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'Our Rural Future' headed into a bottleneck

I am getting calls constantly from people looking for houses in the Duhallow region. One of the callers is in New York, working with a company there, but wants to move back to Duhallow, working remotely for his New York employer. Another got a job in Boston Scientific in Ireland and, on the first day, he went to the gate and was given a laptop and told to work from home.” Cllr Bernard Moynihan

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Availability of broadband is a key issue in rural areas. Stock image

Availability of broadband is a key issue in rural areas. Stock image

Availability of broadband is a key issue in rural areas. Stock image

corkman

While Fianna Fáil councillor Bernard Moynihan believes the 'Our Rural Future' plan announced last week could be as transformative for rural Ireland as free education was when it was announced in the 1960s, he believes rural Ireland isn't ready for the amount of people who want to live in areas such as Duhallow.

The public representative from Kiskeam is an enthusiastic supporter of the plan announced by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin along with Rural Development Minister Heather Humphreys, but he's concerned that the broadband that's needed and the housing that will be necessary isn't in place in and around towns and villages such as Kanturk, Castlemagner, Boherbue, Newmarket, Ballydesmond and his native Kiskeam.

"There are difficulties with rolling out broadband, it's not happening fast enough in areas like Duhallow," he said.

The National Broadband Plan roll-out is coming in Duhallow's direction, it seems, as a survey has been carried out in the area served by a connector in Rathmore, an area which takes in villages like Knocknagree, Boherbue and Kiskeam. All that's being awaited now in the area is a connection date.

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The housing question is far more challenging again as COVID-19 has played into the picture here.

As has been reported previously in The Corkman, substantial housing developments in Castlemagner and Boherbue are being held up due to planning issues related to the freshwater pearl mussel and the inadequacy of the waste-water treatment plants in those villages.

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Concerns: Cllr Bernard Moynihan

Concerns: Cllr Bernard Moynihan

Concerns: Cllr Bernard Moynihan

In total there are up to 80 houses being held up by the lack of progress on those two developments alone.

"Those houses would be gone immediately if they were to become available in the morning," said Cllr Moynihan.

"Some who are living with their parents will want to move out into their own space - that's only right."

He said that further planning issues looked likely, as he saw in other counties, where even stricter rules are being introduced against the development of one-off houses in rural areas.

"In Meath, for instance, there's a provision being proposed for the incoming County Development Plan that one-off houses should only be built where the proposed occupier has a site of at least 15 acres," he said. "I would be concerned that what's happening in Meath now could be happening here in rural Cork in a matter of years."

Another issue which has the potential to delay provision of housing for 'Our Rural Future' is the flight of skilled building labourers from Ireland in pursuit of work in the UK and further afield after construction work was stopped in its tracks by COVID-19.

"The workers aren't there or are very scarce altogether, so when building does restart, that's going to be one of the first challenges that needs to be over come," he said.

"The cost of building material has also gone up by around 20 per cent - all of which is adding to the cost and challenge of building."

Despite these obstacles, Cllr Moynihan is confident that the 'Rural Future' document can have a lasting, positive impact on Duhallow and other rural regions.

"The research suggests that companies are getting more productivity from people working from their home," he said.

"That's going to lead to more and more people being encouraged to work from home.

"The more we roll out rural broadband, the more people are going to want housing."


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