Offaly officially recognised as 'the best place in Ireland'
An midlands public park created from cutaway bog site has been crowned the 'Best Place' in Ireland.
Lough Boora Parklands – a nature and outdoor sculpture park – has been named the winner of Royal Town Planning Institute Ireland RTPI Ireland’s Best Places competition.
The nationwide competition, organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute Ireland, celebrates the places protected, planned or improved by town planners for communities.
Almost 12,000 people voted on a shortlist of 10 places. Lough Boora Parklands had an impressive 18% share of the total votes cast to become the winner.
Tully Cross, a scenic village in County Galway, and Cork City Centre, the thriving and historic city centre, won second and third place respectively.
Lough Boora Parklands attracts some 100,000 visitors a year. Once an industrial peat bog, its transformation includes the creation of a nature reserve maintained by the Irish Wildlife Trust that aims to ensure its natural resources and biodiversity remain for generations to come. A visitor centre, café and extensive trails encourage cyclists and walkers to explore the beautiful landscape and sculpture park, which displays sculptures from national and international artists.
Damien English TD, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development said: “The selection, by the public, of the Lough Boora Parklands in the RTPI Ireland’s Best Places competition demonstrates that even the most rural parts of our beautiful country mean a great deal to Irish people."
"What is particularly striking about the parklands is how they demonstrate the potential of areas that were once used for a vibrant industrial purpose, fell into decline and now are in the process of being rediscovered for a new, exciting and sustainable purpose of great community, ecological and economic value. In many ways, the Lough Boora Parklands are a dynamic example of the potential that each and every part of our remarkable country can play in its sustainable development and as promoted by the National Planning Framework,” English continued.
John Acres, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute said: “Lough Boora Parklands is an exemplar of partnership working. Several agencies – Offaly County Council, Bord na Mona and the Irish Wildlife Trust – came together to transform a disused site into a remarkable tourist attraction like no other in Ireland. This shows the real value of planners being able to integrate approaches which balance the differing needs, challenges and opportunities for the park.”
Andrew Murray, Senior Planner at Offaly County Council, said: “Planners at Offaly County Council have had a long working association with Bord na Mona. Almost 25 years ago, representatives of the local community, the Council and Bord na Mona formed the Lough Boora Group. They completed a feasibility study that formed a blueprint for the subsequent development of the greater Lough Boora area, looking at the use of the site after the end of the peat harvesting."
“With their combined vision, Offaly County Council and Bord Na Mona worked collaboratively on securing funding for the delivery of the network of paved trails and in particular the spectacular ‘Sculpture in the Parklands’. To further complement the Discovery Park, Offaly County Council has, over the past year been delivering a cycle track along the Grand Canal from Tullamore to Lough Boora," he added.
“The Council planning team was particularly pleased to work with Bord na Mona in 2013 to find an optimal position and design for the excellent visitor centre and coffee shop. We look forward to continued collaboration.”
Marion Chalmers, Chair of RTPI Ireland, said, "This is a visionary project that has secured sustainable natural rural regeneration of a former major industrial peat bog right in the centre of Ireland. Of particular importance is the praise and respect Bord Na Mona has for the planners that have worked with them since the inception of the project."
"Additionally impressive is the continued commitment of the Lough Boora Group to working together to further grow and invest in the asset of the Lough Boora Parklands as a resource and attraction of regional and national importance. It certainly merits achieving Ireland's Best Place Award and RTPI Ireland looks forward to watching the Parklands develop and evolve far into the future."