No quality bus corridor should ever be allowed to go through Merlin Woods which is a jewel that needs to be protected, so say councillors who following a lengthy debate at Monday’s Galway City Council meeting finally agreed to allow the plans to temporarily suspended while the relevant SPCs and consultants can explore previous policies, analyses, and perhaps an alternative route.
During the debate on the constroversial Merlin Park Quality Bus Corridor (QBC ) plans it was made abundantly clear by nearly all councillors present that they, along with local residents - many of whom make up the 1,200 or so signatures of an on-going petition - will not stand idly by while an amenity such as Merlin Woods is destroyed.
Quality Bus Corridor consistently part of council plans
Outlining the background and context to the QBC, director of services, transportation, recreation, and amenity, Ciarán Hayes, noted that the council has “consistently over many years included an objective to provide a public transport corridor through the lands of Merlin Park connecting the city to Ardaun”. A report further explained that there have been “various policies and that sucessive councils have followed the advice of land use planners, transport planners and other officials, and have consistently provided for the corridor”. It noted that “since the policies were adopted, significant residential and other development has taken place and all in the knowledge of the existence of the corridor through the lands”. One such major development was in 2012 with the construction of a national and secondary school adjacent to the proposed public transport route in Doughiska.
Referring to the current debate, Mr Hayes acknowledged that residents of the new residential estate in Doughiska are “now objecting to the proposal and a petition against the public transport route through the lands has commenced”. It was also noted that there was concern over the damage to the local amenity as well as joyriding, especially at night, and that opponents, through a petition, have sought to broaden their support base and are now lobbying for political support. “They are seeking to overturn an objective, which in the opinion of the professionals advising the council, represents good planning and is in the interest of the city into the future,” said Mr Hayes. He added that suggestions of an alternative route - the creation of a bus lane on the Dublin Road - would not be feasible as it would add significantly to the journey times and distance for those seeking to access the schools and the hospital by public transport.
Councillors warned not to be hasty with important QBC decision
Mr Hayes then advised councillors to review the matter and analyse the various policies before making such an important decision as the “removal of the objective would have an impact on another council priority - the provision fo a bus rapid transit or light rail service to the east of the city”. It was further recommended that the matter be referred to the Planning and Transportataion and Infrastructure SPCs for a review of the policy, an analysis of the implications of a change to the policy and an assessment of the options presented. Mr Hayes further warned that alternative suggestions “are never simple because they do impact on other policies”, that Ardaun, the schools, and the hospitals are all “main trip generators”, and that “if Ardaun is developed further in the future it should be done on a sustainable transport route”.
Complimenting the work of the Friends of Merlin Woods, Cllr Frank Fahy (FG ) said that the petition has secured 1,200 signatures. “Since I have got know them they have done amazing work, doing the clean up on a regular basis in the woods. It’s an absolute disgrace,” he said before referring to pictures presented as part of the report which show burnt out cars in the background. “There’s trees being cut down, there’s antisocial behaviour. There’s not even a sign by the council to say it is Merlin Woods. There were trees planted there in 1820s and 1840s and if this plan goes ahead they will be cut down. It will divide the school from the play area. We’re going to have a bus corridor that is next to impossible to police. Why don’t we extend the bus lane on the Dublin Road. If it’s good enough coming in, it’s good enough coming out,” said Cllr Fahy before imploring his fellow councillors not to allow this to go ahead.
Also highlighting the problem of burnt out cars, Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind ) said: “The amount of cars that are pulled out of woods, there’s no convictions, no arrests, there’s a whole load of antisocial behaviour. This is not what we want in a bus lane.
“I believe this is not in the best interest of the community. We need to go back to the drawing board. There is an alternative which is a lot safer. I don’t understand why they are not looked at because it would be for the betterment of the whole city,” he said.
Referring to a motion put forward previously asking the council not to proceed with the QBC through Merlin Woods, Cllr Colette Connolly (Lab ) said, “It is important to listen to the people who elected us, and the message is clear, they want to maintain Merlin Woods as an amenity. It should be transformed into an cycling and walking park.
“We’re making a mistake in railroading public transport through a beautiful amenity, to destroy it. The entire Doughiska area is crying out for more play areas and more amenities,” she said.
Echoing these sentiments, Cllr Tom Costello (Lab ) said: “There is provision in the city development plan for cycleways and walkways, this is an ideal place. Let’s not touch a jewel, a green place for children to walk to school and enjoy. Let’s come up with a plan and get the minister down. Let’s consult with the people out there.”
“Thanks be to God for democracy and the Friends of Merlin Woods because they made us look at it,” said Cllr Catherine Connolly (Ind ) who called for the plans to go back to the drawing board. “The woods are there as a jewel for the city. I would be extremely concerned that this will be the start of the running down of Merlin Park. It is time to go back and find a different way,” she said.
Mr Hayes then told the chamber that “the council is concerned with the views of residents and councillors. It is a jewel in the crown and should be developed a lot more for the benefit of the city. However, he disagreed that a bus lane would be to the detriment of Merlin Woods. He added: “This is a very major decision before you. It deserves to have the matter fully investigated.”
There were a number of motions proposed, however, following advice given by new city manager, Brendan McGrath that a city development plan cannot be changed without considering the implications and alternative options, it was decided that Cllr Connolly’s motion be kept on the table. Cllr Connolly added that this will “give the clear message that there will be no quality bus corridor going through Merlin Woods” before requesting that a full report be presented to councillors within six months.