A graphic of the proposed Tubber/ Horseleap airport

Local airport plan is back on the radar

A proposal to build an airport in the Tubber/Horseleap area could be about to take off once more following news that Offaly County Council is looking for €2.5 million to carry out a feasibility study into the venture.

Recently, the Offaly local authority set out details of several large scale projects they intend to apply for funding under Rural Regeneration and Development Fund 2018 which is part of the Project 2040 process, including a study into the long talked about airport close to Tubber and Horseleap on the Offaly/Westmeath border.

The idea of developing an international airport in this area has been flying around for close to a decade now. Back in 2010, An Bord Pleanala judged that the proposed airport does constitute strategic infrastructure development (SID), which was considered significant at the time as any application would go straight to the board bypassing the local planning process. However, little has happened in the interim, even though in 2016 Tullamore-based Patrick Little set up the Midlands Airport Developments Facebook page and proclaimed the project ready to go the next stage.

It was with much surprise then, and no little amusement, that the idea of an international airport in Tubber/Horseleap has been revived by a local council this week.

Offaly County Council is acting as a facilitator or a conduit for a third party who are looking to develop the airport, according to Fine Gael Cllr John Clendennen, who stressed that it is just one part of a larger scheme of projects of national importance that the local authority will put forward in a bid to get funding.

His party colleague Cllr Tommy McKeigue, who was also at the Offaly County Council meeting on Monday described the airport idea as “stupid”.

“I asked them 'is this for real, or is it a joke?”

With Galway airport closed, and Knock on one side, along with Dublin and Shannon on the other, Cllr Mc Keigue just doesn't see how this plan will fly at all.

“The whole thing is stupid. It's a waste of taxpayer's money for a feasibility study for something that's not needed,” he commented. “The island is too small for this.”

While Cllr Clendennen conceded that the airport project is in its “initial stages” and reaction to it has been mixed so far, he insisted that seeking funding the feasibility study is part of the council's wishlist for funding and is part of a bigger picture of other projects totalling over €35 million, including a redevelopment of Tullamore Harbour, completion of a major mountain bike trails project and others.

One of the cases currently being made for the airport project is that it could become the national hub for air freight, he said, adding that this group have investors and want to progress this ambitious idea then the council will assist them.

The current Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Cllr John Dolan, welcomed the move to seek funding for the idea of an airport in the Midlands.

“It would have to help the Midlands economy, and being so near to Athlone and Moate, it would be bound to help the two towns. I'd love to see it happening, it would be great for the area,” he said.

On the prospects of it actually materialising, the Fine Gael representative was bullish in his positivity for the venture.

“The point is that everyone was told Knock wouldn't work and it's working well. It has to be welcomed,” he ended.

At the time of going to press (Tuesday), Patrick Little from Midlands Airport Developments could not be reached for comment on the latest development in the airport saga.