Current proposals for the N6 Galway City Transport Project have proven divisive but two groups of people will be firmly united in support of the plans - lawyers and consultants.
Whether you support the proposals in principle or not, the route options which have been outlined fail to negate the environmental concerns that bedevilled the original Galway City Outer Bypass route, as all six of the new route options similarly traverse areas of high ecological importance. This will inevitably trigger fresh legal challenges that will bring the proposals no further than the courts.
Instead of providing a feasible solution to Galway’s enduring traffic problems, the new proposals will herald another interminable process that will waste years of progress and millions in taxpayers’ money.
This will be welcomed by lawyers and consultants, but will do nothing to alleviate the traffic congestion that is impacting on people’s quality of life, or the developmental constraints that are causing Galway to miss out on job creation and economic growth.
The current proposals are also unworkable. They will not stand the test of a legal challenge in the courts, and the mooted cost of the routes is a multiple of that associated with the original outer bypass plans. They are also undesirable. Most of them fail to bypass the city and instead carve through it, bulldozing up to 130 homes and destroying businesses in their wake.
The need for a bypass in Galway is clear. The city is driving with its handbrake on, in terms of economic development and growth. Its enormous potential will never be reached in the absence of enhanced transport infrastructure.
The original plan for the Galway City Outer Bypass offered such a solution. I supported that plan, securing a commitment of Government funding for its development, and its inclusion in successive capital investment programmes. However, the plan succumbed to a protracted legal challenge based on environmental concerns relating to its impact on protected areas of bog cotton and limestone paving.
I remain wholly committed to the need for an outer bypass in Galway, but the current proposals do nothing to negate the environmental concerns that resulted in years of legal argument and the ultimate failure of the original route.
The purpose of a bypass is to enhance economic development – not stifle it. Yet, a number of the routes threaten to impact on Galway Racecourse; home of the famous Galway Races Festival, which is worth more than €60 million to the local economy each year and is a centrepiece of the Galway tourism product.
The proposals could also see the dissection of the university campus at NUI Galway, destroying existing facilities and derailing plans for future development of the university in a city where 20 per cent of the population are students.
In addition to lawyers and consultants, some politicians will also be rubbing their hands together following the publication of these proposals.
The easiest thing for me to do would be to support the new plans in the knowledge that no progress can be expected in advance of the next General and Local elections. A promise of progress thereafter could conveniently be traded for votes. It would be cynical and populist to do that, knowing that there is no realistic prospect of the plans ever being advanced to fruition. Like so many election promises, it would be reneged upon and blame laid for its failure elsewhere.
For my own part, I have demonstrated in the past that I eschew populist positions in the interest of what I believe to be common sense for the common good. This is one such instance. I remain entirely committed to the concept of a bypass for Galway, but I will not promise what cannot be delivered.
The plan that is ultimately chosen for a bypass must be one that is achievable, that facilitates economic growth, and improves people’s quality of life.
Conversely, the route options outlined as part of the N6 Galway City Transport Project are unworkable, threaten to cause disproportionate and damaging disruption, and destroy a large number of homes and businesses. A feasible and effective transport solution for Galway exists, but planners must be sent back to the drawing board to find it.
Brian Walsh is the Fine Gael TD for Galway West