The increasing congestion on Galway's roads over recent decades has led for calls for more new roads to be constructed, demands for an increase in capacity on city commuter routes, and for building an outer-bypass, the latest incarnation of which is again before An Bord Pleanala.
An outer-bypass for the city was first advocated by Buchanan & Partners more than 20 years ago, until a judgment in the European Courts of Justice on April 11 2015 put a halt to that plan.
Unfortunately for Irish tax-payers, the promoters of a ‘roads based solution’ did not heed the warning signs. Even now ‘the let's just have more roads as a solution' lobby are again pushing the latest version of the N6 Galway City Outer Bypass - the expensive €650 million Galway City Outer Ring Road. This environmentally and socially damaging project is not justified, with 35 per cent of Galway car traffic crossing the river, but only three per cent of that traffic wanting to bypass the city!
The Galway City Outer Ring Road would mean the displacement of 44 families from their homes, with a further 10 houses rendered uninhabitable as well as the demolition of two industrial properties, and the loss of two more industrial complexes. Yet the roads transport lobby, which accounts for in excess of 19.8 per cent of damaging pollution, wants to press on with more unsustainable plans! However, environmental concerns could impact on whether the bypass ultimately goes ahead or not.
Climate change changes everything
Insider believes our existing main commuter routes do need widening, with more room for bus corridors and cycle paths. It is unarguable that the N59, N83, R339, and R338, which carry so much traffic into the city from the county, have not been so improved in many years. We do however need to remember that the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was reached in December 2015 - and eventually ratified by Ireland, the European Union, and 97 other countries, now has legal effect.
Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins, in his re-election inaugural speech made the following points: “Yes we have the benefit of the two great expressions of shared concern that the UN Paris Agreement on Responding to Climate Change, and the UN New York Agreement on Sustainable Development represent agreements to which Irish diplomats made a distinguished contribution – but we now live with the reality that some of those nations who made those commitments are resiling from them...We need new models and innovative thinking based on deeper and better connections between economy, society, ecology and culture. Cohesion and participation must be recognised as both the ground and the fruit for that innovation.”
We are now told that collapse towards extinction is part of a far bigger global pattern of relentless, irreversible, human-led destruction. On October 28 2018, the World Wildlife Fund warned “we have wiped out 60 per cent of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles since 1970”. Scientists have warned that this annihilation, were it to continue, threatens the very survival of our civilisation.
The WWF report rightly stresses the triple link of species population decline, habitat losses, and the culture of ever-increasing consumerism that now dominates the behaviour of our own species. Oceans are being massively overfished, with more than half industrially fished using ever-more effective technology to hunt diminishing stocks. This carnage is succinctly expressed in one simple metric: Humans are just 0.01 per cent of all life, but we have destroyed 83 per cent of wild species.
It is one of our great tragedies that this do-or-die issue has become a red line in the escalating battle between right-wing industrial autocracy and the rest of world's humanity. It makes no difference if you are a supporter of Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, or Varadkar or not - climate change will soon change your life.
More roads equals more cars
Yet there is hope: a Dutch appeals court recently upheld a landmark ruling that ordered the government to cut that country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels. The original June 2015 ruling came in a case brought by the environmental group Urgenda on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens.
Insider notes we have just witnessed a High Court delay in the case of a long planned LNG installation on the Shannon, with more such cases here being planned. Such legal action might see the Galway City Outer Ring Road challenged again in the courts and at European Court of Justice level. If it encourages more air pollution, it could fall foul of the State's Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, for example.
Unfortunately, the number of cars using a spider's web of commuter routes into the city is ultimately proportional to the capacity of the network. Building yet more roads makes it possible for more cars to be poured into any chosen route, which of itself encourages more people to live in locations outside Galway city from where a daily commute is required. Eventually, when capacity is reached, people will start clamouring for yet more new roads.
The populations of large towns in counties within an hour’s drive of Galway have increased far more rapidly over the past two decades than in any other, with yet more external population growth predicted before 2040.
With more than 60 per cent of the world's population now living in cities, it is time we started to plan our city's growth better. As Dr Mary Kelly, retired chair of An Bord Pleanala has said, people were being denied the opportunity to have a "regular life" due to unwillingness at local authority and national Government level to tackle the problem of urban sprawl. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
The only sustainable long-term solution to congestion is to reduce use of cars, and for people to live closer to their place of work that they can walk, cycle, or avail of high-frequency public transport. Yet the IDA seems powerless to promote enough new industry out into county areas where people live, while Galway city has seen very few houses built in recent times, as compared to the numbers being constructed in all areas of the county - "measles development’ as Frank McDonald, former Irish Times environment correspondent labelled it.
Beyond the car
Progress to date in tackling noxious transport emissions has been very limited. Government strategy needs to go beyond simply promoting electric cars, or anything that has been tried before, and instead embrace changes to physical planning, such as encouraging denser city housing development that makes public transport, walking, and cycling more attractive for commuters.
As Senator Fearghal Quinn said, in the Sunday Business Post in October: "We need to stop shaping our lives around cars’. He made a further relevant point, ‘A move to electric vehicles will help with emissions, but it won’t help with another major problem – congestion."
There is plenty of land available within Galway city itself. Insider was told in 2014 that there is c299 hectares (739 acres ) undeveloped land zoned for residential use in the Galway City Development Plan 2011-2017, but for various reasons it was not been made available fast enough for construction to begin.
Light rail transit - the future?
We are constantly being told by opponents of GLUAS - a light rail tram transit for Galway - that it is unachievable, whereas all over Europe, governments have learned that ‘higher density’ housing makes tram systems economically viable. The premium now being charged on houses built near the Luas in Dublin clearly shows this.
Meanwhile Ceannt Station, the Harbour lands, and Dyke Road sites are listed for regeneration, each having been subject to much speculation since 2002, when potential for port relocation first became news. Insider does not see much family housing being planned here.
Galway City Council CEO Brendan McGrath said recently, when talking about the appointment of consultants to draw up a public realm strategy, that much woulddepend on the outcome of plans to extend the port and the development of the N6 Ring Road. However, both may never happen.
This Government's new National Regeneration and Development Agency, and newer Land Development Agency, are sniffing around the city with the notion of buying lands for housing on public lands - at least those lands left which are not yet being built on by private property speculators. New private housing development in Knocknacarra will probably see some units sold as social or affordable housing to the city council, but these will not be enough to reduce the housing waiting list.
The continuing congestion problems being faced in Galway are what results when the State leaves development of new homes to the private market, while the Government, via tax payers, is left to take care of funding the building of roads and public transport services needed to service them! Ultimately, Insider favours densified development and environmentally sustainable LRT, over more socially damaging motorways.