Large-scale housing development planned

Long considered something of a backwater, Kilmacthomas is now front and centre of the county and is poised for considerable expansion.

The N25 realignment had threatened to cut the mid-Waterford village adrift some years ago. However, the opening of the Waterford Greenway has transformed the area’s fortunes and made it a magnet for tourists, small businesses, and now housing.

SE (Kent) Construction are now seeking permission to build nearly 100 homes above the village at scenic Graigueshoneen on the Old Road, which leads directly onto Main Street less than 300m away. A new “footway” will be provided from the village to the development.

Described as “a high-quality living experience” with mountain views, the proposed “Leargán” (Mountain Slope) scheme comprises 98 dwellings of five different sizes on a 40-acre elevated site known locally as Browns’ Field, just northwest of the village.

Planning was previously granted in 2007 for 139 houses there, but that permission expired. The section of the site the houses would be built on is already zoned residential. There is a Montessori immediately across the road at Currabaha.

Proposed facilities include pathway links to the village and Greenway and large areas of open space — one of which would include a medieval ringfort discovered in 2018. On the recommendation of an archaeologist, this historic feature will be protected by a 15m buffer zone and tree planting to form a wildflower meadow.

SE (Kent) Construction is the same Tramore family-owned company behind past and present developments in Kilmeaden.

Meanwhile, Villierstown-based Horsom Contracting Ltd are seeking permission for a 3-storey, 9-unit apartments block on the site of an old service station just off the Square. And last week councillors approved the conversion of the nearby former 3-storey Mercy convent for a 12-unit senior citizens accommodation scheme.

The Council recently completed a €3.4m 16-unit social housing scheme below the local GAA field, but further private development shows just how popular the area has become.

Kilmacthomas has a huge hinterland, with students travelling from more than a dozen feeder schools in places like Portlaw, Dunhill, Kilmeaden, Bonmahon, Carrick, and Kilrossanty.

Categorised as a small rural town, the population of Kilmac’ is just under 1,500 at present. That could well surpass 2,000 soon.

Councillors’ reaction

Speaking at last Wednesday’s Comeragh District meeting, Kilmacthomas councillor Ger Barron (Lab) welcomed what is proposed, which “will make the village into a small town.”

He insisted: “Villages need to grow. If they stay stagnant, they deteriorate. It seems a lot of houses but in the great scheme of things, there’s such a need for housing in this country, and this county … it’s the most important issue that faces us as politicians.”

He added: “I know a few people have reservations about it … but in the main I think this will be good [though] we need to make sure that, unlike in the past where we allowed developers to build houses without the proper infrastructure around it, we will need to have a look at the road infrastructure — the existing road being quite narrow — as well as footpaths, lighting, and everything else connected to that during the planning process.”

Cllr Seanie Power (FG) said he’d “like to see this development going ahead” and was sure the issues mentioned would be taken into consideration by planners before it gets “over the line.”

Comeragh chairman Cllr Liam Brazil (FG) said it was an “another good news story for Kilmacthomas” to see this many houses being planned. However, he felt that where applications for housing in villages come before the planning authority, “we should make sure that we have adequate room in the [local] schools” to cope with the population increase.

He noted another application for 15 houses in Kill and felt “some provision” should be made by the developers for additional land to extend the school there. “Back in 2003-04, in the good times, there were 60 houses built in Kill but there was no allowance made at all for the children going to school.”

Two extensions had been added to the school in the meantime, but both were built on what was the playground. As a result, “at the moment pupils are taking turns in the playground, which I don’t think is good from the point of view of their mental or physical health,” Cllr Brazil said.

“So I would ask the planners to take all these things into consideration when they are making a decision in respect of the proposed new houses in Kilmacthomas and also in Kill.”

Senior Executive Planner Aisling O’Sullivan said a decision on the Kilmac’ application is due on 3 April and submissions can be received up to 13 March. She advised people “to engage in the process” and to make a formal submission if they’ve any concerns. A “suite of information” had been submitted with the application with regard to infrastructure and community facilities, etc.

“We do look at the impact of these housing developments on the local area,” she said, adding that, with regard to schools, “we’re happy to facilitate any type of meeting that would be required if it’s to get extra space or community facilities”.

She stressed that the council may not be able to provide it, “the school will have to work through the Department of Education, etc., but we’ll be happy to sit down and talk to them and the developers. And we do that on an ongoing basis … to support all of these houses that we’re getting.”

‘Forward planning’

Cllr John O’Leary (FF) said there would be keen interest locally as to what impact the development might have. He wondered if a public information meeting might be held to better inform the community.

On the wider issue of population growth in local areas, “I’m concerned about the forward planning” when it comes to places like Kilmeaden or Kill, he said. “There don’t seem to be any moves afoot in relation to the school in Ballyduff” which is on a very small local road. “I have an email from the principal of the school there” and “it’s at capacity … Where is the forward planning? It needs to happen.”

He contended that where applications come in for big housing developments in different areas, “there should be a further plan coinciding with that from the Department of Education.

“Having said that, I want to put it on the record that I welcome housing, we need housing, it’s a welcome development [in Kilmac’] … but we do need to manage it in a way that it does not leave an area in a worse situation,” he stressed.

Cllr O’Leary asked the Director of Services for Housing if he’d any comment to make on his point that a process of assessing and addressing other needs in the locality should immediately be activated when a major planning application goes in.

Ivan Grimes said “there isn’t a provision within the planning process for other state agencies to be consulted. There are forward planning sections of different departments that are responsible for the provision of infrastructure, like schools. I’d agree with you that there should be, but unless there’s a statutory basis for that, it’s difficult for us as a local authority to influence [matters].

He added: “That wouldn’t stop us having regular conversations with the likes of the Department of Education about the location and provision of future schools”, but that was ultimately their statutory function and responsibility.

Concluding the discussion, the chairman, Cllr Brazil, stressed: “There’s no-one here talking against planning [permissions] as long as the right infrastructure is in place.”

Jamie O’Keeffe