INTENSE anger at the rejection of an application for planning permission for a new Aldi store was voiced at a public meeting in Shannon this week. At least 70 people attended the meeting in the Oakwood Hotel, many of them furious that local shopping centre SkyCourt had objected to the proposal. There was also a fair share of anger at council planners.
Shannon has never had a conventional town centre in the way that virtually ever town in Ireland does and many people living locally want one. The proposed Aldi store would have been across the road from SkyCourt, on the same side as McDonald’s, a fuel station and the Oakwood and there was a feeling that the development would have been at least a step in the right direction.
Sinn Féin Councillor Mike McKee organised Tuesday’s meeting, where he strongly argued against a boycott of SkyCourt, saying it would damage local business and employment, when some members of the audience floated the idea.
There was also a willingness to picket Clare County Council in protest at its decision, while many of those in attendance were prepared to write to the council to complain.
A letter from Rory O’Sullivan, a director of Aramark Property, which operates SkyCourt, explained why the shopping centre did not send a representative to the meeting. In it, he stated, “We do not feel it appropriate to attend such a meeting, given that it is Clare County Council and not SkyCourt that sets the framework for the development of the town.
“The landlord’s focus is on developing SkyCourt as a prime retail and business location and they remain focused on and committed to this endeavour.”
After reading this to the audience, Councillor McKee said it was “a bit of a joke”.
He also claimed that he felt the decision to refuse the application was “dubious” and that Aldi could be successful if they make an appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
Councillor McKee claimed SkyCourt management have “failed abysmally” over 40 years. He added that Christmas week is the quietest of the year there, while Saturday is generally the quietest day of the week.
“They want to keep a veto and a stranglehold on retailers coming into Shannon,” he claimed.
Despite the very apparent anger at SkyCourt, he argued that people should not refuse to shop there.
“There should not be a boycott of SkyCourt. We all have friends, sons, daughters and neighbours working in SkyCourt.”
A woman attending the meeting said Shannon had been described as “a graveyard with lights” and that this now an accurate statement.
Another man voiced his anger about what Shannon lacks, saying, “The town is being run by a shower of monkeys – they promise everything and deliver nothing.”
One woman claimed the local shopping centre had more to offer 30 years ago than it has now. “We need a high street,” she added, before claiming Aldi could have been the start of the development of a proper town centre.
Clare TD Timmy Dooley attended and told the meeting that he was concerned that Aldi could now choose to locate somewhere else, following the planning problems in Shannon.
He suggested that, with Councillor McKee, they meet with Aldi management, while also seeking a meeting with the Dublin-based management of SkyCourt.
Deputy Dooley also said that it was obvious that Shannon people are “very agitated” at the decision.
Clare County Council refused planning on three grounds, including that it would “seriously injure the visual amenities of the area, would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area and would not provide a quality urban design outcome”, which would be consistent with the Department of Environment’s design principles.
It also claimed the proposal would not be consistent with zoning and that there would be a lack of safe and convenient pedestrian linkages to Shannon Town Centre.
By Owen Ryan