Connaught Street regeneration project is a 'long-term plan'

A view of what the former O'Neill's pub corner site in the middle of Athlone might look like after the regeneration plan.

Four houses in Connaught Street have been purchased by the council over the last twelve months as part of a major urban regeneration project to revive the historic thoroughfare and its environs.

It's hoped that tenders for consultants for the so-called Athlone Tourism and Cultural Quarter, one of three urban regeneration projects earmarked for the town, which aims to rejuvenate the West Bank, and the nearby Athlone canal and Ranelagh areas, will go out in the latter part of 2020.

While councillors were disappointed with the slower progress on the Connaught Street development in comparison to the others planned, Project Manager Deirdre Reilly cautioned that this is more of a “long-term plan” which is different from the others and needs more thought, and is not a “short-term fix” for the area.

Again, as at a previous meeting, there was dismay expressed with the 41-month or three and half years timeframe to complete the Athlone Town Centre Regeneration and Enhancement, which is effectively a continuation of the Church Street Enhancement scheme into Mardyke Street.

Indeed, Mayor Cllr Aengus O'Rourke quipped that there be a new bridge over the Shannon before this urban regeneration project is complete which is hard to believe.

Ms Reilly defended the timeframe, saying it is as tight a programme as possible detailing that Part 8 planning will take six months, then the preliminary design will need to be completed before procuring contractors. The construction itself will take another twelve months, she told councillors at the October monthly meeting.

Belfast-based McAdam Design has been appointed as a consultant and will bring the project to preliminary design, supervise construction and handover, with the Part 8 planning expected to progress by the middle of next year depending on funding.

On the O'Neill's site, she admitted it was an “arduous task” but they can now see light and the end of the tunnel in terms of the acquisition.

Meanwhile, Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, dubbed this site an “awful eyesore” and he is hopeful that they will be able to do something with that soon, and will be ready to hit the ground running on this scheme.

On the west side project, he reiterated the earlier view that this is a more long-term project, and they hope to make progress each year.

He reminded members that money is being spent on the Connaught side of the town with €600,000 earmarked to improve the area around Athlone Castle.

Elsewhere, there was positive news in relation to the proposed ‘Loughanaskin Urban Quarter’ project which includes the old St Mel’s Terrace area, including the former council depot and extending into St Mary’s Place, which could unlock development worth €100m.

Dublin-based planning company Turley has been appointed to complete the designs for the new “urban quarter” which could be ready in six months, the meeting was told.

They will look at developing a masterplan and urban design report to see what is achievable for the strategic site. Marketing documents will be developed to show potential investors, Ms Reilly said.

Following queries from Cllr Keena and Cllr Dolan, Ms Reilly confirmed that the funding does include four houses in St Mary's Place.

In the Dáil this week, Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien confirmed the up-to-date funding allocated to date for urban regeneration projects nationwide with €750,000 given for each of the three Athlone projects.

Concluding the discussion at the council meeting, Director of Services, Barry Kehoe said: “I just hope that funding keeps going because we need that.”

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