Back in January 2008 Clare County Council held a public consultation in a local hotel to unveil a Masterplan for Shannon Town Centre proclaiming 1,000 new jobs over 15 years. Ten years on the huge plans for Shannon lie in tatters after the council’s Director of Social Development told councillors, “I don’t want to hear anymore talk of TC1 and TC2.”
Liam Conneally made his remark during a presentation to Municipal District councillors by Derek Barrett and Eoin Hoctor of The Venue, the proposed multi-million euro, multi-functional arts venue. Mr Conneally also described Shannon as, “a premier jobs location, a premier transport hub, but not a premier town centre” – for some, an honest appraisal of the planning authority’s failings with regard to Clare’s second largest population centre.
In turn, Cllr Gerry Flynn painted a bleak picture of the town centre since a Shannon Group subsidiary vacated the former Shannon Development headquarters building when he spoke of businesses in the shopping centre closing as a consequence. Emphasising his continued support for The Venue project, Cllr Flynn expressed a hope that “if it gets off the ground” it might give the centre of Shannon a boost.
Still he insisted that the decision taken by Shannon Commercial Properties to close the towering Shannon Development HQ has had a negative impact on local business. “Shannon Development,” he said, “provided a lot of revenue to businesses from its headquarters in the shopping centre. But what did Shannon Group PLC do? They decided to close the building and sell it off”. Soon after they announced plans to spend €10m on building a new office block.
“As a result businesses in SkyCourt are falling like ten-pins, another shop is in the process of closing as we speak. The shopping centre is dying and those with the power to do something about it, and I’m talking about Shannon Group PLC, have walked away. I am not happy with the way Shannon has gone over the years,” said Cllr Flynn adding, “as a town we seem to be going backwards.”
Taking up this theme, Liam Conneally acknowledged that the revival of Shannon Town Centre remains “a huge issue” for the local authority. “It’s as much an issue for businesses and the people who live here as it is for Clare County Council,” he said. Tellingly, Mr Conneally also remarked that Shannon Town Centre does not need another masterplan and emphatically stated that he does not want to hear any more talk of TC1 and TC2.
This referred to a Master-plan for Shannon Town Centre drawn up in 2008 to address the long-term development of the town. The plan envisaged the creation of 1,000 jobs over 15 years by expanding the existing retail centre (TC1) onto adjacent 90-acre green field sites (TC2 & TC3).
The plan was prepared by Murray O Laoire Architects for Clare County Council and proposed a new main street, a town square, a civic arts centre and 1,500 underground car parking spaces. It also included construction of a light rail system linking Shannon Airport to mainline railway services.
The masterplan was drawn up during Clare County Council’s deputy CEO Gerard Dollard’s tenure as Shannon Town Manager, unfortunately the country was hit by a massive recession and no more was heard of the masterplan.
As an aside, the council’s chief planning officer at that time, John Bradley, once explained that he had envisaged an outlet centre like Kildare Village would be located on the TC2 and TC3 sites. Mr Bradley’s was of the opinion that Shannon had “all the traits of a suburb and few of the qualities of a town.”
With the costly masterplan dead in the water and officials warming to The Venue concept, Liam Conneally told councillors, “Now’s the time to actually put something on the ground.” He also confirmed that the reduction of footfall is leading to businesses leaving the town centre, commenting, “That is an issue for us. Any location that will bring footfall into the town centre is always welcome.”
Taking on board these remarks, Cllr Flynn appealed to Clare County Council to take a more lenient approach to those hard-pressed business owners in Shannon who are now in arrears with their commercial rates.