A demand by councillors for a return to two-way traffic in Wexford's Bullring a few months after they requested a reversal of the current one-way system, has been postponed for decision until September following a lengthy discussion at a local authority meeting.
'We can't keep changing it. The old town centre is not car friendly. The solution is not to choke up the streets with cars,' said Deputy Chief Executive Tony Larkin after councillors initially stood firm on their request for a two-way traffic flow on behalf of traders in the area who informed them of a 30% reduction in business since the original one-way system was introduced as a declared temporary measure in 2018 to facilitate work on the new Council offices in the old TSB building.
'We have to make the town a place where customers can feel comfortable walking around the town and accessing shops,' said the Council boss.
'The Bullring was complete chaos before we agreed to change it as a temporary measure to see how that worked. We have to decide what to do and stay with it. There is a difference between consulting with people and simply doing what they ask,' he said.
'We can't do it, undo it and re-do it and then do it all a different way.'
Emphasising that Wexford is now a town with a population of 25,000 and a hinterland of up to 60,000, he said the delivery vans that want to park outside a shop are not going to be able to do it anymore.
'We have just been asked to implement the reversal and now we're asking for a second way,' said Mr. Larkin.
Cllr. Tom Forde said he was contacted by business owners, many of them badly affected by the lockdown, who reported a 30% reduction in trade since 2018 when the one-way system was put in place, and the Council needed to take that seriously.
Cllr. George Lawlor said he met a dozen of the ratepayers in the area who told him they had been badly affected by the one-way system.
'If traders are saying that business has been affected by it, we need to take on board what they are saying and come to some agreement about what we can do because it will have a knock-on effect on jobs.'
Cllr. David Hynes said his understanding was that it was supposed to be a temporary measure and for some reason, it has become a permanent one.
'Sometimes we do things with every good intention but it has negative consequences and this is one of them,' he said.
The Mayor of Wexford, Cllr. Leonard Kelly suggested that the Bullring issue be included in the modelling process for a new town traffic plan with a view to being put out to public consultation to get the reaction of business people.
'We have one more chance to get this right before we lose the confidence of the people of the town,' he said.
Cllr. John Hegarty said this is something that has been simmering away and has been brought to his attention by a number of different groups.
'At the very least, we need to take a further look and consult with people properly.'
District Engineer Sean Kavanagh informed members that the Council is organising a comprehensive traffic model of the town to assess the impact of traffic flow changes in various areas, based on surveys carried out in 2019 and earlier this year.
It will be completed as a desktop study first before going out to public consultation, with recommendations from the public being taken on board and the plan then put before the Council for a decision on one-off proposals and changes.
The engineer said he hoped to have something concrete before Christmas.
'It will give a picture of the whole town and the periphery and the impact of changes. We wouldn't be proposing any changes to traffic flow on approach roads into town', he said.
'I would hope we would be able to go public with it in late October or early November and to have some hard discussion before Christmas', he added.
Cllr. Lawlor re-iterated his concern about the detrimental impact of the current one-way system on business, including the Key West anchor tenant, SuperValu.
'I had asked for a reversal of the traffic flow in the Bullring. In relation to the speed with which it was done originally, it contrasts greatly with the speed in relation to implementing it the other way', he said.
Cllr. Hynes said the local authority has to be seen to help traders and if it doesn't do something to try and alleviate the situation, businesses are going to go under.
'I believe something happened here and it should not have happened.'
The District Engineer suggested that any further changes be postponed until the traffic model is completed.
Cllr. Hegarty said: 'The change we are currently dealing with was done without public consultation and now you're saying that we can't authorise change for another six months. There are some serious issues being raised here.'
The engineer said the Council would have to remove footpaths with an impact on pedestrian safety, remove disabled parking spaces from Common Quay Street and erect signage.
'We can't just decide that we are going to reverse the traffic flow. More than half the traffic goes into SuperValu car park. The current direction has had a hugely positive impact on traffic flow on the quay', he said.
'Traders in the area are saying that it has had a negative impact on business. It's about balance. Of course, we want to improve the traffic flow around the town but we also want to see the town thriving', said Cllr. Lawlor.
Cllr. Hegarty then formally proposed that traffic through the Bullring be changed back to a two-way system.
Mr. Larkin said the Bullring could be included in the traffic modelling survey. 'At the moment all we have to go on in hunches and in relation to two-way traffic, he added: 'That is not what the enginer is advising'.
'I'm happy to propose that', said Cllr. Hegarty.
'It won't function. It never functioned as a two-way system', said the engineer.
'Parking spaces are in abundance in Wexford. Everyone is driving around looking for the magic parking space outside the shop, that does not exist.'
Cllr. Garry Laffan said it seemed there would be consequences that hadn't been thought through with a possible effect on deliveries into the town.
Cllr. Hegarty said councillors wanted more information to make a permanent decision and in the interim period, what could be done.
'If you could give us until September', said the Deputy Chief Executive.
'We are in the height of the tourist season, such as it it. Can we agree to let the officials come back in September with more information', asked Cllr. Laffan.
'Leave it for the next five weeks, particularly with all the pedestrians and tourists around', suggested Cllr. Maura Bell.
There was eventual agreement on a postponement after Mr. Larkin said the officials would bring all the information on the effects of a two-way system, including what will have to be removed and what can be left, to the members in September, to allow them to make an informed decision.