THE NEW Green Party mayor of Kilkenny has described as “absolutely disgraceful” the provisional support of An Bord Pleanála for a new bridge over the river Nore which he claims would “destroy” the city’s mediaeval architectural heritage.
Cllr Malcolm Noonan said building the new bridge could “scupper” the council’s budget “for years to come” and added: “this is a bad decision, for planning, heritage, and the city’s future development.”
However, there is widespread support for the plans in Kilkenny.
Mr Noonan said most councillors from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour supported the project and he accepted that his opposition would be “massively outvoted”.
The bridge is a key element in a controversial new “inner relief” road scheme proposed to alleviate chronic traffic congestion in Kilkenny and allow for the partial pedestrianisation of streets close to major tourist attractions.
The plans were the subject of an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála last year and were strongly criticised by the Heritage Council as an “inappropriate intrusion into the setting of one of Ireland’s most important medieval towns”.
Yesterday a spokesman for the board said no final decision had been made although the planning authority was “provisionally of a view” that the new bridge would be “appropriate to approve” subject to certain conditions.
The board has written to the local authority to say that while the current design concept for a cable-stay bridge is unsuitable, the necessity for an additional river crossing is judged to be appropriate.
Kilkenny county manager, Joe Crockett said that a new design for the bridge would be submitted.
Last year 22 academics wrote to The Irish Times concerning the proposed inner relief road and bridge scheme and expressed their “profound dismay” at a proposal which they claimed would have “a devastating impact on the historic centre of . . . Ireland’s only intact medieval city and a place of international importance”.
Signatories to the letter included university professors from Ireland, Britain, Germany and the US as well as representatives of the British Archaeological Association, London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, Boston’s McMullan Museum of Art and Limerick’s Hunt Museum. They said the project “quite apart from bringing heavy goods vehicles into the core of Kilkenny” would also “entail the destruction of much ancient fabric of the city, both upstanding and buried”.
They claimed that the proposed new bridge “endangers the supposedly protected setting” of an existing “fine Palladian bridge” and added that “this proposal flagrantly disregards the strenuous efforts that are now being made throughout Europe to keep traffic out of historic city centres”.
In its submission to An Bord Pleanála, the Heritage Council claimed that Kilkenny County Council “failed to adequately consider sustainable alternatives such as proper or increased public transport provision within the historic city”.