Tidy Towns Report: Hard work praised in Portarlington

Judges say it is a "shame" to see many vacant historic building in town centre

Tidy Towns Report: Hard work praised in Portarlington

Tidy Towns Competition 2016

Adjudication Report Portarlington Mark: 264 2015 Mark 261

Community Involvement & Planning

The adjudicator welcomes Portarlington to the 2016 Tidy Towns competition and recognises the long history you have with us. Thank you once again for submitting a well-considered entry form and your enclosed suggested walking map was most helpful particularly as it drew attention to specific projects in relevant categories and locations you would like the adjudicator to visit on adjudication day. This was a much improved map over previous years and was very helpful. You seem to enjoy a fruitful partnership with the Local Authority and various agencies and bodies in the town. In particular you seem to be successful in liaising with the Portarlington Community Development Association. The cooperation with the Portarlington Combined Residents Association is great to see and gives you and the competition a real link to the town’s residents both for support and to advertise your projects.

Your overall approach to the competition is excellent and it is obvious that your core committee of 5, along with your associate members and volunteers, work hard to achieve results on the ground. You liaise well with the local schools through your Junior Tidy Towns and School coordinator. Continued good luck with your use of social media and your facebook page. Your use of new technology will again help you advance your connections with the younger generation and those less likely to attend your meetings, but who may wish for an avenue to get their views aired. Your Tidy Towns Calendar was a great idea and we hope it raised funds for you as well as being a means of spreading the message of your work to gain support both within the community and amongst the Portarlington diaspora.

Built Environment and Streetscape

Your initiative to remove fly posting from within the speed limits within the town seems to have been a success for you and well done for all the work involved in progressing this. As you are aware signage can portray both positive and negative images of a town. The welcome to Offaly sign at the bridge has sustained damage and should be seen to. The nice blue wall mounted street signs were admired along Main Street. While the lower street level facades of many of your buildings are well maintained make sure the upper floors are not neglected. Old signs and their frames, brackets, loose wires, flags and the like can add to the general clutter. We note your initiative to address unsightly temporary fencing around vacant sites in the town. Good luck with this. Unfortunately vacant sites are a reality for so many centres. Some centres have devised simple design standards for any owners of vacant sites or indeed developers to apply on building sites. They would ensure a ‘Portarlington colour’ is always used on hoardings (perhaps a sympathetic dark grey or racing green for example) with a simple town logo to unify all sites and reduce the visual impact of these areas as well as discouraging graffiti and fly poster attack. This is an approach that may work for you. This ‘Portarlington colour’ could also be applied to utility boxes at the Square to unify them and reduce their impact. On adjudication day Mullanys Pharmacy was nicely painted and good luck with progressing plans for The Square. The possibilities for improvement here are great. Other premises admired were the leafy Kilnacourt development with the HSE anchor, Oriel Auctioneers and we enjoyed the colourful murals by the Leisure Centre. The Library is a nice conversion and reuse of an old building. The number of vacant historic buildings in the town core, which are part of the town’s rich history, is a shame to see and we hope life can be brought to some of these gems in the near future.

Landscaping and Open Spaces

The beds to the front of the library had yet to be filled and only contained specimen conifers. We hope to see these sustainably planted for next year’s visit. Consider using herbaceous perennials rather than annuals as it provides a more sustainable burst of summer color and is less expensive to install though perhaps needs a bit more annual maintenance. In common with many Centre’s the 1916 centenary has given rise to a number of memorial planting schemes. Ensure all trees at the Park are well watered and looked after for the first few years as they may struggle to establishing having been planted just before the long warm summer. The sculpture to the roundabout was visited and admired. We felt that in the short term, until works can be done to rejuvenate the square, that temporary planting may be a device to use to improve the setting here. The large black circular planters had little impact on adjudication day with the low bedding and small phorimums too small to notice. Add some height with for example multi stem birch trees under planted with lavender for pollinators. These will add height and greenery to the square and will be seen above the parked cars here and traffic clutter. The Park along the River barrow was visited and is discussed in more detail elsewhere.

