A study on the strengths, challenges and opportunities facing the north Mayo region has been welcomed by councillors from Ballina Municipal District.
Mark O’Connell from Repucon Consulting gave a detailed presentation at the first-ever online meeting of the municipal district last week, during which he spoke of the potential for ‘a new dawn for Ballina and north Mayo’ in terms of economic, social and environmental development.
Pointing to Ballina’s potential for tourism and remote working in attracting economic growth, Mr O’Connell said Ballina’s position as a ‘market town’ gave it the potential to act as a ‘gateway’ for north Mayo.
He said marketing the region as ‘The Salmon Tech Valley’ had the potential to attract population growth and economic region. He also highlighted Ballina Military Barracks and the proposed Mary Robinson Centre as key assets in providing educational and social centres in the town.
The wider north Mayo region, he said, has ‘significant potential’ as a renewable energy hub, citing the examples of the Killala community wind farm and the Belmullet marine energy project.
An orbital road around Ballina, N62 improvements, and good interconnectedness with smaller towns were all cited as key pieces of necessary infrastructure.
The regeneration of the Western Rail Corridor was also identified as being key to the development of the wider region.
One of the disadvantages identified was the decline of Ballina’s 19- to 29-year-old population, which had seen a 27 percent drop in the last two censuses.
Mr O’Connell said that maintaining a talented and educated young population in the area was critical to attracting economic investment in the area.
The town’s high level of business vacancy – the sixth highest in the county – was described as ‘a major challenge’.
Cllr Mark Duffy praised the plan, agreeing that the need for greater infrastructure and connectivity in the region is key to its future success.
“On our own, we can only do so much,” he said. “But when we’re connected into larger centres like Galway and Dublin we can offer a balance for people to base themselves in Ballina and work regionally but also one or two days in Dublin or Galway.”
The independent councillor argued that the IDA needs prioritise Ballina due to the town’s high business-vacancy rate.
Cllr Jarlath Munnelly praised the plan, which he said was ‘representative of the views of the elected members’, in contrast to the Castlebar-Westport development plan, which he claimed was ‘very much management-driven’.
Cllr John O’Hara said a new road is needed from Foxford to Ballyvary, in addition to the upgrading of the N26.
The Fine Gael councillor also suggested that converting the old Garda Station in Ballina’s Walsh Street into a hostel and cultural centre would be a good asset for the town.
Cathaoirleach Cllr Seamus Weir praised the depth of plan, but suggested that the Pontoon Lakes be given greater priority.
The study was carried out for the council by Galway-based MKO Planning and Environmental Consultants.