An independent councillor and town manager have clashed over population growth projections for Clonmel and their influence on land zoning in the area in the coming years.
Independent Cllr Niall Dennehy believes that a projected population increase for Clonmel of 4,500 over the next five years, as set out under South East Regional Planning Guidelines, is unrealistic and the corresponding zoning, included in the Clonmel & Environs Draft Development Plan 2013, is excessive. He tabled a motion at this month’s meeting calling for the council to request the Department of Environment to amend the population projection in the interest of ‘proper planning and sustainable development’ in Clonmel.
The Clonmel & Environs Draft Development Plan 2013 which is currently on public display is a vision for Clonmel for the coming five years. This plan is part of a hierarchy of other plans including the Regional Planning Guidelines as well as the National Spatial Strategy which, along with a series of other policies and guidelines, set out the context of the Clonmel Development Plan.
Cllr Dennehy’s motion was a follow-up to his objection to the Clonmel Development Plan at last month’s meeting of the council for the above reasons. Speaking then, he said he felt that there is too much pressure on land that is zoned for residential use in areas such as the Fethard Road and Cashel Road. “These areas are already populated, we need to bring down the density of these areas, there is too much going on and this is putting too much pressure on us,” he said last month.
“I understand that people want a hub status for Clonmel but it should not be at a cost of quality of life for people. This is putting pressure on water services, waste services, maintenance, traffic problems. We need to stand up for ourselves here and tell the Department that Clonmel will not grow by 4,500,” he said.
But town manager Sinead Carr cautioned against making any request to the Department to change population projections for Clonmel because of the negative impact it will have on the town’s status. “I don’t want to be inflammatory about this but we can either treat Clonmel like a village or we can treat it as a town that we have indicated here that we want it to be.
“The fact of the matter is that Clonmel is a very strong and vibrant town. This is a guide and an indication of how you want the town to grow, striking a balance between the population, employment, education and the services and facilities that you provide,” she said.
A reduction in population projection for Clonmel could result in an under-provision of necessary infrastructure in the coming years as well as a lowering of the priority of the town and funding that it might receive, according to the manager.
“That certainly has a very big say in terms of where you sit in the settlement strategy and the funding that you get for various types of infratsructure, whether we like it or not,” she said.
“If we want to provide a bright, quality, forward-thinking, vibrant type of town then you have to look at being a little bit more bold in your vision, a little more bold in the sort of objective that you want to achieve and then it is our job in the development plan to ensure that is done in a balanced manner.” She said that even if land is zoned in the development plan, it does not mean that all such land will be built on, that is why there is a development management system in place.
“I think that you would be going down a very narrow road and one that in 20 years’ time, nobody will thank you for if you start reducing the potential of Clonmel to grow to where it should be growing. Nobody expects the population to grow to 25% but it gives us the flexibility to look at options of how to develop the town in a balanced way,” she said.
According to Ms Carr, Clonmel can play a much stronger role in the new Munster district proposed in environment minster Phil Hogan’s ‘Putting People First’ document which sets out local government reform. Clonmel will be in the very middle of this new southern region, as opposed to the periphery, where it now stands, and this could be a very positive move for Clonmel, she said.
Cllr Dennehy said that did not want to see Clonmel set lower than any other town in the area but called for some realism in the data that is used to see how the town will grow.
“The major problem that I have is that that will result in an over-intensification of development in certain areas,” he explained.
The motion was postponed until the December meeting pending further talks and worskhops that will take place in the coming weeks on the Draft Development Plan.