Last week local newspapers carried several pages advertising Kildare County Council’s Compulsory Purchase Notice relating to lands to be acquired for the Outer Relief Road on the south side of Athy. This means we are now approaching the final stretch in the long struggle to get traffic relieving measures in place for the town of Athy. New roads were first mooted in 1976 when the Urban District Council engaged the services of Fearon & Associates. Their report, issued some months later, recommended the construction of an Inner Relief Road as an immediate short-term measure, with an Outer Relief Road as a medium to long term solution to the town’s developing traffic problems.
The report like most reports submitted to government agencies was not acted upon and remained out of sight and out of mind for almost ten years. In 1985 the issue of the relief roads was raised and during the subsequent discussions it became clear that the report which recommended the construction of an Inner Relief Road through the back square also suggested that no development would be allowed along that new road which was to have 6ft. high walls on either side. So much for the quality of urban planning in the 1970s!
This disclosure prompted much heated debate in the Council chamber and alarm amongst the local townspeople and resulted in a decision to remove the walls from any future road development in the town. It also prompted the council officials to get a compliant Urban Council to entrust responsibility for any new road development in Athy to Kildare County Council, thereby hoping to limit any further criticism by the townspeople.
Over the following years however the Inner Relief Road became a contentious issue and a matter of great concern to the general public. In September 1998, the Athy Urban Development Group was formed to oppose the construction of the Inner Relief Road and to promote the alternative outer relief route. The group organised a petition seeking a plebiscite on the best option for the town. The petition signed by over 2,000 local people was ignored by the Urban District Council.
Council officials claimed that the consultants engaged by the Council identified only 15% of the town traffic as ‘through’ traffic. This apparently strengthened the County Council’s arguments in favour of an Inner Relief Road. However, these traffic figures, while used by Council officials on several occasions to support the case for an Inner Relief Road subsequently turned out to be incorrect. The ‘through’ traffic was in fact in the region of 45%, as was subsequently outlined to the Planning Appeal Board hearing by the Council’s own traffic consultants.
The opponents of the Inner Relief Road, led by the Urban Development Group, consistently put forward the Outer Relief Road as the best solution for the town’s traffic problems. The nine member Urban District Council was split 6-3 in favour of the Inner Relief Road and the road controversy became a local election issue in June 1999. That election resulted in the election of five councillors who opposed the Inner Relief Road and favoured the building of the Outer Relief Road, but regrettably within a few weeks of his election one of the Councillors changed his opinion and so gave a majority to the proponents of the Inner Relief Road.
The controversy eventually ended with An Bord Pleanala holding a public hearing following Kildare County Council’s application to build the Inner Relief Road. The hearing was held in the Stand House Hotel, the Curragh and lasted for a week and a day, with numerous consultants and experts called to give evidence on behalf of Kildare County Council. The decision of the Planning Board delivered some months later refused permission for the Inner Relief Road. This is believed to be the first time the Planning Appeal Board rejected a road development proposal by a local authority. Several years have since passed and it is only within the last couple of years that the Outer Relief Road championed by the local people was actively taken up by Kildare County Council.
‘But for Taaffe we would have the Outer Relief Road years ago’ is a canard on the same scale of reality as the oft repeated claim that ‘Dunnes Stores were stopped from setting up in Athy by a well-known local trader’. That nonsense was actually put to me last week by an otherwise intelligent person who for whatever reason failed to understand that myself and the other opponents of the Inner Relief Road supported from an early stage the construction of the Outer Relief Road. It has taken Kildare County Council 41 years to accept that the Outer Relief Road and not the Inner Relief Road was the best option for the town of Athy. The Outer Relief Road when built can make a huge contribution to the industrial and commercial development of Athy.