The Government’s National Planning Framework (NPF ) has recognised Athlone as a ‘key regional centre’ in the Midlands, but stopped short of attributing city or capital status to the town.
This means that Athlone has been earmarked as an area for key growth in the region, which will lead to increased investment in infrastructure and services in the locality for the next decade and beyond.
The plan has predicted that growth areas like Athlone, Drogheda, Dundalk, Sligo and Letterkenny will experience population growth of up to 30 per cent in the next 20 years, but did not specify exactly how much the areas can grow. Instead this will be decided by Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, which will be determined by regional assemblies made up of local area councillors from the various districts in the region.
“Due to strategic location and scale of population, employment and services, Athlone has an influence that extends to part of all three Regional Assembly areas. Given the importance of regional interdependencies, it will be necessary to prepare a co-ordinated strategy for Athlone at both regional and town level, to ensure that the town and environs has the capacity to grow sustainably and to secure investment, as the key regional centre in the Midlands,” the plan reads.
The designation has been welcomed by local politicians and businesspeople.
“I am very pleased that the Government has finally recognised and designated Athlone as the town best placed to drive economic growth for the midlands region into the future,” said Mayor Aengus O’Rourke.
“Call it what you may - city, capital or growth centre - it all means the same thing: Athlone and the midlands has had its status significantly enhanced and this can only bode well for the future.”
Mayor O’Rourke went on to thank local ministers Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Denis Naughten for their work in securing recognition for Athlone in the NPF. Athlone was entirely left out of draft copy of the framework published before Christmas, prompting several months of intense lobbying by the ministers.
For more on what the National Planning Framework means for Athlone, turn to page