Fine Gael Councillor, John Dolan, has called for more support to be given to people looking to set up creches and playschools in rural areas.
The terms contained in the Westmeath County Development Plan, 2014-2020, say that affordable childcare facilities should be situated at easily accessible central locations. As a result, Cllr Dolan feels that these facilities are being forced into urban areas at the expense of rural employment and the needs of rural families.
Cllr Dolan said: “The perception is that people are being pushed into towns because the majority of the demand is in there. Planning permission in rural areas is hard to get, there are a lot of obstacles to it.”
Cllr Dolan said it is also for the benefit of the children themselves that childcare facilities be made available in their own locality: “The children who go to these creches and playschools will be able to progress to other levels of schooling with their friends; that is a very positive thing. They will make friends there that will last the rest of their lives.
“In rural Ireland, this is one area where we can create local employment and provide a service. I think it should be encouraged and we all know that it is not.”
Mayor Tom Farrell agreed with Cllr Dolan’s comments: “Parents are being forced into towns,” he said, “and children are being forced out of the environment that they are used to. It is important that we address this.”
Independent Cllr Michael O’Brien said that “life is tough enough on rural families” and said the council needed to support rural Ireland in whatever way it can.
In response, director of services, Barry Kehoe, said: “We need to identify the barriers to establishing these facilities in rural areas. We can look at applications that have failed and see how these might be addressed. We also need to be careful not to bring people out of urban areas to rural areas, but we do need these services in rural areas as well. The best place for them would probably be in the general area of a school.”
Mr Kehoe said he would write to the County Childcare Committee to get a clearer idea of what facilities are currently available and what the demand for places will be like in the near future.