Monday’s special cabinet meeting brought the Government’s National Planning Framework, “Ireland 2040: Our Plan”, one step closer to publication. However, many politicians argue that the framework is overly Dublin-focused, neglects the development of Athlone, and will only serve to deepen Ireland’s urban/rural divide.
The Government has thus far ignored calls from Destination Athlone and local politicians to develop Athlone into a regional city by 2040. Such a development, they argue, would offset the dominance of Dublin, and give residents of the Midlands an alternative to a daily commute to the capital.
Mayor Aengus O’Rourke spoke of his disappointment at reading the first draft of the NPF late last year.
“We felt that we lost some ground with the publication of the draft document before Christmas, where Athlone hadn’t been mentioned once,” said the Mayor. “That was very disappointing given the detailed submissions made, especially by Destination Athlone.”
Now O’Rourke hopes that the media spotlight on the NPF could help Athlone’s case.
“So far, the amount of consultation has been poor, and now it’s gathering awareness nationally politically and among the public. It is planning for the country for the next generation, which should in itself have everyone sit up, pay attention and contribute.”
As it stands, the NPF has allocated 75 per cent of all growth to Dublin and the next four cities. The remaining 25 per cent will be spread around the entire rest of the country.
“Most of the talk is about how the population is not in Athlone, and in my view you need to build it first. You can’t build a population without the infrastructure, and that has been missed so far,” said O’Rourke.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran assured critics that everything possible is being done behind the scenes to include Athlone in the plan.
“Both myself and my fellow Independent Alliance colleagues met recently with An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar where a very strong case was put in relation to Athlone,” said Minister Moran, “and I hope that more meetings take place this week.
“I think when the plan is published we should see Athlone recognised because of the vital importance of Athlone and where it sits.