Planning office move from Athlone to Mullingar mooted
Westmeath County Council is proposing to centralise Athlone's planning office to Mullingar, it has emerged.
The move was first signalled several weeks ago following a review of the planning service, and it's understood staff have been briefed on the possible changes which have incensed Athlone public representatives who see the plan as another reduction of services in an expanding town with hopes of city status in the future.
In his Monthly Management Report circulated ahead of the September meeting of Westmeath County Council on Monday, CEO, Pat Gallagher, alluded to a change under a section headlined Review of the Planning Service which stated: “A review of the current delivery of the Planning Service has been undertaken. A staff briefing was held with all planning staff and proposed changes to the delivery of service outlined. Staff have been invited to comment on same”.
When asked for comment on reports circulating that the local authority wants to centralise Athlone's planning office to Mullingar in a bid to improve efficiency, Fine Gael's John Dolan said the proposal makes “no sense” on several levels and it's more planning staff the town needs not less as the current service are “run off their feet”.
“The simple fact is I'm opposed to it (the planning office) moving. Essentially Athlone is a designated town (a regional growth centre in Project 2040) and it deserves to have a designated team for planning,” Cllr Dolan said. “It's important to say there is a not a final decision on this, and I can't see how we will improve our service by centralising it to Mullingar. If you are centralising anywhere, it should be to Athlone in a designated town.”
From a practical point of view, Cllr Dolan cannot see how it will work either as he can see files going over and back to Athlone and Mullingar with staff, something that isn't exactly good for the carbon footprint or the quality of service provided.
People in Athlone will still want to lodge their proposals locally, inspect planning files which will have to come from Mullingar under this plan, hold pre-planning meetings, and all local files need to be signed off by Athlone's District Manager so he cannot see how centralising fully to Mullingar or having a two-day a week service or a postbox in Athlone will benefit the customer or the public.
“It's another service being moved out of Athlone, it's an important service. Westmeath is unique in that it has two strong towns and planning has been centralised in some places but it makes no sense to centralise here with two big towns. This is too important of a service. To say all Athlone councillors are annoyed is an understatement. I'm doing everything in my power to change it,” he vowed.
Westmeath County Council has yet to comment on the issue.