Plans for the progression of the controversial new Galway bypass will not be amended following a meeting held in Brussels earlier this week to thrash out the issue. Council planners and representatives from ARUP Consulting Engineers are adamant they will not return to the old Galway City Outer Bypass route.
However this opinion is at odds with a number of local public representatives who still want to apply for planning permission for the old route under the imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI ) clause of the European Habitats Directve.
A large delegation of city and county councillors, senators, MEPs, council executives, and representatives of the N6 Action Group travelled on Monday to discuss options for the proposed new bypass. The meeting comes shortly before a decision is due on one of the possible six routes identified to alleviate congestion around the city. There has been uproar since the so called red, green, yellow, orange, blue, and pink routes were announced in January due to the fact that between 30 and 130 homes will have to be knocked to facilitate the road.
The old GCOB was rejected in part by An Bord Pleanala and following court action in the Irish and European courts was also rejected under Article 6(3 ) of the Habitats Directive, because of the impact it would have on bog cotton and limestone pavements in designated special areas of conservation (SAC ).
On Monday The European Commission clarified that there was potential to return to the original route, but also stated all other proposed alternatives would first have to be eliminated. Representatives from the Commission said the European Court ruling referred to the assessment of the original GCOB route under Article 6(3 ), but this did not preclude the route from being re-assessed and re-submitted under Article 6(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 (IROPI ), including those of a social or economic nature.
Detailed assessments carried out on route selection, which ruled out returning to the original route are to be made public in due course. However it is understood that this analysis will not be made public until after the preferred new route emerges and is progressed.
Corrundulla councillor James Charity was part of the delegation which travelled to Brussels. His interpretation of the contribution from representatives of the European Commission was that they made it clear an application to revive the old GCOB could be progressed under the IROPI process provided a correct analysis of the alternative options was carried out. “The reasonableness of any proposed alternative would have to be considered and fully analysed as part of the decision making process,” Charity said.
“The Commission has made it clear that the housing demolition, population displacement, and economic impact, as well as the destruction of green spaces and public amenities, must be fully balanced as against the benefit of that alternative in protecting a habitat. Some common sense needs to prevail and facilitate a return to the original route under IROPI.”
Although there will be no immediate change to the current plan to progress one of the six new bypass routes Mayor of County Galway Mary Hoade still found the meeting with the commission representatives to be extremely beneficial.
“It was very informative and interesting. It was good to go and ask the question and get the answer, and now the process will move to the next stage. It is also positive that lines of communication between all parties have been opened.”
The chosen route is due to be made public on Friday April 24, but it is expected it will not be revealed until the following week. However these tests are extremely onerous. Council planners and representatives from ARUP Consulting Engineers thoroughly examined the feasibility of returning to the old route before it was comprehensively ruled out last October. They have continually argued that a planning application under Article 6(4 ) would be unsuccessful and a further waste of public money, as there are proven alternative routes, to the old outer bypass, in place (the six new proposed routes )