Offaly councillors vote against primary care centre in Birr

Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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justin.kelly@iconicnews.ie

Offaly councillors vote against primary care centre in Birr

Offaly councillors vote against primary care centre in Birr

Offaly County Councillors have voted against a proposed primary care centre near the site of Birr Rugby Club at Scurragh, Townlands, in Birr. 

The proposed development required a material contravention of the Birr Town and Environs Development Plan 2010-2020, which had been originally adopted by the old town council.

The land, as the home of Birr Rugby Club, was zoned as public/community/educational in that plan, while this development would require a change to commercial/residential in order for planners within the council to give the green light.

The plan was to contruct a purpose built primary care centre, a development which would include a HSE day centre, three doctor's surgeries, a day hospital with treatment and consultation rooms, as well as administration offices. The centre would have also featured an in-house pharmacy.

Upgrade works to the adjoining Birr Rugby Club were also included in the plan, to include new floodlights, changing room block, all-weather pitch and the raising and levelling of a training pitch. 

However, the retail element of the primary care centre in terms of the pharmacy being put into an 'edge of town' development raised concerns for a number of councillors. The worry expressed in a number of submissions on the proposed plans and in the chamber at the June meeting of Offaly County Council on Monday, June 18, centred on the effect of the 'retail' element of the plans on the town centre of Birr. 

Cllr Eamon Dooley said he had been contacted by "a number of concerned GPs and pharmacists," and that "there is a threat to business in Birr town."

"If we support this via contravention, we can't ensure those concerns will be factored in by the planner's conditions," he added. 

"Fianna Fail won't support it without knowing what will happen with conditions to address the concerns of the exisiting businesspeople," Dooley stated.

It is policy that the planner's report is not available to councillors before it's agreed and a number of councillors were therefore concerned about opening up that area, which is more than 500 metres from the town centre, to commercial development at the planner's behest. 

Cllr John Carroll echoed those concerns in the chamber and in his submissions to the council on the proposed development. As well as the concerns for footfall being diminished in the centre of the town, he also raised the issue of traffic adding a further blow to Birr. 

Cllr John Leahy agreed with Cllr Carroll, saying the proposed development would effect "traffic and therefore small and medium enterprises." 

"Developments like Tesco, Applegreen and fast food outlets outside the town will have a devastating effect on Birr like Cloncollig has had on Tullamore," Leahy said.

"Birr is a unique town, footfall is excellent, why are you trying to destroy that?" the Renua leader continued. He also said that the services detailed for the primary care centre are "not new." He said the centre itself would be welcome "if there was no retail there sucking the life out of the town."

Cllr Dervill Dolan said he would not be supporting the contravention to allow the development, but stressed that he was doing so reluctantly. He said it was significant that four of the six Birr based councillors were voting against the contravention, saying, "there is clearly concern locally and I too would be concerned about the retail impact it would have on the town centre."

On the other side of the argument, Cllr John Clendennen and Tommy McKeigue supported the material contravention to allow the development go ahead. Cllr Clendennen described all health services being under one roof as a "progressive health vision."

"If we don't approve this today and we see continued wait times in the town of Birr, what answers will we have for the people we represent?" Cllr Clendennen added. 

"With fast food outlets and big retailers getting planning permission, if we were to go against this this, it would be astonishing, he continued. 

His Fine Gael colleague, Cllr Tommy McKeigue, also supported the contravention, saying, "South Offaly and North Tipperary is badly served by medical services. This is a proper site and won't be impinging on anyone. It won't take any business from the centre of the town."

Cllr Brendan Killeavy and his Sinn Féin colleagues also supported the contravention, with Killeavy saying, "these primary care centres are the way to go. If you don't have the facilities, you won't get the additional services."

"I can understand the issues with the retail element but you have to look wider than a few individuals looking after their own business," he added. 

Following some heated discussion, Fianna Fail left the chamber to discuss their position before a vote was taken.

The material contravention was defeated by a margin of 12 to 6, with one member, Cllr Eddie Fitzpatrick, abstaining from the vote. Fianna Fail as a group voted against the contravention, while Fine Gael and Sinn Féin voted in favour. 

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