Councillors welcome a ‘new beginning’ for Athlone

approving the €3m westward one-way system for Church Street at Monday's meeting of Westmeath County Council in Mullingar (April 24 ).

Mayor of Athlone, John Dolan, was the first to speak on the issue. He said it was his pleasure to be the one to propose that the council accept the plan.

He told those in attendance that both he and his fellow councillors had not taken the decision lightly, and had conferred during many hours of discussions in order to come to a fully informed decision.

Mayor Dolan added that Church Street's high vacancy rate "tells its own story", and that representatives of the IDA had remarked that they have been forced to avoid the area when showing investors what Athlone has to offer. He said it is time that Athlone had a main street that everyone can be proud of; one that will encourage investors, create jobs, and boost the local economy.

Fianna Fáil councillor Frankie Keena said that in his 22 years as a public representative no other project has enjoyed so much discussion and consultation.

"As one who was born and raised in Athlone, and as a long-standing public representative, I want to see my town develop and thrive for the benefit of local businesses and indeed the large population that it caters for and for future generations," he said.

Cllr Keena thanked all those who made submissions during the public consultation process, and called on all stakeholders to embrace the project in order to show Athlone as a "progressive town focussing on the next phase of development".

Independent councillor, Ailish McManus, said the project is based around creating a brighter future for Athlone. She said she wishes Athlone to be seen as a modern town, and to ensure that it continues to evolve as a key centre in the Midlands. Cllr McManus added that the plan is different to the failed eastward one-way experiment in 2008, and that "it must be given a chance".

Fianna Fáil's Aengus O'Rourke said the issue stands as the most important he has been involved in during his eight years in public life. He said the easy decision would have been to leave the street as it is, but that Church Street is in "a critical condition". He said the attitude of anyone coming to shop in the area is "get in and get out", and that he wished to see it a place where people want to stop and spend time.

Fine Gael councillor Tom Farrell said the decision heralds "a new beginning" for Athlone. He said the revamped Church Street will experience a boost in business from both inside and outside Athlone. Cllr Farrell added that consultation with all stakeholders will be ongoing throughout each phase of the project.

Sinn Féin councillor Paul Hogan said he is "very proud" of the hard work he and his colleagues on the council have put in during the last two years. He gave special mention to director of services Barry Kehoe for the work he undertook.

Independent councillor Michael O'Brien said a lot of good points were expressed through public submissions and that all of them were taken on board. He added that the council will continue to engage with stakeholders throughout the development.

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