Roddy Mannion’s book does the city some service

Anyone reading architect Roddy Mannion’s new book, Galway - A Sense of Place (Liffey Press ), is in for a treat. They will be amazed at the breadth of social history covered in it. While the book also acknowledges the physical/geographic place Galway City assumes in terms of Ireland’s history of urban/city development.

They will also note, that in its latter section dealing with ‘Visions for the Future City’, Roddy comments on the need for those of us who live in Galway, not just to appreciate and acknowledge its sense of history, culture, and place. But suggests that “this is the appropriate time to look at a 50 year – timeframe up to 2062” towards its future built development. This is a sensible suggestion after we have endured almost 30 years of constant building activity. Where, in the Mahon Tribunal, the planning system countrywide was found to have been corrupted, and is left in tatters. This has not just been publicly indicated in the findings of the tribunal, but also in the more recent Fred Forsey case and others.

As someone who has regularly commented on how An Taisce would wish to see this city develop out of its imposed suburban mediocrity; we can readily agree with Roddy Mannion on the basic thrust contained in many of his ideas, but not all of them. And that is as it should be. There needs to be some debate on all the issues Mr Mannion raises, before we can all agree to move forward.

The city does have a transport problem, not really a traffic problem as he shows in the book. But our dependency on private car use is one which will not be solved by simply building another by-pass, further out than the last. Such a road may indeed prove to be not-alone environmentally destructive, but also prove bad value for the money that is to be spent on it, if it ever gets built.

An Taisce too wishes to see the development of Ceannt Station and its environs, as does the Department of the Environment’s own ‘Spatial Planning Unit’ “This department feels that a Local Area Plan for the wider harbour/docks/south city centre area should be prepared which would set out the broad context for development e.g. vision, uses, design standards and links with other city centre developments.” [letter to Galway An Taisce, July 9 2009].

Roddy Mannion’s book is a thought provoking and stimulating endeavour. Anyone who has any ideas or contribution to make on how our city should be developed over the next 50 years, should be required to read it.

There are many who will delight in telling Roddy that Galways executive managers and some councillors up in City Hall, are a stodgy, conservative and backward facing lot. Sean O’Laoire, who wrote the forward to this book, when still president of the RIAI said that Galway Citys Planning Department was “one of the worst in the country” (4th worst in fact ) - Connacht Tribune July 18, 2008.

But the simple thing is, that we have an adopted City Development Plan which, unless it is challenged, will be worked out to the full period of its statutory span 2011-2017. The planners will not think to go beyond or encompass the fifty-year span Mannion has suggested without some active persuasion.

His view, that the two planning agencies (the city and county ) should amalgamate is an idea gaining traction. We definitely need to think about future development of the west in a pan- regional sense. The Minister for the Environment also needs to look at the potential efficiencies and cost reductions that would flow from such an action. Indeed amalgamation is vital in light of today’s announcement of yet further cut-backs in Local Government funding.

The funding now being released to finish the Tuam to Gort Road is to be welcomed, as it will contribute further to the development of an ‘Atlantic Coast Economic Corridor’ which is essential to the establishment of growth linkages between the cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo. This will act as an alternative growth stimulus - to correct the unbalanced development which has historically taken place on Irelands east coast.

With reference to his comments about Ardaun, if it is to be realised; “with a potential population of over 18,000, [it] will be a car dependent community adding to Galways eastside traffic congestion.” He is replicating the commentary An Taisce first made when Buchanan introduced his Land Use & Transportation Study in 1999, and again, in April 2010 when contributing our submission to the preparation of the new City Development Plan. We said:

“There are many infill sites which could be used to provide such additional housing and amenity spaces as may be required, also for the necessary public services that will also be required. A phasing strategy - setting out realistic incremental targets for designated settlements over the period of the Development Plan/LAP having regard to sequential approach, public transport provision, water, and community buildings for education, youth group use, care of the elderly, healthcare, employment and other social uses.”

Suggested Policy addition 1.4: Designated development centres (such as Ardaun ) which are beyond the six year horizon of an LAP/DP should not be zoned but identified as Future Development Lands/Strategic Landbank based on their location, potential transport connections, availability of services, absence of environmental constraints. It is not envisaged that Ardaun could be developed now and should be set out as a longer term objective so as not to delay any transport and present day housing needs projects!

Turn away from Ardaun

We know that planners inside city council have been devoting many hours to preparing plans for the development of the Ardaun Corridor. They should instead now turn their labours towards investigating how they might better serve this city by looking at Roddy Mannions ideas for a ‘sustainable’ densified ‘Seafront Railway City’, and to investigate how this could be successfully realised.

A UK-based architect, whose name escapes me, a few years ago produced an interesting Channel 4 documentary where he looked at how underutilised lands running alongside Britains rail lines and motorways, could be developed into becoming ‘linear’ sustainable cities. The twin tracking of the rail line out towards Athenry is a genuine “shovel ready” project essential to the growth of Galway transport network and aid to the necessary reduction in car use.

The Local Area Plan previously developed for Murrough, will need to be reviewed and upgraded. Plans for a new (Dublin ) relief road running alongside the rail line through Renmore towards Lough Atalia Road, entering the city through the Harbour Enterprise Park will also need to be looked at in the light of SEVESO 2 EU regulations. Heavy EU Health & Safety regulation will probably prevent such a road running alongside the newly built Topaz oil terminal.

Regarding Mr Mannion’s suggestions for developing a ‘Riverfront Green City’ alongside the River Corrib. Well that one is perhaps going a step too far. Galway is a green city, and we have many areas of ‘natural heritage’ which are in need of preservation. There are many people in Galway who would be dismayed at his proposals to build right up to the banks of the Corrib. The development of the Terryland Forest Park is a work in progress and many residents would feel the preservation of such areas, the ‘Green Lungs,’ as Speedie Smith names them, are required to provide much needed amenity space accessible to all who live within the city. No one in London would allow building on any of its great parks. They, like our green riverside, are too precious.

Finally. At last years IRCHSS Summer School at NUI Maynooth (June 26 – July 2, 2011 ). ‘Making the Built Environment Work’. One group of contributors commented that “Seeing space primarily as vibrant, living spaces rather than as commodities is a hard task given the myopia of private property rights that has been carefully nurtured among Irish people for the past few generations. But given that we are already socialising the debts run up by the property developers.

It might be time to start considering ways of socialising the spaces they have bequeathed to us.” Anna Kargol, David Moore, Alaine Clark and Stephen Rigney.

We believe that Roddy Mannion’s book provides this city with many new options which require further investigation. The opportunity is now and should be taken up as we approach the mid-term period for review of the current city development plan. There is a need for some kind of public conference, or, convocation to take place which would allow public comment that could give guidance for our planners, management, and our councillors. This historic city deserves no less.

In writing his book Roddy Mannion has done his city some service.

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