The prospect of parts of the Midlands being turned into a "Shanghai on the Shannon" has been greeted positively in a region considered one of the country’s unemployment blackspots.
Reaction to news that An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission for the first phase of a large "Euro-Chinese Trading Hub" at Creggan, Co Westmeath, has broken along expected lines with local business and political interests welcoming the development, while environmentalists have expressed concerns about its potential negative impact.
There are more than 33,000 people on the Live Register in the Midlands.
The hub project was promoted by Athlone Business Park. Welcoming the decision, the chief executive of the business park, John Tierney, said it represented a significant step forward for the development. He said the company had not yet been in a position to sign up Chinese manufacturers or promoters for the project, but they had been in talks with potential partners.
He estimated that construction on the two major exhibition halls could begin next summer and open for business in 2015.
An Taisce, which appealed the original decision of Westmeath County Council to grant planning permission, said it noted yesterday’s decision by An Bord Pleanála.
An Taisce said it believed the vague nature of the planning conditions attached to what it described as a proposal of a "staggering size" was a serious concern. It also criticised the lack of global consideration of sustainability in the board’s ruling.
Fine Gael TD Nicky McFadden predicted the hub would bring thousands of jobs and a major boost for the economy.
Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy welcomed the go-ahead and claimed conditions imposed by the board would benefit the area, such as improvements to local roads and the provision of a frequent coach services to and from Dublin Airport for visitors to the trading hub.
However, former Green Party TD Ciarán Cuffe warned that the €175m project could result in low-cost Chinese jobs displacing higher-paid European jobs at a faster pace.
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