Monday, May 24, 2010

Eye 911

A review of the Development Plan for the town of Athy has commenced and last week a meeting was arranged for the Carlton Abbey Hotel as part of the public consultation process required under Irish planning legislation. Arranged by Athy Town Council with the assistance of planning officials from Kildare County Council it drew a disappointingly small response from the local people who will be directly affected by what’s included in the Development Plan and by the planning decisions which will result. The local attendance just about exceeded the number of Council officials at the meeting, but surprisingly not a single elected member of the Town Council attended.

Planning is a subject which excites, alarms, disturbs and occasionally pleases or satisfies, but not always in equal measure and seldom, if ever, does one find the entire community sharing the same views on any planning issue. It is surprising therefore to see such a lethargic public response to the well publicised notices of the meeting which was organised specifically as an integral part of the consultation process for reviewing the Town Development Plan.

The same week as the planning meeting was held, Kildare County Council erected a modified version of the Dublin ‘spire’ in Emily Square prompting an enormous degree of discussion and dissatisfaction amongst Athy people. Seldom have I met so many who expressed themselves as unhappy with the Athy ‘spire’ and who seemed anxious to know my views on the matter ‘given that Athy is a Heritage town’. My non committal response probably surprised many, for I am quite frankly less than enamoured of the Heritage town label being used as grounds for justifying one’s opposition to any type of development in the town. As for the ‘spire’ itself, like its bigger Dublin brother it is in my view an ugly intrusion into the town centre streetscape.

Given the earlier mentioned public consultation on the revision of the Town Development Plan it was surprising to find that no consultation whatsoever took place with the Town Council before Kildare County Council erected the ‘spire’ in Emily Square. As Athy Town Council and Kildare County Council are two separate and distinct corporate bodies it is reasonable to assume that the permission of the Town Council would be sought before Kildare County Council erected anything on a public open space within the functional area of the other local authority. I believe no such permission was sought or obtained – so much for local democracy.

Returning to the planning consultation meeting the Heritage town issue again raised its head, this time in the context of its possible deterrent effect on the development of the town of Athy. A lazy interpretation I felt of the real causes of the town’s ills.

Athy’s major problem is due solely to the town father’s failure to provide a road infrastructure capable of taking heavy goods vehicles and all the through traffic away from the retailing centre of the town. If the long awaited Southern by-pass was in place the independent retailers on the main street would be encouraged to develop a town shopping experience to rival anything offered by shopping centres in adjoining towns. The Southern Distribution Route would also help create better opportunities for industrial development than is now possible with the current traffic gridlocked streets. Athy needs industry, particularly so having regard to the apparent likelihood of Minch Nortons succumbing to corporate ‘plundermania’, which as in the case of the Irish sugar industry sees more financial advantage in closing factories and importing goods rather than employing local manpower in manufacturing.

The Town Development Plan needs to address not only the traffic issue but also how the planning process for Athy can best serve the local community’s needs for industrial development and improved retailing facilities in the town. The future for retailing in Athy in my view is best served by the development and improvement of independent shops in the town centre rather than on supermarket developments on the outskirts of Athy. There are many other matters affecting the future of Athy which need to be addressed in the new Development Plan, only one of which I will mention. It is the urgent need for a coherent plan for the development of the town’s waterways and trackways to maximise their potential use by locals and visitors alike.

The building of the Southern Distribution Route coupled with a parking policy which encourages shoppers to shop in Athy will provide the impetus for the regrowth of the town retailing centre. The road is vital but even more so is an imaginative approach to encouraging the development of the towns commercial, industrial and cultural needs for the benefit of all, making Athy a better place in which to live and work.

I understand that the Town Council will be accepting submissions on the Town Development Plan up to 27th May.

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