Objectives from the Athlone Canal Planning Study will now be part of the new Town Development Plan.
The report, produced by Laura Courtney, was adopted by councillors at the July meeting of Athlone Town Council and has been warmly welcomed by elected members.
The canal, which has been described as ‘the missing link’ in Athlone’s development, could ultimately become a recognised looped trail with three main ‘character’ areas.
These are the Northern area which is described as recreational, a Central urban park area, and a Southern Callows area for reflection and angling, Ms Courtney recently told the council.
Potential areas for development include the footbridge from Iona Villas to Talbot Street, the northern canal bridge, Hammond Lane, and the trail stretch which is overgrown.
A raised boardwalk could be installed at the Big Meadow and there’s potential to improve the bank façade along Magazine Road, with further improvements along Battery Park, as well as rewatering a closed section of canal.
Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, who is involved in the Canal Restoration Group and has argued in favour of development of the canal area, said the report is an essential blueprint for the future.
Just two public submissions were made to the plan after it went on public display, one from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and one from the OPW, raising concerns about the natural environment and flooding risks, and those concerns have been taken on board.
Cllr O’Rourke called for the objectives and actions set out in the plan to be costed, and said the project could work hand in hand with the waterfront strategy.
It will require considerable capital spending, he said, but urged that the council proceed on a phased basis and keep an eye out for potential funding sources.
Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran agreed, saying the people of Athlone have been waiting for progress on the canal for a long time.
He also asked if there are small projects the council can proceed with from their own funds.
But there was surprise that there weren’t more public submissions, with Cllr Alan Shaw suggesting that perhaps there’s simply broad public support for developments since a public meeting almost two years ago.
He complimented Athlone Tidy Towns for work they do in the region of the canal, and joined the chorus of councillors calling for “some real intent on behalf of the council” to fund projects.
Town Clerk Hugh O’Reilly added his support to compliments from Cllr Shaw and Cllr Molloy for the Tidy Towns group, and said the executive will be “looking anywhere funding can be sourced”, especially if matched funding can be provided rather than the council having to provide full funding.
Fáilte Ireland funding and Midlands Gateway initiative funding are not available, he said.