A view of Connaught Street, Athlone.

‘Beginning of the revival’ for Athlone’s westside

The first tentative steps towards the long-awaited regeneration of the west side of Athlone were taken last week when Westmeath County Council detailed their ambitious plans for the area in a meeting with a group of local traders and residents.

The meeting, which took place on Tuesday afternoon last between a newly-formed lobby group and the executive and members of Athlone Moate Municipal District, was described as “positive and constructive” by Mary Dooley, Secretary of Connaught Street and Environs Regeneration Group.

The new group has vowed to “work closely” with the local authority to see the revitalisation of the west side of the town, and is hopeful that work can get underway on many of the projects planned for the area before the end of the year.

Up to 25 stakeholders from the Connaught Street area heard Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, outline the council’s plans to transform the streets on the west bank of the Shannon into a tourism and cultural quarter incorporating a circular route from Athlone Castle right around to Pearse Street.

The plans include a major regeneration of Market Square (Ss. Peter & Paul Square) and the Left Bank, including the area around Sean’s Bar; public realm works around Athlone Castle; the sale of four terraced units on Connaught Street and the refurbishment of three more buildings on the street which will yield seven social housing units.

Barry Kehoe admitted that Connaught Street will not return to being a commercial hub in Athlone as the commercial centre of the town has moved to the Golden Island/Church Street area, but he said the council envisages that the street will be a mixture of retail units on the ground floor with residential units overhead.

Westmeath County Council cathaoirleach Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, who facilitated last week’s meeting, said he had encouraged the stakeholders from the west side of Athlone to “get together” in an effort to play an active role in the regeneration of the area.

The councillor, who runs a business on Pearse Street, said: “We need to enhance what we have on the west side and the people who work and live here need not be idle bystanders in the whole regeneration process, their voices need to be heard.”

He described last week’s meeting as “extremely positive and engaging” and said it was the first time the local authority had held a “face to face meeting” with the business people and residents who will be impacted most by the regeneration plans for the west side of Athlone.

Mary Dooley said the Connaught Street and Environs Regeneration Group is “here for the long haul” and future meetings are planned with the council. “Everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet and we were very encouraged by what we heard.”

She said the decision to form a lobby group was born out of “frustration at the lack of progress” on revitalising the west side of Athlone over a long number of years. “We wanted to let the council know that we are alive and kicking on this side of town,” she says, “and we found last week’s meeting to be very constructive.”

However, the secretary of the new lobby group said residents and traders west of the Shannon are anxious to see “a mix of residential and commercial” units as part of the regeneration process and added that they do not want to see a policy of “apartments only” particularly on Connaught Street which she described as being “a heritage street.”

Cllr John Dolan described last week’s meeting as being “the beginning of the revival” of the west side of Athlone, which he said is “long overdue.” He commended the setting up of a lobby group from the area and expressed confidence that the council will take on board the views of the group.

Detailed plans for the regeneration of the west side of Athlone are expected to be published by Westmeath County Council in September.