A view of the Center Parcs SubTropical Paradise swimming pool complex in Newcastle Wood, close to Ballymahon.

Approval granted for €100 million expansion of Center Parcs holiday village

Longford County Council has cleared the way for a €100 million expansion of Center Parcs Longford Forest holiday resort, close to Ballymahon to proceed, only three years after it first opened.

A verdict was not expected until Thursday, September 29, however, the approval was posted on the local authority's website today (Wednesday) subject to 20 separate planning conditions, the content of which has yet to be published online.

What's earmarked in the extension of the €233m popular forest holiday village is 198 new lodges, a lakeside restaurant and a coffee shop. Extensions to the hugely popular Subtropical Swimming Paradise and Aqua Sana spa form another substantial element of the approved plans for the site at Newcastle Wood, which includes a new treetop sauna and additional treatment rooms.

The firm previously confirmed that the planned expansion would bring the capacity of the Ballymahon village, which opened only in the summer of 2019, up to 3,500 when it is full.

Center Parcs currently employs 1,119 people at Longford Forest, the economic report in support of the planning application stated, adding that the planned expansion is expected to increase the number of employees by 280. It's estimated the development would also generate around 300 jobs during the construction phase.

The expansion had initially been billed as representing an €85m investment, but the economic report now puts the figure at €99.8m.

Once operational, the additional capacity at Longford Forest is estimated to lead to an increase of €27 million per annum to Irish GDP, the planning documents also pointed out, with Exchequer tax revenues also benefiting from the expansion, earning an estimated €13 million from the construction phase, and an additional €5 million per annum once the expansion is operational.

Despite several pandemic enforced closures and restrictions over the last two years, Center Parcs reached the momentous milestone of over one million visitors at the Longford Forest resort during the summer.

Leisure and food and beverage facilities will also be expanded to accommodate more guests as part of this planning application, meaning extensions to the existing restaurants including Huck’s restaurant, Cara’s restaurant, Sports Café restaurant and Bella Italia restaurant.

A new District Heating system is also proposed for the Ballymahon site with an energy centre and extensions to the housekeeping and technical buildings to provide storage.

New solar panels would be installed on the sports hall, sports cafe and sports hall extension, the plans lodged back in August revealed, while a new car park to provide 313 car parking spaces for staff and electrical vehicle charging points are two other elements of the proposal.

Nine submissions were lodged in connection with the proposal by the short-break holiday company, giving a mixture of positive and negative reviews of the development plans by the company.

In a lengthy submission, Richard Heighton c/o Newcastle House, adjacent to the holiday village in Newcastle Wood, stated: “We feel the holiday park has already created total destruction of the once 160 hectare forest which was once part of Newcastle House estate and by allowing the extension of the development would certainly destroy the forest of which is left.”

He added they are “very concerned” that the proposed development “has not adequately addressed the potential environmental impacts on Newcastle House” and their application for a mobile home and caravan/camping park.

Increased traffic coming past Newcastle, the need for the upgrade of the R392, queries about the water required to supply the village and questions about where the extra staff will come from are highlighted in the lengthy submission.

For Milltown GAA, the view was extremely positive and they wished to “express steadfast support and endorsement” of the development put forward by Center Parcs, saying each of the teams have been grateful of the employment opportunities and spin-off activity generated by the park.

Despite their community centre and pitch being located to the west of the holiday village close to the R392 road, the club maintained that the additional traffic activity is an “acceptable inconvenience” due to the “nonpareil benefits” the development will bring to the area and the wider region.

Another submission from Olive McCormack, who stressed she has no objection to Center Parcs expansion, drew attention to what she said is a “serious growing traffic hazard on the R392” which, she said, would only increase with more volume coming to the park.

Living on the L52123 and trying to emerge onto the R392 is a “life threatening situation” particularly on Mondays and Fridays when the traffic is heavy, she added, suggesting modifications to the road for entry should be made as they have been elsewhere, while traffic calming should be installed on the Forgney road.

The existing infrastructure is under pressure, particularly roads, and the water supply, according to PJ Walsh, who also raised the issue of its proximity to the former Ballymulvey landfill.

Inland Fisheries Ireland recommended several measures in terms protection of the nearby Rath River, a major source of wild trout, salmon, pike and perch.

A spokesperson for Center Parcs said: "We note Longford County Council’s update, however we do not feel we should comment further until the planning process comes to its conclusion".

The decision can be appealed to An Bord Pleanála within four weeks of the final verdict.