Sunday, November 27, 2022

Editorial: Councillors’ decision to contravene their own plan shows new studios facility is following the script

Last Monday was a good day for Mullingar and the whole county. Good days don’t come too often but, when they do, let’s at least acknowledge them.

The decision by the members of Westmeath County Council to pass a material contravention of their own County Development Plan at the behest of a planning application by Hammerlake Studios made sense; it was also an obvous consequence of the application. After all, how could the councillors say ‘no’?

Hammerlake now can proceed with the next stage of their plan. Certainly the planning process hasn’t been exhausted, and there may be some malcontent somewhere who will object to it. If so, an unwanted delay will have to be tolerated as our planning system winds its way along.

An Bord Pleanala may yet be asked to reconsider the approval and, who knows, maybe even a High Court judge. But we hope not. We hope that everyone can see this plan for what it is – intrinsically a good thing; a good thing for Mullingar, for Westmeath, for Ireland, for the state’s film/TV production industry and, most of all, for the country’s people.

If Hammerlake’s main aim is not to make money, then there’s something wrong somewhere. Of course the company wants to make money. Of course its owners and/or shareholders want to make a profit.

That’s business, that’s what makes the world go around, and we hope that when the studios are up and running that they get what they want. In doing so, the local and national economies will benefit too. That’s capitalism, an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit and is not owned by the state or its people. It is what it is, flaws and all.

Like it or loath it, it’s the key reason why Hammerlake Studios chose Ireland, like so many corporate giants before them.

According to its own website – and why would we not believe that – Hammerlake has more than 90 years’ experience in the film and TV sector across Ireland, the UK and North America.

“The company’s executive has a proven capability and a track record in real estate development and studio management having held high-level positions at Universal Pictures, Disney and Troy Studios.

The team also comprises of executives with experience in Investment & Retail Banking who specialise in Corporate Finance, Fundraising, Financial Control and Human Resources,” the website continues.

So then, the new film/TV production facility at Lough Sheever Park, once realised, will be in good hands, in a good place, at a good time.

All looking good, then? Well, we certainly hope so. Right now, the company is fullsome in its praise of Mullingar and is suggesting (not promising) great things can happen to the local economy in the near future.

As was heard at the company’s Careers/Information Night in Mullingar Library last week, there are dozens of opportunities for people with all kinds of skills and talents to find work in or because of the studios.

The temptation is to be a bit cynical of it all but hope springs eternal. The right thing to do now is back the wisdom of the 20 elected members of Westmeath County Council who showed such faith in the project this week, and in the collective and professional wisdom of the Executive and planners within the local authority who, clearly, have been in favour of the project from the outset.

There is every reason to believe that they know more than we do about the plan, and so every reason to support them and Hammerlake Studios. The planners in particular will have examined the proposal from every angle and their approval must mean something.

We wish Hammerlake Studios every success with its plan.

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