‘If you don’t have a strong city all of Limerick suffers’

A merger of Limerick’s city and county councils could deliver benefits for both areas

Mon, Feb 3, 2014, 01:00

The regeneration of the city’s estates remains one of the steepest challenges of all.

Once ambitious plans totalling €1.5 billion to change the faces of these communities have been slashed and now amount to €250 million.

For many of the communities, it has felt like yet another broken promise.

The new unified local authority will include a new directorate for regeneration which, officials say, will keep the focus on regeneration over the coming years.

Some involved in regeneration say it may well prove a blessing in disguise, allowing them to address underlying social problems rather than throwing up shiny new housing.

Its success will hinge on fully regenerating neglected areas and offering meaningful opportunities for people who have had little reason for hope. It is the kind of work that could take generations to complete.

As the city suffered over the years, many representatives looked in envy as the county thrived by comparison.

It became one of the richest local authorities in the State and was able to maintain some of the lowest commercial rates in the country.

It’s hardly a surprise to learn, then, that the reforms don’t have universal support.

Some in the county feel they stand to lose more than they will gain under the new administrative structures. There are also those in the city who feel a simple boundary would have made more sense.

Outspoken Independent councillor John Gilligan was one of many sceptics over the reforms, and still has his doubts as to whether it will save money.

“No one’s sure what will happen, and it all seems a bit of a mish-mash,” he says. “ Look at the savings: were were told it would save €20 million. Wonderful. But it was never explained how. Then, it fell to €15 million and, more recently, €5 million. Now there’s talk an overdraft might be needed.”

Nevertheless, he says he supports the project as it’s the only game in town. Most councillors in the main political parties – once heavily sceptical – have also swung in behind the changes.

Not all blueprints go according to plan, however. Shortly after an ambitious Limerick 2030 strategy was launched during the summer – with pledges to revitalise the city centre and cease the glut of out-of-town shopping – came news that Marks & Spencers was to open a flagship store in the area.

It was good news – but there was a problem: it would be located in Parkway Valley, the unfinished shopping centre on the edge of town.

If it does go ahead, it will be a poor start for a new era of sustainable planning.

Behind the scenes, however, there is still hope it may open in a revitalised Arthur’s Quay development in the city centre, assuming it gets the go-ahead.

It’s a reminder, if one were needed, that changing boundaries is a far more complex business than simply redrawing some lines on a map.

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