Work on €4m Kilkenny bridge could be stalled for months by protests
Backers of a controversial new bridge project in Kilkenny city fear that ongoing protests which have already delayed construction work will put the €4m project back by months.
The new crossing over the river Nore, which supporters say will open up the city centre for development and business, is part of the wider €11m Central Access Scheme (CAS) which has been in offing for decades and is still dividing parts of the community.
Since pile-driving started on site in the river at the end of June, protesters have gathered in a bid to frustrate the work and, according to Kilkenny County Council, delays have so far cost the taxpayer €180,000.
However, opponents of the scheme say the new bridge, just south of the existing Green's Bridge which is over two centuries old, will destroy parts of the medieval centre of Kilkenny.
A loose alliance of opponents is maintaining a 24-hour presence close to the construction site and has floated three rafts on the Nore to try and frustrate the work.
"We're starting into our fifth week tomorrow," protester Mark Stewart said. "We're here as long as it takes."
According to Kilkenny County Council's director of roads and transportation Simon Walton, an agreement with the fisheries board means the current work in the river to erect four supporting piers for the bridge must end by late September and, if it doesn't, cannot resume until early summer 2015.
"The risk we're running at the moment is that we'll not achieve the end of September deadline," Mr Walton told the Irish Independent.
"That could lead to a significant increase in costs over and above the contract, arising from delays.
"We're hoping we'll have the work completed but if the disruptive protests continue to the degree which they have over the last month, there's a risk we won't achieve the end of September deadline."
Marketing professional Des Doyle, who got involved in the informal protest movement six weeks ago, said a review of the entire project should have been allowed by the county council.
"If the consultation process was adequate, people wouldn't be standing in the river," he said, adding that 7,000 people have signed a petition calling for a review of the scheme.
Meanwhile, resident of nearby Kennyswell and one of the driving forces behind the current opposition movement, Sheila Tuohy, said numbers have been increasing since the public became more aware of the details of the project.
"It's the scale and the location," she said.
"The scale of the bridge in a city like Kilkenny, which is compact, is just baffling. It's just going to ruin the centre of Kilkenny."
One of the key points of the opponents' argument is the existence of buildings along the route which they say are of national importance and part of Kilkenny's medieval story.
However, local accountant Paschal Bergin, who grew up on Dean Street which is at the centre of the CAS route, dismissed talk of the city's heritage being lost forever.
"There's no heritage site being knocked down. The road is going from the Castlecomer Road through the mart site which is derelict at the moment and has been derelict since the Celtic Tiger because An Bord Pleanala turned down planning permission for a development," he said.
The former Smithwick's brewery site is earmarked for development and this is linked to the new road, he said, and will help "bring much-needed jobs to the area".
While he is a member of the Kilkenny Business Club and the Chamber of Commerce, he said he got involved on the pro-side in a personal capacity because of "mis-information being spread on the anti-CAS side".
Chamber of Commerce president Martin Costello, from a long-established jewellery business in the city, said the chamber's position had always been that the bridge would be "an advantage" to Kilkenny.
Opponents say the ring-road, which extends around three-quarters of the city, should be completed to try and resolve traffic problems and this would make the bridge unnecessary, but Mr Costello said both should be built.
"We feel that, with both, Kilkenny will be able to grow," he said.
"Kilkenny has been stifled and we've been ignored. If we want Kilkenny to grow and be a place where companies and people want to move to, we need to be able to expand the city a bit."