Council rejects plan for Athenry


To the relief of 10 residents' groups in Athenry, Galway County Council has rejected a development plan for the town which the residents claimed would have destroyed its heritage.

Athenry is widely recognised by historians and archaeologists as the finest surviving example of a medieval walled town in Ireland with original street plans and monuments, including a castle, parish church, market cross and original town walls. In 1993 it was designated a heritage town by Bord Failte.

Athenry is also a member of the EU-funded Friendship Circle of European Walled Towns, a body which encourages the marketing and "appropriate development" of Europe's most notable walled towns.

Local people, fiercely proud of this heritage, were shocked by a radical draft development plan for Athenry drawn up last year by officials of Galway County Council.

The plan, which would have seen Athenry's population rise from less than 2,000 at present to 10,000 early in the next century, proposed rezoning 350 acres of agricultural land and recommended a density of 10 houses per acre. It also proposed building several new roads, one of which would have cut through back gardens dating from the 13th century.

Residents' groups were adamant that Athenry's heritage could not survive such growth and were astonished at the plan because the council had always worked closely with them to develop Athenry in a sustainable fashion, says the chairman of the community council and 10 local and community historic groups which collectively opposed the scheme, Mr Gerry Burke.

The groups commissioned a firm of international planning consultants, Halcrow Fox, to assess the plan. It found the plans "didn't achieve the standard required for a planning document of this nature and significance . . . It dealt only superficially with issues such as town structure, housing, water supply, sewage, transport, education, recreational facilities and heritage conservation".

Happily for local people, council officials and elected representatives took these concerns on board last week. Following recommendations from the council's planning officer, Mr Gus McCarthy, councillors rejected the plans.

He opposed the existing plans because the amount of land being rezoned was sufficient to provide for the next 20 years while the draft development plan is a five-year document.