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Ruling will leave N59 road plan dead in the water

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A decision to refuse the upgrade for the N59 between Maam Cross and Clifden would result in even more deaths on a treacherous road and delay for many years any further development for Connemara.

That was the warning of Oughterard Councillor Thomas Welby who said this project – as well as the planned new coast road to replace the R336 – was now “dead in the water”.

An Bord Pleanála decided by a 3:1 majority vote to refuse to approve the proposed development in line with the Inspector’s recommendation.

The overriding reason was its potential impact on four European Sites – the Twelve Bens/Garraun Complex Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the Maumturk Mountains SAC and two Connemara Bog Complex SACs.

The project would have negatively affected the site’s blanket bog and Northern Atlantic wet heath –  dwarf shrubs such as heather on shallow bog, which are both Annex 1 – or protected habitats.

“In the absence of clear information in relation to the habitats which are within and adjacent to the proposed road development, it is not possible to conclude that the proposed road development would not result in the loss of such habitats, for which it is a stated conservation objective to maintain or restore the favourable conservation status.

“It is not, therefore, possible to conclude that the proposed road development, alone or in combination with other plans or projects, would not adversely affect the integrity of the European Sites in view of the sites’ conservation objectives.”

The consultant ecologist engaged on the project found that the degree to which “the integrity is affected [of the two priority habitats] is slight” – the overall area of land affected relative to the rest of the SAC was less than 0.02% in each case.

“This is potentially compounded by indirect effects (de-watering, etc) and ‘in combination effects’ from other developments but the situation is broadly unchanged.”

The ecologist also found it “technically possible” to create compensatory habitats in areas of degraded and damaged peatlands.

The Board found that Galway County Council had acted correctly in pursuing the project given the “sub-standard nature of the existing N59” in terms of width, alignment and surface quality and the improvements would result in traffic safety for all. They also applauded the fact they had followed the line of the existing road to minimise environmental concerns.

The Board considered approving certain sections of the project, which did not contains SACs. This was detailed in the Inspector’s report and amounted to 13.9km – or almost half the length of the proposed 29.4km.

However, three out of four members shared the Inspector’s concerns regarding the implications that would have on drainage, the location of wetland treatment areas for surface water run-off, the continuity of cycleways and footpaths and the diversion of services.

“The Board further considered that such an amended proposal would be significantly different from the one proposed for consideration and, therefore, did not pursue this option.”

Cllr Welby said these four SACs were the scene of fires every summer because they were under-grazed and left fallow.

“This is a road dotted with crosses where people have died and now there will be more after this decision,” he fumed.

“We’re talking about people’s lives – yet people are coming second best by far. It’s a bad day for Connemara and it’s a bad day for the people.”

The first section of the N59, Oughterard to Maam Cross, was approved by An Bord Pleanála but on condition Galway County Council work in cooperation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to minimise the impact on the environment.

Agreement has not been reached with the NPWS and that section of the road has been stalled, Cllr Welby stated.

“The NPWS are not a willing partner in these projects yet they pretend to be at the consultation table. They’re sending us back to the dark ages. This is a road which was 90% along the current N59. We might as well forget about the new coast road.”

This is the second major project in 18 months refused for Connemara due its landscape designation – a treatment plant was approved for Oughterard but an upgrade of the sewerage system – pipes laid since 1947 – were rejected.

The only way forward on the Maam Cross to Clifden project was to submit an application under the IROPI (imperative reasons of over-riding public interest) process – which would cost many millions more than it already has, he said.

CITY TRIBUNE

Concerns over reopening of Middle Arch on Tuesday

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A Galway City Councillor has given a cautious welcome but has also raised concerns over the reopening of the ‘Middle Arch’ beside the Claddagh Basin next Tuesday.

Access was closed to the public last May following requests from the Gardai due to large crowds that had gathered in the days previously amid fears of it becoming a serious health and safety risk.

The concerns were raised by Cllr. Niall McNelis who said that a cautious welcome should be given but that the possibility of closing it in evenings needs to be seriously looked at.

