The case for a new town in the midlands – the Town of Monksland

In Blog by Denis Naughten

Last week, I made a submission to the Local Area Plan for the Monksland area.

As you know the status of Monksland, in County Roscommon is currently up for discussion. I’ve always opposed the ‘land grab’ of Monksland in the past, and I’ve made submissions to every single boundary review that has taken place, in order to retain Monksland in County Roscommon. (here is a copy of my most recent submission: )

At the next Census Monksland is projected to be the biggest town in County Roscommon. So instead of looking at Monksland as a suburb of Athlone, we should in fact recognise it as a town in its own right.

There are over 30 examples of adjoining towns/cities throughout Europe and one that springs to mind is Newcastle andGateshead in England. There is no reason why we cannot have two towns working together to promote & support not only County Roscommon & Westmeath, but the region as a whole.

See my reasoning for the establishment of the Town of Monksland in my submission below which will be considered by the municipal authority in the coming weeks.

15/12/2015  Local Area Plan Submission

Forward Planning Unit,
Roscommon County Council

I wish to make the following submission to the Local Area Plan for the Town of Monksland.
1. The title and language used in this document needs to be completely redrafted. It is clear that this document is drafted based on the previous plan and fails to recognise that Monksland is now a town in its own right. The language used in the document gives the impression that Monksland is still a suburb of Athlone which is no longer the case.
Monksland is no longer a dormitory area for the Town of Athlone but is now itself a town with all of the amenities of any other town in County Roscommon. It has a hotel & swimming pool, two primary schools and a post primary school (under development). It also has a large supermarket, solicitors, credit union, coffee shops, bakery, restaurant, gyms etc.

There is also a large level of employment in the town in the food, pharma and IT sectors.

The Town is well served by the Primary Health Care centre which has seen its services expand and is now the base for all primary care services for South Roscommon. And the new Tusla office located beside the local Council offices also services the wider South Roscommon area.
Therefore phrases such as “district centre” need to be removed from the plan.
The document is not reflective of the actuality on the ground with the Supervalu supermarket is described as a “convenience supermarket”. The supermarket is at least equal in size to the Supervalu in Roscommon, Boyle or Castlerea.  The document describes Kelly’s Café & Bakery as a “sandwich bar “.

It also goes on to state “the ongoing development of a district centre, capable of serving local retailing, recreational and social needs is viewed as being a priority for this area”. The reality is that the shops, gyms, pool, pitches, health centre etc. service a large part of South Roscommon and have many people from County Westmeath, in particular those on the Connacht side of Athlone, travelling to Monksland to avail of these services & amenities.This is also the case in terms of schools which will be enhanced with the development of the new post primary school in Summerhill. 2. In noting the deficit in point 1., I therefore cannot understand why on one hand Roscommon County Council is rightly determined to fight the takeover of the Town of Monksland by Westmeath County Council, arguing that it is a strategic part of the economic and social infrastructure of County Roscommon and yet it is prepared in this document to denigrate the status of the Town to a ‘district of Athlone’.
The fact is that the Town of Monksland is a centre in its own right, as is pointed out in the plan “the area has developed as a principal service and employment centre for County Roscommon and centrality and accessibility are key advantages to this strategic location”.

The plan therefore must reflect its status as the 2nd biggest town in County Roscommon.3. In support of points 1 & 2 above, I believe that it is wrong to exclude from the Town envelop, two major educational facilities namely Summerhill NS and the new post primary school on the site of St. Joseph’s College; and Drum Community Centre, a sporting facility which is used by many people in the Monkland and West Athlone area.
The commentary in the plan “There is currently only one primary school within the LAP area, i.e. Cloonakilla NS. The Summerhill NS and secondary school are situated in Crannagh Beg to the south of the LAP area” again undermines the status of Monksland as a town as it seems that it is not self sufficient, which is not in fact the case. This is only as a result of the decision to redraw the boundary of the town.

The plan aspires to have schools “accessible via walking/cycling for pupils” but this is already the case with the educational campus in Summerhill which has a cycleway/footpath the whole way from Monksland Town Centre. This accessibility will be further enhanced with the development of the St. Joseph’s Campus.
4. I believe that as pointed out in point 3. above that the proposed Town boundary needs to be reviewed. The Town of Monkland has many physical challenges because of low lying areas which are prone to flooding or not suitable for development. Rather than being excluded from the plan, they should be incorporated into it as open space and green area.

Why could a flood plain not be used as open space for the 10 months of the year when it is not prone to flooding?

Could this not be developed into playing areas which are in high demand during the summer months and act as important attenuation for flooding during the winter, thereby saving houses and businesses from flooding?

5. As I stated at the public meeting held in the Civic Centre at the start of this review process, Athlone & Monksland are now rapidly growing areas for software development. The two towns currently employ more software developers than anywhere else outside of Dublin and the IDA has targeted both towns for further expansion in the software area. There are presently over 100 software developers working in Monksland Town Centre and this is set to expand with imminent announcements.  

Software and IT companies in the main, based on trends in the US, like to be based beside each other in town/city centres. As we already have a critical mass in Monksland Town centre, I believe that we need to focus on how our zoning can concentrate new office/mixed use development in the centre of Monksland.

Disappointingly, the only mention of software companies is in the reference which I made at that public meeting. I also believe that the Monksland Enterprise Hub plan should be incorporated into the enterprise aspect of the plan.

As I also pointed out at the public meeting, there is a shortage of office accommodation in the Monksland area, which is presently impeding enterprise start up and expansion, and this needs to be factored in to the overall assessment.

I believe that we should look at the existing retail warehousing premises between the Primary Care Centre and the Pharmaplaz site as a strategic zone to attract in health & fitness type enterprises. We already have a wide range of health & fitness type enterprises in this area. I believe that with the help of the Town Team & the planned Dublin/Galway cycle route going through the Town envelope, this area could be marketed as a major regional centre for such business. This could be assisted by encouraging an ‘adventure retailer’ into the campus, which is lacking anywhere in the region.

I hope that these points can be incorporated into the final draft of the Monksland Town LAP.

Yours sincerely

Denis Naughten TD