SLIGO’S MAIN Street may re-open to traffic almost three years after it was pedestrianised – despite the fact that close to €500,000 has already been spent on the project.
Local city councillors have directed the county manager to re-open O’Connell Street to traffic on the basis that the estimated €4.5 million cost of carrying out the long-awaited enhancement works is unlikely to become available in the current economic climate.
Councillors unanimously backed a Section 140 motion at this week’s meeting of the council directing county manager Hubert Kearns to re-open the street.
But Mr Kearns is now seeking legal advice on the basis that the motion may be in contravention of the local development plan. In a report to councillors, officials said that any decision to open the street to traffic might require legal advice, because pedestrianisation was included in the Sligo and Environs Development Plan 2004-2010.
Mr Kearns has pointed out that there was no motion on the agenda to vary the plan. He has also questioned whether funds will be available to reopen the street.
According to officials €453,120 has been spent so far on pedestrianisation, while another €224,404 has been committed in 2009. Elected members were told that it will cost an additional €100,000 to re-open the street to traffic, given the cost of upgrading footpaths, re-surfacing the street and putting in pedestrian crossings.
Elected members argued that it was premature to close the street before funding was in place to provide the necessary street furniture and to enhance the amenities.
Communities living in the riverside communities of Doorly Park and Martin Savage Terrace have welcomed the decision to reopen the street, while others have argued that returning traffic to the city centre would be a backward step. Residents in the east ward have argued that they are cut off from the other side of the city because of the current traffic flow.
It has also been suggested that failure to complete the necessary refurbishment works has meant that many people still keep to the footpaths and do not perceive the street as an amenity for pedestrians.
The street was closed to traffic in August 2006.
Before that, an estimated 600 vehicles per hour at peak times and 7,000 vehicles per day travelled down O’Connell Street.
Officials argued that before O’Connell Street was closed, it was pedestrian unfriendly because narrow footpaths forced pedestrians on to the road surface and hindered mobility for wheelchair and pushchair users.
They also argued that enhancement works can take a long time to complete; pointing out that, for example, the enhancement of Grafton Street in Dublin took eight years.