March deadline for initial joint plan for Monksland

Westmeath and Roscommon County Councils have until March to submit an initial report to the Government on how they intend to cooperate on the management of the Monksland area of Athlone.

Director of services Barry Kehoe told councillors at Monday’s Westmeath County Council meeting (January 30 ) that the task is the first step in a series of recommendations which have been made by the Athlone Boundary Review Committee, which has ordered “a new programme of structured cooperation” be initiated by both local authorities.

While the boundary review recommended no change be made to the county boundary, it instructs Westmeath and Roscommon County Councils to work together to produce a “unified vision for Athlone”.

Their tasks include a joint retail strategy within 18 months, joint local area plan within two years, and the implementation of service delivery changes within three years.

In the event of the substantial non-completion of these tasks within a four-year period, the committee said it would then recommend the Westmeath county boundary be extended to take in the area of Roscommon in question.

The first step, currently underway, is the preparation of a joint implementation plan, to be submitted by March 31, detailing the actions and resources required, and a timescale to achieve the actions.

Mr Kehoe said a number of other areas of cooperation are being pursued with Roscommon County Council, including the development of the Destination Athlone tourism brand.

While welcoming the update, mayor of Athlone John Dolan (FG ) pointed out that the boundary review wasn’t initiated by Westmeath.

“We were asked to participate in the process... there were a lot of unhelpful comments that lacked facts, such as that Roscommon GAA clubs were going to be playing in Leinster, that the diocesan boundary would move, or that Roscommon would lose out financially, which was not the case,” he said.

Cllr Aengus O’Rourke (FF ) agreed that there had been a lot of “scaremongering”.

“Much of that should be laid at the door of the commission, who didn’t provide information to the public. People believed they would go to bed in Roscommon one night and wake up in Westmeath the next day.”

He welcomed the formalisation of cooperation that is already in place between the two councils in areas such as the fire service, road gritting, and the work of the IDA.

Meanwhile Cllr Frankie Keena (FF ) said a joint plan regarding tourism made sense, as visitors don’t see local authority boundaries when they are visiting an area.

The Athlone Boundary Review was established by then Minister Alan Kelly in June 2015 to decide whether the Westmeath boundary should be extended to take in an area of south Roscommon including Monksland, Bealnamulla, Drum, and Kiltoom. Some 27,949 submissions were received by the review committee, the vast majority in favour of maintaining current boundaries.

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