A deputation from Galway is to travel to Europe to discuss proposals for a new city bypass and the option of returning to the original route which failed at planning stage. It was decided at a special meeting of the Galway County Council on Monday evening that city and county councillors, local TDs, and community representatives will meet MEPs and members of the European Commission to discuss various options.
The previous planning application was refused by the European Court of Justice following a challenge by environmentalists who claimed the project was in violation of Article 6.3 of the EU Habitats Directive, on the grounds that it posed a threat to bog cotton in Tonabrocky.
There is hope in some quarters that if the old application was made under Article 6.4 of The European Habitats Directive, it could be successfully advanced. According to this part of the legislation, a project may be carried out in spite of a negative assessment of a priority habitat, if it is proved prove there is no alternative, or for reasons of overriding public interest [IROPI], including those of a social or economic nature.
It was suggested by Corrandulla based councillor James Charity that the project may succeed under the IROPI clause. His reading of the previous court decision was that it was an invite to make the application under Article 6.4.
At Monday’s meeting, N6 project manAger Eileen McCarthy of Arup Engineers revealed that the old Outer City Bypass route had remained an option up to last November when less damaging options were discovered. She believes the route will not get planning permission as the legislation is there to protect it and there are other solutions in place, [The six new proposals].
Meanwhile a motion by Carnmore based councillor Jim Cuddy, proposing to put a stop to the progression of the current six proposed routes and appealing to consultants to go back to the drawing board and make more realistic and acceptable proposals, was comprehensively defeated.
It has been outlined by Arup Consulting Engineers that whichever of the six routes is chosen by mid April, a minimum of between 50 and 130 houses will have to be demolished to make way for the road.
Every one of the 39 elected councillors spoke at length on the contentious issue and there was agreement across the board that a new road, to alleviate Galway’s substantial traffic problems, was needed.
However many councillors were wishful that a bypass could be built without causing upheaval and disruption to homeowners, a sentiment that appears to be idealistic rather than realistic.
Athenry based Peter Feeney told the chamber, that as a council, this was one of the most important recommendations it would ever make. He said it was extremely important that the message went back to the Government that Galway County Council was in favour of the project. He made an impassioned case for the need for a new bypass. “The traffic situation in Galway is in crisis, the roads are full, the car parks are full. There is a social and family element to this, people are spending hours in their cars, leaving children in crèches, early in the morning until late evening. Galway is capable of generating jobs but without an adequate transport system, businesses and corporations will turn to places with good connectivity and transport links like Dublin, Limerick, and Cork. Galway will lose out, already we see a situation where the retail element has moved to Athlone. Connemara is facing a doomsday situation without a traffic solution.”
Cllr Feeney said any threat to homes must be of deep concern but he believed the situation warranted the demolition of the houses. “A home is a place where a person feels safe, it is their haven. I believe a situation has to be critical and the public interest must be over-whelming to do so. I consider this both. I believe for the health, economic, and social improvement of this county, we should allow this project to move forward.”
Independent councillor Michael Fahy was also staunchly in favour of the proposals. He said it was time for a bold decision to be made. “There is too much at stake here. Galway is dependent on foreign investment, without those multi-national companies, the city would not enjoy the wealth and prosperity these jobs provide. If this bypass does not go ahead, we could see thousands of jobs lost in Galway. We cannot afford that to happen. We have to act responsibly and be prepared to take some criticism.”
Councillor Fahy outlined that he had been asked how he would react if his home was to be knocked. He said he would allow it to be knocked as “we have to think of the bigger picture”. He believed families would be making a ‘patriotic’ decision to leave their homes and they must be respected and compensated adequately.
Connemara cllr Noel Thomas said a new road was vital to the future development of the area. “I personally would not like to see people’s homes knocked but regardless of which route is chosen, there is going to be a certain number of people unhappy. My preference would be the road go straight out through the SAC, if it is that important, why not show it off to motorists and all it has have to offer?’’
Councillor Thomás Ó Curraoin was again extremely vocal in his opposition to houses being knocked. “I don’t like wrongdoing and what is being done here is wrong. Is it right to be giving a preferance to what grows out in the wilderness ahead of people’s lives, children and health. I won’t go along with any route that knocks people’s houses. The road must go through the bog. This is pie in the sky, who should be here to take the flak for this are all the cronies who got the original route stopped - it shouldn’t be us or the officials of Galway County Council.
Cllr Ó Curraoin was also unhappy that councillors have no statutory role in the process. “We are told we have no say in it, I really don’t know what we are doing here. We are being treated like kids in first class.“
Councillor Seán Ó Tuairisg said he was not against a new bypass but he believed there were alternative routes to what was being proposed. He was also extremely concerned about the demolition plans. “We have to consider the effect on humans. To demolish a person’s house will have a hugely negative effect on a person. There is a possibility it will cause depression. Have health inspectors been consulted about that?’’
Councillor Eileen Mannion called for a workable traffic management solution that potentially does not demolish between 50 and 120 houses. The Fine Gael councillor was of the opinion that none of these routes would get much further in the process but again acknowledged the need for something to be done. “What happens in Galway city has a major impact on Connemara. We have very little industry to the west of the county. All we really have is tourism and the Government is investing in Greenways and The Wild Atlantic way but tourists need to be able to access Connemara. The traffic in Galway is putting people off travelling to the region.”
A number of representatives were unhappy that the six proposed routes were all travelling through the city centre as opposed to what they felt was a more workable option- an outer ring road. Councillor Peter Roche remarked it appeared “to be a severance of the city, as opposed to an outer city bypass’’.
Councillor Jim Cuddy, who tabled the defeated motion for consultants go back to the drawing board and come up with a new proposal, asked what arrangements would be made for people whose houses were going to be displaced. He believed the compensation from the CPO process would fall far short of the actual value of these homes.
Gort based Fianna Fáil representative Gerry Finnerty would prefer if the route was moved further out rather than travelling through the city, but was totally supportive of a bypass as he saw the need for it. “There are people from my area who no longer travel to Galway. They can access The Coonagh Roundabout in Limerick in 30 minutes. It takes 30 minutes to get from one roundabout to another in Galway city, especially on a Friday evening.’’
Cllr Seosamh O Cualain said what was being displayed was a design to try to solve the traffic problems in the city but what was actually needed was a bypass to get people from east to west of the city. “What we need is need is a proper outer bypass, regardless of how far out it actually goes.”
A number of councillors also expressed their wish to sit down with their city counterparts to hear their views on the contentious issue.