Prior to the coronavirus restrictions, Insider had been attending the An Bord Pleanála oral hearings at the g Hotel, examining evidence, for and against, the building a new city bypass. However, due to the coronavirus, the hearings have ben postponed until at least April 8.
What we call the 'bypass' is in fact, officially known as, the N6 Galway Outer Ring Road, with associated links off it which will ‘disburse’ traffic into and out of some existing residential suburbs in Galway. This is new thinking, said to be essential to resolve Galway's enduring 'Carmaggedon'.
Delays caused by restrictions required to deal with the Covid 19 virus have held up the work of ABP inspector Ciara Kellett, who, with a team of experts, had been patiently examining the applicants/opponents evidence in support/against the building of this road - as well as listening to members of the 44 families set to lose their family homes to a ‘heartless’ socially inadequate CPO process; and to businesses, whose property is also being made subject to compulsory purchase. This is because their properties, rather inconveniently, lie in the way of the revised route of this very questionable road.
Section 85 of Local Government Act, 2001 has allowed the Galway County Council act as the lead authority in the project, alongside Transport Infrastructure Ireland (formerly the National Transport Authority ). City councillors have had little input into the choices being taken.
The hearing is a very challenging process in which a very high standard of proof required to justify spending close to a billion euro, including funding for a required ‘Integrated Transport Management Programme’ which is set to bring frequent public transport through the city, while discouraging excess car use in the town. Anyone who has been watching the ‘progress’ of Bus Connects in Dublin knows this is another ‘war’ for another day, in Galway.
Is the bypass an outdated idea?
Insider always had concerns about the ‘herd’ mentality developing in Galway, dating from the launch of Buchanan's 1999 Draft Transportation & Land Use Strategy. Adoption of Buchanan's plans by vote in both local authorities saw momentum build in favour of constructing another bypass (it has since been written into every national and local plan published over the past 20 years ). However support for any new road Insider suggests may be about to run out of steam, as evidence mounts indicating that building more wider, faster, roads does not necessarily resolve traffic gridlock. It often only attracting more traffic.
'Improving roads by adding bus lanes and cycle paths, where feasible, never happened and cannot be done today, as house building encroaches on these narrow routes'
A few things stand against the bypass: climate Science, a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl called Greta Thumberg, the availability of less environmentally damaging alternatives such as more frequent reliable public transport, walking, and cycling options that better serve the unique community transport needs of a small ‘Tier’ 4 city such as Galway.
Finally, the ultimate decision for approval will probably lie outside the State, with the EU Commission again possibly having some say, but only if the scheme progresses an application under Article 6(4 ), where it was necessary for the applicant to show it had considered all alternatives, should the project have a significant adverse effect on the integrity of any European protected sites eg, Limestone pavement, or SACs.
Light rail - an option to be considered
It really is time that a city-wide Light Rail Transit option for Galway was independently examined. Evidence from many small cities around Europe, which use light rail, show how beneficial it can be. This is not to say that improving the quality of existing arterial roads leading into Galway city is wrong. Why can we not have both?
The safety of commuters using the existing R336 Coast Road, N59 Moycullen Road, N84 Headford and Tuam roads is as bad today as it was 20/30 years ago. Improving these roads by adding bus lanes and cycle paths, where feasible, just never happened when it should have and cannot be done today, as house building now encroaches on these narrow routes.
Cork is now investing in planning for its own Cluas, Galway should be doing the same. As the people behind the city's Gluas (Galway LUAS ) campaign have been saying for years: “What Galway's community feels is most important, in 2018, [is that] 22,000 people signed a petition requesting a ‘Cost Benefit Study’ to be carried out in relation to the ‘feasibility’ of Light Rail Transit’ for the city. This effectively infers a request for Light Rail...Once a community has expressed its goals, experts have a role in designing systems to meet them."
Bad plans for old ideas
Former environment correspondent at The Irish Times, Frank McDonald, said at the Galway hearing that local authority’s are "locked into outdated 1970s thinking about transport planning – particularly the utterly discredited idea that you can solve traffic congestion by throwing more roads at it”.
An article published in The Phoenix [February 28] gave a historic look-back, noting: “Traffic in Galway is a nightmare not because it lacks a new ring road, but because of years of neglect and bad planning...which has allowed traffic planners to avoid doing anything meaningful to ease congestion in the past 20 years."
'The current ring road scheme would see climate damaging vehicle emissions rise by 37 per cent after its completion. This is in direct contradiction of Government policy'
The damage has already been done with government following a 1970s spatial planning strategy that allowed almost every rural town and village within 40km radius build urban style housing estates where every house has to have two or three cars parked outside, from places where it was economically impossible to provide public transport back into the city, where most people now work.
Development of a self-contained new suburb, called Ardaun, with its own ‘Green Transport Route’ was to have provided 16,000 people with new homes built by the target year 2016. It was held up by years of argument at council meetings, leading to eventual withdrawal of support that has led to the scale of housing development planned at Ardaun being cut by two thirds. Not one house has yet been built.
Be seen to be doing something
The more recent adoption of a ‘National Planning Framework’ gives some hope that change is about to happen. The NPF aims to promote a move to a more “sustainable mobility and transition to a low carbon and climate-resilient society”. This is in line with attempts made towards enhancing Ireland’s public transport and environmental sustainability of the country’s mobility systems, in line with Ireland's climate change mitigation plan.
Yet the ‘Do something’ element of the current ring road scheme would see climate damaging vehicle emissions rise by 37 per cent after its completion. This is in direct contradiction of Government policy which is to reduce vehicle emissions. This is a good enough reason to have a re-think on the idea of the bypass.
As Frank McDonald also said in his statement: “The recent ruling by Britain's Court of Appeal in the case of Heathrow Airport's third runway is relevant in this context”. He was referring to the case brought by opponents of expanding London's busiest international airport. The court had just declared that the British Government “had acted unlawfully by failing to take account of its commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change when it endorsed continued expansion in a national policy statement on airports”.
The money that has so far been spent on designing, and in pushing this road through planning hearings, has been estimated to run in excess of €30 million. With Government financial resources now heavily depleted, the result of demands on the public purse of dealing with outcomes of the Covid-19 virus, any funding of infrastructural plans for Galway is likely to be scrapped for the foreseeable future. Time then for a Government review, Insider thinks.