Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct.

Sports Direct retail outlet plan approved

A proposal to bring Sports Direct to Athlone has jumped the local planning hurdle, it's emerged in recent days.

Westmeath County Council has cleared the way for Hurley Property ICAV, for and on behalf of its sub-fund National Property Fund, to amalgamate five retail units over two levels in Athlone Towncentre “to accommodate a single retail store which will be occupied by Sports Direct,” the planning report lodged earlier this summer in support of the proposal stated.

Sports Direct, the UK brand founded by Mike Ashley, confirmed to this paper in August its plans to open a new outlet in the town in the summer of 2023, saying further details would be available closer to the opening.

A number of retail units (in Athlone Towncentre) to be amalgamated have been vacant with some not reopening after the Covid lockdown, the planning report explained, saying that a number of other retail units in the centre will “accommodate stores to be relocated to facilitate the new Sports Direct store”.

A change of use of a permitted restaurant on level one which was never occupied is included in the new proposal for use as a staff canteen/office-admin/storage areas totalling 370 square metres, in addition to the proposed retail unit.

Two new shop signs would also form part of the project, one to be located at the Civic Square entrance, and the second at the Gleeson Street entrance to the shopping centre. Signage drawings included in the planning application read “Sports Direct USC”. In Roscommon town, where Sports Direct also has a substantial premises, one floor of the unit is occupied by USC, owned by the same company selling premier brands at discounted prices.

Putting the case forward for approval during the summer, the applicant argued in the planning documents that securing this long-term tenant is “critical” to the “ongoing success vitality and viability” of Athlone Towncentre shopping centre. The local authority approval came through on October 4 last, and is subject to compliance with four planning conditions, the content of which has yet to be uploaded on the council's website. There are no submissions lodged on the local planning file.

Founded in 1982, Mike Ashley then aged just 18, opened his first sports and ski shop in Maidenhead in the UK. Over a decade later he had hundreds of Sports Direct high street shops across the country, and later many more across Ireland.

By 2019, as the business grew to more than a sports retailer, it rebranded as Frasers Group which also includes well known names like House of Fraser, Jack Wills, USC and Flannels.