The Nore is not the Rubicon - it is not too late to turn back
Published 05/08/2014 | 02:30
In 1207 Strongbow's son-in-law, William Marshall, granted a charter to Kilkenny, decreeing that the burgesses would be free of pontage. In other words, they would not have to pay tolls to use a bridge. Some 800 years later, the good burgesses of Kilkenny are loudly protesting the pont on their river.
In time-honoured fashion, they have deployed a human defence and area residents patrol the river in their boats. While it might be home to the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival and Kilkenomics, Kilkenny citizens take their medieval settlement very seriously.
The county council issued an image of the proposed bridge at dusk complete with twinkling street lights. It looks nothing like the aberration that has been suggested. But then the air-brushed image portrays nothing of the impact on the medieval quarter, the obliterated views along the river to the protected Green's Bridge and the heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) rolling into the city's architectural conservation area.
The Central Access Scheme (CAS) involves 2.5km of new road, including a 65m bridge through the city centre, at a cost of almost €11m. The project will result in increased levels of heavy traffic, demolition of medieval archaeology and will cut the city in two. Instead of directing HGVs outside the residential hinterland, the CAS will encourage heavier traffic through the city, predicted at 12,000 vehicles a day.
The council insist the access road is crucial to the development of the 13-acre site former brewery site and the 14-acre cattle-mart site by the river. But these sites are earmarked for IT and educational use, sectors that support sustainable environments. The interim county manager, John Mulholland, argues that "change is inevitable" and that this proposal has been an "objective of successive development plans". Therein lies the problem - the plan is out of date. And while change is often inevitable, destruction is not. Competing interests are also inevitable when accommodating change and managing future needs. Arriving at a solution that values our shared cultural inheritance is the key. And that solution became available when An Bord Pleanala gave approval for the continuation of the northern ring road on 25 July.
The Heritage Council, based in Kilkenny, is particularly opposed to the development. Its CEO, Michael Starrett, said there had been "no meaningful account taken of the social, economic or environmental impact on the historic city". He said it was an out-of-date plan and had no bearing on the current thinking towards traffic minimisation. Destroying the picturesque view of the 18th-century Green's Bridge (which is modelled after the Roman bridge in Rimini, Italy) makes a mockery of Part 4 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which is intended to protect our built heritage. If 'protected' views and buildings are de-listed in order to demolish them by the very authority that designated them, then our legislation is worthless.
Kilkenny is a city of outstanding international value, for tourism, archaeological and architectural reasons. There is the castle, cathedral, Rothe House, the Tholsel building, Castle Yard, and there is a street pattern based on medieval burgage plots accessed by carriageway arches and narrow lanes or 'slips'.
The demolition of the houses on Vicar Street to make way for the access ramp to the bridge will erase some of this ancient record.
Kilkenny city forms part of our national tourism grid. So, this is not just a local issue. It demonstrates that we have learned nothing from the lessons of the past, as successive 'access routes' throughout Ireland have denuded our rural and urban historic fabric. Kilkenny County Council should avoid the CAS box-ticking exercise, when there is a better alternative to traffic management.
Local TD and new Junior Minister Ann Phelan would do well to listen to her constituents - polls say the majority do not want the this central access scheme to go ahead.The Nore is not the Rubicon. It is not too late to turn back.