*A CGI impression of the Abbey Street development.
PROPOSALS to construct a mixed-use development in Abbey Street car park will further disconnect Ennis town from the River Fergus, the CEO of Ennis Chamber has warned.
As part of the Ennis 2040 spatial and economic strategy, a corporate headquarters will be delivered for the county town in a new building to be constructed in Abbey Street car park. This development will also include an anchor retail store, public plaza and boardwalk which will link to Harvey’s Quay and the Post Office field.
According to Ennis 2040 DAC, this will be a €15m investment that will result in the creation of 142 permanent jobs.
Ennis native Margaret O’Brien admitted she was surprised by the “scale and size” of the proposed building having attended the first public consultation event organised by Ennis 2040 DAC and Clare County Council.
Margaret who has been CEO of Ennis Chamber since 2019 stated, “We’re not anti-development and from the start we really were rooting for a 2040 plan that would work for Ennis because we need to develop as a town. I would be concerned that when we signed up to support development in Ennis, there was a multi-storey car park going into the Temple Gate courtyard area, that made sense because it would bring people to the centre of town but that is no longer there”.
She flagged the development in Abbey Street would separate the town from the River Fergus. “As a person living in Ennis, a Townie who has walked that way for all of my childhood going home from school and cutting through town in Coláiste Mhuire, I’ve seen it through so many changes, I think the vista on the side where the river is while it is attractive I feel that the whole building is actually further divorcing the town from its connectivity with the river”.
Lessons on the ongoing developments at the Causeway Link must be factored into account, Margaret felt. “I do understand that we need to become a town of scale, when you talk to people from other towns they don’t realise Ennis has the population that it has because they see a very small town centre and they see small buildings, we’ve been introduced to scale peace-meal in recent times because we’ve had glór, we’re having the library which is a really beautiful building, I would look at that and say hopefully lessons would have been learned that we’d have something attractive if we were having things of scale, this evening I get the sense of browness about everything new, the mixed development I don’t know if it will be changed but as you look at it now you will have a fairly soulless brown building next to glór on one side and a thing of beauty which is the library on the other side, even the medical centre is beginning to look like it fits now, there is that sense of scale but if there is there is a softness across the road with the willow trees so there’s the nice mix of scale and a wider road”.
She continued, “When you look in at the vistas this evening, particularly that sweep coming into Abbey Street where The Clare Echo is, it suddenly looks like a towering brown building on one side of it, there might have been an opportunity to connect the town, if you’re going to take the cars out then connect the town with the river a bit, my gut is that there is a lost opportunity but I stress that this is Margaret O’Brien speaking as a Townie and not speaking for Ennis Chamber because we have a board meeting next week and everybody will look themselves and have discussions on this and see how they feel. I am not anti-development, we definitely need to improve footfall, towns are in crisis everywhere, we’re not alone and we share this with other towns our size in Ireland, we have to have a plan to progress and I hope we can keep dialogue around the plan and a little softness”.
On her first impressions it was the scale of the building that took the longest to digest for O’Brien. “I’m not bad at second guessing what plans look like but we hadn’t seen this plan before so it is new, it looks nothing like the rendering and I understood that it was a rendering of what was there before. Going in looking at this maybe we haven’t had time to let it settle but still as a first impression I definitely think the scale of it is very large of it and my problem is I really believe it is further divorcing the people of the town from the river”.
A former business features writer who contributed regularly to The Sunday Business Post, Margaret confirmed that members of Ennis Chamber are not going to submit a group submission and will instead put forward individual viewpoints. “Our members are going on their own and we will regroup, I think it is a good idea not to go in a big group together where we’d all influence each other’s opinion. This is my gut reaction, I may have a different reaction in a few days time but I’ll take a walk around Abbey Street when I leave here to walk around the space, maybe it is something it will grow on me, when I went in first and saw the images closest to the river they didn’t look do unattractive but the image that got me was the swing when you go into Abbey Street car park, it seems to be looming”.