Athlone rivals fire first salvo in Chinese trade tussle


PLANNING PERMISSION was granted last month for the Euro Chinese Trading Hub on a site near Athlone and promoters are keen to start lining up would-be exhibitors ahead of a planned 2015 tee-off.

But Athlone developers, Aidan Kelly and Michael O’Sullivan, and their still mysterious Chinese backers, may face stiff competition from Peel, developer of an international trade centre in Wirral Waters, which has taken a bullish stance and are confident it can see off the competition from across the Irish Sea.

“We will blow them out of the water – we just have to be first and best and do a fantastic job,” Lindsey Ashworth, Peel development director, told the Liverpool Echo.

The €249 million international trade centre is the first stage in €5.6 billion Wirral Waters scheme for the Birkenhead dockland, which is intended to provide thousands of jobs over the next few years.

“We are not intimidated because that scheme in Ireland is in the middle of nowhere. People will not travel far from the airport to go somewhere like this. Ours is within an hour of two international airports,” Ashworth told the newspaper.

The Wirral ITC was given planning permission by Wirral Council in September last year. The scheme is in an enterprise zone, which means it can also offer tax incentives, similar to the Athlone project.

Ashworth said the scheme already had lots of tenants lined up for the Wirral ITC, which is due to start operation in 2014.

John Tiernan, chief executive of Athlone Business Park Ltd, said the vision behind the park was to provide a hub for Chinese manufacturers to demonstrate their wares to buyers from around the world.

However, he said last month 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.”

The Peel developers have been monitoring the Irish plans and Ashworth remains confident the Wirral ITC “will be first and will be better”. The Athlone Chinese trading hub would have 445,000sq m of exhibition space, plus commercial and retail areas as well as serviced apartments, two bus stations, a rail station and possibly a new international airport to fly in buyers.