A decision taken by An Bord Pleanala to grant planning permission for a strategic housing development within the townlands of Cornamagh, Clonbrusk and Coosan has afforded cause for due consideration from two elected public representatives who have detailed their views pertaining to the issue in recent times.
Castlestar (Athlone ) Limited were formally granted planning permission to construct 426 residential units, including 237 houses and 189 apartments as well as a crèche and associated site works within the designated site on the east side of Athlone. Construction on the strategic housing development entitled Dún an Rí is expected to commence in the first quarter of next year.
The application was lodged directly with An Bord Pleanala as part of the Strategic Housing Development process and therefore did not necessitate adjudication at local Government level.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Town Mayor, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, noted his satisfaction that the swathe of green land was being put to use but queried the composition of the strategic housing development and stated his belief that relevant concerned submissions were not addressed by An Bord Pleanala.
“While I am pleased to see this prime urban tract of land being put to good use for the purpose of providing desperately needed houses, aspects of this strategic housing development decision leave me cold.
“There are many valid questions regarding the design, layout, scale and height of this development. I asked these questions, as did the many locals, who made submissions, but from what I could see none of our concerns were addressed in the Bord’s report.
“So, you would have to ask the question, did they even read our submissions, never mind consider them? We can have no way of knowing what the planners in An Bord Pleanala thought of our concerns and those of the locals. What about the proposal to break down a wall in a quiet cul-de-sac of fifteen years and turn the street into a main thoroughfare through to a development of more than 400 houses? A crazy suggestion, but now approved!
“I am not sure what this says about our planning process, other than it desperately lacks transparency, it clearly lacks fairness and it is anti-democratic. The views of the people and the public representatives were ignored. There is a housing shortage in Athlone and that is accepted. We need social and affordable houses, private family homes and executive style houses,” Cllr. O’Rourke asserted.
The Town Mayor referenced his aspiration for Athlone to develop as a city and as the regional growth hub for the Midlands region the need is great to provide essential infrastructure in tandem with such hopes.
“We have ambitious population growth targets for Athlone. To develop as a city, to attract ongoing investment in business and increase employment levels, we need to be ambitious and grow as a town.
“We cannot do so without a suite of complementary infrastructural pieces that make up the ‘city’ jigsaw. Some of those pieces in Athlone are missing, we can only just about produce enough water to cater for the residential base and commercial base we have at present, we are still pouring raw sewage into the River Shannon while we wait for a main drainage scheme and we run out of money changing old street bulbs because we can’t receive the investment to upgrade to LEDs and save money in the long run.
“So, 420 houses in Coosan, 500 more in Brawny, and a number of other schemes on the horizon. We urgently need to see investment in and delivery of the missing jigsaw pieces in the very near future. This is of paramount importance,” Cllr. O’Rourke concluded.
Akin to the Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, stated that the approved strategic housing development was a “missed opportunity” to build good quality family homes on prime land within the town.
“This site is an ideal location to build good quality energy efficient family homes where buyers can aspire to live and raise their families,” Cllr. Keena commented.
“Further concerns noted by local residents relating to building heights, access to neighbouring estates, increase in traffic volumes and housing density seem to have been completely dismissed by An Bord Pleanala. This is no way to treat people and it is clearly obvious that this development was granted planning permission in keeping with the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing," Cllr. Keena remarked.
The Fianna Fáil Councillor said that he will be reading the full report in detail when it is formally published to note if any compassion was afforded by An Bord Pleanala to the submission observations and concerns expressed pertaining to the development.
"Those who wish to challenge the validity of An Bord Pleanala’s decision may do so by way of a judicial review, but such legal option comes with a cost," Cllr. Keena concluded.
Noting his desire to witness the provision of quality housing to meet the demands of all relevant sectors, Cllr. Keena said that he was not in favour of constructing residential units transitional in nature due to inadequate space and environs.
“Such residential units are a feature of this strategic housing development which are poor in design and not in keeping with neighbouring houses.
“In making their decision, An Bord Pleanala referenced national design and building height guidelines but it astounds me that they have dismissed the need to cater for people with mobility issues as the internal design of these housing units is of a poor standard with all units showing the provision of only an upstairs bathroom, ludicrous in this age of modern design.