A consultant engaged to design the proposed €910,000 project to develop Shannon Town Park, met Shannon Municipal District councillors at their January meeting accompanied by Clare County Council’s senior planning official.

The project came about following the availability of €455,000 in EU funding from the Southern Regional Assembly which must be matched by the local authority. Senior planner Brian McCarthy said that as part of a public consultation held before Christmas, people were invited to submit design ideas. Mr McCarthy told councillors the public consultation was advertised in Ennis-based media outlets.

Consultant Nick de Jong drafted preliminary designs based on the outcome of the public consultation and stated the enhanced town park will consist of a central spine with a series of walkways passing through. Mr de Jong said a large number of trees were removed from the town park last year including up to 170 damaged in the 2014 storms. His design has concentrated on removing trees from an oval-shaped space in the centre of the existing area to facilitate the shape of a new town park.

Regarding the public consultation, he said 123 responses were received to a questionnaire, 61% (75) of the respondents were schoolchildren, 4% were from the 19-30 age group; 20% from 31-55s and 15% from over 55s. The most popular preferred facilities are good lighting and CCTV, seating and picnic areas and a covered shelter. Meadow land and shrubbery are the least popular options.

Based on these responses a preliminary layout indicates the centre focal point of the park could be a covered structure that might be used as a performance area. It is also proposed to have seating pods, a wetland feature and an activity play area, integrating adventure play with the existing trees. A new pedestrian crossing is also proposed at Bothar na Rinne, adjacent to St Patrick’s Comprehensive, to facilitate children accessing the park. Mr de Jong stated that it is intended to conclude the planning process by the end of January and go to tender in May-June with a view to starting construction in the summer for completion in early 2018.

Cllr Cathal Crowe commented that he liked the natural features being proposed and complemented the consultant on “not over-landscaping”. He said the park should have a safe feel to it, with CCTV and lighting, so that people could take ownership of the civic space and it doesn’t become a place for anti-social behaviour. Cllr Crowe also asked what plans, if any, there are to manage and maintain the park into the future?

“Forgive me if I’m not jumping up and down with enthusiasm,” exclaimed Cllr Gerry Flynn. From his experience Clare County Council does not have a good track record when it comes to providing and maintaining public facilities in Shannon. Cllr Flynn pointed out that it is one thing to put new facilities in place but quite another when it comes to providing ongoing maintenance. He recalled examples like the Neighbourwood Scheme on Tullyvarraga Hill and The Maze in Drumgeely,where a significant amount of public money was spent but it has since been removed.

While welcoming the funding from the EU and the matching amount provided by the local authority, Cllr Flynn also recalled that large tracts of the original town park were lost to the people of Shannon after the land was sold to develop apartment blocks that he said resemble Ballymun. He also claimed it had taken many years to find a commemorative entrance stone, marking the official opening of the original Town Park by Donal Carey, as this had been bulldozed into the undergrowth during construction of the apartments.

According to Cllr Flynn, a significant issue that was overlooked concerns the ownership of the lands being developed for the town park. He has asked this question of Clare County Council several times and has received no clear answer. “I want it clarified, who owns that land, we need to know,” said Cllr Flynn, adding, “we should be careful of spending public money on land where it is not yeat clear whether we own it or not”.

Responding to this, senior planner Brian McCarthy commented, “we are satisfied we have a legal interest to undertake the works in the area that we identified”. To Cllr Flynn this did not sound the same as ownership and certainly he did not appear to be convinced and asked the planner to forward formal notification to him that the land being developed for the town park is in the ownership of Clare County Council.

Cllr Pat McMahon welcomed the focus on lighting and CCTV to address potential anti-social behaviour including drugs and alcohol misuse and said it’s important to ensure safety in the park all year round. Adding his observations, Shannon’s senior engineer Eugene O’Shea noted that additional budgetary resources will be required to ensure the park is maintained into the future.