NEWCASTLE West needs to be given new priority status to counter fears that a city-dominated council could neglect the town, place its development “on the hind teat” and force local business away.
The Newcastle West Community Council believes that a five-year strategic development plan needs to be drawn up for the county capital to ensure that it is not “blown out of the water” in the new joint Limerick local authority.
The community council’s chairman, former Limerick West TD Michael Finucane, has called on local authority manager Conn Murray to prove his commitment to supporting business, tourism and development there, amid fears that the new council will be overly focused on Limerick city.
“It’s time now that the county manager recognises us fully as the county town.
“It’s time we look at Newcastle West as the county capital and look at it over a five-year strategic planning basis. We have a common objective to enhance the profile of Newcastle West”. Mr Finucane added that various local groups, including the chamber of commerce, support the call.
Mr Finucane was speaking at the June Newcastle West local area meeting, where councillors expressed concern about the future of rural development in a council which will have a 21-19 seat balance in favour of the city.
The meeting heard that a number of key local projects – such as the building of a skate park in the Demesne, the possible public purchase of Fuller’s Folly near the Desmond Castle, and a planned ‘mini bypass’ link road – need to be tied in to a long-term vision for the county town.
Cllr Jerome Scanlan, the outgoing Cathaoirleach of Limerick County Council, said that “Newcastle West has lost out very badly” in the carve-up of seats in the new local authority after next year’s local elections.
“We’ve been put on the hind teat, no doubt about it. There is a very great danger that the gravitas of business will go to Tralee or elsewhere if something isn’t done”, he added, stating that county Limerick could be “blown out of the water” by the city.
Mr Finucane said that immediate plans for public projects in Newcastle West have now been hit by the “hugely, extremely disappointing” 10% cut to West Limerick Resources’ grant funding.
He said that this “impediment” could endanger the plan to build a teenage games area and skate park in the Castle Demesne, which is one step away from receiving full planning permission.
“We were prepared to raise funding ourselves, but we can’t do that unless the commitment is there”.
Cllr Damien Riedy backed the calls for a strategic plan for Newcastle West, stating “we need to put our stamp on this new authority”
Cllr Michael Collins said that in the new council, it is likely that “the emphasis is going to change from county to city”. He said that in such a scenario, it is event more important to “keep our county town strong”.
Cllr Francis Foley that with power likely to be increasingly centralised in City Hall, “I feel our area offices will be more important now than ever. They need to be beefed up, not curtailed”.
He said that in the expanded Newcastle West area “there’s a lot of square miles for us to represent”, and that it was now necessary for the local area office to receive extra resources and staff.
Cllr Liam Galvin said that a strategic development and investment plan for Newcastle West is “now more imperative than ever before”, as the make up of the new council will be “a disappointment for rural Limerick”.
He stressed that Abbeyfeale, Rathkeale and other towns “are going to be in serious trouble” unless they receive fair treatment.
He said that excessive emphasis on the city over the county could lead to businesses moving out of the county and into the city environs.
“Where’s our rate base going to go?” Cllr Galvin asked.
Cllr Foley asked that the area councillors meet with Mr Murray in a bid to seek assurances for the future.
Cllr Collins replied that such a meeting would be a waste of time. “He’s going to tell us to wait and see what funding comes in next year, and he’s going to tell us to wait until after the local elections”.
Cllr Scanlan expressed concerns about the ongoing pressures facing local businesses, and criticised West Limerick Resources in this regard. “Our LEADER company has failed to provide for local business”, he said, compared to the “marvellous” work done by Ballyhoura Development in East Limerick.