In spite of challenges before the Supreme Court to the Galway City Outer Bypass, funding of €2 million has been made available to develop revised plans and a planning application for the controversial roadway.
The money has been provided to Galway County Council by the Department of Transport, and the council will be the lead authority in developing a new planning application for the revised €300 million scheme.
The revised plans became a necessity after the European Court of Justice made a preliminary ruling in April last year that construction of the bypass will result in “lasting and irreparable loss of the whole or part of a priority natural habitat” in the County Galway area.
However the court added that national planning authorities may grant approval if the application is made through the Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest procedure, and that the authority is satisfied there is no alternative solution.
Following that decision Galway West TD Brian Walsh wrote to Transport Minister Leo Vradkar to lift the embargo to allow the city council carry out the necessary preparatory works so that it would be in a position to act once the Supreme Court in Ireland issues its ruling.
Dep Walsh, this week, welcomed the €2 million allocation for 2014, describing it as “another significant indication from the Government that the political will now exists to deliver this vital infrastructure”. The investment follows a grant of €196,098 last year, €146,265 of which related to the revised scheme.
The new and revised plans are expected to be ready for submission to An Bord Pleanála by early 2015. The application will be made under Article 6(4) of the EU Habitats Directive, the Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest procedure.
“It has been clear for some time that an alternative application would have to be formulated in respect of the Outer Bypass,” said Dep Walsh. “The Government is serious about delivering the Galway City Outer Bypass.”
News of the outer bypass investment came the same week as the Minister for Public and Commuter Transport Alan Kelly announced the provision of more than €3 million of sustainable transport grants for Galway city.
The minister, who was in Galway on Tuesday, said the funds, which will be administered by the National Transport Authority, will be used to remove pinch-points, improve public transport, and create better cycling and pedestrian links throughout the city.
Of the €3 million, €610,000 will be allocated to Bus Éireann to finalise the major forecourt improvements at Ceannt Station; improve waiting facilities with a seated waiting area; and provision for retail units.
The funding will build on previous projects carried out over recent years. A cycle planner app for Galway city will be commissioned under the funding as well as various junction improvements to improve cycling in the city.
A further €500,000 will be allocated to the Fairgreen Road cycle way and improvements at the Tuam Road/Joyce Road junctions for bus prioritisation. Various bus stops and footpaths will be improved as part of the integrated transport plan.
As well as this, €325,000 will also go towards a variable message signage and parking guidance strategy, which will link with the traffic control system to allow motorists make informed decisions to minimise the impact of traffic on the network.
“Currently only seven per cent of Galway city commuters use the bus or the bike to get to work,” said Minister Kelly. “The overall public transport numbers and cycling numbers for Galway city are not as good as they could be. That is why this funding is so important.”
Labour city councillor Niall McNelis welcomed the funding, particularly the €110,000 for tour bus parking, which he said “will bring more visitors into the city centre”; and the €175,000 for the Threadneedle Road cycleway.
Cllr McNelis has also raised with the city manager Brendan McGrath, the creation of a pedestrian bridge at the Salmon Weir and taxis being given permission to use bus bays in Eyre Square in the evenings.
Fine Gael senator Hildegarde Naughton also welcomed the funding, but warned that getting more people to use public transport will only happen “when an adequate, direct and timely bus service is in place across the city”.