TRADERS ON Sligo’s main street are almost unanimously opposed to the plan to reopen the pedestrianised street to traffic, it has emerged.
Campaigners have urged members of Sligo Borough Council not to proceed with the plan, saying the “vast majority” of the public is opposed to it. The street was pedestrianised three years ago.
Mayor of Sligo Cllr Jim McGarry has indicated that traffic will be back on the main street by Christmas – a move that has the backing of all elected members on the council.
However, Gerry Conway, of the O’Connell Street Traders’ Association, said that all but two of the 30 or so businesses on the street had signed a petition asking that it remain pedestrianised. He urged councillors to rethink the issue, saying that traders had not been consulted. He believes councillors are abandoning “a vision for Sligo” and putting nothing in its place.
Séamus Kealy, director of the Model Arts Centre in Sligo, who has been a strong critic of the councillors’ plan, said 2,000 people had signed a petition urging councillors not to reopen O’Connell Street to traffic. While it was being presented as a fait accompli, members of the public still had a right to make submissions on the new draft development plan and to have their say on whether pedestrianisation should be dropped, he said.
A spokeswoman for Sligo Borough Council confirmed that submissions on any aspect of the draft Sligo and Environs Development Plan 2010 to 2016 can be received until Wednesday, September 16th.
By Friday, 20 submissions had been received on the O’Connell Street issue, she said, but given that the bulk of submissions are normally received close to deadline, this figure could change considerably.
Last May members of the council voted unanimously to direct the county manager to reopen the street to traffic, saying that the €4.5 million estimated cost of environmental enhancement works would not be available in the foreseeable future. They also expressed concern about the impact of the current situation on residents in the east ward who, they said, had been cut off from the rest of the town.
Mr Conway said he did have sympathy with this community but believed that it should be possible for the engineers to come up with a solution without putting traffic back on O’Connell street. “Sligo could be another Kilkenny,” he said.
Mr Kealy said it would be “highly unusual” and a retrograde step to unpedestrianise an urban area, given the international experience that more green areas, urban pathways and walking spaces enhance public life while boosting tourism, civic health and economic diversity.
While there was room for further aesthetic improvements, it had taken four years to complete similar projects on Dublin’s Grafton Street and Shop Street, Galway, he said.
Mr McGarry said that the 12 elected members on the council supported the reopening of the street. They believed the people of the east ward had been “seriously disenfranchised” and that journeys which should take them five minutes now took up to 45 minutes.