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Tullamore and Mullingar Chambers reject Athlone as Midlands capital

15th February 2018

CHAMBERS of Commerce in Tullamore and Mullingar have voiced serious concerns over rumours Athlone will be designated as the Midlands regional capital in a revised National Planning Framework to be announced on Friday.

In a joint statement released yesterday afternoon [Tuesday] the two Chambers said that the population of Athlone does not have the critical mass to be the capital of the Midlands.

They said it will not have the capacity to grow towards city status in the foreseeable future.

"Athlone’s ability to grow is severely restricted by the Shannon wetlands and this will impact the growth potential and prospects for the Midlands as a whole," said the Chambers statement.

The statement continued: "It has been reported on Tuesday that Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran has claimed the rumoured designation of his hometown of Athlone as the 'capital of the Midlands' is a result of his political intervention. The Tullamore and Mullingar Chambers view the NPF as a very serious plan for the country for the next 20 years and it shouldn’t be so fragile that as the result of one political voice it can be tampered at a whim, as this undermines the entire plan and highlights the fragile political environment we all live in.'

“There is no urban settlement in the Midlands capable of achieving growth in a 20-year cycle that would give it the critical mass to be considered a second-tier city to European norms,' said Myles Shorthall, Chairman of Tullamore Chamber's Infrastructure and Industry sub-committee.

Added Mr Shorthall: "Instead, the Midlands is characterised by regional interdependencies and principal towns of regional importance. Athlone IT serves the 3rd level education needs of the entire region and is on a development pathway to achieving technological University status. Similarly, Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore is designated as the future trauma centre for the Midlands serving a regional population of 405,820.

"The large towns of the Midlands are well placed to accommodate compact growth and not simply become dormitory towns for Dublin commuters. Therefore, each large town in the region needs not only to be self-sustaining in terms of employment and services, but supportive of its economically dependent hinterland.”

The 2016 population of Athlone was recorded at 21,349, marginally ahead of Mullingar’s population of 20,928 and below Portlaoise's 22,050. Tullamore's population of 14,607, according to Census 2016, is well behind its Midland rivals,.

The two Chambers proposed a designation of the Midlands as a specific “region within a region” of the Eastern and Midland Regional Authority to allow each town to grow by a minimum rate of 40 per cent over the next 20 years.

This, the Chambers statement said, is more in keeping with enhancing the region as a whole and ensuring depopulation is tackled in the more rural parts of Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois.

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