Castlebar's traditional town centre has seen major refurbishment works over the last two years which include new pavements, street lighting, and street furniture.
Plans are in place to extend these works to Rush Street, part of New Antrim Street, the unfinished part of Linenhall Street and Tucker Street, with hard landscaping, paving works, road surfacing works, changes to car parking arrangements, furniture, and lighting among the proposals.
However, local Independent councillor Frank Durcan has pleaded with the council to shelve these plans, accusing the local authority of squandering public money.
On the other side of this debate is Fine Gael councillor Ger Deere who is fully behind the council's programme of works which will see the completion of the town centre regeneration works.
Both councillors have given their views to the Mayo Advertiser on this topical issue.
Cllr Frank Durcan wants works to be abandoned
According to Cllr Durcan photographs speak a thousand words and photographs are something which are not in short supply in this Independent's office. Cllr Durcan has documented through pictures the streets before works commenced and the finished product. However he has highlighted some problems with completed works and has a strong opinion on why the upcoming project should be abandoned.
According to Cllr Durcan all the white block which was used on the Main Street footpaths was imported from China rather than sourced from within Ireland. “With over 400,000 people unemployed in this country, we are importing brick from China, creating employment there,” Cllr Durcan told the Mayo Advertiser.
He spoke of the new kerbs which have been laid, and which he said are razor sharp and are puncturing tyres and damaging hubcabs and wheels of cars. Another bone of contention with Cllr Durcan is the ramps on Main Street. On a nice day he claims oil can be viewed on the ramps where sumps of cars have been damaged due to their excessive height.
“The street [Main Street] is not user friendly,” said Cllr Durcan who is also dissatisfied with the sharp corners on the monument on the Mall which he fears could cause serious damage to anyone who might trip and catch his/her head on the hard limestone.
Looking at the footpaths yet to be replaced, it is Councillor Durcan's opinion that these are in perfect repair and would last another 200 years.
He feels the money available for these works should be offset against health service and education sector cut backs. He accused the council of “squandering money outside the Taoiseach's door”.
One aspect of the upcoming works which Cllr Durcan agrees with is street resurfacing but he is adamant there is no necessity to take up footpaths.
Instead areas which need attention are the footpath from Christchurch up to Mayo General Hospital which he has dubbed “the worst footpath in Ireland” and the area outside Next and either side of the the Bridge at Newtown which have become impassable during heavy rains due to flooding.
Councillor Durcan concluded that the moeny would be better spent in other ways.
“People are crying out for road improvements all over the county but the council won't do them. There has been no request for these particular works from any person yet they are pushing ahead with them. This is a sinful waste of money at a time of awful austerity. They are just getting rid of money. They have got the grant and they have to spent it,”
Cllr Ger Deere is a supporter of the development
A firm proposer of the Castlebar regeneration works is Fine Gael councillor Ger Deere.
Cllr Deere is familiar with Cllr Durcan’s objections as the independent member has raised them on numerous occasions at council meetings.
In relation to Cllr Durcan’s claims that the block is being imported from China, Cllr Deere has countered that only some of the granite curbs were imported due to a scarcity of the material in Ireland. He said it would not be possible to source all the required material in Ireland. But he added that the bulk of the brick is supplied by Roadstone and complies with all industry standards. He added that the paving which is being taken up is being stored by the council and can be used again.
Cllr Deere said the funding for the regeneration project has come from the EU, channelled through the BMW Regional Assembly specifically for these kind of works, and he told the Mayo Advertiser that if it is not spent here it will go elsewhere.
One of the essential benefits of the works, according to Cllr Deere, is the employment created during the construction phase.
Cllr Deere outlined why he feels the works are necessary and beneficial to Castlebar: “Castlebar is a shopping town and people like to have good wide footpaths which are easily accessible and user friendly. Main Street meets that brief.”
A member of the Castlebar Tidy Town’s committee, Cllr Deere said the project would undoubtedly see Castlebar increase its marks in the popular competition.
However he said attention needs to be paid to bye-laws that are in place and which prevent businesses from placing tables and chairs outside their premises’. In order to improve the ambience around the town and for businesses to fully utilise the new streetscape, Cllr Deere feels this needs to be tackled.
However, he agrees with Cllr Durcan that there are some aspects that need to be tweaked, namely the kerbs, which he said are causing an ongoing issue along with one of the ramps on Main Street.
While more on-street parking spaces will be lost during this next phase of work, Cllr Deere feels the recent development of the McHugh carpark and it’s incorporation into the town council car park more than offsets this.
Councillor Deere said: “The idea is not to alienate traffic but to make the town more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. We are going through tough times but when the economy turns around Castlebar will be ready to meet the upturn in business head on.”