At one time towns such as Athy were destination centres rather than places for passing through on the journey to somewhere else. Roads led to the centre of the town where commercial and market activities were the life blood of urban life. Nowadays with the advances in travel provincial inland towns receive traffic which passes through from one end to the other on journeys elsewhere, bringing with them no commercial advantage whatsoever to towns passed through.
The need to protect towns from the worst excesses of passing traffic led to the creation of town planning criteria which included the construction of bypasses. This is a relatively new concept and one which for a long number of years was beyond the financial ability of successive Irish Governments to implement. The concept of diverting through traffic away from where people shopped and did their daily business is a meritorious one, but in the years before Ireland joined the EEC funding was not available for such projects.
County Councils charged with responsibility for improving roads within their areas recognising the financial constraints under which they operated once adopted the strategy now dismissively labelled “the straight line concept” of road construction. The easiest and cheapest way of connecting two points on a map was a straight line and so it was how in 1975 Kildare County Council first put forward the idea of an inner relief road for Athy. The road was to run parallel to the existing main street in a straight line from the Dublin Road to the Kilkenny Road. It was the cheapest option in terms of building costs when the environmental and social cost elements were ignored.
The improvement in the country’s finances in the meantime and the gradual realisation that road planning must not always take precedence over social and urban planning has led local authorities throughout Ireland to embrace the best town planning practices. Thus we find Kildare County Council in it’s current development plan stating :-
“The Council proposes in cooperation with the National Roads Authority and the Department of the Environment during the period of the plan to continue to design and construct major road systems which will in effect bypass all major towns.”
This road design intention has been clearly signalled in the County Development Plan, presumably because those responsible recognise that the destruction of our towns cannot be countenanced by implementing the cheap but destructive “straight line concept” road building ideas of twenty five years ago. We in Athy are still labouring away with a 1975 road plan which would put a traffic route through the heart of our town. On Saturday 27th November at 9.30am in the Urban District Council Chambers the nine public representatives elected at the recent local elections will commence a Planning Meeting which will end later that day with the adoption of either an inner relief road or a bypass road for the town of Athy. The meeting comes in the same week as the Government’s announcement to make available £40 billion for improving Irish towns in terms of roads and services. There has never been a better time for Athy to advance it’s plans for a bypass, thereby ensuring the development potential of the county’s best placed urban settlement.
Much toing and froing has been noticed in recent weeks with some of the newly elected Councillors being chauffeured around the town in a Mercedes while being briefed on the “benefits” which they are led to believe will flow from the building of an inner relief road. No such benefits, economic or otherwise, will flow from the building of a road which would be so destructive of the best elements of our town. Indeed, one major industrialist who has looked at Athy in terms of his company’s future plans succinctly put the issue in perspective when he said :- “Any Irish town which would countenance such an out-dated road scheme cannot hold out any hope of attracting overseas development.”
The Shaffrey Report which is a series of speculative drawings, has been touted as a plan for the future development of Athy. Not even Mr. Shaffrey who was hired by Kildare County Council to make the inner relief road concept as palatable as possible for the local people, does not make any such claim. He confirms in his report that his “proposals are indicative only.” They do not constitute development plans for the town and are merely conjectural drawings.
How then can one recently elected Urban Councillor who canvassed prior to the elections on the basis of the right of the local people to a plebiscite now magisterially announce in last weeks paper that :- “having looked at the plans I am now voting for the inner relief road.” What “plans” has he examined? - dare I say Mr. Shaffrey’s report. Does the public representative in question realise that the drawings for multiplex cinemas, civic centres, multi-story car parks, etc. are not based on any proposal or plan for their future development? The Shaffrey report might as well have been prepared by the local musical society which like Mr. Shaffrey has neither the finances or the mandate to implement any elements of the report. Behind the fancy design work included in Mr. Shaffrey’s report is a County Council anxious to build a traffic route through the centre of the town. The report is a smoke screen, designed to deflect attention from the reality of the County Council’s plans. It has apparently proved irresistible to a number of people who like our young public representative misguidingly believes Mr. Shaffrey’s thoughts and drawings to be a plan of action, sanctioned and ready to be financed by Kildare County Council. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a series of drawings designed to impress the impressionable and win support for the inner relief road project which in itself is contrary to the Council’s own development plan. Remember what is in the County Council Development Plan re the construction of road systems to bypass all major towns! Too many half truths have been spoken about Mr. Shaffrey’s plan. It does not predict, indicate, or otherwise suggest that development on any large scale will follow the building of the inner relief road. Neither does it suggest that the future development of Athy relies on such a road.
It is time for everyone concerned with the future of Athy, whether public representative or otherwise, to know the key question facing us on 27th November :-
“IS THE FUTURE OF OUR TOWN BEST SERVED BY BUILDING A ROAD TO FACILITATE THE PASSAGE OF TRAFFIC THROUGH THE CENTRE OF ATHY RATHER THAN BUILDING A BYPASS?”
That’s the question to be answered and it must be answered honestly by those public representatives elected to serve our interests.
During the recent local elections the inner relief road was the important issue on which many of the election hopefuls canvassed support for one side or the other. The results of that election were a revelation. Supporters of the inner relief road lost heavily, while those candidates who opposed the routing of traffic through the centre of Athy received an unprecedented high vote from the electors of Athy. The message was and still remains quite clear. The people of Athy unquestionably showed where they stood on the inner relief road issue and their trust must be reciprocated and honoured when it comes to the vote on 27th November.
Integrity and honesty is no less an attribute in politics than in any other walk of life. Sometimes the finger can be pointed at a national politician who fails to honour some minor pre-election promise or other. However I know of no politician, national or local, who has reneged on an issue as fundamental to the electorate as the inner relief road is to the people of Athy and still retain the respect and support of the electorate. “My word is my bond” is the proud boast of every man and woman who seeks to retain the respect of their colleagues in business or politics. Let’s hope that integrity and honesty wins out when the public representatives meet on Saturday, 27th November at 9.30am to decide the future of Athy.