Metropolitan Mayor Cllr Daniel Butler
LIMERICK’S councillors will not have the final say on multi-million euro proposals to transform O’Connell Street with Metropolitan Mayor Cllr Daniel Butler blaming ‘serial objectors’ for decision being moved to An Bord Pleanala in Dublin.
Normally, major public projects like the €9.1m scheme to provide public realms, and wider footpaths on Limerick’s main thoroughfare, go through a process known as ‘part eight’, with local councillors ultimately having the final say.
But in a move described as “unfortunate” by Cllr Butler, members have been stripped of the right to decide on the proposals.
Cllr Butler turned fire on serial objectors, saying the local authority is in essence reacting to them by moving it straight to the national planning authority.
“The reason it has gone to Dublin is because of submissions by members of the public who seem hell-bent on making submissions to these processes under the guise of doing the right thing, or what they think is right.
“But in the long term, they are costing us in terms of allowing for real consultation locally with people making submissions,” he told the Limerick Leader.
It means the scheme - which is being delivered through €4.5m European funding, and the equivalent locally - will be decided by An Bord Pleanala in Dublin.
The move was confirmed this week by Maria Donoghue, senior executive architect with Limerick City and County Council, who also outlined the fresh plans, which crucially still include lanes of traffic.
Cllr Butler said: “The ideal is it stays as a part eight planning process and it stays local. What is happening now removes the opportunity for consultation locally, and gives it to Dublin. I think that’s unfortunate, but that’s the advice the council have received.”
Having the proposals decided nationally will also mean councillors cannot be lobbied for changes to the scheme, which received an underwhelming response when it was presented last year.
There was criticism of the fact that lanes of traffic remained in the plan - when many called for a full car ban.
A high-profile group of business people warned the plans, if they went through as proposed, would lead to Limerick becoming a “ghost city” in the evening, and warning the plans are not “sufficiently ambitious”.
In the fresh plans, the council has made a small number of changes, including notably the expansion of the public realm at the Crescent, and opening a public art competition for designers to submit ideas for an iconic piece of art, or an installation at the Bedford Row junction.
Speaking at the Car Free Day, where the altered plans were presented, she said: “We are putting together a design brief for a public art and design on the junction of Bedford Row, Thomas Street and O’Connell Street. It’s quite a significant junction, and we want to mark it in some way.
“It doesn’t have to be a canopy. It will be more indicative than that. It could be a piece of art. We will open a design contest to architects. We don’t want to take away from the vista of the Georgian Street. We are up for whatever the best and most innovative idea is.”
Cllr Butler believes this will present a big opportunity for the public to have their say.
“This is where we need to show real ambition in terms of the detailed design,” he said.
Ms Donoghue confirmed there will be a single bus lane, while one lane of traffic would be kept, with contraflow cycling. She indicated some changes will still be possible ahead of the planning applications.
Existing parking spaces would likely be eliminated, she added.
It’s likely the planning application will go to An Bord Pleanala by Christmas.