Galway county councillors have agreed to a material contravention of the Athenry Local Area Plan to make way for the development of a discount foodstore in the town.
Local businessman, John Joe Brady, has applied for planning permission for the 2,000sq metre store, which is located just off the town’s square. The development will also encompass a new access road off Church Street, and a car park with 116 spaces. Due to the current zoning of the site, a change to the Local Area Plan was needed for the development to go-ahead.
At Monday’s local authority meeting, planning officials indicated that it was being recommended that the development be granted planning permission, subject to certain conditions.
Acting director of services, Catherine McConnell, said planing staff had looked very carefully at the nature of the proposal and they believed it was in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. Ms McConnell outlined that a plan would not be proposed for a material contravention unless it had passed a rigourous assessment process. “On merit we have decided it is a positive development for Athenry. It is a high quality design and well located. It will strengthen the retail offering in the town centre. The town is significantly underprovided for when it comes to retail providers of this nature. The retail spend in Athenry is actually millions below what it should be. There is a major leakage from the area - with people travelling to Oranmore, Galway etc, to spend money.”
Plenty of support for the development
Local Fine Gael councillor, Peter Feeney, has been vocal about his support for this project. He said there were very few decisions that would have as much impact on a town as this one would have. “It is the boost Athenry needs, it will kick-start the town centre again. This proposal has massive support in Athenry because we are all looking at a town which is dying on its feet. The centre of Athenry has been devastated due to a change in retail trends. People are now shopping outside of the town in big supermarkets.”
Cllr Feeney said the material contravention would not be proposed if this was not seen as a vital development. “Business people in the town centre are in favour of this, planners see the benefit of it and locals want it. This is one of the last meaningful chances to re-develop the town centre. It is an opportunity to give a lifeline to one of our towns.”
Another local representative, Sinn Féin’s Gabe Cronnelly, said in the past number of years 24 businesses in Athenry had closed down and only three had opened up. He said that while the arrival of the data centre, which is being constructed by American technology giant Apple was a welcome boost, the town needed more new businesses. He produced a petition which was signed by more than 2,000 locals in support of the proposal. “Two thousand people are saying we need this, and we do,” concluded Councillor Cronnelly.
Councillor Martina Kinane said public representatives had a duty to listen to the local community who evidently wanted this discount foodstore. The Fianna Fáil councillor believed the development would have a positive spin-off effect for other small businesses in the area.
Connemara councillor, Tom Healy, oulined how a discount foodstore (Lidl ) opening in Clifden had increased footfall into the local area. “What we have seen in Clifden is people can go in to their local town to do their full weeks shopping as opposed to having to travel to Galway, and in rural Ireland that has to be welcomed. It has improved Clifden’s relationship with Carna, Cashel, Rosmuc, and probably South Connemara in general - if this is replicated in Athenry it can only be a good thing.”
Kinvara representative, Joe Byrne, also believed it was a positive development for the area. He pointed out that the extra car spaces being provided so near to the town centre would be of benefit, as shoppers would have plenty of parking and may then venture into the town centre.
Fellow Fine Gael councillor, Frank Kearney, said the store would give life to Athenry’s centre, “something which has not happened for 10 years.” Councillor Kearney believed the town’s post office could even be in danger of closure if this plan did not get the go-ahead as there is so little footfall in the town.
Killconnell’s Timmy Broderick was one of the few dissenting voices against the development. “We already have enough retail units. What we should be doing is trying to encourage small businesses into them. The arrival of the big discount stores is the nail in the coffin for small businesses. Is this what we are now supporting?”
The proposition went to a vote and was passed with ease with 31 of the 36 councillors present in favour of allowing the material contravention to Athenry’s Local Area Plan to allow for the construction of the discount foodstore.