ONE of the only planned towns in the country, somehow Shannon has developed without a conventional centre or streetscape, and it is something locals have been seeking for years.
Only recently the group behind the Venue (a proposed multi-functional Community, Civic and Arts Centre for the town) stepped away, after several years of unsuccessfully seeking funding.
Derek Barrett was part of that group and has lived in Shannon since he was a child, arriving in the late 1960s. A former member of Shannon Town Council and Clare County Council, Sean McLoughlin has been in the town since 1970.
The two met with the Clare Champion on Monday, and Derek said in his view the town is missing something important, which was there in his youth. “Shannon was well planned, it had the community hall, the shopping centre, all around Drumgeely Hill. There was a focal point. I know a streetscape is now being mentioned as the thing that Shannon needs, but it needs a focal point, it doesn’t matter what that is. Our view is that could have been the Venue and things could build around that. What happens in most towns is that there is a street or a pub or a church that things form around, and that’s what’s missing.”
Sean also agrees that in the early days of the town, when it was much smaller, it did have a focal point. “Going back to Drumgeely in the old days, you had the shop, the pub, the post office, the ESB place, Cassidy’s chemist, the church, St John’s school, the bank. That was a focal point. Shannon came to the upper side of Corrib Drive and that was the end of it at the time. Somewhere along the line they built housing estates and forgot to do a town centre, or a streetscape as people call it nowadays. Unfortunately our town was modelled on Milton Keynes in England. If you go to Milton Keynes its not a very friendly looking place.”
Lack of attractions
A taxi driver, he says it is very hard to advise visitors to the town of any reasons to stay. “Shannon town, you could describe it as a sitting room without a fireplace, or maybe in the modern day without a television, without something to focus on. If I bring visitors into Shannon, and I bring a lot of visitors around the country, when they say what is there to do in Shannon, all I can do is say we have a riverbank walk. Then I’m referring them to Bunratty, or Ennis, or maybe Limerick. Because what else do you do in Shannon?”
Locals leave it for the same reasons as visitors don’t stay in it, Derek feels. “It happens the residents as well, they end up going looking for stuff. How many times do you go to the cinema in Limerick or to a show or shopping and pass people from Shannon?”
With the industrial estate very busy again, Sean says some of those arriving for work don’t see any reason to base themselves and their families near their work. “Last week I brought a family who are going to stay in Ennis. He got a job in Jaguar Landrover and I said to them did ye not consider a house in Shannon? They said they had a look around but there is nothing to do in Shannon, there are shops and things in Ennis. There are multiple reasons why Shannon has lost, and one of the big reasons is that there is nothing to do. The Town Centre can be locked up at six o’clock in the evening if the management decide to.”
Derek, who runs Peach Recruitment, says the absence of facilities in town is something that concerns its major employers. “When Intel did exit interviews they found people were saying there is nothing here for me only the job, that’s why I’m leaving. Jaguar LandRover have a worry about what will keep people. They’re looking to suck a hell of a lot of employees into the area. They’ll need something to keep them interested and a work life balance.”
Back in 2008, people in Shannon were presented with a plan for their town, that would finally see a proper town centre being delivered, with new buildings to be developed across the road from SkyCourt.
Eleven years later nothing has happened, and the plan, produced at significant expense, has failed. Sean said that an assumption Clare County Council owned the land in question proved to be flawed and ultimately nothing has been done.
No one can say now what direction the town will take in the coming years, something that irks Derek. He says that the lack of direction and certainty went against the Venue when it sought funding. “It just seems crazy that there’s still that lack of a plan in Shannon. Since 2004 the County Council have responsibility for Shannon, and probably ten years prior to that it would have been coming down the tracks that they were going to take it over. Really, in the last 20 years something should have been decided. Nothing has really changed since 2008 when this Masterplan was done, there have been no new major buildings, no additional facilities. We have additional social housing, but anywhere else, if social housing is being put in, if there is an industrial economy in an area they put in infrastructure, that hasn’t happened in Shannon.”
The county town got an extensive make over as the 2016 Fleadh approached, while €1.75 million of public money was spent in developing a covered building for market traders in Ennis, but it has never been used for that purpose, just existing now as a semi sheltered car park.
Given that recent history in the county town, and the relative lack of development in Shannon, it is hard to argue very much with Derek’s view that it is being let down. “Everyone in Shannon believes it is being neglected. Even the local representatives would support that fact, it doesn’t get its fair share. When you think about what Shannon delivers to the local, regional and national economy, a town of this size, we contribute two and a half times the commercial rates that Ennis does. All we’re looking for is a fair share, we want a reasonable and fair share on what we contribute. I don’t know any other town in Ireland that would contribute so much to the economy and have so few facilites.”
He feels that the fact Clare County Council has little history of running Shannon, might be coming against the town. “Every other town was the responsibility of the local authority and that wasn’t the case for Shannon, it was Shannon Development Co Ltd. Whether that created a problem in Clare County Council, that they had no handle on it, no grasp on it. In 2004 when it was transferred did they really want it?”
Given the circumstances of the town, Sean feels a special one off regeneration project would be in order. “What I think should happen is that Clare County Council should draw up a plan for the whole town. Then go to the Government with this plan, and look for some type of regeneration or urban renewal or something. They can bring in special programmes, they have brought them in for Limerick, for parts of Dublin. There is no reason why Shannon couldn’t be brought up to the standard of other towns, we need it. We have over 10,000 people and another 30,000 people who live in the area.”
Derek agrees with him wholeheartedly. “Tying into what Sean said about a special plan, when we met with the Minister for Finance, that’s exactly what he said to us. You’re wasting your time applying for these schemes, like the Fáilte Ireland one, like the Urban Regeneration Development Fund, make a special case and I’ll bring it to the Department of Public Expenditure. We did it within a week of him asking and there was an agreement that we would be included in the budget of 2017, but it never came to ask. But what he said was right, you’re wasting your time applying for these schemes, trying to change things around to fit into criteria.”
He also feels that the Council should now take up the cudgels in relation to the Venue, and deliver a new facility. “ There’s an opportunity for them to acquire this site now, which is 1.2 acres, it has loads of road frontage, it is right in the middle of the town, half way between Ballycasey and Drumgeely. That argument that they don’t own it shouldn’t be there, they have the opportunity to acquire the site.”
Both are hopeful that some action will be taken in the relatively near future, not put on the long finger. “Go into the department of health and there’s a full room stacked with files and reports. They’re made and they’re just left on a shelf,” says Sean.
Summing up, he added, “We do need a proper streetscape. Derek is calling it a focal point, I agree with him and the Venue could be incorporated into it. I would be looking at a Village Square idea, not over where they were originally looking at it. As Derek pointed out there’s a good bit of land here (the proposed Venue site, close to the back of Peach Recruitment) you could have your retail units with apartments overhead, you can incorporate a Venue like building in it as well.”
Derek says that there are still plenty of positives to the town of Shannon, but its neglect needs to end. “Shannon is a fantastic town, a fantastic community, but it’s under stress.”