COUNTY hall has put Portlaoise at the top of the development tree for the next decade in its new county plan which looks set to halt growth in other towns which mushroomed during the boom.
Laois County Council's Draft County Development Plan for 2012-18 is open for public submissions until February 11. It contains many important proposals for the future not least of which is the reinforcing Portaloise as the county's hub.
The council's "core aim" is to increase the county's population to 77,059 by 2018 The plan identifies Portlaoise as the "principal town" where the bulk of growth will be focused. The aim is to increase Portlaoise's population by 3,750 to more than 18,000 and the rest of the county to nearly 59,000.
The council is also tied into a regional plan for the midlands which aims at a Portlaoise population of more than 19,300 by 2022. The midlands plan also sees Laois growing to nearly 80,000 people over the next 11 years. No other Laois town will be allowed to grow beyond 600 in the same time frame.
Despite the existence of many empty houses in Laois, the council expects that more than 4,000 homes will be needed across the county.
More than 1,500 extra homes will be needed in Portlaoise which outstrips what is pencilled in for other towns. The council will allow more houses to be built on smaller sites to accommodate the growth.
The plan says the the "bulk" of house building will be channelled into Portlaoise. The council's plans for Portlaoise builds on the recent growth. The population grew by 20 per cent in just four years to 2009. During the same time nearly 3,400 homes got planning permission.
While the council wants consolidation in Port, it is called a "key service town" ranking it second to Portlaoise in the council's hierarchy.
The council says it wants to develop a "critical mass in Portlaoise" to create more development opportunites and provide more cost effective services. It also aims to target foreign investment at Portlaoise and Port.
The plan puts the brakes on growth in Portarlington, Mountmellick and Graiguecullen which all grew faster than Portlaoise during the boom. Graigue doubled in population.
While the council is targetting urban growth, it expects the population of rural areas to grow by 2,300 up to 2018 requiring nearly 1,000 new homes.
The council wants growth to be "measured" in the five service towns; Abbeyleix, Graiguecullen, Mountrath, Mountmellick, Stradbally and two "local" towns of Durrow and Rathdowney. effective services.
The council's strategy to develop Portlaoise and other towns is part of a big change in Laois from a rural to urban county. In 1996 less than a third of people lived in towns. By 2006, more than 40 per cent live in urban areas.
The council wants to develop Port and Ballybrittas as "industrial nodes" while it plans to regenerate the south west of the county by taking advantage of the new motorways.