An Taisce chief says rejection of light rail damages Galway’s ‘smart city’ reputation

With Galway witnessing another surge in car ownership, another sign of the nascent economic recovery this government keep on telling us about, it is long past urgent that a solution was found to deal with our traffic congestion if Galway wants to recover its premier role as one of nine ‘Gateway Cities’ that were designated to lead regional economic recovery in the National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020. 

With its population targeted to reach 98,700 by 2022; according to the Regional Planning Guidelines (RPG’s ) anticipating that Galway should continue to be the regional growth centre for the creation of new housing and employment opportunities.

Yet the city’s plans to deal with car dependence are still based on an out of date 1970s ‘Predict and Provide’ policy which ‘Lock us In’ to the building of yet more roads! The obvious example is that of the proposals to build another by-pass around the city. Many of Europes smaller more enlightened citys opted to take an alternative vision and have built mass transit Light Rail Tram systems (LRT ) to help take pressure off their roads, to help reduce traffic congestion. Galway City Councillors have already voted to pursue such an enlightened option. Yet our executive stubbornly insist on building an inner-expressway, that is set to see 41 houses demolished, while ensuring that many other family homes will be severely impacted.

Cllr Noel Larkin has insisted that a light rail system for Galway is “An utterly stupid conception” and has cited the example of Edinburgh, where the installation “ran overtime and over budget”. He quoted an Edinburgh councillor Gordon Wyllie, as saying it had “caused truly massive disruption, bankrupted traders whose businesses have been cut off from footfall, is widely regarded as a classical example of municipal folie de grandeur.”  Yet, to the contrary, I have just read that Sir Tom Farmer, an Edinburgh businessman who founded the Kwik-Fit chain, has said: “When the trams were first mentioned I was not a supporter. I didn’t see a necessity for them. “I thought ‘we were a city with a very good bus service’. But the trams went ahead, now we have them and they have proved to be very successful. He went on to say “There is a demand for them. And one thing I am sure of is that we cannot afford not to extend the trams to Newhaven. To be a modern city and a city that is growing, we have to develop the asset we have created. 

We have to look ten years ahead and other cities in Europe have a fantastic tram service.”  Quotes Taken from ‘The Scotsman’16th November 2015.

Delays and cost overruns were also the media story when the Luas was being constructed in Dublin. Does anyone now believe that Dublin should go-back to a life of ‘gridlock’ before the Luas ?

I followed the years of debate and political hand-wringing that preceded the re-introduction of Edinburgh’s new tram system, and can say that if it were not for the way proposals were used as a political football, it would not have cost the Scots tax payers as much and could have been built in less time than it actually took!

I know about Edinburgh’s struggle with traffic congestion, as I was born just seven miles from its city centre, in Musselburgh, and so remember travelling on Edinburgh’s old tram system before it was ‘controversially’ taken out of service in 1961, with the tracks then lifted. It took the Scots 40 years to realise their mistake and 12 years of argument led it to take 6 years for construction. Many other cities have done it much quicker.

Yet, if we in Galway do not now bite the bullet and opt to build an LRT network, we will not deserve to be called the ‘City of Culture’ or become the ‘Smart City’ many of us think it should be. Industry and many businesses will continue to opt to locate elsewhere and we will be all the poorer for failing to recognise the benefits of Light Rail Trams. To take a quote used by another of Galway’s favourite businessmen ‘Come on ‘Lets Do It’ Galway.  Cllr Larkin please note!

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