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Hotel for Knock Airport

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OVERALL VISION The Strategic Development Zone is seen as a major step forward for the future of Ireland West Airport

Councillors approve Strategic Development Zone for Ireland West Airport Knock

Anton McNulty

Provisions for a hotel and conference facilities have been included in the Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) to be located around Ireland West Airport Knock.
Councillors unanimously passed a motion at last week’s monthly meeting of Mayo County Council to adopt the draft planning scheme for the SDZ. The purpose of the planning scheme is to set out an overall vision and set of guiding principles for the SDZ area. It will serve as a design framework for the future development of the lands in and around Ireland West Airport Knock.
Chief Executive, Peter Hynes said planners in Mayo County Council have been working on the scheme for the past 18 months and praised all the staff for their hard work.
“This is a fine piece of work and a major step forward not just for this county but for the whole of the Atlantic economic corridor and will have major potential. It won’t happen tomorrow but is a step in enabling a major development which is strategically located between the growth centres of Galway and Sligo and will be a big anchor for this county.
“If one message is to go out of this it is that we all push for further development into the airport and on that SDZ site,” he said.
The decision to approve the Ireland West Airport Knock Strategic Development Zone was agreed at Enda Kenny’s last cabinet meeting in May 2017. Arthur French, Chairman, Ireland West Airport Knock welcomed the progress made in relation to the Strategic Development Zone at Ireland West Airport.
“We would like to thank Mayo County Council for their work to date and in working with the airport on the development of the masterplan required to complete the zoning and we look forward to the completion of the project which will provide planning certainty for potential developments that may take place at the airport in the future,” he said.
Strategic Development Zones are designated parcels of land that are considered of strategic national importance, to be fast tracked through the planning process and cannot be referred to An Bord Pleanála.
There are ten areas in the state designated as SDZs but the Knock Airport SDZ will be the only one located outside an urban area in Ireland and if built out to full capacity, could deliver 95,025 square metres of commercial, business and enterprise space, 44,000 square metres of aviation economic development and services, and 11,000 square metres of hotel accommodation and conference floorspace. It will have the potential to deliver future employment capacity of almost 4,200 persons.
In 2016, seven local authorities in the west and north west region purchased a 17.5 percent stake in Ireland West Airport Knock but Mayo County Council is the lead agency in the SDZ planning scheme.
They say that the SDZ will provide for a new business and enterprise hub, in the form of a campus aiming to cultivate and establish new business and innovative industries that harnesses the benefits of living and doing business in the west of Ireland.

‘Guidance and surety’
John McMyler, Senior Planner with Mayo County Council, explained that the purpose of the planning scheme is to provide ‘guidance and surety’ to developers in a timely and efficient process for development.
“Applicants will still have to get permission from Mayo County Council but once a development proposal is consistent with the scheme they will get permission and they cannot be appealed to An Bord Pleanála which is the key fast-track element of this and hopefully will entice development,” he explained.
The SDZ will allow for the expansion of the airport with the majority of any future business and enterprise hubs to be located north of the airport.
“There is no timelimit with this, this will be a ten, 20, 30 year project but has the potential floorspace of 150,000 square metres,” Mr McMyler said. “There are 30 development plots which have been laid out and we are very conscious of the fact that it is in a rural location and its impact on the landscape. This will be a sustainable green, good modern business campus that isn’t just a concrete jungle on a hill.”
Foxford-based councillor Neil Cruise proposed the motion to approve the scheme without amendment describing the airport as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the county and region. His proposal was seconded by Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan who hoped that the SDZ would be a magnet for inward investment to the region.
Many councillors spoke of how the SDZ will bring certainty to developers and investors and they will not be put off by planning appeals.   
“This opens the wider possibility of business around the airport and we have to keep our eyes and ears wide open for any major project which will suit this area around the airport,” said Fine Gael councillor Michael Burke.

12 years in the making
The genesis of the Strategic Development Zone for Ireland West Airport was as a result of An Bord Pleanála rejecting plans by a government department to decentralise close to the airport in 2007.
The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs under the Ministry of Éamon Ó Cuív had proposed to relocate 140 staff to an office building to be built on a hillside site. However, planning permission was appealed by Peter Sweetman and Associates of Rathmines, Dublin and, in its ruling in June 2007, An Bord Pleanála rejected the application.
Following the set-back the then Manager of Mayo County Council, Des Mahon brought forward the idea of seeking an SDZ for the airport and its hinterland. On September 10, 2007, the then Fine Gael councillor, Joe Mellet proposed the motion at a meeting of Mayo County Council stating the decision to designate the area an SDZ was one of the most important taken by the Council in recent years. The motion was seconded by Cllr Al McDonnell.
At the time it had been proposed that the process to achieve the SDZ for the airport would be at least two years but it was not until 2012 when Mayo County Council zoned the area around the airport for an SDZ and applied for the land to be given SDZ status.
As time elapsed without any announcement on the designation status, the government were accused of engaged in delaying tactics by opposition TDs and councillors.
On his last day as Taoiseach, Enda Kenny finally delivered for the airport when the an SDZ for the airport was approved in his final Cabinet meeting in 2017. Speaking at the time Mr Kenny said the decision ‘will secure the long-term development of Ireland West Airport Knock as well as attracting enterprise to the area and the provision of further employment possibilities for the people of Mayo’.
“The designation of the airport as an SDZ will help plan for expansion whilst ensuring any future challenges are carefully addressed,” he said.
Speaking at last week’s monthly meeting, Fine Gael councillor Jarlath Munnelly praised his former colleague Joe Mellett for the foresight in proposing the motion in 2007 and added the SDZ will be one of Enda Kenny’s legacies during in term as Taoiseach.
Director of Services, Catherine McConnell explained that once approved, the SDZ will come into effect in four weeks time.