A computer generated image of what the Bower Hall development will look like.

Go-ahead for 99 housing units on old Bower convent site

Plans for a major residential development on the site of the former Bower convent in Athlone were approved this week when members of Westmeath County Council voted to contravene their own Town Development Plan to pave the way for the project.

In his report to the July meeting of the local authority, Chief Executive Pat Gallagher recommended the changes to the plan and told members that no submissions had been received as part of the public consultation process. He also pointed out to members that the educational use of the proposed site had “ceased many years ago.”

Cllr Aengus O’Rourke proposed that the Athlone Town Development Plan be contravened to make way for 99 residential units on the site of the old Our Lady’s Bower Convent building in the townslands of Aghacocara and Loughanaskin, Lower Road, Athlone in line with the recommendation of the County Manager, and his proposal was seconded by Cllr John Dolan.

In a four-page report which was circulated to members in advance of this week’s council meeting, the Chief Executive set out the main reasons and considerations on which the proposal to grant permission for the proposed development is based, chief among them being “the principal of sequential development” in assessing all new residential development proposals.

He said the planning proposal for the Bower site would “enhance the amenities of the area” by way of addressing “the existing brownfield and underutilised status of this prominent site” and would also “integrate successfully with the surrounding area”. That’s in accordance with council policy to “ensure that all new urban development, especially in and around the town centre is of high design and layout quality and supports the achievement of successful urban spaces and sustainable communities..”

In relation to zoning, the letter noted that the site is zoned “Community, Educational, Institutional” in the current Athlone Town Development Plan, but went on to point out that the use of this land for the original zoned purpose “is ceased.”

In light of this, The Chief Executive stated that the proposed residential development would provide for the “regeneration and protection of this prominent and architecturally significant site” and would satisfy the Council’s objectives in relation to the use of such lands.

The site of the former Our Lady’s Bower Convent and grounds was described in the Chief Executive’s letter to members as being “architecturally, socially and historically significant to Athlone” and it was also noted that “no submissions or observations” were received by the council from members of the public during the statutory four week consultation period after a public notice of the proposed material contravention to the Athlone Town Development Plan was advertised on May 28 last.

This week’s council vote paves the way for the construction of 99 residential units, comprising a mix of apartments, three townhouses, a library and a crèche, on the iconic hilltop site of the old Bower Convent overlooking Athlone town. As part of the planning application from a company called Wincove Land Ltd, linked to the the Hanly Group in Roscommon, a museum celebrating the legacy of the La Sainte Union Sisters, who operated the Bower Boarding School for generations, is to be incorporated into the planned library on the site.

Westmeath County Council Chairman, Cllr Frankie Keena, welcomed the vote on Monday to contravene the Athlone Town Development Plan at the monthly council meeting, and said it would be good to see “a quality development” being built on this “wonderful elevated site”.

The listed convent building dates back to the 1880s.

As the councillors agreed to contravene the development plan, the matters returns to planners who will now issue a grant of planning approval.

The power to make planning decisions remains with the council officials, whilst councillors can vote on contravene the town development plan.