Westmeath County Council has instigated proceedings against the Tullamore businessman responsible for the now derelict Texas shopping centre in Irishtown.
Tom McNamara has until the end of June to tidy up the site, and board up the broken windows at the now defunct Athlone Shopping Centre situated between St Mary’s Church and Sean Costello Street.
He also faces paying a levy of 3 per cent of the building’s registered value on January 1 under the Derelict Properties Act, and faces the same levy every New Year’s Day if the building continues in a state of dereliction.
This came to light in response to a motion from Cllr Frankie Keena who sought an update on the building he described as being in a “disgraceful state” at this week’s meeting of county councillors from the Athlone area.
“We’re now coming into another summer season and we have this eyesore with all the windows broken. I’m disappointed the council isn’t able to do more with the owners,” said Cllr Keena.
However, speaking for the council, Hugh O’Reilly acknowledged that Mr McNamara had made efforts to upgrade the premises that has now been empty for three years after he replaced some windows at the rear of the site.
However, as these have been broken since, Mr O’Reilly told the meeting the council would accept if these were just boarded up.
“Improvement work has been undertaken in recent weeks with the removal of vegetation and the replacement of hoarding along the St Mary’s Square boundary,” he said, before confirming that the matter was now in the hands of the Legal and Enforcement Section.
“We’d like to get more progress, but the reason it’s an eyesore is because of the economic downturn in the country. I mean, we have derelict premises on Church Street,” he pointed out.
Once a building is on a register of derelict properties and its valuation accepted, the local authority has the power to order the clean-up, under pain of the 3 per cent levy.
“It must be rendered non-derelict enough to not detract from neighbouring properties. Remove litter, power wash, paint. What we’re saying is just tidy it up,” said a council spokesperson.
Mr McNamara is one of three owners on the site, with the car park being run by a Dublin firm called Kardiz Ltd, and the retail units to the left of the through road owned by Mardoc Holdings from Galway.
There is no action against either of the latter two firms, and indeed Mardoc Holdings is “engaging with Westmeath County Council”, and still has an active planning permission for its holdings here, granted in 2009.
Other councillors voiced some support for Cllr Keena, with Cllr Mark Cooney pointing out that he had brought up this very subject four years ago, and suggested looking at changing the laws of compulsory purchase to favour the council.
Cllr Tom Allen said driving through the site at night was “a frightening experience”, while Cllr John Dolan called the situation a “nightmare scenario”, and called on the council to push this issue “at a higher place”.