THE Managing Director of Supermac’s Ireland has expressed surprise at what he terms the wholly mistaken views expressed in the media by some hoteliers and forecourt retailers regarding Pat McDonagh’s plans to build a Motorway Service Area at Junction 12 on the Gort to Limerick Motorway.
It comes as the planning submission date passed yesterday, with many Clare residents adding voice to the debate in recent days. While a final figure has not yet been confirmed, it’s understood somewhere between 100 and 200 people made submissions to Clare County Council’s planning department supporting the long-mooted project which Mr McDonagh believes will employ up to 300 people.
It’s believed that the lion’s share of these submissions came from members of the community in Clarecastle, who say they are welcoming the prospect of a local employment boost and additional services for the parish of Clarecastle.
Clarecastle Squash Club, which operates from the Clarecastle GAA Sports Complex, told The Clare Echo that they – along with many locals in Clarecastle – are supporting the motorway service station “for job creation in the locality, in the hope that it would keep more young people in the community”.
They added, “Also we would hope the local businesses and community groups could use this to grow, as they may be able to attract people into the village who may have never even heard of Clarecastle.”
It follows a report in this newspaper last week which revealed that a number of Ennis businesses, including members of the Ennis Chamber of Commerce such as The Old Ground Hotel, would be opposing the planning application due to its nature as an ‘online’ development.
Galway businessman Mr McDonagh, in a statement issued to The Clare Echo, said the Motorway Service Area development will have exactly the opposite effect on Ennis to that feared by the people who have commented negatively about the project.
Mr McDonagh said his experience in other countries where highways are dominant is that they become exit routes for population where economic activity is sucked out by the major cities and rural towns are left devoid of trade, population and a social identity.
“We have to be really careful in Ireland” he said “to ensure that counties like Clare do not become day-tripper resorts where tourists bed and board in Dublin and commute to Clare with a single stop perhaps at the Cliffs and cross the Shannon without ever putting their hand in their pocket”.
He said he was shocked to hear of hoteliers expressing concern at this prospect. Mr McDonagh went as far as to say that if Clare was not already so well served by the hotel sector, his confidence in the boost in visitor numbers generated by the planned plaza would see him build a hotel in the county.
Mr McDonagh said that apart from visitor trade, the planned plaza represents a tremendous opportunity to promote business in Ennis.
He also said it is his current policy to provide advertising boards free of charge in the plazas where local businesses advertise.
Mr McDonagh also contested that existing fuel retailers, who have expressed concern about increased competition, should understand that fuel retailers on motorway sites carry higher overheads and do not set out to compete with local fuel retailers.
Speaking personally Mr McDonagh said his greatest pleasure in providing Motorway Service Areas comes from the opportunity the plaza provides to employ students on part-time and holiday work with a view to helping them finance their education costs.
As a former teacher himself, he said he realises how valuable it is to help a young person get through college and he said that employment strategies at the Plazas are firmly focused on this objective.
He insisted that the Plaza at full tilt will give direct long-term livelihoods to almost 200 breadwinners and up to 100 others in casual employment.
Mr McDonagh concluded that he is more than happy to meet anyone with concerns regarding the project and said he is fully confident that the planned Plaza will be wholeheartedly welcomed by the people of The Banner County.
Meanwhile, more local voices have added support to the Ennis Chamber members, including Ennis Councillor Johnny Flynn who yesterday lodged an objection to the 25,000 sq ft plaza.
Referring to the development as an “Obama type plaza”, Cllr Flynn said that following research on the impact to Clare businesses and due to the large size of the development, he does not consider it “good planning in terms of our efforts to redevelop rural Clare”.
He added that 20 rural petrol stations which would be at risk of closing down if the development were to go ahead and added that the award-winning Ennis Coach Park – which has been built to get coach buses traveling to Cliffs of Moher into Ennis to stop so its passangers can shop and eat in the town – would become redundant if Pat McDonagh’s development is to go ahead.
*Cillian Brennan gets away from Paul Geaney. Photograph: Martin Connolly Clare’s senior footballers face another away