Final planning approval for Castlestar project as appeal window closes
The way has been cleared for work to begin on the first phase of over 400 homes for the Coosan/Cornamagh area after the time period for anyone to take judicial review proceedings challenging approval for the development lapsed just before Christmas.
Castlestar (Athlone) Ltd got the green light at the end of October to proceed with the massive development encompassing 426 homes on land bordering Buccaneers rugby club, in the townlands of Coosan, Cornamagh, and Clonbrusk despite a massive wave of local opposition to the plans.
The €120 million development has progressed through the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) process, a relatively new scheme that fast-tracks large-scale housing plans over 100 units to An Bord Pleanála for a decision bypassing the council.
In contrast to the local authority planning process, there is no appeal mechanism provided for in this scheme aside from challenging a SHD verdict in the courts via a judicial review, something seen by many as hugely risky and costly for a lone individual or community group.
There was an eight-week window following the approval to start court proceedings but that ran out just days before Christmas, a spokesperson for An Bord Pleanala confirmed prior to the Christmas break.
The developer of what's thought to the town's largest ever residential project has already indicated that it hopes to begin construction in the first quarter of 2021 on what will be known as Dún an Rí Athlone, which will be made up of 237 houses, 189 apartments, a creche, outdoor play areas, parkland, and a new 430m section of a new distributor road linking Coosan and Cornamaddy.
The company said it expects the first homes to be available for sale by the fourth quarter of 2021 by developing the 15 hectare site on a phased basis.
Over 70 submissions had been lodged to An Bord Pleanála opposing massive housing development citing concerns across a variety of grounds from size, density, design, traffic congestion, and regarding a proposed access point through the Church Hills estate, and issues relating to the road/school infrastructure in the area.
In its 25-page ruling in October, however, An Bord Pleanála granted approval subject to compliance with 31 separate conditions.
Residents expressed surprise and disappointment at the ruling back in October but it seemed unlikely even then that they would be challenging the verdict in the courts given how onerous and expensive that could turn out to be.
It is the first major Strategic Housing Development (SHD) scheme to get the green light in the Athlone area.