500 lodges and 1,000 jobs in Center Parcs' plans for forest site
Center Parcs hopes to build 500 lodges in the heart of Longford forest land to bring its successful tourism brand to Ireland for the first time.
The company is promising 1,000 jobs, mostly going to local people, with an emphasis on recruiting youngsters.
Planning proposals for the Center Parcs Longford Forest were unveiled at a community meeting in Ballymahon.
It comes nearly six months after plans for the 375-acre park were announced.
If planning is granted, the development would cost €200m. It is estimated that it could generate an uplift of €1bn for the economy over 20 years.
Around 750 jobs will also be created during construction if plans go ahead and it would become the biggest tourism development in the history of the State.
As part of the plans, Center Parcs hopes to ease concern over increased traffic.
Center Parks CEO Martin Dalby said he hoped that the final planning submission would be sent to Longford County Council by the end of October.
"We would love to be open by the summer of 2019, which is four years in total. We think that would be a fantastic time to open the park, going into the summer," he said.
He added that the Longford holiday village would stand out from its UK counterparts.
"[Market research] has told us that an Irish pub run by Irish people is probably something that will go down really well, so we certainly want to incorporate that into our designs."
Mr Dalby said that the Center Parcs team had already been working with Irish ecologists, environmental companies and architects, and hopes to grant the construction contract to an Irish firm. He added that concerns over traffic raised at previous meetings would be addressed, with a separate road to the park to divert traffic from nearby Newcastle Road.
At present, the plans include designs for outdoor sports and leisure facilities, a swimming pool and spa, a nature centre and a lake.
There will also be a 4km walkway around the park that locals could use.
Tina Murtagh, a local woman who lives less than four miles from the site, said she was in favour of the development.
"I will be sorry to lose the facility of walking my dog through the forest. I am sorry about that, and we have the freedom of that, because I've been doing that for 20 years. But progress has to continue and it's going to create loads of jobs."
Henry Diffley believed that the town itself had a lot to gain from the development, even though the park would have its own restaurants and shops.
"They say that 15pc of local people will be employed there," he said. "If even everyone buys a cup of coffee here in the town, wouldn't that be enough?"
Paddy Diffley, owner of PJ Diffley's hardware shop, was more sceptical about the jobs on offer, making the point that many would be part-time.
However, he added the proposal was "quite positive".
"It's great for Ballymahon. It's been a blackspot for employment for the past 20 years."