Athlone Chamber of Commerce has criticised the planning process in relation to the proposed Chinatown development this week, despite it getting planning permission in just seven months.
The chamber this week issued a press release entitled “Planning uncertainty for international trade hub”, saying that “Business in Ireland is greatly disadvantaged by the lack of a modern planning system”.
“The current planning process can jeopardise the future of international business in Ireland, a fact illustrated clearly by the delays that are now being encountered by the promoters of the international trade hub at Creggan, Athlone,” said Siobhan Bigley, spokesperson for the local business lobby group.
“This project has gone through a lengthy planning process which commenced in excess of three years ago,” she said.
The only application received from Athlone Business Park Ltd, the front company for the project, was on May 20, 2011 with permission granted to the initial €175m phase on December 2. Since that date just six objections have been lodged with An Bord Pleanála.
About four years ago, Westmeath County Council began to look at where the future eastern expansion of Athlone could be facilitated and properly managed in line with the town’s Gateway status from the 2002 National Spatial Strategy and the County Development Plan.
In May 2010 the council presented the Creggan Local Area Plan to the public and voted it through a few months later.
“The zoning of the land had to go through a lengthy public consultation period. Again this plan would have been open to public consultation. Finally, the proposed development has been open to public submissions. These submissions have been thoroughly assessed by the local authority prior to reaching a decision to grant planning permission,” said Ms Bigley.
“The biggest problem is the time delays within the process and the uncertainty this causes. An Bord Pleanála aims to make decisions in 18 weeks but in reality, decisions can take up to a year, hence potential foreign investors are likely to think twice when they see the difficulties that can arise,” she said.
In conversation with the Advertiser last month after permission was granted, spokesman for Athlone Business Park Ltd John Tiernan said one of the main reasons the Chinese investors sought to set up here was because they felt it would be easier to sell to EU clients if the products were subject to its consumer protection laws.
“The chamber is satisfied that the phased development is appropriate and will result in the sustainable growth of the town,” said Ms Bigley.