An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission for the first phase of the massive “Euro Chinese Trading Hub” at Creggan, 2km from Athlone, including three major exhibition halls and other facilities totalling 102, 348sq m (1.1m sq ft).
It is planned the €175 million first phase of the hub will be a base for Chinese companies to promote trade and commerce with Europe and the rest of the world. It is intended site will employ 1,530 people after an initial boost of 1,200 construction jobs.
It is expected that Athlone Business Park Ltd will market the proposed development to Chinese companies interested in having an trading hub where they could sell their wares directly to European customers, without the need to travel to China.
The development - which will also have a special Irish division to promote domestic business - aims to provide buyers, traders and manufacturers with a one-stop shop to assess products before placing bulk orders. While discussions have taken place with some Chinese manufacturers, no companies have signed up to base themselves at the Athlone facility.
Athlone Business Park Ltd, the company behind the scheme, believes it will attract 1,750 visitors every day. It claims it would end the need for business leaders on the US east coast to go through time-consuming visa applications and travel arrangements to get into China to see factories and products and place orders.
John Tiernan, chief executive of Athlone Business Park Ltd, said it is aiming for construction to begin by the end of next year. “It’s big, yes. Some people have been gobsmacked by the overall scale of the masterplan but that is only if everything comes to pass,” he said. “I’m confident. But until the point when I’m told ‘start pouring the concrete’, there’s always some doubt. And it’s worth noting it’s a project that does not produce waste water pipes with gunge coming out - it’s a project that produces jobs.”
Frank McDonald, Environment Editor
The IrishTmes, 3/5/2012