Councillors change tack after opposition to Merlin Park QBC grows

Councillors are anxious to remove plans for a quality bus corridor through Merlin Park Woods, which they had previously approved in two city development plans, as opposition to the measure gathers pace.

Concerns about putting the QBC through the woodlands has come about suddenly, despite it being an objective of the Galway City Council since 2005.

The issue arose at Monday’s city council meeting during a discussion on The Two Year Progress Report on the Galway City Development Plan 2011-2017. It also follows an online petition calling for the QBC proposal to be rejected.

The Friends of Merlin Woods group have established a petition at https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/galway-city-council-stop-the-council-building-a-road-through-merlin-woods-doughiska. It contains a short statement, calling for the road not to go ahead, and is addressed to city manager Joe O’Neill; director of services Thomas Connell, Edel McCormack, Kevin Swift, and Ciarán Hayes, and all 15 city councillors. It has so far received 750 signatures.

The woods have proven popular with walkers, nature enthusiasts, and people in the area. It has also been a popular location for musicians to shoot videos.

Keith Wallace of the independent Galway record label Rusted Rail, has described the QBC objective as “sheer insanity”.

“Three videos by folk band The Driftwood Manor videos were shot there and it’s an excellent location for music videos,” he told the Galway Advertiser. “More importantly Ireland should treasure its dwindling natural resources and not destroy them in the name of ‘progress’! As an amenity, a place to get lost in and as somewhere to fill your lungs with clean air, Merlin Woods is great.”

However City Hall regards the QBC as an “ongoing objective” and it has featured in the current and previous city development plan, both of which have been supported by city councillors. Nonetheless the level of public disquiet over the objective is seeing councillors row back on the idea.

Deputy mayor and Fine Gael councillor Frank Fahy, a member of the campaign to stop the QBC, told councillors it was “madness” to take out 200-year-old trees to make room for a road through the woods.

“There are between 700 and 800 objections to this, it will be mounting, and will be a major issue in the next local elections,” he said.

Independent councillor Catherine Connolly described the bus corridor at Merlin Park as a “mistake” and called for the development plan to be changed. “Now is the time to review it for the good of the people of Galway,” she said.

However the Two Year Progress Report said in relation to the QBC that “any alternative alignment considered, where there is an impact on Merlin Woods (existing habitat areas, trees, etc, ), shall be so designed to minimise impact and compensated with new planting”.

While no plans or designs for the route have been prepared, funding has been received. It is intended for the QBC to be assessed as part of a bus and cycle network analysis study which will commence this year.

City Hall senior engineer Caroline Phelan reminded councillors that the objective has been there for nearly a decade and that only a variation to the development plan, which would involve a council debate and vote, can remove it.

Labour councillor Colette Connolly put forward a motion, seconded by Independent councillor Declan McDonnell, for an updated report on the QBC and its affects on Merlin Woods. The motion was passed unanimously and is due to be on the agenda for the May meeting.

The report will look at the QBC objective and what would need to be done from a transport and planning perspective on how to remove or vary it.

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