Mayor Aengus O’Rourke has reflected on what was “a productive and successful” year for Athlone.
The last 12 months have seen many projects progress, some of which have been in the pipeline for over a decade.
“One that immediately springs to mind is making the final decision in relation to Church Street,” Mayor O’Rourke commented. “It is a project that lingered for years without much advancement, so it was certainly good to get that underway.
“The issue of the Railway Field has also progressed more in the last six months than it has in many a year, and I think we are close to a deal on it. Again, this is a project that has been hanging in thin air for 14 years. “
Mayor O’Rourke also noted the significant investment in the construction of a new STEM building for AIT, which could see an additional 1,000 students attend the institution once built.
Twelve months without a major flooding incident must also be welcomed along with the commencement of meaningful flood relief works in the locality, he added.
On a softer note, the Jadotville days of celebration were real highlights.
“To be given the honour as mayor of speaking at the day we had for Jadotville soldiers was huge for me personally,” the mayor commented. “That along with the day we had in the barracks in December, when the Minister issued the medals, they were really special days this year.”
Above all the accomplishments, Mayor O’Rourke said the return of his council colleague and good friend Cllr John Dolan to health is the standout moment of 2017.
While there was much to celebrate throughout the year, the mayor identified the draft National Planning Framework as a particular negative for its failure to imagine a different future for the midlands, with city status for Athlone at its centre.
“The draft plan really ignored Athlone and the midlands,” he commented. “It flew in the face of everything that has been said by the Government on development outside of the major cities and investment in the regions.
“Is Athlone’s potential recognised in Dublin? I don’t think so. But I think there is politics at play here. I think the framework document was gerrymandered by politicians who were keen to take care of their own patch, and I think they have serious questions to answer.”
Looking forward to 2018, Mayor O’Rourke identified housing as the greatest challenge both nationally and locally.
“We are dealing with record homelessness in the country, record numbers on the social housing list, and problems in the private housing sector. For me, I regret that the government has not stepped up, and that is not a political slap in any way,” he said.
“I would love to see the government announce a large scale public/private arrangement that would facilitate the substantial building of social housing, and that would allow flexibility in terms of zoning and designation. We have a lot of vacant commercial buildings that are no longer commercially viable. Landlords should be given the opportunity to convert them to residential units, but planning or zoning is preventing that. We need action on this, and I hope we get a meaningful response next year.
“I also hope we see the fast-tracking of funding for the cycleway to bring it from where it is over the river, but primarily, I hope that the Government will properly recognise Athlone and the midlands in 2018 in terms of its potential for growth.”