OPINION: Can the centres hold? Policies for the regeneration of Tullamore and three other Midland towns

TULLAMORE, Athlone, Mullingar and Portlaoise are neighbouring however competing cities within the Midlands of Eire. As a result of their location and with good street and rail hyperlinks, all have skilled wholesome progress in recent times. Right now, all 4 have increasing populations, although altering social and retail patterns have introduced issues of beneath use, emptiness and even dereliction to their central areas.

A Nationwide Imaginative and prescient

The 2002 Nationwide Spatial Technique envisaged Tullamore, Athlone and Mullingar combining collectively to type a Midlands counterbalance to Dublin however this idea was deserted resulting from a scarcity of funding and the important political assist. A lesson was discovered and Challenge 2040 -the Nationwide Planning Framework (NPF) – a way more credible initiative backed by legal guidelines and funding, emerged in 2018

The NPF units out guiding ideas and identifies Athlone because the Regional Centre for the Midlands with Longford, Mullingar,Tullamore, Portlaoise and Carlow/Graiguecullen as Key Cities. The Japanese and Midlands Area Spatial and Financial Technique translated this nationwide coverage into the County Plans of Westmeath, Offaly and Laois. It’s now the flip of the person native authorities to ship the required floor degree actions by Native Space Plans.

The avoidance of additional city sprawl is a principal concern of the NPF and to advertise compact settlements, a minimum of 30% of all new homes should be constructed inside or beside current constructed up areas.

New Plans

Consultants will now deliver ahead initiatives which may entice City Regeneration and Growth Funding. Civic designers will then discover what these would possibly appear like. Following a technique of public session and engagement with stakeholders, every Council will undertake a statutorily binding Native Space Plan incorporating all or among the concepts.

These Native Space Plans will make use of three key units to revitalise or enhance historic city centres:

Alternative Websites

These are the largely cleared, able to go websites in single possession that are present in the entire 4 cities and whose regeneration inside the context of agreed grasp plans could entice URDF funding. The redevelopment of the Grand Canal Harbour in Tullamore is a first-rate candidate.

Architectural Conservation Space (ACAs)

ACAs are the principal instruments for safeguarding, enhancing and selling a city’s streets and squares of architectural and historic character. The world across the Fort and Cathedral in Athlone is an effective instance.

Amenity Routes

These might be linked, protected and nice cycle or pedestrian routes round every city, properly separated from vehicles. The deliberate strains alongside the banks of the Triogue River in Portlaoise and the River Brosna in Mullingar are typical initiatives.

The place will we stand at the moment?

Some cities are extra superior of their plans than others.


Six Alternative Websites are positioned on the japanese financial institution of the Shannon, two of that are outdated procuring centres. Two ACAs embody the historic Fort/Cathedral space and the Predominant Avenue. Pedestrian and biking routes are deliberate alongside the banks of the Shannon with hyperlinks to the Nationwide Greenway biking route. Vital waterside views are recognized for defense or enhancement. The city has not too long ago launched into the preparation of a Regeneration Examine to information its future growth. Athlone adopted an LAP in 2014.


Two main websites at Blackhall Place and the Canal Environs are presently the topic of Regeneration Research and a number of other different Alternative Websites are designated across the city.The historic centre is contained inside an ACA. Deliberate pedestrian and biking routes will create hyperlinks alongside the banks of the River Brosna and hook up with the Greenway. Mullingar adopted an LAP in 2014.


Two Alternative Websites focus across the station (each presently partly beneath growth for housing) and a 3rd as an infill of the city centre. A fourth seeks to create a brand new quarter primarily based on a strolling and biking route alongside the banks of the River Triogue. The whole city centre is included inside an ACA. Portlaoise adopted an LAP in 2018 and goals to be Eire’s first low carbon city centre.


Seven Alternative Websites are positioned within the city centre, two of that are particularly recognized as acceptable places for increased buildings. Although the Greenway biking route passes alongside the financial institution of the Grand Canal, there are not any cycleways deliberate across the city, nor are any vital traffic-free linked pedestrian routes proposed. Surprisingly, Tullamore is exclusive in being the one county city in Eire which doesn’t contemplate any of its streetscapes to be worthy of safety, nor has it adopted an LAP.

Issues may be about to enhance nevertheless, as a short with a charge of €200.000 has been awarded to consultants to arrange a Regeneration Framework Plan for the centre and separate research have been commissioned additionally to find out the way forward for the Grand Canal Harbour and the heritage worth of key streetscapes. It is going to be attention-grabbing to see how exterior eyes take a recent have a look at the city.

Following the end result of those research, the method of getting ready an LAP will start in 2023 which is able to hopefully be adopted and operational by 2024. Paradoxically, if properly dealt with, coming late to the social gathering could show a bonus in the long term for Tullamore.

Issues and Complexities

Of the twenty three ‘Alternative Websites’ recognized within the 4 cities solely two have delivered some precise growth. A current case in Tullamore demonstrates the difficulties in implementing this in any other case worthy initiative.

Confronted with the continued non-performance of a distinguished however lengthy underused Alternative Website within the very centre of the city, the Council not too long ago permitted a stand alone single storey store with allied floor parking. Hopes for some onsite housing, further flooring, energetic road frontage and public realm positive aspects didn’t materialise within the face of the developer’s protestations that these had been merely uneconomic. Time alone will inform whether or not the Council’s determination will ship a brief time period tactical win by cleansing up an eyesore or whether or not its battle with the insurance policies of the adopted County Plan and the compromising of the total growth potential of a key city centre web site was a long run strategic error.

However city redevelopment might be fraught with a number of concerns of possession, planning and byelaw restrictions, web site assemblage and preparation, financial rewards or penalties and never sometimes, character clashes.Tackling emptiness, combating dereliction and respiration new life into city centres, whereas supporting the safety of the atmosphere and the tradition and heritage of cities is a frightening activity requiring a uncommon mixture of abilities, not essentially obtainable in every Council. As well as, the Authorities’s complicated bundle of economic incentives and penalties to encourage restore and renewal whereas punishing land hoarding and dereliction would require expert administration.

City Regeneration Officers

Profitable city renewal programmes have usually been these overseen by a single objective authority or an impressed particular person and the current announcement of the appointment of Regeneration Officers to implement the Governments ‘City Centres First’ coverage is to be welcomed.

This formidable initiative is being trialled within the smaller county cities of Clara, Moate and Rathdowney and €100,000 has been awarded to every to have interaction consultants to arrange plans which is able to unlock funding from the assorted city and rural renewal schemes. These might be authorised and promoted by local people and enterprise teams and personal stakeholders beneath the steering of the City Regeneration Officer. Classes learnt will then be absorbed and inform the plans for the bigger cities in every county.

As has been the expertise in Westport and Kilkenny, the wholehearted adoption of this plan led and arms on method might consequence within the transformation of our Midland cities additionally. With imaginative civic designs allied to sound funding and growth insurance policies and promoted and managed by younger and enthusiastic Regeneration Officers, a brighter future is feasible.

We are able to solely hope.

Fergal MacCabe is an architect and city planner and a former President of the Irish Planning Institute

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