The Galway County Council is to be the lead authority in the €300 million Galway City Outer Bypass scheme with new consultants being appointed to prepare a new application which could be ready for submission to An Bord Pleanála 15 months from now.
At a Galway City Council meeting on Monday night councillors voted in favour of Section 85 Agreement under the Local Government Act 2001, which allows the scheme to progress with one local authority taking the lead.
In his presentation, director of services for roads, transportation, marine, and general services, Frank Gilmore, told the chamber that “the only realistic long term solution” to the serious traffic congestion in the city is the “construction of the Galway City Outer Bypass” and that it is vital for the future development and growth of both the city and county.
The Galway City Outer Bypass was first commissioned in 1999. The scheme linked the end of the N6/M6 route at Garraun Road, east of Galway city, to Ballindooly crossing the N17 Galway to Tuam road (without a junction ) through Menlo to a new bridge on to the N59 Galway to Clifden road, with a full grade separated junction at this location. It then linked to a new junction on the R336 Galway to An Spidéal road at Báile Nua via a junction at An Cheapach. In November 2008, An Bord Pleanála (ABP ) granted approval for the project from N6/M6 Garraun to the N50 at Kentfield subject to amendments but refused approval from R336 to the N59. Appeals against this decision went to the High Court where it was rejected, but the appeal was allowed to go to the Supreme Court which referred questions to the European Court of Justice (ECJ ) which heard the case in September 2012. Delivering its decision in November 2012 the ECJ found that ABP had erred in granting the decision under Article 6(3 ) of the Habitats Directive. The Irish Supreme Court subsequently set the original ABP decision aside in July 2013.
Bypass planning application to be ready by early 2015 with project completion expected in mid 2019
This week, Mr Gilmore stressed that the decision by the ECJ only related to the method used by ABP to approve the scheme, not the merits of the scheme itself. He added that a new application would be prepared for the scheme which would be funded by the National Roads Authority (NRA ). Galway County Council is currently working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS ) to advance mapping in the areas of interest for the revised scheme and new consultants will be appointed by the end of this month. Mr Gilmore said it is hoped a revised application to ABP will be ready by early 2015. Mr Gilmore later explained that there were a number of “unknowns” associated with the IROPI process and that he could not see the project opening before mid 2019.
It was Cllr Tom Costello who pointed out that in the region of €14 million has already been spent without anything happening on the ground, while Cllr Frank Fahy noted that the project was meant to be completed in 2004 and “here we are going back to the drawing board”. Cllr Fahy also expressed concern about the land owners whose lands have been frozen due to the compulsory purchase orders that were put in place. He explained that the owners have been affected financially and could lose out more in the future if the CPOs are re-entered as the price paid for the land will be today’s current price and not the price that it was worth in 2006. He warned that landowners could take a case to Europe regarding the CPOs and the bypass would be delayed another 10 years.
Connolly condemns scheme delays as a ‘tale of incompetence’
However, putting herself forward as the “lone voice”, Cllr Catherine Connolly explained how she has “watched with despair since 1999” as the scheme has turned into a “tale of incompetence and a tale of wasted public money”. She noted how there had been almost a complete reluctance to examine other recommendations laid down in the Smarter Travel report which would have been a fraction of the cost of the bypass. “I won’t be supporting it tonight. There are many other ways, it will end up in Europe again and we will end up with serious congestion,” she said.
In response to questions Mr Gilmore denied there had been any incompetence in the scheme itself, that it would have been approved had it been put through under Article 6(4 ) which is a fast tracking of major infrastructural projects that are deemed to have imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI ) because of the impact it would have on a protected bog, designated a special area of conservation (SAC ). “The glitch is regrettable, there had been no previous application in relation to an Article 6(4 ) scheme, it was a new situation for An Bord Pleanála and all departments. There had been no application in Ireland going though under an IROPI process,” said Mr Gilmore, who added the new scheme may or may not follow the same route and that a number of areas such as the Tuam Road junction and Garraun will be looked at in terms of access. The councillors were also told that habitat mapping has already begun and will take 12 months to complete.
A motion to support the Section 85 Agreement was proposed by Cllr Donal Lyons, seconded by Cllr Declan McDonnell, with 13 for, one against, and one abstention.