By Jim O'SullivanOur torturous planning process is repeatedly hijacked and influenced by considerations other than what is in the best interests of the majority.
The planning process is by now well informed as to what serves us best. After all the learning curve started 2,500 years ago and the study material is dense. It is probably true to say that no other profession has such detailed guidelines from which to discern if a planning application is, or is not, in the best interests of the community as a whole. Clearly, left to its own devices, it would yield magnificent results almost always, yet it remains in the grip of the parish pump representative and, as is almost everything else in this green and fair land, at the mercy of “aggressive pursuers of wealth”. The “inner relief road”, for example, not only divided opinion but it split the Sligo urban area in two. The road now stands as a grim reminder of a failure to observe proper parameters in planning matters---and one which we will have to live with for decades and more.
At the time that the need for a bypass was first mooted there was ample scope to actually deliver what was needed--- a road that would bypass the urban area, leaving it intact, to take away through traffic. But we got a 4 lane highway that bisected the town and created a barrier between the core and a significant part of the suburbs to the west. Even if there existed substantial impediments to placing the road where it should have been, around the built-up area, the arguments against placing it where it now is are sufficiently strong to conclude that we could have done without any such road at all and focused instead on limiting access to the built-up area by other means.
On the technical side the road flies in the face of all accumulated experience regarding such projects.
International best practice regards “interconnectivity” and “permeability in the public realm” paramount considerations and everything should focus on the safety and wellbeing of inhabitants. Plonking a carriageway through a built-up area is of course at utter odds with such principles---bringing people into close quarters with heavy traffic is always risk laden and the risk rises substantially as the age profile of those crossing the road rises or falls from the mean. Add to this the problems created by the narrowness of “feeder” roads and the junctions resemble, in the busiest periods, bumper-car rides at a fair.
For example, Lord Edward Street does not accommodate the right turn off which some are taking and who invariably get stuck at the mouth of the road causing the now familiar tail-backs. This also increases danger by virtue of the fact that cars performing a similar manoeuvre coming from the opposite side are temporarily hidden and any sudden movement which allows traffic to move forward puts both on a collision course. The road layout clearly did not envisage any such movements and only accommodates egress for cars leaving the motorway.
In addition the lights, which frequently move out of sequence, are confusing for pedestrians. It is very common to find yourself confronted by a “red man” with all relevant traffic at a standstill. The temptation for people, particularly children, to “take a chance” and cross against the lights can be overbearing---and is of course very dangerous. The elderly crossing are also confronted with these additional barriers which have led to many making the journey across the road only when necessary. Locating the road where it now is was the worst possible solution to the problem of traffic congestion, yet there it is---big, bold, wide and dangerous.
The safety issues that surround the inner relief road should be addressed. At the very least the problems of turning right onto the road needs to be looked at but by far the priority must be getting pedestrians off the road entirely. Walkovers are the obvious answer.
And just in case anyone is seriously thinking of reappraising how a proper bypass could best be delivered, they need to note the news that has just emerged---planning permission for a private hospital at Carrowroe has been granted. This development will all but scupper plans to deliver a western bypass and will greatly curtail scope for all future transport infrastructure development for the area. Here is a quote from the planner’s report highlighting the folly of the proposal and which should have seen the application refused with no further consideration:
“It is noted that the site is located adjacent to a proposed indicative corridor for Sligo by-pass route which was identified as part of a feasibility study carried out by Sligo County Council in conjunction with the National Roads Authority (NRA) in 2007 and 2008. The site is located where a major interchange is likely to connect the existing road network to a future Sligo by-pass route. It is noted that the proposed development is bounded to the west by the Sligo/Dublin railway line and to the east by the existing N4 dual carriageway and that there was no alternative feasible access route to the existing road network from the proposed development site. Given the critical location of the site in question, it is possible that the lands within the proposed development site may be required for a future by-pass. The Sligo by-pass would form part of the proposed Strategic Atlantic Corridor from Letterkenny to Sligo, Galway, Limerick and Cork”
The NRA also objected to the proposed development expressing similar concerns.
The proposed hospital is also at variance with the local development plan by way of being too far away from the centre of population. The Sligo & Environs Development Plan requires that such facilities be sited at a location which is easily accessible by public transport and pedestrians and states that such facilities should be clustered. What must be remembered here is that this development was facilitated by 16 local elected members of the Council themselves (details elsewhere) who went to the considerable bother of rezoning the land to accommodate the building of this private hospital full in the knowledge that it drives a horse and four through their own development plan. This might be understandable in the face of widespread clamour for such a facility from the local community but the fact is that the only people who are clamouring are those seeking permission to proceed with the project.
In addition to such technical matters, should this development proceed, it will create great problems for healthcare delivery to public patients in the area by lessening the pressure to ensure that services are delivered where they should be so that all citizens can equally access them----at Sligo General Hospital (SGH). That is where the focus of elected representatives should be----ensuring that the widest possible range of treatments are available at SGH.
GPs cannot refer a public patient to a private hospital, so should this development proceed we will see some being treated in their home town while others will continue to be forced to take to the roads in search of treatment not provided at SGH. What must be remembered here is that this region has the lowest per capita income in the country and the lowest uptake of private health insurance. That means that this private hospital will cater only for a minority who live here.
Should it come to pass, we cannot place the blame entirely on the “member of the Board” who signed off the grant of permission----remember those 16 members of Sligo County Council who voted to re-zone land to accommodate it in the first place. Without that vote, the problem would never have arisen.
But all of this again begs the question, how did such a proposal come to get permission---who or what is being served. Maybe those 16 councillors will step forward and tell us who they thought they were serving by voting the way they did.
The answer to these recurring problems could lie in the adoption of a more transparent and open planning model. Such a model exists. The “advocacy” model addresses the reality that there are large inequalities in the “bargaining” process between groups within society---large numbers are simply unrepresented. The “advocacy” model seeks to ensure that all people are equally represented in the process. Public participation is a central tenet of this model and the role of the planner is expanded so that he/she advocates directly for under-represented groups and pro-actively encourages them to become part of the process.
Whatever we do, we must protect this vital area from those who only seek to serve their own interests---and particularly where such activity has the potential to carry a huge cost to other citizens.