City councillors will vote on a proposal to vary the Galway City Development Plan next week that could “scupper plans” for the controversial N6 ring road going through Ballybrit Racecourse. However the proposal also reveals deep divisions within Galway Fine Gael over the issue.
The proposal, to be debated at Monday’s meeting in City Hall, is being put forward by Fine Gael councillor John Walsh. It comes at the same time as a statement from his party colleague, Galway West TD Seán Kyne, supporting construction of a new bypass, and saying he would be “very concerned at suggestions the process should be stopped or delayed”.
There has been considerable opposition to proposals to build a tunnel beneath the racecourse as part of the N6 Galway City Transport Project as it would mean cancelling the Galway Races Festival - which is worth more than €60 million to the local economy - for at least three years. Cllr Walsh’s motion would see the insertion of a specific objective in the City Development Plan to prevent such interference.
“I don’t think it is right that a project with such far-reaching consequences should be advanced without the input and approval of democratically elected representatives,” Cllr Walsh said. “If the development plan is altered to include a specific objective protecting the Racecourse, no other authority can defy that and the planners will have to go back to the drawing board to devise a more sensible solution to our transport problem.”
Cllr Walsh's motion will one of a number put forward in city council chambers on Monday. It is understood that a number of other councilors have submitted a motion on the N6 ring road based on that of Independent county councillor Jim Cuddy, which was discussed at this week's Galway County Council meeting. However Cllr Cuddy's motion failed to secure adequate support because it would have little or no impact on the current process, as it seeks to influence an executive decision over which the elected members have no authority.
Cllr Walsh beleives that motion could only "exert moral pressure" on council officials to adhere to its terms. "This is not the case in respect of my motion," he says, "which looks to exercise a reserved function that wields a power exclusively within the remit of elected members to vary the Galway City Development Plan, by the terms of which the Chief Executive is bound. Unlike the more recent motion, it promises to have a real and decisive effect in rendering impossible at least a number of the proposed routes."
Divisions in Fine Gael over roadway
Six routes are proposed for the N6 ring road but construction of any of these could see as many as 130 family homes having to be demolished. Cllr Walsh said the proposed routes will “threaten to wreak havoc” and “be disastrous for the city, its residents and its economy”. His brother, TD Brian Walsh, has also been highly critical of the N6 ring road, describing the proposed routes as “madness”, “outlandish”, and “unfeasible”.
Dep Seán Kyne though has publicly criticised the political opposition to the N6. In a statement issued this week, he said: “The ultimate decision is becoming not one of where the bypass will be but if the bypass will be built at all. Until very recently the vast majority of public representatives supported the bypass. This appears to have changed. The lack of political consistency in the face of tough decisions is disappointing.”
He also appeared to criticise Cllr Walsh’s view that elected representatives “seem to have been cut out of the whole process”. While not denying councillors and TDs have a role to play, he said: “There is an expectation that elected representatives should be involved in very specific actions, in finer details, such as route selection without regard to the representatives’ remit, experience or expertise or the demands placed on representatives by competing interests.”
Dep Kyne also poured cold water on Dep Brian Walsh’s argument that the N6 ring road routes could be scrapped in favour of a variation of the original Galway City Outer Bypass progressed under Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest, which would circumvent EU concerns over bog cotton. Dep Kyne said use of an IROPI is not possible because it is only “when there are absolutely no alternatives”, but the N6 presents six other routes so far.
He also said variants being put forward, such as slip roads, link roads, cycling infrastructure, and light rail system, though all valid, would also impact on homes, businesses, and communities. As a result, he is calling for the selection process for the proposed N6 routes to “be allowed to continue” with an assurance that public consultation will remain a priority.
“It is not possible to build a road or any infrastructure without impacting on some people,” he said. “At present we do not know which route will emerge as the preferred option. Therefore, we do not know for certain how the project will impact on people, property, planning, and the environment.”
Dep Kyne said anything that would delay the selection of a new route would not only “exacerbate the traffic and transport problems”, but also “cause prolonged and unnecessary uncertainty for residents and communities near each of the proposed routes”.
The FG TD said the ideal situation is for a route to be chosen that would allow the bypass go ahead, but “where the impact on residents and communities is kept to an absolute minimum”, adding, “we also have to recognise the critical need for the bypass in order for our city, our county, and our region to thrive and prosper”.