The railway field in Athlone, where a new road has been planned for the last 20 years.

Start of planning process for key Athlone road still months away

It was a case of new year but same old story when local councillors received an update last week on the planned Railway Field Road in the centre of Athlone.

The road, heralded as a means of easing traffic congestion in the town, has itself been beset by interminable delays over the last 20 years. The latest news is that it has been - you guessed it - delayed again.

A number of environmental reports about bird life and other wildlife in the area are the current cause of the delayed progress on the road, which is due to be constructed between the Crescent junction and St Vincent's Care Centre.

At this month's meeting of the Athlone Moate Municipal District, council official Barry Kehoe said it would be late June, at the earliest, before the local authority would be in a position to start the process of seeking the new planning permission it needs in order to go ahead with the construction of the road.

The council originally obtained planning approval for the new road as far back as 2004, but a protracted dispute then took place between the local authority and CIE over the land to be used for it.

In late 2021, it emerged that the council would need to seek fresh planning approval for the project, and Mr Kehoe explained last week that several new environmental reports had to be commissioned as part of the planning bid.

"There is a survey of over-wintering birds, and that's going on between now and the end of next month. Then there's a survey of amphibians and a survey of breeding birds, which will take place mostly during May.

"There is also a bat survey, and the ideal season for that is the beginning of May," he said.

He said the requirement for these reports meant the planning process for the road would be starting later than he had expected and hoped.

"If everything goes well it's going to be around the end of June by the time the environmental reports are completed. That's much longer than I wanted or expected," he said.

"Hopefully by the summer we'll be ready to go (to the planning stage) because everything else is in place."

In response to a question from Cllr John Dolan about the cost of the environmental reports, Mr Kehoe said it was "significant".

"It will be somewhere between €50,000 and €100,000," he said.

Cllr Aengus O'Rourke said he hoped the council was "not forgetting anything" in terms of the environmental reports that were needed to obtain planning approval for the road.

"I would hate for us to stumble again, at any point in the future, because some aspect of some environmental or ecological report was overlooked. It sounds to me like it could well into the year before we see any progress on this," said Cllr O'Rourke.

Cllr Louise Heavin, meanwhile, suggested that a period of public consultation take place with local residents before the start of the planning process for the road, particularly in relation to an area of open space which is planned, adjacent to the new road, at St Francis Terrace.