Centered between the major Irish airports, of Dublin, Shannon, and Knock, with ever improving ground infrastructure, the Irish government and local authorities plan to alleviate urban problems, by decentralising to growing gateways such as the Midlands Gateway of Offaly and Westmeath. According to the Irish National Development plan the Midlands gateway objectives are to reinforce and further develop strong links between these towns and the neighbouring urban centres, by means of infrastructure and services in order to maximise internal and external accessibility as a location for investment business development and tourism.
The counties immediately concerned are those of County Offaly and County Westmeath. The neighbouring counties are County Cavan, County Laois, County Longford, County Meath, County Monaghan, County Roscommon, and nearby Ulster counties.
The proposed combined County council strategy aspires to provide the basis for the development of a world class, knowledge-based and competitive gateway. The strategy is designed to create an integrated linked Gateway comprising Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar together with the other surrounding towns in the region with the objective of developing internationally competitive Gateway. The designation and development of the Midlands gateway is aimed at providing the basis to develop a range of high quality employment and educational opportunities centred on first-rate accessibility and mobility. The Irish government strategy, combined with the associated councils has been formulated with the intention of ensuring the availability of choice in residential, retail, leisure and tourist facilities based on the principles of quality of life and environmental enhancement. It is hoped that this strategy, when implemented, will support economic development in adjoining counties to the Midlands Gateway.
A background to this project is the Government’s National Spatial Strategy, which was launched in 2002 with the objective of engendering a more balanced approach to regional development across the State. The purpose of this Strategic Framework is to focus more directly on the role of the Midlands Gateway within this Strategy in acting as the economic driving force for the development of the Midlands region.
In order to ensure that the vision for the Midlands Gateway is fully achieved, the following partners are of critical importance to the Midlands gateways success: Involvement and participation of most important stakeholders/agencies responsible for achieving the vision, including Government Departments, Industrial Development Authority (Ireland), National Roads Authority NRA, Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and local agencies;
Development of a long-term strategic approach regarding the development, advancement and promotion of the Midlands Gateway;
Clear integration of the three principal Gateway towns of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar so as to form a seamless ‘linked gateway’;
Incorporation of the Strategic Development Framework for the Midlands Gateway into the Regional Planning Guidelines for the Midlands Region;
Ongoing monitoring and review of the Strategic Development Framework to ensure its success.
Transportation Accessibility Mobility Internal & External to the Gateway
One of the most essential requirements that will ensure the successful operation of a Gateway is the provision of high quality transport infrastructure so as to provide the necessary levels of internal and external accessibility and mobility. Currently, the Gateway does not have direct access to complete Inter-Urban Motorways/Dual-Carriageways, both internally and externally. The Gateway, and in particular the three principal Gateway towns of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar, is served by main line inter-urban rail and bus networks, with direct access to urban centres of Dublin, Galway and Sligo, and limited local bus services. However, there is poor rail connection within the Gateway. In addition, the Gateway is not directly served by an inland port and, of critical importance, is not currently within one hour drive time of an international airport. There is poor road linkage between the Gateways towns, with limited rail and bus service links. Based on the road development proposals announced in the Transport 21 Government Proposal (November, 2005), the Midlands Gateway will attain improved and direct access to the above mentioned national urban centres, and therefore also to ports and airports. There is a need to considerably improve the road infrastructure within and adjacent to the Gateway, as the existing status is significantly insufficient.
Overall, the Gateway's current position is deficient in terms of transportation, accessibility and mobility.