With just three weeks to go before Westmeath County Council makes a preliminary decision on the plans for the €1.4bn Chinese exhibition suburb on the eastern edge of Athlone, only four critical submissions have been received by the planning department to date.
All four submissions are from local residents, and voice fears about increased traffic, health issues, loss of privacy, rural destruction, and property devaluation. The council will possibly order the parent company of the monster development - Athlone Business Park Ltd - to provide further information on issues like traffic management.
As the plan has been deemed “consistent” within both the County Development Plan by the county council, and also the regional planning guidelines by the Environmental Protection Agency, it is unlikely four local complaints will hold up the project for too long.
This initial, €175m application is seeking permission to build two exhibition halls, each of 30,000 sq m, and if all goes swimmingly, should open by 2015.
The entire plan, which will almost double the size of Athlone over the next 15 or 20 years, will see the construction of exhibition space equal in area to 18 Golden Islands, for the price of three Towncentres.
The area in question is just outside the town’s eastern boundary, and stretches from Garrycastle bridge to the RTÉ 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.
Last September, Westmeath County Council paved the way for the development when it voted to accept the county manager’s proposal to re-zone the 302Ha (750 acre ) site.
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 the Environment.
Figures presented by the applicants predict that 9,000 jobs will be created, with up to 30,000 visitors coming annually.
The former county manager of Roscommon, John Tiernan, is CEO of the applicant company, with Aidan Kelly and Michael O’Sullivan named as directors. No information concerning the investors has been made public yet.