Over the past few weeks, the impact of the proposed routes on the Galway City Transport Project has been articulated in great detail at a series of forums across the city and county. We have heard about houses and farms being destroyed, about businesses being decimated, about schools being overlooked. We have seen politicians try to justify both the development and the withdrawal of its plans. However, the opposition grew in stature last night when one of the city’s biggest employers, and one of the reasons for the city’s vitality and attraction, spoke out strongly about how it feels the roads will impact on their plans.
In a nutshell, NUI Galway believes that introduction of one of at least two of the routes will split their campus and destroy the careful planning in which they have engaged for generations to ensure the campus is the envy of universities across the globe.This is what NUI Galway has to say about it all:
NUI Galway and the Galway City Transport Project
The proposals in the Galway City Transport Project have potentially devastating impacts. Homes and businesses are under threat, and so is the campus of a university which is central to the life of the city and surrounding region; is one of the major employers; hosts a population of more than 20,000 students and staff and which has invested €400m over the last decade in capital development
The University will be objecting in the strongest possible terms to proposals that threaten its future.
That €400m investment has been undertaken with a purpose: not just to build a successful university, but to continue a lengthy pattern of interaction with Galway and its citizens, providing graduates to support the growth of high-quality local employment and engaging in research activities which connect both with local industry and with the rich culture of Galway city and the region.
Two major university research centres, the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in the field of IT and the CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices, have recently been funded, both with strong connections to local industry. Over recent decades university and city have grown in tandem, and these centres reflect a vital continuation of that process.
The physical growth of the university has been carefully planned over many decades. A programme of land acquisition in Dangan has allowed the university to increase the area for new buildings while simultaneously acquiring space for sports facilities. The unified campus is now an educational base for more than 17,000 students. The university continues to climb in world rankings, reflecting significant improvements in research activity and overall performance. Its progress would be severely disrupted by the current proposals.
Increases in research activity have seen a surge in the numbers of international staff. International student numbers have grown significantly, to the extent that NUI Galway now has the largest proportion of international students of all the Irish universities. Foreign students are a great benefit to the local economy, supplementing the flow of income generated by the increased number of Irish students. University buildings have expanded, creating high-quality infrastructure for increased student numbers and research activities. The University’s Strategic Plan for 2015-2020 will reflect a drive to maintain the dramatic improvements and enhance its national and international standing. All these developments are under threat.
Twenty thousand people move around the university. Significant expansion in the north campus makes movement between the south campus and buildings beyond the N6/Quincentenary Bridge particularly important. The University has plans for a second underpass below the N6, to ameliorate the problems caused by the inevitable increase in traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular.
All of the options outlined for the proposed road route have the potential to cause major disruption to the city and the University. But the Red and Blue Routes are particularly damaging in the scale of devastation they propose.
The Red Route would create a second bridge and embankment, throwing up a permanent and formidable barrier that would cut the campus in half.
What currently makes the NUI Galway campus an attractive location – for Irish and international students and staff – would be irretrievably damaged. The ability of the University to sustain its present impressive growth trajectory would be jeopardised. If in recent decades the University and the city have grown hand in hand, we are now threatened with the prospect that both would face a future of relative decline.
Destroy sports centre
The Red Route also proposes to destroy the Student Sports Centre. There is no suitable space in the centre of the campus for a new sports centre; we would be faced with relocating our sports facilities at an off-campus location which would lose one of the main benefits of the existing facility – its centrality, leading to high levels of student participation and ease of access for staff and public. What sort of message would we be giving students about the importance of both a healthy body and a healthy mind, if they have to travel miles to access their sports facilities?
The proposed Blue Route is no better. It would destroy existing grass and artificial pitches, as well as running facilities and the sports pavilion. The Regional Sports Centre, built through a 20 year co-operation with sporting partners, would be obliterated.
A unified campus has emerged as a result of decades of planning and forethought. This is a campus in which teaching and research buildings are intermingled, where sports facilities are readily available to students, and University lands provide a major recreational facility for all. The difficulty of creating replacement sporting facilities would be formidable. Even if they could be re-located, they would certainly be far from the main campus, drastically reducing student participation.
Loss of the greenway
The loss of recreational facilities in Dangan, including the proposed Greenway, would significantly damage the attractiveness of the university. The campus is an enabler of University success. The potential damage that the Blue Route would cause would harm forever our ability to attract Irish and international students and staff. It would also remove a significant recreational facility for local residents.
If options with differences in cost of as much as €250m are under consideration, how can these proposals reasonably be seen as a comprehensive appraisal of a “Transport Project”? Just as we don’t know how and when the concept of the Outer Bypass disappeared entirely from consideration (acknowledging that European and Supreme Court decisions created major problems for the initial plan ), we have no information on what assessment has been done of alternative methods of dealing with local transport issues. Presumably €250m would make a significant contribution towards a light rail system, and certainly it would pay for very significant improvements in the bus system.
We have to look at alternatives.”