planners in the next two weeks in a bid to eliminate what the department calls the “unsustainable” and “excessive overzoning” of lands for housing around Ennis.
In adopting the Ennis and Environs Development Plan last December, councillors ignored pleas from Minister for the Environment John Gormley TD to dezone large tracts of land.
Councillors also ignored the recommendations of the council’s own study into the environmental impact of a number of their zoning decisions. The department has told the council in a letter that it has sought the advice of the Attorney General on the issue.
In a letter to the council’s director for planning, Bernadette Kinsella, the department says that 4,500 acres of land are zoned around Ennis for housing that could accommodate a population of more than 100,000 people.
It points out that in 2006 Ennis’s population was just 28,700 and the following year a department report forecast that the town’s population would increase by more than 6,000 by 2020.
“Comparing the zoning capacity with likely population growth, there is clearly a very substantial, unjustified and unsustainable amount of overzoning of land with residential potential,” the department’s letter states.
It also cites a study by the Mid-West Regional Authority that concluded there is sufficient land in the region to satisfy 40 years’ housing demand and that one-third of all zoned land in the mid-west is in Ennis and its environs.
The overzoning issue “has significant local, county and regional implications” and puts forward three options for the council.
The department says the council could dezone some of the land which has residential potential or implement a phasing programme where land outside certain designated areas could only be zoned for development after 75 per cent of the designated areas were developed for housing.
The third option suggested involves a combination of the other two.
The department is asking the council to tighten its “locals-only” policy in the countryside around Ennis, stating that in key ways the wording of the council’s policy is vague. Currently the plan allows the development of in-depth clusters of up to six homes in countryside area and a policy for infill development in the countryside.
The department is seeking the elimination of these two policies and suggests alternative ways of limiting “urban-generated housing” in the countryside.
In a note circulated to councillors accompanying the letter, Ms Kinsella said a joint meeting of Ennis Town Council and councillors from the Ennis electoral area will be held after the meeting with department officials.