A meeting has been held in Brussels today between representatives of Galway City and County councils and the European Commission, regarding the controversial Galway bypass.
The meeting comes within weeks of a decision being made on one of the possible six routes identified to alleviate congestion around the city. The proposed new routes have caused huge controversy since they were announced in January due to the fact that between 30 and 130 homes will have to be knocked to facilitate the road.
Today's briefing was sought by the council's elected representatives to tease out the role of the Commission in the process, including returning to the original Galway City Outer Bypass route.
Plans for that road were rejected in part by An Bord Pleanala and following court action in the Irish and European courts were also rejected under Article 6(3 ) of the Habitats Directive.
The European Commission clarified that the European Court ruling referred to the assessment of the original route under Article 4(3 ), but this did not preclude the route from being re-assessed and re-submitted under Article 4(4 ), where all possible alternative routes have been assessed and ruled out.
Article 6(4 ) states that a project which compromises the integrity of a priority habitat may still proceed in the absence of alternative solutions. A plan or project may be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature.
Council planners and representatives from ARUP Consulting Engineers have argued that a planning application under this clause will be unsuccessful as there are proven alternative routes, to the old outer bypass, in place (the six new proposed routes ).
Speaking after today’s meeting MEP Mairead McGuinness, who represents Galway, says it is clear that work to solve the traffic congestion in Galway and to select a route that limits damage to homes, communities and the environment must continue at local level. “With mere weeks to go before a decision is made on the selection of a route, it is vital that the authorities engage with the EU Commission to avoid damaging delays and possible legal action over any chosen route. It would be helpful if the detailed assessments carried out on route selection, which ruled out returning to the original Outer City Bypass were made public, and I understand this will be done. In order to have public confidence in the process this must be done.’’
Ms McGuiness said it was clear that impacts on homes and communities had to be taken into account. “Today's meeting highlighted the importance of the consultation and assessment processes in Galway and the need to find agreement on what is a difficult issue for individuals and communities.”