A Special Report
THE DOG ate my homework -- it's the only excuse not yet offered by those councillors who suggested publicly they had secured €500,000 to start pedestrianisation works in O'Connell Street.
It will be years before the work can now be done and the funding threads are more convoluted than the half a million some councillors led Sligo people to believe was on the table, deal done and dusted.
Cllr Sean MacManus (SF) cut to the chase when an executive report on O'Connell Street came before councillors at their September meeting earlier this week.
Pig In A Poke
The Sinn Féin councillor said the figure had been offered to some of his colleagues ".......to change their vote and re-insert the eastern bridge in the Development Plan."
''The figure was dangled as a carrot,'' said Cllr MacManus: "They bought a pig in a poke."
Bartley Gavin, Director of Cranmore Regeneration, offered councillors a version of how the money came to be promised: "I understand O’Connell Street was the subject of discussion between elected members and the then Minister for Housing, Michael Finneran TD as part of communications on the reinstatement of the Eastern Bridge," he said.
On a scale of 1-100, his Simpson-esque sentence clocks 80 to 90 on the scale of subtle qualification. It wasnt his dog. It wasnt his homework.Out of the Blue
"Communications?" Labour councillor Jim McGarry, who was at that meeting with the then Fianna Fáil Minister Finneran in Dublin, has said publicly and unreservedly that he was placed under duress to change his vote. Other councillors have said the same thing.
"Discussion?" No memorandum of any such discussions in December 2010 was released when the voluntary Bridge Campaign Committee paid €100 euro upfront to the Department of Environment under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) in this specific matter.
In fact there were no maps, no memos, no exchange of letters on file to explain how the "eastern quadrant" had come into being, or of how O'Connell Street -- out of the blue -- came to be part of Regeneration.
The Bridge Campaign Committee formally proposed to Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan and her predecessor Mr Penrose in DoE that an official in the Stormont administration should review all papers and files in their Department to address concerns of community and local councillors alike. The Minister was invited to make her own proposals. Nothing has yet been offered, not even a substantive response, nothing beyond a template acknowledgement of receipt.
There is a case to ask The Office of Ombudsman to use powers to seek and examine documents such as may exist and which are not so far in public domain or offered in Freedom of Information.
There is even a case which says that the Office of Ombudsman could be asked to determine whether or not the local voluntary community campaign, representing older people, has been treated with appropriate dignity and respect in response to the specific concerns when it has raised them with DoE.
Anyway, 21 days after the money was promised in 2010, votes were publicly switched at a special meeting of Sligo Borough Council which begun process of amending the Development Plan in sub-zero temperatures 60 hours before Christmas Day. Signed and dated pledges by councillors were reneged upon when the final vote came up.
Not one of those councillors have spoken to the community campaign team since. They have not publicly explained why they misled people on doorsteps, misled them in media, misled them in advertising and websites, misled them in private. Those councillors have not yet apologised.
Meanwhile, in last Monday night's debate, Mr Gavin's report got down to hard procedural specifics at local level.
"It was intended for good programming reasons," he explained, "to reduce impact to street users and to avoid two separate and consecutive opening up of the street to complete the water main installation in advance of the Pedestrianisation project."
Frustrating for Ratepayers
Cllr Declan Bree said it was recognised that the water mains in O'Connell Street needed to be replaced and done sooner rather than later.
However, water had been taken over and handed to Sligo County Council. "In a sense we are being held to ransom," he said.
The County Council was broke and even if the Department provided the money for the water mains work, the Council would not be able to offer a matching contribution, said Cllr Bree.
"Let's be honest, there will be no progress while the finances of the County Council remain as they are," he added.
"It's frustrating for the ratepayers in O'Connell Street. Where else would you find it but in Sligo," said Cllr Bree.
Cllr Chris MacManus mused whether some councillors might acknowledge that they "changed their word" and used this promised money to change it.
Of the half million promised, he asked: "Where is it sitting now?"
Bemused And Bewildered
Acting Director of Services Paula Gallagher said the Head of the Housing Section Executive in the Department has repeatedly said they money is there.
Ms Gallagher added: "At no stage have we been advised it is gone," she said.
Members were various bemused and bewildered to hear on Monday night that THREE tenders for the water works had fallen for various reasons.
The final words at this juncture come from Mr Gavin's report: See below;
"Implementation of the pedestrianisation scheme will not proceed in advance of the water maim (sic) project which will at the earliest not go to construction in the current year.
"It is our intention," added Mr Gavin, "to implement the pedestrianisation scheme following the water main construction and pending availability of financial support from the DoECLG."
Maim? Hmm. Those initials, DoECLG? Hmm. I had them all worked out in sequence but, guess what? The dog ate my homework.
The report presented by Mr Bartley Gavin, Director of Cranmore RegenerationTo The Mayor & Members of Sligo Borough Council
Re O’Connell Street Pedestrianisation and Enhancement
As Members are aware the Department of Environment Community and Local Government indicated in 2010 a willingness to have €500 000 made available for investment in O’Connell Street and funded through the Cranmore Regeneration allocation. I understand O’Connell Street was the subject of discussion between elected members and the then Minister for Housing, Michael Finneran TD as part of communications on the reinstatement of the Eastern Bridge Objective in the Development Plan and prior to its reinstatement.
Although very difficult to achieve, a scheme within the cost parameters pertaining, was developed with in put from Consulting Engineers O’Connor Sutton Cronin. Separately Sligo County Council tendered a project for the replacement of water main infrastructure in O’Connell Street (and elsewhere in Sligo). It was intended for good programming reasons, to reduce impact to street users and to avoid two separate and consecutive opening up of the street to complete the water main installation in advance of the Pedestrianisation project. The tender competition for the water main scheme did not materialise in a contract for the construction of the water main infrastructure as tenderers were not in a position to follow through on the tender offer and provide the contract preliminaries. Consequently to progress the water element will require a new tender competition.
Implementation of the pedestrianisation scheme will not proceed in advance of the water maim project which will at the earliest not go to construction in the current year. It is our intention to implement the pedestrianisation scheme following the water main construction and pending availability of financial support from the DoECLG.
Director Cranmore Regeneration
28th August 2012
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