A lot done, more to do as launch targeted for 2015

Wed, May 2, 2012, 01:00

THE PROMOTERS of the Euro Chinese Trading Hub planned for a site near Athlone will now use An Bord Pleanála’s permission for its first phase in their marketing strategy to line up potential exhibitors with a view to having the hub built in 2015.

John Tiernan, chief executive of Athlone Business Park Ltd, said their vision was to provide a hub where Chinese manufacturers would “demonstrate their wares to buyers from around Europe and from the eastern seaboard of the US” at the Athlone site.

However, he conceded that no Chinese businesses or provincial governments had yet been lined up for the project. “We were not in a position to sign up anybody . . . We could not make anything concrete until such time as we had planning permission.”

Interviewed on RTÉ’s Today with Pat Kenny, Mr Tiernan, a former Roscommon county manager, said the promoters had held discussions with “numbers of manufacturers and potential promoters from China” and had also done “quite a bit of market research”.

This aimed to “stand up its viability and to convince the planning authorities of the reality and realisability of this project” and shows that “this type of business model does work. It certainly is the vogue currently in China and southeast Asia,” he said.

While the board’s decision was “very, very significant”, he added: “We can’t even assume at this stage that phase one will be undertaken. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that we get to the point where we’re pouring concrete in the ground in Creggan, Athlone.”

The first phase would include two major permanent exhibition halls, each housing some 270 stalls or shop-floor spaces, and a third hall that would house temporary exhibitions, as well as nine smaller exhibition halls for manufacturers with large items such as wind turbines.

“We will also facilitate Irish goods to be on display there as well so that they would benefit from the footfall of the international buyers,” Mr Tiernan said.

They would sign contracts in Athlone, but all of the goods would be delivered from the manufacturers’ bases.

As currently conceived, the Chinese trading hub would have 445,000 sq m of exhibition space, plus commercial and retail areas as well as serviced apartments, two bus stations, a rail station and even – potentially – a new international airport to fly in buyers.

But further phases of the one million sq m scheme may or may not proceed.

“What the public should be aware of is that any further phases that will be triggered will of course require to go before the planning authorities, if we do decide to go a step further,” Mr Tiernan said.

As for the first phase, he said the promoters, Athlone developers Aidan Kelly and Michael O’Sullivan, and their unknown Chinese backers, hoped to start construction this time next year with a view to having it completed and open for business in 2015, “optimistically”.