An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission for the construction of a new bridge across the River Shannon in Athlone.
Spanning 104 metres between the Radisson Blu Hotel on the east side and Luan Gallery on the west, the proposed bridge will form part of the Dublin to Galway Greenway.
An Bord Pleanála granted planning last week and issued a compulsory purchase order and permission for the closure of a right of way alongside the river.
Minister for the Office of Public Works, Kevin “Boxer” Moran, has commended the local authority for its efforts in advancing the project to its current stage.
“The credit must go to the council executive and all the councillors who have been pushing for this,” he said. “It’s great news all round and it strengthens my hand to put pressure on Shane Ross’s Department to deliver on the greenway to the west of Ireland.”
Local Independent councillor, Michael O’Brien said this is very welcome news for the future development of the greenway. Cllr O’Brien said the bridge as a critical piece of infrastructure in terms of advancing the greenway west, and that he and his colleagues will now be focused on obtaining funding from the Department for its construction.
Mayor Aengus O’Rourke (FF ) has welcomed the development, but insists there is some way to go before the bridge becomes a reality.
“I am absolutely delighted that at this stage all the work that has been undertaken has been met with a positive reaction from the board,” he said. “It is a huge undertaking as a project, but to get the green light breaths real life into it.
“To attempt any crossing of the river is a huge undertaking from a planning perspective, but also from a structural and investment perspective. So, this is the first meaningful step in that endeavour. We are now armed with permission, which puts us in a fantastic position, to go with that in our back pockets to the Department looking for funding. We are in a strong position now, and because the project ties in with the Government’s greenway strategy.
“Further west of Athlone is a bigger issue. Those negotiations need to be ramped up a bit in order to make the bridge a reality, because I don’t see funding being granted for a bridge that would only bring us to Accommodation Road in Athlone. It would need to be a means to an end - which is bringing it all the way to Galway. So, I think there is work to be done.”
Fine Gael’s John Dolan said: “I think it has to be welcomed. I know there are problems on the Connacht side of things, but I think this is a step in the right direction. Even for the Westmeath side of things, this is an important move. It is looking like it is heading in the right direction.”
Cllr Dolan, who last year met with Galway landowners due to be impacted by the greenway, said the Government now needs to start from scratch on negotiations to advance the amenity further west.
“It was badly handled for the west in the beginning,” he said. “I attended a meeting in Athenry some time ago. There was over 60 people there, and they felt that some of the routes proposed weren’t practical for them. There was one dairy farmer who would have had to cross the greenway at three different places to bring his cows in, so that is not practical. The landowners are not against the cycleway, but they felt at the time as though it was being forced upon them.”