By Leo McMahon
Whilst acknowledging that significant improvements have resulted from the flood relief and almost-completed main drainage scheme in Bandon, there were, unfortunately, setbacks and huge frustration, especially at the outset, and it’s clear to see that many years of excavations and traffic diversions have significantly impacted on business and enterprise in West Cork’s largest town.
However, it’s important to be positive and constructive and adopt an ‘onwards and upwards’ approach and, in that regard, I wish to make the following suggestions.
Up to recent decades, the river in most centres in Ireland and Britain was the ugly back yard of businesses and dwellings. What a shame because the River Bandon, is in my opinion, the town’s greatest asset.
The development of the Graham Norton Riverside Walk, the Community Park, the Outdoor Gym (Tone Zone) and Skate Park parallel to Glaslinn Road have proved that. It’s also good to see the restoration of the path on the northern bank from the bridge to the weir and playground and of course the new footbridge. Hopefully, the river walks can be extended both east and west of the town and link up to the proposed West Cork Railway Greenway, because Bandon has a river to be proud of and one that it should show off.
I strongly believe that a boardwalk from the bridge to the footbridge and upgrading of the walk from the footbridge to beyond The Bogs and Riverview with seating and heritage public lighting could generate more visitors and new commercial energy close to the town centre. It would encourage new businesses (cafes, craft shops etc) along MacSwiney Quay and be an attractive feature. There’s also need to make the river and its now spectacular weir more visual to passers-by using perhaps toughened glass instead of stone in sections of the wall.
ONE-WAY TRAFFIC TRIAL
Any stranger driving to West Cork interested in visiting Bandon has only a split second view of its main thoroughfare from Irishtown Bridge. How ridiculous is that? Bandon is losing out on millions of euro of business.
Psychologically, tourists are far more likely to stop and shop heading west at the start of their excursion and be more inclined to drive direct going east to the airport or ferryport at the end of their vacation, so make the main shopping street more inviting with better directional signage entering Bandon.
In that regard, I contend there is an argument for re-examining the possibility of one-way traffic westbound along South Main Street from Hickey’s Corner as far as the library corner and making MacSwiney Quay one way eastbound for drivers coming from Market Street and Ballymodan Place. Consideration would have to be given to also making Market Quay one way eastbound for cars only but vehicles using this could link up with two way traffic at Bridge Lane and turn right into two way traffic at Pearse Street. St Patrick’s Quay could remain one-way westbound.
In conjunction with all of the above, is the need to prioritise completion of the southern by-pass which continues to have difficult turns, especially for HGVs at Kilbrittain Road and that crazy mini-roundabout at New Road.
There’s also a strong case for a second bridge crossing and a northern link road from the N71 Innishannon Road. Keeping HGVs out of the town centre is also important bearing in mind there are alternative routes via the by-pass and Baxter’s Bridge.
Few said it could work in the narrow streets of Kinsale, but it did, so why not pedestrianisation on a trial basis every Saturday afternoon in July and August in South Main Street, Bandon from Hickey’s Corner to the Library Corner?
In doing so, it could give a relaxed festive atmosphere to the town centre and enable music and other performers, a merry-go-round, a toddlers’ play zone, and a street market. That’s how you bring families and extra visitors to a town, increase trade and give its citizens a sense of ownership. Westbound traffic could continue to use St Patrick’s Quay on pedestrian priority days. In addition, parking should be free all day on Saturdays and in the car parks every day and existing (Glaslinn Road perhaps?) or new sites should be examined for at least two storey car parking.
It’s customary to mark completion of a major public scheme with an artistic feature. However, Bandon has been devastated by flooding and excavations over the past decade and money would better be spent, I contend, on new street furniture and landscaping as part of a long overdue makeover of the town and its riversides and that must include North Main Street.
As done successfully with the main churches, other historic and attractive buildings should be floodlit and enhanced to improve the public realm. Derelict buildings sites should be tackled and a pro-active approach adopted by Cork County Council to acquire these for much needed infill housing if owners of are not prepared to remove streetscape blight.
In upgrading roads, provision should be made for additional footpaths and protected cycle ways where possible and all facilities disabled friendly.
Ideally located at what is arguably ‘the gateway to West Cork,’ there is potential, I believe, for additional accommodation, perhaps a hotel or Premier Inn-style lodge, on the eastern side of Bandon in easy reach of Kinsale, the airport, Ringaskiddy ferryport and the city.
The longer daytrippers or tourists stay and shop in the town, the better it is for business and from this, more accommodation will result. There’s also scope to provide for a railed-off river swimming and boating area at the Bogs (as one would see on rivers in France) and improved facilities for angling.
There are people who will say that some of the above mentioned suggestions are not viable but my response would be to be prepared to experiment on a trial basis at least and inject new vibrancy into what is a fine shopping town.
It’s all too easy to say what’s wrong with Bandon but instead, it’s important for the people to unite in a positive way and demand that impressive plans already drawn up, are put into action for the benefit of this and future generations because the long suffering people of Bandon – especially those who survived the great flood of 2009 – deserve it!