Thursday, February 4, 1999

Inner Relief Road and Patrick Shaffrey

Patrick Shaffrey is an eminent man in the architectural world and one who has written well and with some eloquence on the Irish town. Writing some years ago on the subject he advised that “a town’s distinctive appearance, charm and quality should be retained despite the demands of modern development”. In this sentence he was clearly recognising and acknowledging that modern development should not destroy the character and quality of our towns.

He was even more direct in his criticism of the then prevailing attitude among road planners and town planners alike when he posed the question
“are towns to be planned for the motor car or for people?” He answered his own question when he wrote in his well received book “The Irish Town” “streets become highways. The very size and weight of the huge lorries rumbling through our streets cause structural problems as well as pollution from fumes, noise and vibration. In theory the only traffic that should be allowed into a residential street is that which may have business there”. Continuing his arguments against the demands of vehicular traffic he claimed that “it is not possible to meet the demands of modern traffic and retain any semblance of character and quality in our towns. Large transport lorries present a threat to the quality of life in towns. The increase in traffic and the tremendous problems caused by them may be a blessing in disguise. It should force local authorities to tackle traffic problems in a more comprehensive way. By far the most satisfactory way to resolve the problem is to provide a by pass”.

I have quoted Patrick Shaffrey at some length because his views on the vexed question facing the people of Athy in relation to the relief road issue are particularly relevant. Even more so when it is realised that the man who wrote some years ago “in the smaller towns the need for a by pass is equally pressing not so much from the economic but from the environmental point of view” is the same man now retained by Kildare County Council to make the inner relief road plans more palatable for the locals of Athy.

Patrick might not wish his brief from the County Council to be stated in those stark simplistic terms and would perhaps prefer to have it noted as the challenge of incorporating the inner relief road into the structures of the town while protecting the character of Athy. What was once referred to as the inner relief road is no longer termed as such. The most recent references to the traffic highway which if built would run parallel to Leinster Street and Duke Street terms this development as “a new street”. Certainly matters have moved on from the original 1975 proposal which would have had an inner relief road running through the centre of Athy with six foot high walls on either side. Now the great selling point for the inner relief road as perceived by the County Council officials who are pushing the project is the opportunity such a roadway will create for the opening of new businesses in the town. That was until last week however, when Patrick Shaffrey reported back to the County Council and the Urban Council on his perceptions of how the new roadway could be “knitted in” to the existing town fabric.

One of the most extraordinary bombshells which was dropped in the Council chamber by Patrick Shaffrey went off unnoticed by the protagonist of the new street theory. In presenting his ideas on the opportunities for development on the new street Shaffrey pointed out that the intention is to maintain the existing Leinster Street and Duke Street as the main shopping area. Businesses on the new street will not be allowed to compromise existing businesses in the town. This necessitates limiting development on the new street which I am told will be one kilometre long (if not longer) to what the officials termed “secondary retail development”. I asked what this meant and the only explanation given was that “shoe repair business” was what was in mind. Our last remaining shoemaker/shoe repairer had better look to his last if the town Council succeeds in its plan to turn the town into the shoe repair centre of Europe!

Emily Square from where a modern single span bridge would stretch across the river Barrow bringing traffic alongside the elegant St. Dominic’s Church would lose its car parking capacity under Mr. Shaffrey’s proposals. The Square would be pedestrianised and the road through the back Square linking the Barrow bridge and Offaly Street would be closed. In addition the proposed roadway/street will create particular difficulties for pedestrians coming to St. Dominic’s Church from Convent Lane with the severance of the Church from its natural approach route.

Of particular interest to cinema goers is the suggestion of Mr. Shaffrey that a new cinema be constructed on a site to the right of proposed roadway/street as one exists from St. Dominic’s Church car park. Of course a considerable portion of the car park will be lost to the new roadway adding further parking difficulties to those posed by the loss of the Emily Square parking. The new cinema would be sited on an East/West axis stretching across properties presently owned by two local business firms. How Griffin Hawes and Perrys Supermarket are to overcome the loss of their car parks and yards to facilitate the possible construction of the new cinema is something that even I did not have the temerity to ask Mr. Shaffrey.

Another highlight of the night’s proceedings was the suggestion that the inner relief road would travel by way of another new bridge over the Grand Canal straight across through Tegral’s premises exiting on the Kilkenny Road through the existing factory entrance. This plan was devised to get over the apparently insurmountable difficulties posed by having the inner relief road going up by the canal side and coming out the at the canal bridge. You may recall that Acer
McCarthy the traffic experts engaged by Kildare County Council a year and a half ago confirmed that such an approach would require the demolition of the canal side houses and a number of properties on William Street to give lorries sufficient room to turn at the canal bridge. The alternative now is to knock down part of Tegral’s factory and re-locate it elsewhere.

As I listened to Mr. Shaffrey and his team exposing for us the opportunities which could be created if the inner relief road or street as he now calls it went ahead I felt somewhat bemused and not a little concerned for the Athy Five who continue to support the inner relief road. How could they bring themselves to push the new road/street theory which now apparently hangs so perilously on an ill defined type of development described by the officials as “secondary retail”. Cobblers I hear you say!

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