Mountmellick goes from roar to miaow

THE Celtic Tiger was roaring when the current Mountmellick Local Area Plan was adopted six years ago. Result? It zoned an astounding 400 acres for residential development.

THE Celtic Tiger was roaring when the current Mountmellick Local Area Plan was adopted six years ago. Result? It zoned an astounding 400 acres for residential development.

Now, with the roar reduced to a miaow, a new Local Area Plan (2012 to 2018) for the town is in preparation. This time it is reckoned that around 70 acres will be sufficient to cover Mountmellick’s housing needs in that period.

Which, in effect, means that 330 acres will be dezoned. And, in obedience to tougher national guidelines, building will be strictly banned on the Owenass and Barrow floodplains.

Laois County Council Senior Executive Planner Donal Kiely told Mountmellick Town Council monthly meeting last Thursday evening that there was no comparison between now and 2007 when the current Mountmellick Local Area Plan was approved. That, he noted, was the time of the Celtic Tiger.

He presented to Councillors a draft copy of the proposed new area plan. This, he explained, would be the subject of a public consultation process until June 1.

Mr Kiely pointed out that the draft plan was already out of date in one respect. It estimated that Mountmellick’s population would be 4,704 in 2018. But, according to the census, that figure had already been reached and exceeded--4,735.

National, regional and local guidelines had to be following when drawing up the plan, he stressed. Among other things, its aim was to “continue to develop Mountmellick as a balanced settlement centred on a vibrant town centre.”

Replying to Cllr Ollie Payne, Mr Kiely said the draft plan prioritized four road objectives for Mountmellick--an inner relief road and three outer by-passes.

Cllr Michael Gormley said lots of money had been spent on approach roads to the town. But, he cautioned, it didn’t look like there were any plans for a relief road.

Cllr Marc Connolly was worried that the removal of through traffic and outside retail centres would probably destroy what was left of town centre trade.

Mr Kiely said in other towns the “ambience” had been much improved by the removal of traffic.

Cllr Connolly: “We have a lot of empty premises that are becoming derelict. It’s not always a good thing to preserve 1960s or ‘70s shopfronts.”

Dealing with proposed residential development, Mr Kiely said its main focus would be on the town’s east side. There would also be some at Irishtown and at the rear of Smith’s Field.

As regards developments already in the planning system, he said many of these had “withered.” He added: “They are very small when compared to Portlaoise and Portarlington.”

Chairman Stephen Lynch and Cllrs Bracken and Bobby Delaney pointed out that quite a number of houses in the urban area were still not connected to the main sewer system.

Mr Kiely: “We would hope that every septic tank in the town would be decommissioned.

Cllr Delaney believed they should go to the NRA in an effort to get the inner relief road. And, he added, the IDA should be invited to a Town Council meeting. It was agreed to write to the IDA.

Mr Kiely said the Maltings at Irishtown had been identified as a site of major potential.