Sunday, July 21, 2024

Cllr Dollard blasts Canal Avenue masterplan

Cllr Mick Dollard has criticised the master plan for a regeneration project at Canal Avenue, Mullingar, claiming that the proposed plan is causing anxiety to existing residents.

Cllr Dollard said he knows the area “intimately” from representing its residents for over three decades.

“I know the people that are living in those units. I know them. I would have been involved in there being housing in the first place and I made representation on their behalf,” he told Topic.

What was proposed?

32 housing units comprising social, affordable and private housing will be constructed under the plans which aim to reconnect Mullingar town to the River Brosna and the Royal canal. A linear park along the River Brosna will also be constructed.

The master plan for the regeneration project, which is funded in-part by the Project Ireland 2040 Urban Regeneration and Development Fund, was informed by public consultation which began in 2021.

Cyclists and pedestrians will have an access point from the royal canal under the plan which also provides for ‘later-living’ opportunities.

What’s happening?

Lorraine Middleton, Executive Planner for Westmeath County Council, outlined the plan’s progression at a meeting of the Mullingar–Kinnegad Municipal District on 13 November.

Middleton explained the “long-term” plan is “housing-led” and said 70% of respondents to surveys during the consultation period approved of the plans.

Step one of the plan includes the demolition of the former HSE building with a contractor yet to be appointed for this.

A contractor has been appointed for the construction of the 32 houses with works to begin “before the end of the year” and completed within five months according to Middleton.

Middleton said the 32 units will be constructed within “approximately 18 months” following the enabling works.

Amid these ongoing works, the regeneration team will work to secure funding for “public realm elements” in the plan including the linear park.

Public consultation

Cllr Dollard criticised the consultation process and said residents are concerned for their livelihood on foot of the project.

He said planners are not equipped to grasp the nuances of social housing and added the presence of a housing liaison officer during consultation is important.

“I’m a strong believer in social housing provision and I believe that planners look at an issue in black and white,” he said.

“When you’re dealing with social housing provision, you have to deal with all the colours of the rainbow.

“A housing liaison officer — somebody who actually works in the housing section — they actually understand the housing needs of an individual. A planner doesn’t. An engineer doesn’t.”

Dollard explained that individuals in social housing “have their own individual problems”. He said numerous people living in social housing come from backgrounds of homelessness, addiction and psychiatric issues.

Deirdre Reilly, Director of Service at Westmeath County Council, said she went door-to-door in canal avenue with Middleton and the Housing Liaison officer from Westmeath County Council during the consultation process.

Speaking to Dollard at the Municipal District meeting on 13 November, she said the regeneration team is “absolutely happy” to talk to residents about the issue.

Dollard explained the plans have caused anxiety amongst residents who fear for their home security.

“Two people told me after those people from the planning office came to them they couldn’t sleep with anxiety and worry because they came from a homeless situation themselves and they didn’t want to suddenly find themselves homeless again,” he said.

Lack of retail

Dollard criticised the plans’ concentration on residential and reiterated the importance of providing retail alongside it.

“There’s going to be an absence now of retail. You always have to have a mixture of retail and residential,” he said.

Dollard also expressed concern over a lack of car-parking in the area. He said the proximity of canal avenue to Harbour Court shopping centre and Cusack park will cause issues without proper parking facilities.

Funding

The Independent councillor said that the current political landscape in Mullingar and indeed Westmeath is ideal for securing funding at local level.

“I indicated with the current people that are in government at the moment — the Greens, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael — that now is the time to get it because they have representation on Westmeath County Council and they also have TDs in Mullingar.”

Dollard said the plan “hasn’t gotten the green light yet” and said the execution of the plan is dependent on government funding.

“It’s all going to come down to one thing. It’s going to come down to monies from central government,” he said.

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