Ballymahon continues to be well and truly on the up as the town prepares for its connection to the national gas pipeline, with works scheduled to kick off on Monday, November 4.
An information meeting was held in Cooney’s Hotel, Ballymahon, last week to allow local homeowners and business owners to find out more about connecting to the natural gas line.
Representatives of Gas Networks Ireland were on hand to explain the process and to discuss the benefits of gas compared to other fuel sources.
“This is a spinoff from Center Parcs,” explained Fran McFadden, National Customer Acquisition Manager with Gas Networks Ireland.
“We’re now moving onto stage two, which is to bring gas up to the streets of Ballymahon.”
The announcement of €460,000 in funding for the project came just before the official opening of Center Parcs Longford Forest in July, bringing another welcome boost to the south Longford town.
“We were very happy to successfully bring gas to Center Parcs last year. In the last year we finished that project. We brought gas to just the outskirts of Ballymahon. So we came in the Athlone road and skirted to the east out to Newcastle Woods Center Parcs village,” said Mr McFadden.
“As part of that project, there was always a second stage to bring gas into Ballymahon town. So we managed to get that approved just a few weeks ago. And that’s to give the people of Ballymahon the choice of another fuel, a more competitive fuel, a cleaner fuel, a more versatile fuel.”
The benefits to natural gas, he added, are that it's more affordable than other fuels; it's more convenient, with no need for deliveries, storage or bulky fuel tanks; it's more reliable as it is an uninterrupted supply; and it's a cleaner energy, making it more environmentally friendly than other popular sources of fuel.
“It gives these businesses and homeowners a choice, which is always good - a choice that will actually save money for a change. It’s cleaner. It’s versatile. It does a lot of extra things that other fuels used today don’t.
“And plus it’s a pathway for the next generation of gas, which is our renewable gas that we’re injecting into our network over the next number of years. So it also offers them a transition to renewable gas,” Mr McFadden explained.
Work to deliver natural gas to the Center Parcs site commenced in January 2018. Comprising 27km of pipeline in total, the project was delivered in two sections.
Section one, measuring 6kms in length, runs from Rathmore, Co Longford along the N55 into Ballymahon and then along the R392 to the Center Parcs site.
Section two, measuring 21kms in length, runs via regional and local roads from Ories to Tang, in County Westmeath and then along the N55 connecting to section one in Rathmore.
Stage two of the project will see that network expanded from the Athlone Road junction at the bridge all the way through the town and up to Nally’s Garage.
“It’ll be slow because we’ll have to do some trials along the route just to confirm some of the technical things and then thereafter we’ll start laying the pipes,” said Mr McFadden.
“We’re running two pipes up the main street - one on either side of the road. The reason being we don’t want to have to cross the road with our connections in the future. So one side will look after one side and the other side will look after the other side in terms of connections.
“We’re bringing it from the bridge up as far as Nally’s petrol station and it’ll give every business and every homeowner access to natural gas from early next year.
“The gas will be turned on early summer or late spring. But all of the works will be done probably by January. And we’ll be gone and then that’s when we’ll start connecting our customers.
“Between now and then we’ll connect up a certain number of them, just in advance of the final works being done. And then throughout next year we’ll be connecting more up. So it’s really positive stuff. Really positive news.”
And, while the timing of the works could raise concern for the town, Mr McFadden was happy to give his assurance that workers would be out of the way for the Christmas shopping period.
“We’re conscious that with every positive project there’s a bit of destruction involved here,” he said.
“We want to minimise the disruption as much as possible. We won’t be doing too much work around Christmas.
“We do a lot of these projects year round and then coming up to Christmas we tend to pull out. Or if we don’t completely leave, we do small parts in different areas that won’t affect local businesses.”
Cathaoirleach of Ballymahon Municipal District Cllr Pat O’Toole said that the local residents and business owners in Ballymahon are generally very happy about the project.
“It’s all very positive. The works are due to begin on November 4 and they reckon they'll be done in eight to ten weeks,” said Cllr O’Toole.
“They intend to have as little disruption as possible, particularly around Christmas, to make sure traders can progress as normal.
“And it looks like there'll be a good uptake among the residents and businesses on main street.”
And, Cllr O’Toole added, there are a number of other plans in the pipeline for Ballymahon, with the gas network extensions signalling just the beginning of a major upgrade to the town.
“As soon as those works are done, the council and TII will go ahead with planned works, including a roundabout at the Athlone road and Mullingar road junction, and traffic lights at Nally’s corner,” he said.
There will also be upgrades to the footpaths, particularly from Bank of Ireland down to O’Hanlon’s Pharmacy - a stretch of path that is in need of repair.
“We're obviously delighted to see the works starting and a time frame of when it's all happening and how long it will take,” said Cllr O’Toole.
“Who knows; eventually, the gas might be extended to Longford or Lanesboro.”
And while, a natural gas supply to other parts of the county sounds like a positive development, Mr McFadden explained that, for now, the plan is just for Ballymahon.
“These networks generally get built out and then they extend over years. So there’s always a potential for expansion,” he said.
“But every expansion needs to have a business case. There are plenty of homeowners along the roads to different areas, but generally speaking the plan is for Ballymahon for now.”
Works will begin in Ballymahon on Monday, November 4. For more information, please see gasnetworks.ie.