Locals point way to a better future for Athlone’s westside
The new community spirit in evidence on Athlone's westside is a hugely positive development.
Spurred on by the new Connaught Street and Environs Regeneration Group, business people, community groups and residents of the area have taken the initiative and shone a spotlight on the fabulous history and heritage of the area and in the process underlined both its ongoing neglect and tremendous potential.
A growing social media presence, an array of activities during Heritage Week, and the hands-on approach to the upkeep and appearance of the area have all heightened public awareness of the area.
It is an uncomfortable reality for the local authority and political establishment that Athlone's urban westside in general, and Connaught Street, in particular, has been largely forgotten in recent decades.
The unacceptable condition of footpaths, the level of dereliction and the lack of maintenance of this proud street speak for themselves.
The introduction of the orange loop traffic system in Athlone has also served to increase the sense of isolation, separating the west bank of the river even more from the more prosperous east side.
Albeit the Athlone Tourism Cultural Quarter on the west side of the town was one of three proposed projects granted funding under the Urban Regeneration Development Fund in November 2018, progress has been painfully slow. Indeed, work is well underway on one of the other two projects, the expansion of the Athlone town centre regeneration into Irishtown.
There is clear potential to revitalise the area.
The provision of more neighbourhood retail and service facilities, with residential accommodation above shops, and in infill projects, along with a cultural and tourism focus provides a real blueprint for a positive future for the westside of Athlone.
By taking the situation into their own hands, the people of the area are aiming to encourage those with the purse strings and the decision-making power to row in behind them.
It's high time Westmeath County Council took heed.