Persistent pandemic presence fails to halt Athlone’s progressive evolution

RONAN FAGAN

As the dawning of a new year fast approaches, Westmeath County Council Cathaoirleach, Cllr Frankie Keena, reflected upon a turbulent year during which the persistent presence of Covid-19 impacted upon matters local community and will continue to do so during the initial months of 2022.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic is causing much stress, annoyance, sadness and worry. This virus is reaching into each sector of our community with a major hit on businesses, schools operating in difficult circumstances, many suffering from isolation and raising the need for more mental health services.

“Noting such instances, I would wholly encourage individuals to get vaccinated as soon as possible. If you are not worried about your own health, I would urge you to respect the health of your wider families and general public and get vaccinated, it will greatly reduce the impact on our health service,” Cllr Keena asserted.

Despite the persistent pandemic presence, Cllr Keena noted that urban regeneration projects primed to enhance the appearance of Athlone continue to progress.

“Our three urban regeneration projects continue to progress. Part 8 planning has been approved allowing for construction work to commence on the pedestrianisation of Sean Costello Street, while work on both the Loughanaskin site and Connaught side of Athlone is in progressive mode also.

“Turley Consultants will also commence an Urban Design and Regeneration Framework Plan for the town, news which is a further boost for our ever developing town.

“This framework will initially focus on proposals to regenerate the west side of Athlone, improving the viability, attractiveness and liveability of this locality. The Council’s overall aim is to enhance the tourism and cultural assets, unifying the east and west of the town as a tourism destination, resulting in significant benefits for the entire community,” Cllr Keena added.

The official opening of the greenway extension from the Whitegate of the Marina was a significant development for Athlone with the construction of a cycleway bridge across the River Shannon set to boost tourism numbers in future times.

“The greenway extension is complemented by the construction of the new cycleway bridge across the River Shannon. On completion, this cycleway bridge will provide alternative pedestrian and walking links from east to west and will act as a catalyst to develop this core town centre area into a major tourist destination.

“The imminent provision of a bike for hire scheme in Athlone will also be invaluable for both local residents and tourists.

“In total, there will be a cost of €20 million for such infrastructural works, a major investment into Athlone’s future as a regional growth centre,” Cllr Keena stated.

As Athlone strives for city status, the town is now renowned as the “retail capital of the Midlands region”, Cllr Keena remarked.

“The progressive work conducted by Athlone Chamber of Commerce, Destination Athlone, Athlone Tidy Towns, Athlone Canal Group and many more community groups continues to promote Athlone in a very positive manner, enhancing our town’s status on an ongoing basis,” Cllr Keena commented.

The formal unveiling of TUS Midlands Midwest was a key moment in 2021 with the benefits of such a development to Athlone and the Midlands region set to be vast.

“TU status will be of great support to both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland in driving development and investment across the region as it will further strengthen its competitiveness, attract foreign direct investment and create employment for its pool of graduates,” Cllr Keena stressed.

Continuing with a positive mindset, Cllr Keena noted that the local authority had adopted its county development plan 2021-2027.

“The Athlone Urban Area Plan will be adopted in 2022 and will be the first joint development plan between Athlone and the Monksland South Roscommon area. and there will be opportunities for the public to make submissions on these draft plans.

“To date, we have adopted a joint retail strategy between both local authorities and we are also at an advanced stage of completing a joint transportation study.

“This is quite apt as Athlone needs to grow as one entity and we need to support and promote in a unified manner,” Cllr Keena continued.

Despite the positives which Cllr Keena believes 2022 will bring, housing provision remains a concern for the local authority, but developments are presently ongoing with the aim of reducing relevant property waiting lists.

“Housing provision is the one topic on which I receive most public representations, but thankfully there are now five housing developments currently under construction in Athlone and when completed, they will provide an extra 650 housing units for the town, consisting of private and social properties.

“Planning permission has been approved for the construction of a further 700 houses with an additional number of smaller local authority developments at an advanced stage of the planning process. This is a good news story that needs to be echoed.

“The recently published Affordable Housing Bill empowers local authorities to build, acquire and make available homes at prices which are below the open market values and this will also help with regard to the provision of homes for those in need,” Cllr Keena said.

Concluding, Cllr Keena, hoped for a return to a semblance of normality in 2022 with the aspiration that impact of Covid-19 will be greatly reduced within the community.

“Our local community en masse necessitates a break from this pandemic. I fear for the mental health of many within our community should the detrimental impact of Covid-19 continue on a long-term basis.

“It is a great honour for me to be Cathaoirleach of such a progressive town and county - I would like to thank you all for giving me this opportunity and am available to be contacted anytime on 085 7474074 if you think I can be of assistance,” Cllr Keena concluded.

 

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