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How the revival of plans for a midlands airport in Offaly is getting the locals talking

The proposal suffered a setback during the recession, but recent developments have bought the project back into local conversation.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

THE AMBITIOUS PLAN for a cargo airport in Offaly came back into the headlines in 2018, surprising locals who had thought the recession had killed off the idea.

Ten years after it was first mooted, the Midlands Airport Development project next to the M6 at the village of Tubber, still remains in the planning phrase, but now a German company has given its support and local government funds are being applied for.

With all of this in mind, TheJournal.ie paid a visit to the community to speak with the developer and local community. 

Where would it go?

The plan is to construct an international cargo airport and nine industrial clusters in county Offaly at the tiny village of Tubber, which consists of a GAA club, primary school and a Catholic church (the local pub closed following the economic decline of recent years).

The project has been in the works for at least a decade and Patrick Little, managing director of Midlands Airport Development Ltd, believes now is the time for the airport to get off the ground.

“The international climate, the economy, they’re all ripe and ready for this opportunity,” says Little, who has promised 5,200 jobs and €500 million in revenue if the venture comes to fruition.

In October, Little exclusively confirmed to TheJournal.ie that the company has signed a memorandum of understanding with a German consultancy, InSite Bavaria, a subsidiary of the Technical University of Munich, and that the local authority has applied to the government’s rural regeneration development fund.

Impact on the community

If given the green light, the project would see the local GAA grounds, one of Tubber’s social hubs, moved elsewhere.

A decade ago, the company held a meeting with the community to broach their views on the plans. However, chairperson of Tubber GAA Joe Higgins told TheJournal.ie the community hasn’t been contacted since then about the project: 

They held a meeting with us about nine or 10 years ago, but we have never been contacted since and we’re definitely in the firing line.

Higgins said he wouldn’t stand in the way of progress, but didn’t see how the sports facility could be replicated within the village – especially to the same standard: 

The grounds, are in the centre of the of the village – adjacent to everything in the community and it’s a focal point. If you were to move out of the village it would take away from the area.
However, he said the club recognises that a facility of the proposed scale of the airport could create some much-needed jobs in the area, in a county hard hit by the recession: 
It mightn’t be as big as Centre Parcs in Longford but we all have to go with progress. If it’s going to be a benefit to the locality and if we can keep the pitch and facilities in the village, it’s possible.   

Pupils at St Manchan’s primary school had mixed views about the project. While some welcome the idea of shorter travel time to a closer airport, others worry about the impact on local wildlife, agriculture and the noise pollution from airplanes taking off. 

Political willpower

The news that Offaly County Council facilitated the application for government funding surprised many local politicians.

Fine Gael councillor Tommy McKeigue described the project as “daft”.  

This was mooted many years ago and I think it’s daft altogether. 
What’s more important is linking Dublin Airport to Heuston station and the city centre. 

McKeigue said when it was mentioned at council level, he thought “it was a joke”. 

Independent councillor Dervill Dolan is on the other side of the fence, citing Knock as an idea that was laughed at for being ‘pie-in-the-sky’ stuff. He said anything that could benefit the region should be given due consideration: 

It’s something that has been discussed for many years and I know many of the landowners who might be affected.
When you go to Tubber it is hard to envisage something of this scale. 

However, Dolan said at this stage, it’s far too early to rule out the proposed development: “I really don’t know if it’s feasible…. but at this stage I think we should take it to the next step.”

Despite the scepticism both locally and nationally, Little is currently working on gaining more investment. He said he’s determined to see the project work:

It’s not a case of this or an expansion at Dublin, this is a case of we need the expansion at Dublin, but we also need the expansion in the Midlands to relieve the pressure on what’s becoming a very congested part of the country. 
Rural Ireland has a value in providing services for Ireland to be able to connect globally and we need to take advantage of that.

With thanks to the pupils and staff at St Manchan’s Primary school, Tubber GAA and Midlands Airport Development Ltd. All children featured had parental consent to participate in this project. 

Video by Andrew Roberts

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