The four properties on Connaught Street, Athlone, which are for sale.

Sale of Connaught Street properties set to proceed despite local concerns

With the long-awaited regeneration plan for the west side of Athlone due to be published in the coming weeks, Westmeath County Council looks set to proceed with the sale of four buildings on Connaught Street despite strong objections from local residents.

A well-attended public meeting organised by the Connaught Street and Environs Community Group at the end of last month heard calls for the sale of the buildings to be halted until a regeneration plan for the area was unveiled.

The council has engaged estate agents Avison Young to sell adjoining buildings, 39a-45 Connaught Street

The Westmeath Independent now understands that the council has made a decision to continue with the sales process for the four buildings, details of which were outlined in a letter to local Fianna Fail TD Robert Troy.

The letter states that consideration was given by the local authority to the idea of putting the four properties “on hold” until after the publication of the regeneration plan. However, the council has now decided to “continue with the sales process” as the council has been “sitting on too much property on Connauught Street for a long period.”

The letter goes on to state that “as the council has no strategic interest in the said block, it should be offered to others to develop.” The council points out that any redevelopment will be “subject to Town Plan policy objectives” and will be subject to “a statutory consultation process, through which the group (the Connaught Street and Environs Community Group) can participate.”

Group member and local architect Tim Dowling has described the position being adopted by Westmeath County Council as “deeply disappointing” and said it was “very unfortunate” that the council has decided to “ignore the wishes” of the majority of people living and working on the west side of the town.

Mr Dowling reitererated that the lobby group for Connaught Street and environs is “not anti-development” adding that “we are in the middle of a housing crisis” but he said they are anxious to see the historic street “developed appropriately” and are now calling on local elected representatives to reflect their position to the council executive.

“All the councillors who attended our meeting were in favour of seeing the regeneration plans for Connaught Street before any decisions are made about selling any of the council-owned property,” said Tim Dowling, “and we have had no indication since then that their position has changed, so we would be hoping that they will row in behind us in opposing the sale of the four buildings on the street,” he said.

The preferred option for the majority of members of the Connaught Street and Environs Community Group is for the street to retain a mix of retail and residential uses and Tim Dowling says they would “very much welcome” the opportunity to feed into the consultation process.

“As things stand now, we have nothing to feed into because we haven't seen the regeneration plans yet,” he said “but we very much hope to see them before Christmas.”

In response to a question at its September meeting from Cllr Louise Heavin recently, the council confirmed that it owns eight properties on Connaught Street, namely numbers 39a, 41, 43, 45, 52, 53, 59 and 63, all of which have a proposed future use as “housing/disposal.”

Cllr Heavin was also told, in response to a further question seeking an update on the three properties on Connaught Street.

The council said the Part 8 process, by which a local authority publishes plans for public consultation, for the three sites in question “will commence in the next four weeks.”

This refers to plans by the council to turn three properties on the street into social housing units.