Plans to double the size of Athlone got under way this week after Westmeath County Council agreed to publicise its project for an earmarked 302 hectares (750 acres ) on the town’s eastern reaches.
However, there was no mention of a “landmark rotating spire”, nor of 35,000 visitors or 2,000 migrant workers setting up a “permanent trade fair” or “a wholesale trading centre” .
Contrary to the lunchtime news on RTE on Monday (June 21 ), the council was not “debating a proposal to re-zone hundreds of acres”, as was reported in the story which suggested at the arrival of 10,000 jobs within five years at the location after “Taoiseach Brian Cowen confirmed he has held talks with potential investors aimed at attracting major Chinese investment in the midlands”.
A less-hyperbolic Mary O’Rourke TD has confirmed she met a delegation from China 18 months ago but sensibly pointed out that “they were looking at other sites in Belgium, Germany, the UK and France”.
The Creggan Local Area Plan is the council’s effort to provide a site for the properly managed employment and commercial growth of the town in line with its Gateway status in the 2002 National Spatial Strategy, and has already been thus designated by both the council and Department of Environment.
The area in question is just outside the town’s eastern boundary, and stretches from Garrycastle bridge to the RTE masts along its northern boundary; from the AIT to the N62 Birr turn, west to east; and south over the Dublin-Galway railway line to almost the Shannon callows. The footprint of the designated site is roughly equal to the existing area of Athlone whose population is expected to rise to 26,000 within 12 years.
“It’s very important to let people know this is not 302 hectares being rezoned,” said Cllr Mark Cooney in the council chamber this week.
“This is strategically positioned outside Athlone and is highly important. It is already within the county development plan,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to think this is at the whim of some developer,” he added.
The Creggan area is one of 48 such “developing areas” within spatial strategy-designated gateways and hubs around the country that were presented by local authorities to the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government for promotion in this way.
The council has settled on this part of Athlone for future, guided development because of its proximity to the AIT, the M6 motorway, and the Dublin-Galway railway line. Also, bearing in mind the flooding of last November, the southern edge of the site stops well short of the Shannon floodplain.
There is no reference to or list of landowners mentioned within the plan, nor is there any timeline set out or suggested within it as to when this idea might begin to materialise.
The plan, along with its environmental report, will go on public display at the Civic Centre in Athlone from today (June 25 ) for six weeks.