Diageo’s decision regarding the future of the St Francis Abbey Brewery site is integral to how Kilkenny will develop as a city, according to Kilkenny Borough Council.
At this month’s meeting of the borough council, the city’s new development plan was discussed, and the brewery remains the major unknown factor in the council’s planning.
Diageo’s intentions regarding the site are still as yet unclear. Last Monday, it transpired that a request to visit the brewery from Mayor David Fitzgerald had not been granted by operations manager Ian Hamilton.
However, later last week, Diageo’s global category director for beer John O’ Keeffe revealed that the company was ‘actively exploring’ the possibility of a visitor centre being retained at the site, through negotiations with the local authority.
Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council Paul Cuddihy said that discussions between the council and Diageo were currently taking place at a senior management level.
“These things take time, but I am optimistic that we will see some positive signs in the coming months,” he said.
“As a local authority, we are keen to ensure that when the brewery shuts, it will not be a large empty space in the middle of Kilkenny. We want it to be an opportunity for people, and to ensure that the concerns of the people of Kilkenny are addressed.”
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and county manager Joe Crockett have been in discussions with the company also.
The talks are taking place at a time when the Kilkenny Borough Council is attempting to review its Development Plan for the city. Last Monday, senior planning engineer Dennis Malone told the borough council members that whatever decision Diageo made regarding the 14-acre site would have a big impact on how Kilkenny is to develop in the coming years.
“The brewery site will change the dynamic of the city completely,” he said.
“With the last two [development] plans, no site has been available.”
Councillors made a number of considerations as to what might ultimately
“We should be looking at what is missing from Kilkenny as a busy, vibrant city of the future,” said Cllr Betty Manning (FG).
“If we do not have a plan, it will be developer-led.”
Cllr Malcolm Noonan (Green Party) spoke of the importance of retaining Kilkenny’s historic retail core.
“This is taking place at a very challenging time but also one of opportunity for the city,” said Cllr Noonan.
“It is vitally important we do not replicate the mistakes of other towns. The last Development Plan was predicated on economic growth.
“I think the brewery site changes everything. It takes primacy over other sites, as it is more strategic to Kilkenny.”
Labour councillor Sean O’ hArgain warned against moving too quickly.
“In relation to retail planning, we have to hasten with a certain amount of caution,” he said.
“Neither site is within our ownership. We need to ensure the retailing offering of the city, and there is a huge job of work ahead.”
In terms of employment, Mr Malone said their would be a review of Kilkenny’s retail strategy based on the plan, which is intended to be a catalyst for positive change in terms of development of housing, education, health, leisure and employment.
The period for public consultation regarding the Development Plan begins on June 16 and runs for eight weeks until August 10.