July 12: Be wary of mirages on the horizon

It is scarcely a few weeks old but Limerick City and County Council is unlikely to ever see a more important planning application than the one expected to arrive in the coming days.

It is scarcely a few weeks old but Limerick City and County Council is unlikely to ever see a more important planning application than the one expected to arrive in the coming days.

For years now, the aborted Parkway Valley shopping development on the Dublin Road, with its cranes and hulking concrete, has been a blot on the horizon.

And the Horizon Mall, as it has become known since taken on by developer Suneil Sharma, has now been resurrected with new plans to transform the site he describes as “a monument to past failures and excesses”.

He is promising to invest millions and to create thousands of jobs - and who could reasonably argue with that?

Only we have heard similar promises in the not-too-distant past from Mr Sharma in relation to the Opera Centre site, which he had previously promoted as a shopping mecca. Huge investment by taxpayers will now be required before that monument to failure in the very heart of our city is transformed.

Those who, unfairly and unwisely, compare Limerick to Detroit point to these city blocks as an illustration of all that is wrong with the regional capital.

But a plan is in place - and the political machinery has been strengthened - to rebuild the core of Limerick, which would have knock-on benefits across the region.

Integrating planning in our urban core and our suburbs was at the very heart of the Denis Brosnan report that ushered in a new era in local government in Limerick. And in its earliest days, planners at the new local authority will have to adjudicate on a project that could potentially do huge damage to the heart of the city.

Yes, the plans for the Horizon Mall have been scaled down and that is to be welcomed.

But any suburban shopping centre that has Marks & Spencers as an anchor tenant will inevitably draw more people away from the city centre. Its scale is still far too big.

There will be much debate in the weeks to come that the jobs and the investment are better in the suburbs than lost to Limerick altogether.

But the Horizon Mall is contrary to the ambitions of the Limerick 2030 plan and must not be entertained at the proposed location.