Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Athy's new six year Development Plan

Last Tuesday officials from the Planning Department of Kildare County Council held a pre-draft consultation session in Athy’s new library to get feedback from local people on plans for the future of the town. The publicity for the consultation process set out its purpose as proper planning for the development of transportation, housing, retail, heritage, employment, social and community facilities. In short, planning for living in Athy. The declared aim of the public consultation was to engage with people who live, work, recreate or visit Athy and so stimulate debate on the future of the town. I called into our magnificent library just before 6pm, the session having started three hours earlier and which was scheduled to last for one further hour. At that stage approximately 30 persons had called to interact with the planners, a figure which I felt was extremely low given the town’s population of 10,000 or more. Perhaps the advance publicity for the consultation process did not reach out sufficiently far and wide to attract attention. Whatever the reason anyone interested in the future of Athy can make their views known to the Council planners at any time before 5pm on Tuesday 24th April. Submissions can be made online or by post to the Planning Department at Aras Chill Dara, Naas. To help those wishing to do so the Council has prepared an eight page booklet setting out the key issues to be addressed and copies of the booklet can be picked up in the local library. The present six year development plan for Athy is a very comprehensive document which sets out what is described as ‘an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the town’. If one examines the record of implementing the multi-faceted strategy adopted under various headings six years ago there cannot be complete satisfaction with the results. An examination of the Transport and Movement element of the plan shows that the outer relief road and the foot bridge across the River Barrow have not been progressed as we might have expected. The continued absence of cycle parking facilities in the town centre is another part of the existing plan which was not implemented. The use of car parking facilities in the urban area subject to fees during business hours is a feature which is generally felt runs counter to the Council’s declared vision of re-establishing Athy as a ‘key shopping destination’. While Athy is well serviced with strategically placed parking areas in the town centre local shopkeepers find that car driving customers are not encouraged to shop in the town. This is because of what is perceived to be unnecessary prohibitive car parking fees. Shopkeepers and shoppers alike ask why the County Council cannot accept its responsibility to encourage town centre shopping by allowing customers two hours free parking. Such an arrangement would allow the independent shop keepers to compete with the large conglomerates who have stolen a march on them with out of town shopping centres with free car parking facilities. I have listened to the oft repeated argument that traffic management requires car parking fees, but I am not convinced that genuine traffic management concerns would in any way be increased by allowing two hours free parking for shoppers. Such an innovative move by the Council would make a huge contribution to improving the retail profile and competitiveness of the town of Athy. Time limited free car parking has been provided in some towns in County Cork – why not here in County Kildare? There is an urgent need for a bold and innovative move by Kildare County Council in relation to car parking for shoppers in the town of Athy if we are ever to stop the leaking of retail expenditure to adjoining towns such as Carlow, Newbridge and Portlaoise. The current town plan acknowledges that unless local people are encouraged to shop locally there will be serious consequences for the vitality and viability of the town centre of Athy. That view was expressed in the Town Development Plan six years ago, but nothing has been done in the meantime to address the parking issue. If it was addressed in the manner suggested by so many, ie. 2 hours free parking for shoppers, I have no doubt that coupled with the construction of the outer relief road it would sustain and more importantly lead to the expansion of the retailing heart of Athy. Next week I will look at other elements of the town plan but in the meantime your views on issues which might be addressed in the new local area plan for Athy should be made known to the officials in the Planning Department of Kildare County Council. You have until 24th April to make your submissions.

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