Athlone Business Park Ltd, the backers of the €1.4 billion Chinese Trading Hub, are hopefully to break ground at the Creggan site by next year.
John Tiernan, CEO of the company, said that it is optimistically hoped to start building phase one of the project within 15 months, with the project completed two years later, in 2015.
Speaking after the news this week that An Bord Pleanála have approved the plans for phase one, with some conditions, Mr Tiernan said “We’re very pleased to have gotten the project through to this stage; it was a big, multi-faceted plan which An Board Pleanála dealt with efficiently”.
The next step for the trading hub is to secure investors, something which Mr Tiernan says the company has been working vigorously on for some time.
“We’re mainly looking at attracting Chinese mobile capital to invest in the project, but there is a second level of investors needed as well. We need industrial manufacturers to take up floor space in the exhibition halls.
“We’ve been travelling over and back to China and have made contact with many different investors who were just waiting on final concrete approval on the plans,” he added.
Mr Tiernan went on to explain that as the project is of such a large scale there would need to be a certain gestation time before anything happens. “I am optimistic that construction can start in 15 months, but I stress that this is optimistic,” he told the Advertiser.
The former county manager for Roscommon explained that he has dealt with large projects before and is aware that obstacles can present themselves, but he added that once they break ground it will take two years to complete phase one.
“Once we have investors and engage with a constructor, there’s no turning back,” he added.
Reaction to the project has been mainly positive, and the news has been welcomed by politicians, business people, and the general public alike.
It is hoped that the construction phase of the project will see 1,200 jobs created with a further 1,500 jobs coming on stream when the trading hub is in operation. Its backers are looking at a potential 9,000 jobs if phase two of the project is also completed. The trading hub will see investors from Europe and the US travel to Athlone, with an estimated 1,750 visitors expected every day.
Speaking to the Advertiser, Ray Byrne, president of Midlands Gateway Chamber, said, “It claims that the facility - which will also have a special Irish division to promote domestic business - would end the need for US east coast business leaders to go through time-consuming visa applications and travel plans to get into China to see factories and products and place orders.”
However An Taisce, the national trust for Ireland, came out this week with questions regarding the plans
In a statement released this week An Taisce said that, “This is the first stage of a proposal of staggering size and scale that the promoters claim will be the greatest commercial and trade centre in Europe.
“An Taisce believes that the vague nature of the planning conditions attached to the development and the lack of global consideration of sustainability by An Bord Pleanála is a serious concern.”
The statement went on to say that there are still concerns over transport links between Dublin Airport and Athlone town, the amount of a bond given to Westmeath County Council, and the stability of energy and climate systems.
Regarding the bond, Mr Tiernan said that within the plans submitted are possible alternative plans for the building if it failed as a trading hub. However he stressed that it was not their intention to fail, but because of the scale of the project they had added a paragraph on alternative uses for the site.
“We are not planning for failure,” Mr Tiernan concluded.