“Borne out of frustration” were the words uttered by Athlone Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, as he addressed his fellow elected representatives and council executive, regarding the unkempt nature of a number of businesses in the town, the tourist season now being in “full flow”.
Cllr O’Rourke was calling upon Westmeath County Council to make a presentation in relation to the efforts being made by the local authority via incentives and enforcement to deal with poorly maintained, idle and dirty shop fronts in our town centre and throughout the district.
“My motion before you here today is ‘borne out of frustration’. The town was looking its most splendid best during the recent All-Ireland Drama Festival but there are still those who refuse to engage with efforts to improve the appearance of their businesses.
“As we continue to invest in our town, there are still a cohort of shopfronts constantly in a poor state from an exterior appearance perspective and I still receive calls from business owners requesting that the council visit their premises and ‘pull a weed’ when the need arises - it is difficult to comprehend at times.
“In my opinion we need to speak with those businesses who are not willing to cooperate. The need is such for our local authority to employ personnel who will visit businesses and advise the owners of their shopfront responsibilities,” Cllr O’Rourke asserted.
Concurring, Fine Gael councillor, John Dolan, stated that businesses should be doing their utmost to have their properties in pristine condition.
“If they have not yet applied for the shopfront enhancement scheme it is highly unlikely that they will do so in the future. Why businesses who make their trade within our town are failing to upgrade their premises is beyond belief, I simply cannot fathom this realisation,” Cllr Dolan commented.
Acknowledging that the majority of local businesses were in the process of recovery following Covid-19 lockdown, Cllr Frankie Keena stated that further encouragement was required to ensure premises were to a certain standard.
Responding, director of services, Barry Kehoe, stated that the local authority did not have many options, shopfront enhancement scheme aside, to encourage local business owners to improve the exterior of their respective properties.
“Such properties are either derelict or outside the remit of the council’s work. However, there are not many derelict premises on the core streets of Athlone, they are mainly vacant. We can speak with the various street associations and the Chamber of Commerce to find out what can be done going forward in this regard. As a local authority we are very happy to support if there is a willing audience.
“As you are aware, there is funding already in place to assist such businesses with the enhancement of their premises. The shopfront enhancement scheme is a practical initiative and as a council we would obviously wish to see further participation from local businesses so as to improve their exterior appearance,” Mr Kehoe concluded.