Wednesday 25 April 2018

Comprehensive traffic plan is the answer to this problem

'Drogheda without Laurence's Gate would be like Romeo without Juliet'... but will the 'close it' campaigners win the day, or will it take the Northern Cross route and maybe a decade before the subject is finally resolved. Hubert Murphy reports

Close the Gate campaigners presenting their petition to Mayor Oliver Tully.
Close the Gate campaigners presenting their petition to Mayor Oliver Tully.

It was a much awaited gathering at Barlow House. Word was, a vote could take place on whether Laurence's Gate would stay open to traffic or be closed for good, so allowing tourists from all over the planet to take a picture of the monument - without the risk of ending up in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

But council meetings are notorious for scuppering big headlines - and last Monday was no different.

The proposed closure didn't make the agenda due to 'unforeseen circumstances' and it could well be summer before it raises its head again.

And even then, it's highly likely that it will go to a special public meeting, so start reserving a seat in the Barbican centre.

Last week's meeting did give the 'Close' campaign a chance to address the members and Ann McVeigh - as ever - didn't disappoint.

There is a great passion in her voice, one born from a love of her town and its people. If the gate closed tomorrow, she'd be the first up it and it might be a job to get her down.

Ann epitimised what the gate is all about and what it means to the town.

It's a symbol of everything Drogheda, adopted as a logo by clubs and organisations for decades, a real focal point.

She said back in 1958, the Buttergate was dismantled and almost completely destroyed.

In 2016, Laurence's Gate was struck again and again, horrific images of traffic wedged in it - images that went around the world.

'In 50 years time how will the papers report it. Were we the generation to step up to the mark?,' she asked.

Like most of those in the room, she was too aware of the 'elephant in the room' - where will the hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year that use the gate go if it's closed?

Councillors, for the most part, came out in full support, saying the gate did need to be closed.

One of the images shown by the group was of the area between Laurence's gate and the Chord Road without the gate in the image - as if it disappeared.

'Drogheda without the gate would be like Romeo without Juliet,' Cllr Richie Culhane was moved to say. 'We can't mess up on this,' he added.

Ann McVeigh continued that back in 2006, as part of a walled plan for the town, they were told Drogheda had 'no vision' - yet she felt the gate was 'the jewel in the crown'.

'We have to be brave, make an historic and courageous decision and allow the 400,000 people who come to the Fleadh walk the battlements,' she enthused.

She was warmly congratulated on the presentation - if ever a gauntlet was thrown down, this was it.

But harsh reality is threatening to spoil this party.

The bigger picture is that the opening of the Northern Cross Route is the key to traffic issues in that part of the town and it could be a decade away, unless a major campaign gets underway.

Cllr Tommy Byrne has been pretty vocal on the matter, blasting authorities for 'wasting millons' on a proposal for a Narrow Water Bridge at Omeath, while the main objective should be the cross route, freeing up entry to the port and Ballymakenny areas and taking traffic away from the town centre.

'The traffic plan is key and we must consider the people who live near the gate. People can't even get down the Dublin Road as it is.

'We need the northern cross route and then a bridge over the Boyne,' he added.

The lack of detail in the traffic plan with the present proposal is obvious, making part of Francis Street two-way and reversing the flow on some streets off the Chord Road, the height of it.

A previous plan in 2012 was much wider, taking in Shop Street, Dyer St and Peter Street in a bid to even out the flow.

Cllr Pio Smith said that is something that must be considered again.

Cllr Kevin Callan has been a long time campaigner to see the structure closed and it remains his goal.

Cllr Godfrey said 'Cromwell himself didn't do as much damage to the gate' as was being inflicted by modern day traffic.

He said the lorry strikes were like 'an invasion of the Russians'.

But he described Scarlet Street as 'lethal' and said there were issues with the Francis Street proposal.

Paul Bell urged that a special public meeting be held to address the issues.

He also remarked that the biggest issue with the Northern Cross Route was a tunnel that would have to go over the railway line or under it.

In expressing his wish to see the gate close, he added 'we can't please everyone.'

Cllr Joanna Byrne praised the Close The Gate group for the profile they had created for the town and she felt it helped the town secure the Fleadh Cheoil for next year. Her Sinn Fein party colleague Kenneth Flood said the gate was a 'heritage treasure'.

Mayor Oliver Tully said the closure depended on a traffic plan that must work.

Drogheda Independent