A significant amount of infrastructural investment is earmarked by the Council for Portlaoise over the next 3 years.
The projections presented in the local authority’s Indicative Capital Programme for 2020 through to 2022 outlines just where the bulk of the €140 million capital allocation is to go.
About €60m is set aside for house construction and acquisition, but the vast amount of the remainder is ring fenced for major projects in Portlaoise.
While this is good news for the rapidly developing county town, not everyone is over the moon that such vast amounts of money are directed for Portlaoise, as some would see it, to the neglect of other towns in the county.
The headline figures at a glance bear out the view that the lion’s share of the capital investment bound for Laois over the next few years is dedicated to Portlaoise projects.
Under economic development there is €5m down for the Togher Business Park off Junction 17 on the M7; a further €200,000 to upgrade the existing industrial estates and over €2.5m for the Portlaoise Cube.
Portlaoise creams it in the category for Urban Regeneration also with the guts of €10m projected for the Cultural Quarter project; a further €1.5m for public realm and laneway upgrades; almost €3m more for works in the town’s Market and Lower Squares and sixty grand set-aside for a façade enhancement scheme.
An additional €2.7 million is to be drawn down for the Low Carbon Town initiative in Portlaoise.
Work is expected to start on the new county library on Main Street in the next few weeks and over €5m is provided for that in the capital programme.
By contrast the only other reference to libraries in the capital budget is for €100k for refurbishments of Rathdowney Library. In Abbeyleix which has a fabulous library building, it is there nevertheless for over 11 years now and according to Cllr John Joe Fennelly badly in need of a facelift and repainting job on the outside. There are also some accessibility issues in the vicinity of the library there.
Even under the heading of footpath upgrades Portlaoise comes out streets ahead of other towns. Portlaoise is allocated half a million euro for footpath improvements, while the Graiguecullen and Stradbally areas combined are only pencilled in for €50k under the same category.
Cllr Paschal McEvoy noted that he was looking for a small bit of a repair job on footpaths in the Vicarstown area which is estimated to cost €23,000. The implication being that if these works are carried out it doesn’t leave a whole pile for paths in Stradbally or Graigue for the next three years.
It was more than Cllr Ben Brennan could bear. He could only look on with envy with the millions being earmarked for Portlaoise.
‘Feck all for Graigue’
“Portlaoise is getting everything, there’s millions marked down for projects there and if we even got half a million in Graigue we’d do a quare lot with it, but the truth is we’re the forgotten area and we have feck all coming in to it,” he surveyed the capital budget for the next three years in dismay.
“Graigue itself is a very big area and if Paschal gets the €23,000 for Vicarstown and good luck to him there will be nothing left for anywhere else in the district,” Cllr Brennan decried.
There was plenty of support for his perspective outside the county town.
Cllr Aidan Mullins decried the lack of investment in Portarlington by comparison to Portlaoise.
“Portlaoise continues to get the lion’s share and the €2.3m down for Port’ is simply not going to cut it,” was his view.
In a further loss to Portarlington the members were notified by the Director of Finance, Mr Gerry Murphy that Offaly County Council had signalled they are no longer willing to abide by an arrangement which has been in place since 1953, whereby they make an annual contribution towards the operating of the fire station. They have notified that they will not be paying that €80,000 in 2020, which was made in previous years on a two-thirds, one-third basis between Laois and Offaly.
Cllr Tom Mulhall was quick to the defence of Port’ as well. It was a big town with over ten thousand of a population now and could not be left to one side he said in terms of infrastructure and investment.
Rathdowney Fire Station
Cllr James Kelly calculated that when you took the provision for housing and the monies for Portlaoise out of the projected capital spend it didn’t leave a whole pile for the rest of the county.
“That’s very unfair to the other towns, we need some of that investment too to promote rural regeneration,” as he cited the simple example of the bus shelters he had been seeking for Mountrath and Castletown for a long time now.
Cllrs Padraig Fleming and Aisling Moran concurred that €50k for footpaths over a 3 year period in their district was paltry amount.
Cllr Ollie Clooney said rural areas were dying on their feet and he pointed to the closure of yet another country pub in Ballacolla. He said there had been very little spent on areas like Attanagh and Cullahill over the years.
“Portlaoise is thriving and that’s to be welcomed but enough is enough as it’s getting a bit like Dublin in the football and winning everything in terms of investment.”
One chink of light at the end of the tunnel for the smaller towns came for Rathdowney.
Cllr John King raised the issue of the need to upgrade the fire station in his home town, particularly as most of the other stations in the county had been improved. As a former fireman he said he felt a responsibility on the issue and he was constantly being asked about any progress. He observed that there were two female members of the crew in Rathdowney and that the facilities at the station were wholly inadequate.
The Chief Executive, John Mulholland responded that he would personally look in to the matter.
That’s always a good sign of progress to follow and there is €1.5m allocated for Rathdowney fire station works in the budget.