THE RELOCATION of the city and county planning departments to the former AIB branch on Patrick Street has split Limerick politicians.
It was confirmed this week that up to 70 staff will make the switch to the building - the most modern in the largely derelict Opera Centre site - this summer.
A budget of €300,000 has been set aside to refurbish and fit out the building, Limerick’s director of economic development Tom Enright told the Limerick Leader.
“We ourselves will be part of the renewal of the city centre,” Mr Enright told members of the City Council’s planning committee on Monday.
Enthusiasm for the move was expressed by Cllrs Diarmuid Scully, Jim Long and Joe Leddin but politicians representing County Limerick are less convinced.
Fianna Fail’s Deputy Niall Collins said that it “now seems to be policy that any council service that will pull people into the city centre will be moved” as Limerick City and County Councils move towards a merger.
A number of clerical staff will continue to be available in Dooradoyle but all the senior planners will move to Patrick Street, where the planning files will also be held.
Local authorities, Mr Enright said, were moving away from physical files, which were costly to store, and members of the public could always view planning files on-line.
“I know not everybody can do that but if somebody wants to come and view a physical file, they will still be able to do that by making arrangements with their area office or in Dooradoyle.”
“We have clinics where planners go out to the area offices in Kilmallock or Newcastle West and meet people there. We will continue to provide a service in County Hall.
“Politically, it’s important we do that and it’s not going to be abandoned by all means. There will be a number of staff remaining in Dooradoyle.”
Fine Gael’s Cllr John Sheahan, said councillors were seeking a meeting with county manager Conn Murray “as early as possible” on the reorganisation of services.
“You could still have a front-line service in name in that you could meet a clerical officer but with no disrespect to them, meeting a clerical officer and meeting a planner are like chalk and cheese,” Cllr Sheahan said.
And Deputy Collins added councillors felt they were being kept out of the loop.
“There seems to be a lot of decision-making going on in which councillors are not being involved and which will impact on which services will continue to be available in Dooradoyle, which unlike the city centre has easy access and free parking”.
But Cllr Scully said the office move did not represent “a huge cultural change” for people in County Limerick. “It’s not that long ago,” he said, “that people were coming into O’Connell Street if they wanted to view a planning application or meet a senior planner at Limerick County Council.”