The possibility of retail not returning to Main Street was a scenario that no one liked to envisage, but that possibility was posited by Laois County Council Chief Executive, John Mulholland at last week's Portlaoise Public Realm strategy meeting.
“If that does happen what is the alternative,” he asked. “Perhaps the alternative is hospitality, culture, heritage and those other skills and disciplines people can provide in a town environment, such as education and those things that make a town relevant.
“If retail does not in some way come back to what people might have expected in previous times then at least you should be agile and fit enough to be able to prescribe something else.
“That is where heritage is so important in Portlaoise with the Fort Protectorand it's something we have to work on.
Mr Mulholland said that genuine collaboration and community participation was a key ingredient of the plan.
“Tonight marks the beginning of a process to re-imagine and plan together the future sustainable development of the core town centre.
“The consultation process over the next number of months is perhaps more important than the plan itself.
“It is really essential that community and local neighbourhood participation informs the outcome of the plan.
“Without that, I do not think it would be right for a local authority to foist a plan on the community.”
“Over the next few months, we will be looking at things like transport and nodal shifts.
“By nodal shift I mean, really without offending retail or commerce, how much do you need a car in an urban area, how much more can be done on foot or cycling perhaps.
“These are all government policies but they are all very sensitive, and people will feel very sensitive about them.”
He noted that there were, however, no suggestions on this issue yet.
Mr Mulholland also raised the issue of accessibility to the town centre for elderly people, and people with mobility impairment.
In the communications, technology and broadband arean, he noted that over the next few weeks Vodafone and Siro would be extending broadband by 1,000 mbs per second right around Portlaoise and its environs.
The cultural and heritage aspects of the town made it very appetizing, specifically with the Fort Protector.
He highlighed what he termed the night time economy of the town in terms of clubs, the Dunamaise Theatre and cultural outlets. The targets on those should be stretched to have a good night time economy, he said.
“Regarding urban living, it is fairly urgently that we address it as a local authority.
Architecture and streetscape are very important for mental and physical well being.
“We need to look at ,green areas, parks and the river and see how they blend into the continuing development of Portlaoise and we need to look at opportunity for more in Portlaoise town centre.
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