LONGFORD town is set to get a fifth shopping centre, despite a planning inspector having recommended that permission be refused for the proposed development. An Bord Pleanala has given the green light for the threestorey centre on a 1.92 hectare brownfield site at the Richmond Street/Connaught Road junction in the centre of the midlands town. The site is currently occupied by derelict agricultural sheds and disused creamery buildings.
The new development will include an anchor store covering 3,000sq m of floor space, 14 retail units with a total area of 1,834 sq m, an enclosed mall area measuring 962sq m, a foodhall (445sq m), a restaurant (506sq m) of floor space and a creche (195sq m). Four hundred and nineteen car park spaces are also included in the plan.
In sanctioning the scheme, An Bord Pleanala overruled the recommendation of inspector Michael Dillon who stated in his report that the planned centre would constitute "a wasteful use of scarce, serviced, urban land".
He said: "The design of the proposed building would be detrimental to the amenities of the area." And he claimed:
"The development would be contrary to the policies of the council, as set out in Section 2.11 of the current development plan for the area, in terms of design, layout and contribution to the streetscape and built fabric of the town."
However, An Bord Pleanala ruled that "the proposed development would not seriously injure the amenities of the area or of property in the vicinity, would enhance the vitality and viability of the town centre, would be acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience and would be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area."
The Longford County Development Plan 2003-2009 identifies Longford town as the provider of both a county and inter-regional level of shopping facilities.
Two substantial shopping centres are already under construction in the town, one at the Weavers factory site on the Dublin road and a second at the AIBP site on Church Street.
The Lanternsford development on the old factory site will include 21 retail units, offices and 264 car park spaces.
The Church Street development, known locally as the Dunnes Stores shopping centre, is expected to open soon.
The town already has two functioning retail centres known as the Tesco shopping centre and the Supervalu shopping centre.
Local estate agent Jonathan Quinn says a steady increase in the town's population justifies the expansion of retail facilities in Longford.
"The town has been expanding quickly for some time now, " he says. "The number of jobs being created has brought Longford on quite a bit. The Irish prison services is moving to town. There's Abbott Laboratories which is still ramping up employee numbers. Other companies are increasing staff numbers at a steady rate.
"Recently there was an announcement of 45 local job losses. But Longford should be able to deal with that. The employment base is quite diverse, so a shock like that doesn't have too much impact. Although Athlone is the regional centre and a magnet for shoppers, Longford is an attraction for people in this general area and for residents of smaller towns in the county who don't enjoy the same level of retail facilities."