Wildlife, Habitats and Natural Amenities

Your submission shows you have an understanding of the types of habitats surrounding the town and we wish you luck with progressing the Marion Hill Nature reserve. We hope the Scout Group and men’s shed enjoyed the experience of using their skills to build bat and bug habitats. Part of this category is about making sure the community as a whole also appreciates its rural setting and the importance of your surroundings and the nature it contains. To enhance a better understanding of the importance of our countryside as a natural resource, have you considered hosting events that celebrate and raise awareness of local species and your beautiful and historic riverside habitat. These could be a ‘dawn-chorus’ bird-song count, a bat- walk or a talk from one of your local experts. Assistance with these can also be obtained from the Laois Environment Officer. Ensure your bat boxes are maintained and consider an audit to see which ones are placed to attract bats and which may need to be repositioned. Simple initiatives can do much to enhance habitats. Consider a less neat mowing regime at the River Barrow Park. A strip 1-2m wide along the river bank should be left unmown, near the LIFE sign, to enrich the banks habitat value.

Sustainable Waste and Resource Management

You do not say in this category if you have any green schools in the town? Have you had any thoughts about joining the Green Homes programme also run by An Taisce. This could be promoted through your excellent network of Portarlington residents committees and this would be a great way to progress the success of green ideals in the town. Maybe look into this for next year’s submission? The bring centres visited, such as the one at the GAA grounds, were well looked after and your charity shops are a practical way for the community to recycle. This is a category where you could really gain marks with a little more thought applied.

Tidiness and Litter Control

You are progressing a structured approach to street cleaning to both counties but generally the town core was free of obvious litter on adjudication day. Some wind blown litter and drinks cans were noted at the Park car park. Your participation in the Spring Clean brings publicity for your works and highlights the issue in the town. As noted in the submission the bridge railing needs attention but be careful in adding additional items to this bridge in case it becomes cluttered and detracts from the lovely river view. Rusted poles by the bridge need to be removed or addressed. Unauthorised signs did not seem to be an big issue for you given your campaigns. However the old stage school signs at the key junction of Main Street with the link to the Leisure Centre, clutter the façade of this lovely historic building and should be removed if the business is no longer present.

Residential Streets & Housing Areas

Well done to all the resident associations on the hard work they carry out over the year and we wish them every success in the annual tidy estates competition. Perhaps next year you could include the location of the best kept garden on your town map, this type of competition is a great way to keep the momentum going, healthy competition is always a good way to get residents motivated! The Whitefield’s area was nicely maturing. Remove tree ties here and replace any dead tree perhaps during National tree Week? A colourful bed was noted at the entrance to St Josephs. The front open space at Na Cluainte could also perhaps hold more trees.

Approach Roads, Streets & Lanes

We started our town adjudication at the Train station car park and we hope you can work with Irish Rail to come up with a plan to improve this key entry point to the town. It gives a poor first impression at the moment with failing tees and excessive use of chemical spraying. Together with the declining Portarlington welcome wall this area needs some careful planning to realise its potential. Think of longer term structure planting and habitat friendly management techniques which will also create a more fitting setting for the fine railway building. Ensure all the road markings at pedestrian crossing, especially in the town centre, are kept painted and legible as some are looking worn and may not indicate pedestrian priority as they become less visible to drivers. The simple black and white town sign at the approach along the R420 before the Na cluainte Housing area is dwarfed by the large speed limit signs. These types of transition areas from rural to townscape are difficult to get right along with the fact that your footpaths end so abruptly. Is there scope to plant to the base of the town sign here with a bold single species bed to create a positive impact for visitors through this difficult to treat and design type of area?

Concluding Remarks:

Portarlington is a busy town with a nice mix of building types many of which tell the story of the towns past. Well done to all involved in this year’s application and thank you for your hard work and commitment to seeing your initiatives materialise on the ground. We wish you all the best for all your planned work in 2017.