04 Jul 2022

Liveable Limerick: Council must listen to ideas for final design of O’Connell Street

City deserves solution that will put it ‘on the global map’, writes John Moran

THE delightful scenes for the lighting of the Christmas lights were a timely reminder of how much fun our main city street can be. With traffic pushed aside, people took back the street for themselves.

Images of happy families on the street were tweeted widely and with pride showing #Liveablelimerick all over the world and showcasing the Mid-West to great effect.

After the announcements of funding for the Opera site it is another reminder of just how much our long neglected city centre is transforming before our eyes.

For the naysayers, it was positive proof that people want to have fun together on our city streets – public spaces that belong in the first instance to them. They do not need a warm summer evening. Wrapped up in coats, they are more than willing to brave the winter chill.

Meanwhile, the O’Connell Street - Limerick Urban Centre Revitalisation (LUCROC) team continue to finalise plans for the redevelopment of O’Connell Street for a last round of consultation. We hope that they were watching too.

Last time around, I witnessed a commitment among our own diverse #Liveablelimerick team to take advantage of this once in a lifetime moment to reshape our city’s core. Ideas were developed with the help of Limerick and Danish expert architects.

But, more satisfyingly, our team watched more and more people get involved on Twitter and directly respond to the different choices presented by the LUCROC options and by our own images.

As the final countdown starts to the LUCROC publication, we want to remind readers once more of some of the choices presented.

You can see clearly in the city’s original options, strong prioritisation of traffic and buses to people. The very regrettable choice put cars and buses using O’Connell Street as a short cut through the city before the needs of others.

For the #liveablelimerick ideas, people and communities come first. Whether for sports enthusiasts, culture buffs or just people looking to relax, cars only passing through our city give way to a new life on the public space.

After one of the most active public consultations the city has seen, it is only fair now that the LUCROC plans when revised reflect the many ideas and thoughts shared with them. Public consultation is a two way civic engagement.

When asked for their views, the public should engage and give their views. When they do, it is only fair that their observations and preferences are taken into account.

Not everyone can get what they want but the two way street requires that where the demands are not acceptable or not in the common good, strong and valid reasons are published.

Versions of the new revised plans have started to circulate as they are being finalised. Initial feedback suggests they are not the transformative model that people want to see. The delayed announcement gives hope that the team is going back to the drawing board to raise the level of ambition once more. One thing seems clear: It is important not to drop the level of ambition just because the budget needs to be stretched too far.

Another thing seems obvious, the plan must work for the future and not just today’s dynamics. Limerick is a city planning to double or more in size and with plans to increase the number of residents of the Georgian core from some 1,500 to well over 5,000.

Minor traffic delays now from a new configuration will pale in comparison to what we will see when the city doubles in population if future-proofed options are not adopted today.

Hard work has restored our reputation and made the city a very attractive choice for investment and people. Let’s not allow our success ruin that as other cities have done without proper planning.

Finally, Limerick has waited too long to reverse the awful choices that cut our city centre spaces with one way traffic rat-runs. It now deserves a solution which will put our city on the global map for best in practice urban planning.

The response of the city and region in rejecting the suggested caps on growth in the National Planning Framework shows clearly that City Hall and its stakeholders yearn for a new golden era. It is essential that the LUCROC plans match this welcome ambition.

Whether it is the essential question of people over cars or vice versa, whether it is the type of street furniture and public spaces offered or even whether existing traffic flows (such as turning left from Roches Street onto O’Connell Street) must be maintained, the logic of the choices from the design team must be clearly explained.

It is not enough to simply publish a new map or 3D videos.

This is the only way to make the final public engagement meaningful and allow the councillors to make informed choices.

Indeed, why not share all the public consultations received so others can compare too.

To their credit, the public has engaged admirably in this process, sharing images from all over the world for what they would like to see in their own city. Cross party engagement from councillors showed that they too want something more on O’Connell Street than what was proposed.

It is important now that City Hall and the LUCROC team show they were listening and not just biding their time to come back for this final consultation with the same proposals which were rejected by so many. The era of plans baked up in a backroom and imposed on the city is over. Limerick has shown through this process that it cares and wants more.

We saw first-hand the excitement of the kids and adults on O’Connell Street when the lights went on for Christmas. Now let’s hope the LUCROC plans will also create the same excitement. To help them along, we have drawn a new image for next year’s ‘Christmas at the Crescent’, which shows what could be done with the beating heart of our city.

- John Moran is former secretary general of the Department of Finance, a social entrepreneur and chair of the Hunt Museum. A meeting for interested parties will take place this Thursday at 6pm in Narrative 4, 58 O’Connell Street.

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