Destination Athlone’s submission to the National Planning Framework, aimed at achieving city status for Athlone, has laid out all the locality and its environs have to offer.
The detailed 52-page document lists the positive aspects of the town, from its young, educated and motivated workforce, its growing population and potential for tourism, to its capacity to become a hub for life sciences, sports and recreation activities, and bio pharma industry.
Population and education
The submission notes that the population of Athlone expanded by approximately 15 per cent between 2006 and 2011 - with 2,609 more people living within its administrative boundary in the latter year. Of this figure, the population of 24- to 44-year-olds is markedly higher than the State average, meaning there is a large number of young, emerging families in the locality.
This has been complemented by population growth in Roscommon of 20 per cent and 31 per cent in Longford, in the years 2002 to 2016. It is estimated that the population of the region has the potential to double by 2040, exceeding 400,000 people within its direct sphere of influence.
Athlone’s location is also strategic in the context of education and knowledge, making it an attractive location for people to work in and companies to invest and do business in. The M4-M6 ‘knowledge corridor’ extends east to west along the motorway and contains a host of top universities, institutes of technology and other higher level educational institutions, affording all industrial sectors the opportunity to avail of a highly educated and motivated workforce.
The submission also lists the increasing number of employment opportunities in Athlone. It notes that IDA Ireland is actively promoting the Midlands as a thriving, vibrant region which offers an attractive cluster of life science and business services companies. The largest portion of these are in Athlone, which plays host to companies such as Ericsson, Alkermes, Alexion and Teleflex Medical.
Recent developments also include the first directly owned, managed and operated manufacturing facility built by biopharmaceutical company, Jazz Pharmaceuticals. Aerie Pharmaceuticals has also recently entered into a lease agreement with IDA Ireland to establish a new manufacturing plant in the newly constructed IDA Advanced Technology Building in Athlone.
Added to this, Athlone currently has 878 businesses operating within its settlement boundary, including the lands within the administrative areas of both Westmeath and Roscommon County Councils.
Transport and services
One of the key points in the submission focuses on Athlone’s access to transport infrastructure. Athlone sits at the centre of an interconnected road network, being served by strategic national routes including the M6, the N55, N61 (N5 ) and N62.
Athlone is also positioned on the Galway/Dublin/Westport rail line, providing commuter, intercity and inter regional services with a total of 29 daily rail connections.
Athlone’s central location means that it also enjoys access to Ireland’s main international airports, with Dublin, Shannon, and Knock all located within a 70 minute drive.
The submission further highlights Athlone’s access to healthcare, with Midland Regional Hospitals in Mullingar and Tullamore, Roscommon County Hospital, and Portiuncula University Hospital all in close proximity.
The tourism offering in Athlone and the Midlands also forms a significant aspect of the submission, with references to Athlone Castle, Luan Gallery, the Church of St Peter and Paul, the Galway to Dublin Greenway, and the Shannon Blueway.
The idea of Athlone as a hub for recreational, sports and activity tourism is mooted, with the Shannon, Regional Sports Centre, AIT’s International Sports Arena, Athlone Boat Club, Buccaneers Rugby Club, and Athlone FC all listed in support of this.
The submission notes that Athlone’s offerings are bolstered through other local authority-driven tourism initiatives across the Midlands, an example of which is Longford County Council’s Mid Shannon Wilderness Park, an initiative which will combine existing natural amenity areas including Lough Ree, the Rivers Shannon, Inny and Camlin, the Royal Canal, Newcastle Wood and other forests and the future rehabilitated Bord na Móna bogs.
The submission is expected to come before the Dáil after the summer recess.