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*SkyCourt Shopping Centre. Photograph: John Mangan

Shannon’s latest masterplan must not become a document that gathers dust on a shelf and represents “the one chance” to plan the future of the town.

A spatial masterplan for Shannon Town is to due to be completed in October 2020. Funding of €100,000 has been allocated for the plan under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF). A category A application had been made for URDF to try construct The Venue, a planned community, civic, cultural and interpretative centre for Shannon, instead category B funding was awarded.

An overview of the preparation of the Shannon Town Centre Action Masterplan was presented to Shannon Municipal District councillors on Friday by senior planner with Clare County Council, Brian McCarthy. Three quarters of the funding is provided by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Previous plans on the town were acknowledged by McCarthy with the feedback being that they were “nice to look at” but needed a focus on economic viability. The aims of the latest document is to “guide and stimulate the development” of the town centre into the future to make it “a more attractive destination in which to live, work and do business”.

Growth potential, use of derelict and vacant sites within the town centre and the potential development of key sites is to be assessed as part of the plan. “It is intended that the masterplan will enable the delivery of a high-quality town environment through sustainable economic growth”. It also aspires to “unlock the development potential” of Shannon.

McCarthy advised that SkyCourt Shopping Centre to the area south of Newtown Park and a link with the Estuary are the parts of the town covered in the plan. He stressed that it was not a development plan and that the next three to four weeks would see a period of engagement with key stakeholders take place, “Shannon is a fantastic town, it has huge potential”.

Cathaoirleach of the Shannon MD, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) queried if the funding of €100,000 was “adequate” to complete the plan and McCarthy confirmed the local authority was supporting the work but did not provide a figure on how they were financially aiding its completion.

Following a question from Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF), it emerged that the building once home to Shannon Development in the town centre has been identified as “a key site”. She stated that the plans were “very exciting”. “Shannon is a unique town in that it doesn’t have a main focal point that is open all day”. She believed that if people working in the area could get everything they need in the town, they would be encouraged to move there.

Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) was not convinced despite praising the ambition. “There has been so many of them before and they just sit on a shelf gathering dust”, he added, “I hope this takes legs and something real happens”. He stressed Shannon’s need for a streetscape and believed the town was losing on visitors because the people flying into Shannon Airport were unable to see the town centre when driving by, “I’m convinced it is losing out on business because of that”.

Comparisons between the refusal of planning permission for a Marks and Spencer store in Tralee back in 2007 and its subsequent opening in Killarney was made by Cllr Pat McMahon (FF). He believed that in the intervening thirteen years, “Killarney has progressed and Tralee has moved back,” he cautioned that this must be remembered when decisions are made on Aldi’s application to build an outlet on the Airport Rd, “it definitely attracts more people to the area”.

Faith in the planning department was voiced by Cllr Flynn that “they will make the right decision”. He continued, “We have seen during the COVID-19 restrictions, people trying to access services in their locality and we have seen the importance of the small shop and how they have served their communities, these multinationals are here for one thing and one thing only, that is the bottom line. I’m very grateful for the small businesses out there”.

Clonlara representative, Cllr Michael Begley (IND) was adamant, “This will be a real test of the people that are hired to do the plan” and said “it is going to take great ingenuity”. “This is the one chance you will get the plan for the future of Shannon Town,” he stated.

Addressing councillors, Director of Economic Development, Liam Conneally reminded them that the plan started in “a different economic environment to which we find ourselves in, the goalposts have moved on us so that is going to have to be taken into account”. As a commercial entity, he said Shannon Town Centre had under-performed. The masterplan will suggest options in terms of retail offer, office type accommodation and high street uses “that Shannon needs and should have for a town of its size”.

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