Speculation that An Bord Pleanála would make a final decision on the controversial Galway City Outer Bypass has proven unfounded. Instead, the Bord will not make a decision for at least another five weeks, and no matter what is decided, the matter will end up before the EU Commission for final decision.
The news of the delay will be greeted with dismay by those who see the project as vital to solving Galway’s traffic congestion problems. However environmentalists will be delighted. They believe the bypass threatens the area’s ecosystem and will result in more cars clogging the roads, resulting in greater congestion and fuel emissions.
The outer bypass is the only project in the National Road Authority’s budget that is programmed to commence in 2009.
However, Frank Fahey, the Galway West TD and chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, has been informed by ABP that it will be at least late August when it makes its decision on the project as the inspector has yet to submit his report on the objections.
Dep Fahey also understands that, following a decision by ABP, the National Park and Wildlife Service will recommend that the matter be referred to the European Commission. This is because two hectares of limestone pavement at Menlo are part of a ‘priority natural habitat type’.
As such the issue must be referred to the EU Commission, which will want to establish if there are alternative routes and will want to see an exhaustive examination of alternative routes carried out.
For its part the National Roads Authority will put forward a case to the Commission that the planned route for the bypass is the one that will cause the least damage to the priority habitat in the area and no better alternative route exists.
The bog cotton in the area, which is part of the Moycullen Bogs NHA, which will have to be dealt with in relation to provisions in the Natural Wildlife Act.
“It is obvious from the extent of environmental and ecological studies by the NRA and Galway County Council and their consultants,” Dep Fahey said, “that any alternative routes would do more damage to the sensitive ecology and environment of the area east and west of the Corrib.”
Dep Fahey said the delay is “disappointing news” but he accepts the process must be undertaken. He has asked the NPWS to ask the European Commission for a time-scale based on other similar cases which have been referred to them.
Dep Fahey also hopes to raise the matter with Transport Minister Noel Dempsey TD, and Environment Minister John Gormley at a meeting today.
“As the Galway Dublin motorway will be completed by the end of 2009,” he said, “the outer bypass must get priority from the Irish Government and the EU Commission.”