A NEW fire station for Stradbally is still on the back burner, 18 years after a site was identified.
Annoyed councillors have agreed to contact justice minister Charlie Flanagan, urging him to put pressure on the government to provide a badly-needed new station in the town.
The existing facility is small and cramped, despite the fact that Stradbally is the second-busiest fire station in Laois and serves a huge area that includes Athy, Co Kildare.
The issue was raised by cllr Paschal McEvoy at the latest meeting of Graiguecullen-Portarlington Municipal District. He asked the county council to apply for funding for a new fire station in Stradbally without delay.
He said: “They thought they needed a new fire station in Stradbally 18 years ago, but we still have nothing. It disappeared off the capital programme and it hasn’t been seen since.”
Cllr McEvoy pointed out that Stradbally is the county’s busiest fire station outside Portlaoise and serves a very large rural area that includes Athy, Vicarstown, Crettyard, Portlaoise and as far away as Carlow because the station is on the N80.
He said: “The crew there are very committed and hard-working and they love what they do but they are working in terrible conditions in a small, tight area. They save lives on a daily basis and they need a new station soon. You wouldn’t believe how small the existing fire station is.”
He added: “I can’t for the life of me understand how building a new fire station is not facilitated as a matter of urgency. If they decided 18 years ago that it was needed, it is surely urgent now. If they’re not going to build it now, when are they going to build it? It’s a sad state of affairs that one of the biggest necessities in the county is not being looked after.”
A written response from Laois chief fire officer Declan Power said the county council identified a suitable site back in the early 2000s at the council’s old eastern area office, beside the Civil Defence base. Site layout drawings for a new fire station were produced in early 2009 and both the planning section and roads section of Laois County Council produced reports, giving approval in principle for the project. A preliminary appraisal was sent to the relevant government department for approval.
The department replied that the plan would be considered under future capital programmes, but then the recession hit, bringing severe cutbacks. In 2015, the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM) asked for an update on all fire stations in Laois, with proposals for new or upgraded facilities.
Mr Power said he submitted a request for new fire stations in Rathdowney and Stradbally, along with upgrade works for Mountrath and Mountmellick. When the 2016-2020 fire service capital programme was announced on 1 February 2016, the Mountrath and Mountmellick upgrades were included, but neither Rathdowney nor Stradbally made the list.
Cllr McEvoy (FF) commented that it was a government issue and, as Laois has a government minister, perhaps the council could write to minister Flanagan urging him to bring forward the plan for a new station. He also described the old council eastern area office site on the Cork Road as perfect for a new fire station.
He was supported by Fine Gael councillor Tom Mulhall, who said the problem was going on long enough and it was time to push it on. Councillors agreed to send a letter from the council to minister Flanagan, urging him to put on pressure at government level to bring the project forward.