Fears that businesses would close and the plan was more suited to California were expressed when the Portlaoise Public Realm was revealed on Tuesday night.
Reaction from the floor was a mixture of both positive and negative, with many questioning if the plans are suited to the town.
Laois chief executive John Mulholland told the final public consultation meeting: “I would like to see Portlaoise become a model town which can stand on its feet and recover from the country’s most severe financial recession,” he said.
He said the vision is not anti-business, and their intention is to bring business back into town.
He also said there is a need for debate. “There will be argument and disagreement.There has to be a huge degree of engagement,” he said.
“It is a lot to take in,” Ger Mulhall of Mulhall’s Supervalu said. He said he was disappointed there isn’t a retailer on the design team.
“The vision you have will close us. That’s definite. That’s my opinion after looking at this for the last three hours,” he said.
He raised concern about the amount of green spaces, which he felt would not be filled with people.
“The other side of the town has open car park spaces and there is not one mention of convenience in this plan,” he said.
Laois County Council director of services Kieran Kehoe responded that they have to look at the reasons why businesses are closing “Our whole raison d’être is to change that,” he said.
A speaker from the floor welcomed the focus on the use of public art to improve the visual appearance of the town centre, and its laneways.
Another speaker felt there should be incentives for the renewal of the town centre. He felt this should happen “sooner rather than later”.
John Dunne said an almost identical plan had been published for Market Square 10 years ago.
On the Triogue linear park plan, he said: “People won’t go near it because of the anti-social behaviour”.
“The river is so overgrown on one side, it is dangerous. It is a death trap. I saw one child follow a football into, what he thought was long grass, into the river,” he said.
He also questioned the plans to revitalise the traditional town centre. “The only way to do that is reduce the rates,” he said.
He added that the issue of derelict sites in the town has to be tackled, saying he has a stack of correspondence with the council on the matter.
“The plans make Portlaoise look like a happy, shiny town in California. Please God I won’t be here to see it,” he said.
Jack Nolan said he started out in business 35 years ago, when the town centre was a vibrant place.
He said the businesses in the town are looking for something to be done for them.
“There is free parking in the shopping centre and we only have a free half an hour in the town. You wouldn’t get in and out of a shop in that time,” he said.
He said the council had been in support of a shopping centre which detracted from the town centre.
“We need a level playing pitch… we never got support in the centre of town. We are looking for what you can do for us for the next two to three years that will keep up in business and keep our businesses alive,” he said.
Cian Mac Gearailt of Comhairle na nÓg said 2040 is a long way away. “We are the next generation but we night be gone,” he said because of the problems in the town.
He also felt the plan worked on a lot of assumptions while making comparisons with towns such as Newbridge, which are very different.
Ann Fingleton, who said she is one of the 600 people living in the town centre, very much welcomed proposals to have greater linkage between the schools and the town centre. “My family has cycled to school every day apart from three days… Connecting the schools to the town is a great idea,” she said.