A NEW airport is planned for the midlands in the heart of Taoiseach Brian Cowen's constituency.
Midland Airport Development Ltd is proposing to build an airport in Co Offaly. If the ambitious plans go ahead, up to 1,000 jobs could be created in the region. Private developers are currently engaged in talks with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) about the project.
A group of 35 landowners in the Tubber area of Co Offaly, just a few miles from Clara where the Taoiseach was born, have been approached by the developers and an "optional agreement" has been reached.
The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) entered talks with Midland Airport Development Ltd and it is understood an offer in the region of €40,000 per acre was made to landowners.
Talks are still at a "delicate stage". However, landowners in Tubber have said there is a lot of "goodwill" towards the project. A site opposite Tubber GAA grounds and running towards Horseleap has been earmarked for the development.
Architect and promoter of the airport, Patrick Little, said a study carried out by UK-based consultants confirmed that the concept of an airport in the midlands is "viable".
"Michael O'Leary has come out and publicly said there's not a hope in hell that it would happen but we're challenging that and hopefully he'll change his mind at some point in the future.
"We think it would have significant low-cost benefits. We're not looking at taking business away from Dublin Airport but we're looking at the way international practice is developing now where major airports would need a relief airport," he told the Irish Independent.
Mr Little has estimated that 1,000 jobs would be created during construction stages with a further 800 people employed at the facility in the long-term.
"Midland Airport Development Ltd hopes to avoid delays in the planning process by applying directly to An Bord Pleanala under a fast-track planning procedure for strategic infrastructure," he added.
"We will still work closely with the county council but the traditional timeframe would be shortened and if we took that into account work could commence within about two years."
Offaly county manager Pat Gallagher said the plans for an airport were "consistent" with the county development plan.
"A submission was made by a group in consultation about an airport somewhere between Clara and Moate," he said.
"We did advise the promoters to submit site location details for further discussions with our planning staff. We'd be happy to discuss it with them once we get those details," he added.
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