Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Inner Relief Road controversy

The 1990s heralded the Celtic Tiger years and with it brought extra demands on Athy Urban District Council in terms of planning and development.  These demands were highlighted during the Council’s review of the Town Development Plan for 2000.  The Development Plan put on display for the statutory period was the subject of 484 submissions, the majority of which were described in the Council’s Minute Book as ‘a standard letter from individuals’ relating to the Inner Relief Road objective in the plan.  The Inner Relief Road first mooted in 1976 was under attack by many local people who felt that an Outer Relief Road offered greater possibilities for the industrial and commercial development of Athy. 

Consideration of the Development Plan and the various submissions received continued throughout April and May 1999.  At the Council meeting on 31st May 1999 the Town Clerk informed the members that at 4.00 p.m. that day he was notified by fax that Mr. Justice Quirke of the High Court had granted an interim injunction to Michael Raggett Builders.  The Court Order restrained the Council from adopting the Town Development Plan without giving due consideration to the submission made on behalf of Messrs Raggetts.  Raggetts wanted certain lands zoned for housing which the Council officials were not prepared to recommend to the elected representatives.  They were apparently concerned that if they acceded to Raggetts’ request consideration of the Development Plan would have to be postponed while it was again put on public display.  If this happened the Plan could not be adopted by the outgoing Council members amongst whom there was a majority in favour of the Inner Relief Road objective.  The Restraining Order was later renewed by the High Court beyond the life of the Council which was replaced following elections in June on that year.

  The Inner Relief Road proposal was a major issue in those local elections and the result of the elections gave a 5:4 majority of newly elected Councillors opposed to the Inner Relief Road.  However, before the Council could meet, one of those Councillors changed his position, thereby ensuring a narrow majority for the pro Inner Relief Road side.  The newly elected Council eventually passed the Development Plan at its meeting on 10th April 2000.  Attempts to withdraw the Inner Relief Road as an objective in the Development Plan were defeated by 5 votes to 4.  The victory was however short-lived as An Taisce pressed for an oral hearing which was granted by the Minister for Local Government.  The subsequent oral hearing which lasted for a week and a day in the Standhouse Hotel on the Curragh was followed by the Planning Board’s decision that permission for the Inner Relief Road for Athy was refused.  This is believed to have been the first time that the Planning Appeal Board rejected a road development proposal by a local authority.  The decision was the subject of an unsuccessful Judicial Review application by Kildare County Council in the High Court.

The defeat of the Inner Relief Road proposal did not go down well with the Council officials or the majority of the Councillors who had supported it.  Despite the Planning Appeal Board’s decision and that of the High Court the Inner Relief Road remained an objective in the Town Development Plan.  Indeed for some years after the events of 2000 the Inner Relief Road continued to be canvassed by Council officials as the solution not only to Athy’s traffic problems, but also the town’s declining retailing life.

It was only in very recent years that the merits of the Outer Relief Road came to be accepted by those who had previously canvassed for the Inner Relief Road.  Funding has now been promised for the Outer Relief Road and a recent public consultation process gave the local people an opportunity to review the three route options which are now under consideration.  To the original route has been added a route which skirts around local sports fields in Geraldine and leaves the playing pitches intact.  The third route is on the northern side of the town.

Rather strangely, the results of the recent traffic surveys conducted in and around Athy were not made known during the public consultation process.  One would have thought that such information was relevant and indeed a necessary consideration for any decision to be made on the best route option. However, given the County Council’s past history of furnishing misleading traffic survey results as confirmed at the oral hearing in the Stand House nothing surprises me.  Here’s hoping the County Council move quickly to get the Outer Relief Road in place and hopefully without infringing on the towns unique sporting complex which is enjoyed by the local GAA, Rugby, Tennis and Soccer Clubs.  

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