Insider recalls a recent decision of An Bord Pleanala, where it reversed the Galway County Council's grant of permission for a new access link road and junction at the IDA's Parkmore West Business Park.
ABP reversed the decision as it considered the design of the proposed access link road and junction “conflicted with the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (2013 )" and as such its "construction would endanger public safety by reason of traffic hazard to road users, and in particular vulnerable road users including pedestrians and cyclists, and would therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area."
This decision could, indeed should, open a much larger can of worms, and promote a debate around Ireland's lack of having a ‘sustainable’ national spatial strategy. The last one was cancelled by former environment minister Phil Hogan in 2012, without replacement. Insider believes this is a serious issue requiring significant change in the way planning is done in Galway – both city and county wide.
The daily traffic chaos in Parkmore is a sure sign of the much wider problem we have in spatial planning in Galway, especially with the increasing numbers of people having to commute by car from their homes in County Galway to their workplaces in the city.
While this is not a new phenomenon, it is one which has been increasing in intensity over the past 40 years. When discussing traffic, Insider never forgets those workers living in the city who also work in Parkmore/Ballybrit, but have themselves been failed by planners and have to put up with an inadequate public transport system. For a city once dubbed as progressive and once crowned "the fastest growing city in Europe", this is simply not good enough.
The problem has gone 'beyond crisis levels'
When the IDA first developed its business parks at Parkmore in the early seventies, very few businesses initially relocated, so having the one main entrance avenue was not really a problem. In the intervening years, business and industrial estates have expanded successfully, with many of the world's leading medical device and IT manufacturers now based here.
However with very little available public transport passing this area, let alone actually entering the estate, the sheer number of private cars coming in and out has reached crisis point; actually it has gone beyond crisis levels. Yet the planning authority responsible in this area, Galway County Council, actually gave permission for what ABP has now deemed a new sub-standard entrance/exit point.
This brings us to the much wider planning problem, of which there are many in both the city and the county. Most relate to the almost total reliance on cars for people living within the 40km radius of the city to get to work. The May 2014 Newsletter of the Western Development Commission - drawing from an IDA case study - pointed out that “of the 16,701 rural dwellers commuting to work within the gateway of Galway city, one quarter (25.6 per cent or 4,285 ) commute to work in the IDA estates.”
That figure itself does not even refer to people heading to Ballybrit, Parkmore, and the Galway Technology Park, but also others who commute further still into Galway city for work at the GMIT, NUI Galway, and UHG - our largest city centre employment nodes. This now totals more than 20,000 workers a day. As city CEO Brendan McGrath said recently: "We are a city of an 80,000 population servicing 120,000 people using our services."
As James Wickham in his book Gridlock (New Island, 2003 ) wrote: “Car dependency is an issue for social policy. Car dependency exacerbates social exclusion, for those who do not have a car run the risk of being excluded from normal life. Their access to jobs is restricted, they find it difficult to move around the city, they are not full citizens.”
Why such heavy reliance on cars for daily commutes?
The Western Development Commission, in a presentation to the Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, and Rural Affairs, given October 26 2016, said: “At the most basic level a good road network is essential to allow rural dwellers travel to work, to transport goods, for access to services, and to make the area accessible to others. Regional and local roads are the backbone of travel in Ireland within rural regions, and linking to the national road, and rail infrastructure, yet the regional and local roads grant allocation for 2016 was less than half that for 2009. Similarly, public transport is also key. Access to the rail and bus network is essential....”
Despite this Bus Éireann is being advised to cut more services.
Insider believes the transport problems being experienced today result from our two councils having developed disastrous planning policies promulgated by past governments at local and national level between the seventies and the nineties. Such problems were only recognised when Colin Buchanan & Partners first published its Galway Transportation and Planning Study in September 1999.
Of course, what happened in Galway was a situation not dissimilar to that of Dublin, where the availability of sufficient, reasonably priced, housing in the city, failed to keep up with growing public demand. This combined, during the madness of Celtic Tiger years, saw Galway's surrounding towns and villages become worker dormitories: where families could now afford to live once they had been priced out of being able to continue living in Galway city. Just as people now living in Kildare and Meath are having to do, spending hours in their car each day.
The new National Planning Framework, about to be put together, will attempt to ensure, through planning reform, that Cork, Waterford, Limerick, and Galway, as well as a potential new city in the midlands, see greater population growth, more jobs, and increased investment in transport links.
Insider understands the proposals, to be launched by Minster for Housing, Planning, and Local Government Simon Coveney, and which will be released for public consultation later this month, will attempt to direct population growth towards regional cities ,to make them attractive investment destinations, and allow the development of greater public infrastructure.
Minister Coveney said he will hold public consultations and debates on the plan, and will seek the approval of the Dáil for the final document. Such a move would, he believes, mean future governments containing Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin buying into the plan. Insider hopes Minister Coveney's plans are more than just an attempt to promote his own ambitions to become taoiseach, and that they are based on a demonstrable desire to have governments break out of the historic over-promotion of Dublin. We can only live in hope.