Tuesday 13 May 2008

Lough Ree tourism scheme dropped

PROPOSALS TO rezone land along the river Shannon for a marina, slipway, island and hotel, among other tourism related amenities, overlooking Lough Ree near Athlone, have been dropped by Westmeath County Council.

The council said the plan for the Hillquarter area of Coosan, which is a location set to benefit under the mid-Shannon tax reliefs, was dropped due to environmental considerations.

The council is, however, to go ahead with rezoning of the land for more than 100 "executive homes", each on one-sixth of an acre, which was originally part of the Hillquarter local area plan. Opponents of the tourism scheme have welcomed the dropping of the tourism related elements, but said the retained housing developments would be "just as bad".

Hillquarter is located on the eastern shore of Lough Ree, close to the Lough Ree Yacht Club and Coosan Point, well known landmarks on Lough Ree proper and the Inner Lakes respectively.

The area is about 4km north of Athlone but is outside the Athlone town boundary.

Under proposals for the Hillquarter local area plan the council had initially hoped to provide for a new marina which would have public and private areas for boats. It would also have a slipway. As well as the hotel the development was to have an area zoned for further tourism related amenity, such as a water based adventure centre.

The plan had also mentioned a lakeside amenity, a possible new home for Athlone's Viking boat and a Viking interpretative centre. The new island was to have been designed as a nature reserve.

But council director of services for planning Barry Kehoe told The Irish Times that the plan had been truncated due to environmental considerations, including the designations Special Area of Conservation, and Special Protected Area.

He said the council would go ahead with the rezoning of land for between 100 and 150 "executive" style new homes, even though the houses on their own would not attract the special tax reliefs. To attract the new tax reliefs more than 50 per cent of a development had to be clearly tourism related, he explained.

Mr Kehoe said the housing element would be well away from the riverside, in an area where it would not be obtrusive. He said the rezoning was based on the need for quality housing to cater for investors in the region. He said the lack of such housing in the Athlone area could become a serious drawback to attracting foreign direct investment to the region.

But Ian Lumley of An Taisce said Coosan had "suffered enough" in terms of one-off housing and although outside the town boundary, had become the town's expensive, leafy suburb.

Mr Lumley said he believed such a rezoning would be contrary to the National Spatial Strategy, as it was in the rural area, and would likely be struck down if challenged.

The National Spatial Strategy envisages a triple-centred midlands gateway made up of the towns of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar.

A spokesman for Friends of the Irish Environment said any area proposed for tax reliefs should have been subjected to a strategic environmental assessment, under EU rules.

Irish Times


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