A DEPUTATION of 23 people travelled from Castletownbere to Dunmanway on Monday to take the West Cork Municipal District to task after it supported a controversial plan to change the flow of traffic in their town.
In October, members of the Council approved a report on the second round of the public consultation process in respect of the Castletownbere Transportation Study, but the deputation, led by Finbarr Harrington, said they’d rather have ‘no plan than this plan.’
The Council members were at pains on Monday to explain that the overall plan needed to be progressed so the Council could secure funding under the Rural Regeneration Scheme for the ongoing development of the project, and they pointed out that it would be done on a phased basis.
The councillors also made the point that each phase of the development would involve a planning process and that each phase would be subject to a further public consultation process and modifications to the proposed plan.
But the deputation members – who have established a new organisation calling itself the Concerned Businesses Association to oppose the plan – were very critical of the Council and the firm of consultants, AECOM, which was engaged by the Council to carry out the Transportation Study.
The organisation, which claims to represent 46 local businesses and sole traders – was formed on October 2nd last, one day after the revised study was endorsed by councillors at a meeting of the West Cork Municipal District.
Mr Harrington said the proposal to upgrade the town square and remove some parking spaces – as well as remove some parking spaces at Main St, increase the footpath size at one side of that street, and reverse the flow of traffic – were advertised and promoted at various public consultation meetings.
At these meetings, he said, consultants took notes of their concerns, but then promptly ignored them.
At the previous meeting, Eoin O’Mahony, an engineer with AECOM, confirmed that 26% of the submissions were supportive, 18% were neutral, and 56% were categorised as ‘unsupportive’.
But Cllr John O’Sullivan (FG) said the time had come to make the specifics of each grouping public.
Mr Harrington continued to press the councillors for an undertaking that they would not approve any further step, or stage, of the proposed plan until the deputation’s reservations were adequately addressed, but the councillors gave no such undertaking.
Instead, Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) pushed through a motion calling on the Council’s executive staff members to meet a four-person deputation from Castletownbere to ‘iron out’ their concerns.
Mr Harrington said the four main areas of concern include absolute opposition to the redevelopment of the town square, if it means the loss of a single car parking space.
The second sticking point, he said, is the loss of parking spaces on the town’s Main St. Thirdly, they believe the flow of traffic should go through Main St from east to west, and not west to east.
Finally, the very idea of a ‘Rain Garden’ – a pedestrianised street in the town centre – should be scrapped because it would adversely affect three businesses in the vicinity.
Furthermore, Mr Harrington said the local community want the proposed by-pass – to be built on reclaimed land – to be the first part of the plan to be completed.
Both Cllr Collins and Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) believed that a meeting with the Council officials could result in some compromises and ‘a meeting of minds’.
But John O’Sullivan (FG) said he was at a loss to understand how they had arrived at this situation, having gone through the public consultation process.
He echoed the comments of some of the deputation members, saying: ‘What we need are communities co-operating with the Council and working to develop themselves because that is the only way communities in West Cork are going to survive.’
An attempt by Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) to highlight the long-term benefits of the Transportation Study and subsequent public realm works carried out in Clonakilty were shot down by the delegation, who remined him that Clonakilty already had a by-pass and that it is a much bigger town.
This week, Cian Murphy, chairman of the Castletownbere Development Association (CDA), representing a ‘substantial’ number of local businesses, said that not everybody in the town wanted the plan scrapped completely.
Speaking to The Southern Star, Mr Murphy said: ‘We are happy that there is a plan, and we don’t agree with it all, but it would be a real shame to throw it all out, rather than make some tweaks.’
He added that the CDA was delighted the Council was interested in investing the money to develop the town, and that not all elements of the plan were contentious. ‘Let’s work through the plan, rather than abandon it completely.’
Mr Murphy, who pointed out that the CDA is over ten years in existence, said it was time to reconsider the Council’s proposals and that the association was very open to suggestions how to resolve the issues.