The ever evolving landscape within the heart of Athlone will undergo further positive development following the initial presentation of design proposals for the town centre public realm enhancement project at the Municipal District meeting on Monday afternoon.
One of three urban regeneration projects which will elevate Athlone’s status within the Midlands region and beyond, the town centre public realm enhancement project is expected to achieve a construction completion date of 2023.
Virtually addressing the Athlone Moate Municipal District meeting, Ben Palmer, Senior Designer, working on behalf of McAdam Design, the Belfast based consultants charged with presenting the proposed design to the elected representatives and local authority executive, noted the numerous scenarios relevant to the project, with the preferred option being the pedestrianisation of Sean Costello Street.
Recommending the preferred option, Mr Palmer stated that the ultimate pedestrianisation of Sean Costello Street met the objectives as necessitated by the urban regeneration project.
“Our preferred option extends the previously implemented public realm on Church Street along Dublin Gate Street while still maintaining the civic hierarchy, forms a gateway that marks arrival into the town centre and unlocks the currently derelict site located at this prominent gateway into the heart of Athlone.
“Additionally, the preferred development choice promotes important connections between the traditional retail core with the two shopping centres, namely Athlone Town Centre and Golden Island Shopping Centre, responds to the pedestrian movement and ultimately, sets a catalyst for change for the public realm of the town,” Mr Palmer stated.
The design specialist further detailed the unique opportunity which presented pertaining to the proposed project development.
“The proposed pedestrianisation of Sean Costello Street allows for unique opportunities to be realised with space for planting and maximisation of biodiversity, the creation of a new environment for retail uses and a recreation encouragement for families in the heart of the town centre.
“A new dynamic space will be created utilising the level change at Sweeney’s Corner with a pedestrianised focus on the formation of an important link between the Town Centre and Golden Island shopping centres,” Mr Palmer asserted.
Reflecting upon the design presentation, Town Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, expressed his concerns with regard to the junction at Mardyke Street, Gleeson Street and Pump Lane as traffic flow would increase in this location with the closure of Sean Costello Street to vehicles.
“This dangerous junction would necessitate urgent address should we progress with the pedestrianisation of Sean Costello Street as traffic levels would be increased at this location,” Cllr O’Rourke remarked.
The Town Mayor was of the view that covering the pedestrianised zone would be worthy of consideration as the buildings which line Sean Costello Street were symmetrical in their construction prior to questioning the current ownership status of the derelict site, a key feature of the proposed development project.
Both Cllr Frankie Keena and Cllr Louise Heavin lauded the proposed design noting the recreation attraction and the biodiversity aspect entailed within the project.
“The junction, as noted by the Town Mayor, would necessitate a safety design, while ease of access to Sean Costello Street is essential for disabled persons,” Cllr Keena said.
In response, Barry Kehoe, Westmeath County Council Director of Services, stated that he was not in favour of covering the proposed pedestrianised street due to the additional cost factor involved.
“Enclosing the street with a covering would have a substantial financial impact and would also negate growth of plants and biodiversity planned for the location. We must create an atmospheric street feeling which is unique to Athlone,” Mr Kehoe remarked.
The Director of Services also noted that the derelict site was not the property of the local authority presently stating that a “statutory process” maybe the sole manner in which the location comes under the control of the Council.
“Upon concluding a consultation process with local businesses within the enhancement project area, I would hope to have the planning process completed by the third quarter of this year, design and construction to commence in 2022 with a project culmination date in early 2023,” Mr Kehoe surmised.
Recognised as the Midlands Gateway under the National Planning Framework 2040, a further two urban regeneration projects will significantly enhance the infrastructure within Athlone - the Athlone Tourism and Cultural Quarter Project with its focus on enhancing the streetscape on the west side of the town and the Loughaniskin Project which will see the development of an existing under-utilised strategic urban landbank which adjoins the core area of Athlone.