As Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, prepares to pass on his chain of office at the forthcoming meeting of Athlone Moate Municipal District, he spoke with the Athlone Advertiser this week to reflect upon what he described as an “unprecedented” year in the role.
“To have the responsibility of being Town Mayor, to further promote Athlone, which was thriving in the summer of last year as I donned my chain of office, as the major retail centre in the Midlands, to support businesses and communities, to work with our tourism sectors is a true privilege,” Cllr. Keena stated.
During my time as Mayor I relished the opportunity of meeting with IDA and Enterprise Ireland to identify their requirements from the Council, assisting them in their work.
“The local authority have a responsibility to provide the infrastructure and amenities that will first of all benefit the lifestyle of local residents and businesses and also be used to attract further investment into the town and district.
“By working in close collaboration with IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, we can boost the town’s economy by attracting more jobs which in turn will be of great benefit to local businesses such as the hospitality industry and retail sectors,” Cllr. Keena commented.
The extension of the Old Rail Trail, a regularly used amenity by locals and visitors to the town, is to be welcomed.
“This extension will bring cycling tourists directly into the heart of the town and it will also provide another excellent loop walk for the public.
Meanwhile, as Chairman of Athlone Regional Sports Centre, I am welcome the development of the new public amenity park being around the facility which will be linked to the greenway, a project which should conclude in July,” Cllr. Keena remarked.
A focus upon the three urban regeneration projects remains with their fruition of vital importance to the town’s future.
“Our three urban regeneration projects covering Connaught Street, the Canal, Ranelagh, Loughaniskan Site and the extension of the street enhancement east of Church Street will prove pivotal with regard to Athlone’s ongoing development,” Cllr. Keena asserted.
Housing provision, a pertinent issue, in continuous need of address, was to the fore during my term as Mayor.
“Numbers on our housing list remain high with the Council attempting to address this with the purchase of one off housing for certain applicant’s requirements, by utilising the RAS and HAPS schemes
“I am glad to say that part of the Arcadia development will be made available for letting shortly, while the Council have also received initial stage approval for 18 more units in Arcadia, stage three approval for 10 units in McCormack’s Field Cloghanboy and are at advanced planning stage for 14 units at Rindoon.
“The LIHAF housing project located between the Sports Centre and Garrycastle plans to provide 547 housing units in total with 170 of these falling under the ownership of the local authority. This is a major scheme and the Council, in conjunction with Alanna Roadbridge developers, plan to submit to An Bord Pleanala this year.
“I have received reassurances that the residents in Brawny will be further consulted on the proposed route and specification of the new road through their estate before submission.
“The provision of affordable housing is most necessary and I have raised this issue on numerous occasions at Council level. There is a large population of people who are unable to access the social housing list due to income thresholds and who still have not enough money to buy their own home. Affordable housing is the solution in this regard and as a result of my continous representations, the Council have placed advertisements seeking to purchase land for such housing,” Cllr. Keena reflected.
The Town Mayor reflected proudly upon his Junior Mayor initiative which has proved popular in the local schools.
“Thirteen schools participated from both the secondary and primary sectors. It is all about giving young people a voice and I would like to thank all the Junior Mayors for the way they represented their schools and peers,” Cllr. Keena stated.
However, the year 2020 has been one of much upheaval to date with flooding and COVID-19 issues affecting local communities.
“The river Shannon again rose to extremely high levels in mid February causing much distress to local communities. While the permanent flood defences in place worked well other areas were subject to significant flooding.
“The cost to Athlone Municipal District in containing the floods this year was approximately €200,000 and to date we have not been reimbursed from the Department.
“I recall at our March monthly meeting making a call as Mayor to the general public for extra vigilance to contain COVID-19. To mitigate against this we are in the midst of a lockdown with businesses, schools and sports grounds all being detrimentally impacted. This virus is unprecedented and very worrying for the health of our nation and also the economic impact on the country.
“I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all our frontline health personnel and relevant agencies who have been to the fore as we continue to suppress this virus in our communities.
“I have also been particularly busy during this pandemic, delivering food to people cocooning and self isolating, in assisting people with application forms for the COVID-19 PUP scheme and COVID Hardship schemes and aiding businesses in accessing various supports to help them survive.
“When the public health guidelines allow, it is my firm belief that every support needs to be provided to our business communities to help them reopen.
“I was very vocal seeking a commercial rates write off for the period March to June. I am of the view that this waiver should be reviewed further for those businesses not operating after June due to COVID-19,” Cllr. Keena emphasised.
The Town Mayor concluded, affording his fulsome gratitude to the support received by his fellow elected public representatives and the Council executive during his term of office.