CITY councillors have called for the fast-tracking of Limerick FC’s application to move back to the Markets Field to ensure they start the new season there.
Limerick FC - who rounded off their championship-winning season on Saturday - are to lodge a planning application with city planners in the coming days for the redevelopment of the Garryowen park.
But amid fears that this will not go through the planning process in time for Limerick’s bow in the Premier League come March, a call has been made to fast-track the application.
The club plans to install a new floodlit playing surface at the venue, as well as renovating the existing stand on the site which previously staged greyhound racing. It is hoped eventually 8,100 people will fit into the ground, regarded as Limerick soccer’s spiritual home.
Northside councillor Maurice Quinlivan said the council could easily facilitate the fast-tracking of planning if needs be - but warned that it must be done in conjunction with the Garryowen community, who want to see a centre in the area.
“I have no doubt that going back to the Market’s Field will increase the number of people who attend matches and the popularity of Limerick FC throughout the city. I think if Limerick FC needs its planning permission fast-tracked, then it should be done. But only in conjunction with the local people, because there were talks on putting the community centre into the remodelled Markets Field,” he said.
Southside Labour councillor Joe Leddin said a full consultation with residents in the area can take place at the same time a planning application goes through the system, thereby speeding it up.
“If we are going to move forward in a successful manner, I think it is important as part of the planning process, there is full engagement with the community. These are issues which can be raised out as part of the consultation process which can be run in parallel with the planning application,” he said.
Mayor Gerry McLoughlin said the council would provide “any help” Limerick FC requires.
However, city east councillor John Gilligan says he wants to see promises nailed down from Limerick FC before he would agree to any fast-tracking.
And fellow area councillor Kieran O’Hanlon has warned the soccer club against “railroading” their plans through.
“I am calling on them to have meaningful negotiations with the Garryowen committee which represents all the area, with a view to having a shared facility for a community centre in the Markets Field. If they does not happen, I will be raising objections,” Cllr O’Hanlon said.
He said he is convinced JP McManus - who bankrolled the purchase of the Markets Field from the Irish Greyhound Board - would want to see input from the local community.
“If that does not happen, I am sure a lot of people in Garryowen should be objecting. I’d have to object, and I would not think twice about doing so. When Thomond Park was refurbished, they engaged with the community. You have to respect the people of the area,” he added.
If Limerick FC cannot move back into the stadium in time for the start of next season, they will continue for the time being in an improved Jackman Park.
Normally, fast tracking of planning applications is reserved for major pieces of infrastructure. It would need approval by Minister Phil Hogan.