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Debate rages over street plan

There has been varied feedback to new mobility plans around Sligo city centre as bollards are installed to give pedestrians more space. Cathal Mullaney reports

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Pedestrians on a busy Castle St on Friday afternoon. Pics: Carl Brennan

Pedestrians on a busy Castle St on Friday afternoon. Pics: Carl Brennan

Pedestrians on a busy Castle St on Friday afternoon. Pics: Carl Brennan

The 'new normal' has necessitated changes in the way we do our business - and changes in the way shoppers move around Sligo town has been met with a mixed reaction.

The implementation of a new Covid-19 mobility plan in the town has caused significant debate over the past week.

Introduced in an effort to make sure that adequate social and physical distancing can be possible for pedestrians in the urban area, the plan has necessitated the introduction of wider areas to accommodate pedestrians on some of the busier streets.

In order to provide the space required, some parking spaces have been removed so pedestrians have more space to walk in each direction. The new system is in place since June 15th.

However, 'click and collect' spaces have been created on streets such as Market Street and Lower John Street, where motorists can park for a short period of time if they have something to pick up in one of the nearby outlets.

In all, Phase One of the plan entails measures on six of Sligo's streets: Grattan Street, Castle Street, Market Street, Holborn Street, Lower John Street and Stephen Street.

The council suggests that Phase Two of the plan may entail a one-way system for pedestrians on some of the core areas in the weeks and months to come.

Gail McGibbon of Sligo Business Improvement District (BID) says the organisation gave feedback to the council on research it had access to.

"Covid-19 has had a real and serious impact on our lives," Ms McGibbon told The Sligo Champion.

"From March 14th, when cancelling the St Patrick's Day Parade, we have all made adjustments together to work our way through these new changes.

"Sligo Business Improvement District recently gave feedback to Sligo County Council on the latest consumer research from the Association of Town and City Management, Institute of Place Management, International Downtown Association and Failte Ireland.

"The research showed that space and additional room to move were top of the list in customers' decision in coming back into town.

"This result was also found high on the list with research by Red Sea, IPSOS, PWC and Failte Ireland."

The need to widen the area for pedestrians was taken due to the fact that Sligo's streets are quite narrow in some parts.

Ms McGibbon also emphasised that the plan is temporary, and that other towns in a similar position to Sligo have been forced to adopt similar measures.

She continued: "As a Heritage Town, Sligo has some streets with narrow footpaths. In order to allow for more space and in advance of businesses reopening, additional walkways were added to three streets by Sligo County Council.

Also added were 6 free 20 minute 'click and collect' spaces at Market Cross and John Street and two additional loading bays at Market Cross and Holborn Street.

Taking feedback from over 50 businesses that are open and feedback received by email that includes businesses who are getting ready to reopen, the majority agreed that additional space should be trialled on a temporary basis to encourage and reassure customers.

"This is a temporary measure and Sligo BID will continue to monitor its effectiveness and welcome feedback from both businesses and town centre users.," Ms McGibbon added.

"Within the Irish Town and City Network which consists of 23 towns and cities, towns with a similar streetscape to Sligo have installed similar measures.

"It is about making the town centre as accessible for as many as possible and, again, emphasising that this is temporary."

However, Mark White of Barton Smith Lock and Safe on Stephen Street believes that the measures are not temporary.

Mr White accepts that some measures were required, but his concern is that in some cases, they will force consumers away from the urban area.

"My initial take is that it is going to decimate the town," Mr White told The Sligo Champion. "It's going to drive people away from the town.

"We just have to get on with it, that's the reaction. People are not happy with not being able to park.

"There is a working document on Sligo County Council website.

"It's my understanding that it won't be temporary.

"A Covid plan for making ease of access of people is all well and good and yes, it is a very good idea. But, not just on Stephen Street, Castle Street and Grattan Street because Wine Street is every bit as busy as Stephen Street and Grattan Street and so is Market Street and High Street, so they're only putting it on certain streets and not on other streets."

Mr White - who says there was a lack of consultation from his point of view and from the point of view of other business owners on Stephen Street that he had spoken to - also referred to the difficulties shoppers experience with parking.

"People are not particularly happy with it because parking in this town at the moment is not great at the moment," he explained.

"Half of the Stephen Street car park is closed at the moment, but in the plan it's all closed. Quay Street car park is supposed to be closing, parking is supposed to be going away from Stephen Street on a permanent basis.

"Businesses are on their knees at the moment in this town with Covid. Closing car parks is making it more difficult for people to actually get in and go shopping.

"It's going to have a knock-on effect. My concern, realistically, it that people are going to go to other towns and shop in others towns, go to Carrick-on-Shannon, go to Ballyshannon, go to Bundoran, that's the concern." Mr White concluded.

Other business owners take a different view. Finbarr Filan runs Centra on Castle Street, and in his opinion, the measures are to be welcomed.

Mr Filan said: "I welcome the work Sligo County Council has done, this was meant to be in place for the 29th of June when town was to reopen, and the fact that that was pulled forward, it put more pressure on the Council.

"Over the coming weeks, until it is safe when we get to a situation when people can mingle closer, its the right thing to do."

Mr Filan also outlined that in his experience and discussions with other areas of the country, similar measures have been implemented.

"All the information I'm getting from other towns around the country is that people want more space to come back in to our town centres.

"The fact that we have an old town with narrow streets, we need to create that space.

"If you think that our footfall is currently only at 60pc of what it should be at this time of the year, when we get back to 100pc it will get an awful lot more crowded."

The issue of parking, Mr Filan says, also needed to be put into perspective.

"We have 4500 parking spaces in town and we've moved 20 of them.

"We have created 'click and collect spaces' on Market Street and on John Street so if you are coming in and you want to get something quickly, and you need to pull up, it is free as long as you don't spend more than 20 minutes there so that's a facility we didn't have.

"The world has changed because of Covid and this is one of those changes.

"In Sligo, we did the right thing at the start - we cancelled our parade, pubs and shops closed, we did the right thing. This is another one of those steps we have to do," he added.

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