Supermac’s service station plan not very tasty and tempting for locals

Pat McDonagh's proposed Co Clare project will have ‘significant negative impact’

If the large-scale motorway service station that Supermac’s entrepreneur Pat McDonagh wants to build near Ennis in Co Clare is ever constructed, it will certainly be a feature on the landscape.

But its critics say it will have a “significant negative impact” on the vitality and viability of the town centre of Ennis and two local villages, as well as breaching the policy of the Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) in relation to services on the motorway network.

Supermac’s Ireland, a fast-food and retail franchise, initially sought to distance itself from this week’s controversy over forged letters of support, sent to Clare County Council among a batch of 187 submissions delivered en masse to the planning department just before the deadline for such observations.

However, the admission by Pat McDonagh, Supermac’s founder, that his company agreed to underwrite the cost of the support campaign (which could run to €3,600) has placed more question marks over the whole affair.


The company had said it was shocked to learn that some of the submissions were made by people who had not, in fact, written the letters bearing their names. It condemned the action “utterly” and said it disowned such support.

The company is keen, nonetheless, to press on with its plans, but it is facing an amount of stiff opposition. Then came the acknowledgement that the company was financially connected to the campaign (although it says that it has yet to actually pay for the cost of the submissions).

The plan remains on the table, as it were, and the council is due to make its decision by September 4th. Whether approved or rejected, it would seem likely that the losing side will appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

The plan is for the development of a 4.8-hectare site just off the M18 Limerick/Galway motorway at Junction 12, some 4.8km east of Ennis, and 3.5km east of the adjoining village of Clarecastle.

Eating and seating

If given the go-ahead, Mr McDonagh and Supermac’s want to construct a centrally located two-storey building with a total floor area of 2,564sq m, with 100sq m allocated for retail and 710sq m allocated for eating and seating.

In addition, there would be staff and office facilities of some 188sq m, a travel and tourist information centre of 148sq m, and toilets, storage and maintenance space amounting to just under 1,000sq m.

There would be parking for 142 cars, eight motorbikes, 10 coaches and 15 HGV vehicles.

Ennis prides itself on being a commercially successful place in challenging times. People connected to the local chamber of commerce will tell anyone who asks that the town had six retail outlets ranked within the country’s top 100, as defined by Retail Excellence Ireland. The town has also been declared Ireland’s friendliest.

So it is perhaps not surprising that local vested interests came together to oppose a plan which they say “will rip the heart out of the town”, as a spokesperson put it.

Nine of them, all members of the chamber of commerce, came together and submitted a 50-page objection.

The nine are the Old Ground Hotel, the Temple Gate Hotel, Hotel Woodstock, Treacy’s West County Hotel, Ryan’s Centra supermarket, Hogan’s Mace supermarket, the County Boutique, the Woollen Market and Clarke’s Daybreak supermarket and petrol station.

Mirror image

They look at Mr McDonagh’s Barack Obama Plaza motorway service area at Moneygall and see its mirror image near their town. And when they do, they see their businesses, and the jobs and life they argue they bring to Ennis, as under serious threat.

They argue that the proposal is also against the policy of Transport Infrastructure Ireland

According to their submission, if the plan gets approval it will have a “significant negative impact on the vitality and viability of Ennis town centre, Clarecastle village centre and Crusheen village centre which is contrary to the policies of the Clare County Development plan 2017-2023”.

They argue that the proposal is also against the policy of Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), which devises policies in relation to services on the country’s motorway network.

According to TII, motorway service areas (MSAs) are “essential for driver safety and to ensure the availability of services and amenities for drivers”.

Mr McDonagh has twice before sought permission to develop the site. One application was turned down by An Bord Pleanála; the other was withdrawn

In line with this, TII says there should be one “on-line service area” on the M18 between junctions 7 (which is Sixmilebridge) and 12 (which is Ennis). The “on-line” element is central to objections to the McDonagh plan.

On-line means the services offered are accessed directly from the motorway. In other words, drivers leave the carriageway and drive straight into the service area, as is the case on various Applegreen service areas on, for instance, the M4 and M1.

Short distance

The Ennis service area would be “off-line” meaning the motorists would have to exit the motorway proper, enter other roads and drive to the service area, albeit a short distance.

In the view of the nine business objectors from Ennis town, the McDonagh plan is therefore “contrary to national MSA policies” and its “excessive scale” would “act as a counter-attraction to [Ennis and Clarecastle] and will have a detrimental impact on these centres, which is contrary to national and local policies”.

Mr McDonagh has twice before sought permission to develop the site. One application was turned down by An Bord Pleanála; the other was withdrawn.

In rejecting the first application, the board cited problems with access roads, and Clare council policies of “maintaining high-quality built and natural environment”.

“The board considers that the proposed development, by reason of its design . . . would not integrate satisfactorily with the rural and predominately flat landscape in the hinterland of Ennis.”

Pat McDonagh will be hoping that, this time, it is third time lucky.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times