Blow for Ark­low as de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion plan shelved

Bray People - - About Greystones -

REEL­ING FROM the eco­nomic down­turn and rapidly in­creas­ing un­em­ploy­ment, Ark­low was dealt an­other ma­jor blow in the Bud­get last week when the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion plan for the town was of­fi­cially shelved by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Brian Leni­han.

The signs erected out­side Ark­low herald­ing the ar­rival of the 125 jobs had been re­moved well in ad­vance of the Bud­get on Tues­day, when it seems peo­ple in Ark­low would only have been sur­prised if they heard it was in fact go­ing ahead as planned.

The re­lo­ca­tion of the Na­tional Safety Au­thor­ity of Ire­land ( NSAI) em­ploy­ees to Ark­low has been de­ferred for at least three years, though it’s likely to be for as long as it takes the pub­lic fi­nances to suf­fi­ciently re­cover – if it ever goes ahead.

How­ever, the writ­ing had been on the well long be­fore last week’s Bud­get, not least when the NSAI ex­tended its lease at a Dublin of­fice block for up to ten years.

Ark­low was one of just 37 re­gional towns set to lose out on the trans­fer of more than 5,000 jobs from Dublin fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion to sus­pend the Gov­ern­ment’s de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion pro­gramme, but it will feel the loss more than most.

‘It’s an ab­so­lute thun­der­ing dis­grace and an­other ham­mer blow for Ark­low, but it has come as no sur­prise, I’ve put for­ward a num­ber of mo­tions to have the signs taken down to save our­selves the em­bar­rass­ment,’ said Cllr. Donal O’Sul­li­van.

‘The de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion plan was just an­other Fianna Fáil stunt ahead of the lo­cal and Euro­pean elec­tions and to be hon­est no one in Ark­low ever be­lieved for one minute that they were gen­uine,’ claimed the Fine Gael Coun­cil­lor.

He said, na­tion­ally, the plan has still cost the tax­payer mil­lions. ‘At least in Ark­low it didn’t cost the tax­pay­ers that much be­cause a site wasn’t bought for the of­fice, like they were in Birr and other places,’ said Cllr. O’Sul­li­van.

How­ever, like oth­ers, he feels that the Bridgewater Shop­ping Cen­tre had ‘a fan­tas­tic suite of offices’ ready for the NSAI, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion go­ing ahead.

The Ark­low Town Coun­cil­lor felt the plan was never fea­si­ble as the NSAI are ‘a highly spe­cialised group of peo­ple’.

‘You can’t trans­fer them like you would any group of civil ser­vants. The NSAI are a pro­fes­sional, ded­i­cated body of peo­ple who had this plan landed on them without any con­sul­ta­tion.

‘Ge­o­graph­i­cally Ark­low is ideal for de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion, but it would only work for a seg­ment of a big depart­ment like Agri­cul­ture, So­cial Wel­fare of the En­vi­ron­ment, not a spe­cialised sec­tion like the NSAI,’ said Cllr. O’Sul­li­van. He feels the So­cial Wel­fare work­ers would be a par­tic­u­larly good choice as ‘ the lat­est un­em­ploy­ment statis­tics make grim read­ing for Ark­low’.

‘Ark­low has seen an 70 per cent in­crease in un­em­ploy­ment, which must be one of the high­est in the coun­try and this is be­fore the full clo­sure of Al­ler­gan Med­i­cal Sup­plies, which an­nounced in Jan­uary that it would close with the loss of 360 jobs. Ten months on from this dev­as­tat­ing news and the Gov­ern­ment have done noth­ing to bring new jobs in to the area,’ said Cllr. O’Sul­li­van.

He said that Ark­low is ‘ get­ting ham­mered more than most places’ as its in­fras­truc­tural deficit is not be­ing ad­dressed; it has a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal base that’s not be­ing ex­panded on and it was over­ex­posed to the construction sec­tor.

‘The prob­lem Ark­low faces now is try­ing to find re­place­ment em­ploy­ment in the area. Ark­low should be abler to at­tract in­dus­try as we have a highly skilled work­force and a great lo­ca­tion, but much to the frus­tra­tion of lo­cals we get no help from this Gov­ern­ment.’

‘I’m ab­so­lutely ap­palled with the Gov­ern­ment in gen­eral and par­tic­u­larly for their treat­ment of Ark­low,’ said re­tailer John Swan, whose Di­a­mond Stu­dio is on the Main Street.‘It’s the for­got­ten town of Co. Wick­low,’ said John, who also felt the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion plan was never go­ing to go ahead in the first place.

‘I said at a Cham­ber meet­ing five or six years ago that I’d eat my hat if we got those jobs,’ said John. He is quick to ad­mit though that – had it gone ahead – the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of the NSAI would have been of ‘huge ben­e­fit’ to Ark­low.

‘The town is on its knees. It’s not all the Gov­ern­ment’s fault, but they are to blame for not pro­vid­ing the in­fra­struc­ture we need or in­vest­ing in the town,’ said John.

He said the sit­u­a­tion is un­likely to im­prove any time soon and high­lights the lack of an ad­e­quate sew­er­age sys­tem in the town, with sewage be­ing pumped into the Avoca river, and its poor qual­ity drink­ing wa­ter as just two of the longterm prob­lems that have gone un­ad­dressed.

John claimed that Wick­low County Coun­cil is too fo­cused on the north of the county. ‘90 per cent of all fund­ing over the next two years is go­ing to the north of the county,’ he said.

‘Grey­stones and Bray are go­ing to be pro­vided with two swim­ming pools at a cost of over ¤ 8m, but we can’t even get a sewage treat­ment plant,’ he said.

Ark­low and District Cham­ber has this week ex­pressed its ‘re­gret’ that the NSAI will not be mov­ing to the town.

‘We have waited a long time to wel­come the NSAI and are ob­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed that they are no longer com­ing,’ said Cham­ber Pres­i­dent Conor Lawler.

A pur­pose-built of­fice space was pre­pared for them and we were looking for­ward to the cre­ation of over 120 jobs in the town,’ he said.

Sev­eral years ago a fund was put in place by lo­cal busi­nesses and the Cham­ber to cre­ate in­for­ma­tion book­lets for those peo­ple who would be mov­ing to Ark­low un­der the scheme.

The book­lets were to give in­for­ma­tion on hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and lo­cal ser­vices, but its cre­ation had thank­fully been put on hold af­ter the Cham­ber got wind that the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion plan was doomed.

‘Ear­lier this year it was dis­cov­ered that the NSAI had ex­tended a lease at a premises in Dublin and at that point the Cham­ber was scep­ti­cal of it ever com­ing to Ark­low. At County Wick­low Cham­ber meet­ings with our TDs and County Coun­cil Man­age­ment, the Cham­ber was lob­by­ing to en­sure that the move take place,’ said Mr. Lawler.

‘We were all hop­ing that the move would hap­pen, but now we need to fo­cus on fill­ing that space. We will work with all the nec­es­sary bodies to pro­mote Ark­low for busi­ness – we still have a lot to of­fer,’ said Mr. Lawler.

Cllr O’Sul­li­van feels that the Bridgewater Cen­tre had a fan­tas­tic suite of offices ready for the NSAI in an­tic­i­pa­tion of de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion go­ing ahead.

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