He said “The decision to close it was earlier in year was due to it had become an area where large groups had gathered drinking and had led to calls by locals that it had become a serious health and safety risk. The area also does not have safety barriers and this has led to persons falling into the water in the past.

“Recently there has been a large number of calls made that the area should be reopened and that public space be made available to the public.”

Cllr. McNelis also said that a cautious welcome should be given but that the possibility of closing it in evenings needs to be seriously looked at.

“We can not have the same scenes repeated as we did earlier this year and in previous years. House gardens and Claddagh church grounds were used as toilets and large amounts of litter mainly drink, was left behind. I have met a number of residents this weekend who are not happy with decision and calls have been made by them to have it closed in evenings by City Council and Gardai should assist in clearing area if needs be.

“We do not have enough Garda personnel to have proper policing in our city, we need more resources for the city to tackle and enforce anti social behaviour.

“I have met this week with Gardai and have been given assurances that this will be closely monitored and occasions such as exam results nights, freshers week and good weather will be monitored,” he said.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council rows back on ‘reduced delays’ projections for Kirwan junction

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Motorists have described it as ‘a disaster’ and a former mayor has said the project gave very poor value for money, but Galway City Council have this week asked the public to be patient with the revamped Kirwan junction, close to the Menlo Park Hotel.

Since the four-arm signalled junction opened early last week, motorists have complained of traffic queues stretching back to the Quincentenary Bridge and Corrib Park.

And now the Council has rowed back on its consultants’ claims that the junction would increase capacity by 15% and reduce waiting times by 25%.

Former mayor and local taxi driver, Cllr Frank Fahy, told the Galway City Tribune that given the negative impact of the junction on traffic, the €5 million spent on the project represented ‘very poor value’ as regards taxpayers’ money.

“I will admit that the junction is now safer for pedestrians in that they can hit a button to give them a safe crossing, but since it opened there have some very serious traffic tailbacks,” said Cllr Fahy.

However, City Council Acting Director of Services for Transport, Uinsinn Finn, told the Galway City Tribune that the new junction needed time to ‘bed in’ with a familiarisation process.

“The main objectives of this project were to make far safer for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, as well as making it safer for motorists too, without impacting [negatively] on the traffic flow,” said Mr Finn.

He added that since it opened – and over the coming few weeks – data on all aspects of how the junction was functioning would be compiled which could involve changes to light sequencing, lanes and peak traffic flows.

One motorist who contacted this newspaper said that the daily “nightmare” journey from the Barna Road to the Headford Road during the morning peak traffic time had added up to 40 minutes to his journey time.

“The two lanes are regularly gridlocked from the junction, back the N6, over the Quincentenary Bridge and back to Corrib Park.

“In the mornings, it’s now easier to go down Taylor’s Hill and into town, past Eyre Square and up Bohermore to get down to the Headford Road.

Councillors were told by consultants in 2017 and again in 2018 – when they voted to proceed with the changeover to a junction – that average delays would be reduced by 25% and junction capacity would increase by 15%.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Man hospitalised following Eyre Square assault

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Gardaí have appealed to the public for information into an assault in Eyre Square last weekend which led to a young man being hospitalised.

The victim of the assault – a man in his early 20s from the city area – suffered a cut to his knee and may have had a substance sprayed towards his eyes.

Following the incident – that occurred close to the Eyre Square taxi rank shortly after midnight on Saturday night last – the victim was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Galway.

It is understood that the victim was released later that morning and has made a full recovery. This week, Gardaí are poring over CCTV footage in an effort to try and identify the perpetrators of the assault.

The assailants are understood to have fled on foot after the incident towards St Patrick’s Avenue on the east side of Eyre Square.

A Garda spokesperson has appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity of the taxi rank on Eyre Square between 12 midnight and 12.30am on the Sunday morning (Saturday night) of July 25 last, and who may have witnessed the incident to contact them.

(Photo: the assailants fled on foot towards St Patrick’s Avenue off Eyre Square)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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