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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Why are people protesting against a bridge being built in Kilkenny?

The protests have been going on for five weeks.

kk bridge council 2 Source: Kilkenny County Council

A BRIDGE BEING built in Kilkenny is the subject of heated debate in the Medieval city – with protesters spending 24 hours a day on the site.

The issue is a heated one, with some locals completely opposed to the bridge, and others saying it would have a positive economic benefit on Kilkenny.

Earlier this week saw the arrest of two of the protesters at the Green’s Bridge site in the town.

Three councillors have also said they want an emergency council meeting to be called before Wednesday of next week, with the aim of halting the works on the site.

Protesters say they have been taking legal advice on the contracts for the site, and they may be making an announcement this weekend.

Here’s what has happened so far.

The background

kilkenny bridge council pic Source: Kilkenny County Council

The bridge is to be constructed across the River Nore, as part of the €10.7m Central Access Scheme (CAS) in Kilkenny.

In a presentation made on 28 July to Kilkenny Rotary Club, John Mulholland said the following:

  • The plan was submitted to An Bord Pleanala in 2008, and was approved in principle in 2009, omitting phases two and three at Kennyswell and Loughmacask.
  • A revised application was submitted in 2011 and approved in December 2011. This was for the length of road around K Mart only.

K Mart is a derelict former cattle mart site.

The council believes that the scheme would enable the sustainable development of the city centre, and it involves 28 acres of brown field site.

  • It would also be a “partial solution to traffic issues in the city”
  • and a “much safer alternative to the 18th century Green’s Bridge”
  • It would bring improved access to the Diageo site.

The council say:

It is not provided to attract additional traffic or HGVs to the city centre, rather to ease pressure on existing city bridges and to make travel more convenient and safer for all road users. An additional and much warranted exit from the city at peak periods.

The project is 700m long, 450m of which goes through derelict sites, and the bridge would be 118m long over five spans of the River Nore.

  • It would have two 3.5m traffic lanes, two 1.5m cycle lanes and two 2m wide footpaths with viewing platform over peace park.
  • There would also be pedestrian crossings, street and bridge lighting, and a 30km per hour zone as part of the construction.

Archaeology

As part of the scheme two buildings are to be taken down, but the gable of 22 Vicar Street to be retained.

There are still further excavations to be undertaken. Archaeological investigation will continue at Vicar St while bridge works take place.

Timeframe

The bridge works will take 18 – 20 months and the approach road construction will commence in 2015.

The bridge would be open to traffic in 2016.

The council says that “change is inevitable”, as Kilkenny’s city centre is facing a period of change following the closure of brewing operations at the Diageo site.

“For the first time in 300 years people in Kilkenny will have access to the St Francis Abbey quarter,” it says.

One supporter of the scheme told TheJournal.ie earlier in the week that there was a “silent majority” in favour of it, and that the anti-CAS side had been spreading “misinformation.”

The Central Access Scheme will open up two of the largest unused sites for development. Hopefully this will bring potential jobs to Kilkenny.
Traffic in the north of the city is at gridlock several times a day and the CAS is part of a wider traffic management plan that will address these issues.

One supporter from the CAS for Kilkenny Facebook group said:

The current bridge, built in 1766, is not fit for use and at 4.8 metres wide cannot carry all traffic in both directions.

A post on the Facebook site this week appealed to the protesters to reconsider their actions.

Against the bridge

kk bridge council 3 Source: Kilkenny County Council

On Tuesday of this week, two people were arrested when protesters attempted to stall trucks going into the construction site.

The protest group, Save Kilkenny, believes that the bridge is in the wrong place.

  • See below for more of their suggestions on the construction

Their proposed solution is:

Complete the existing Ring Road and stop this unnecessary expenditure before irreversible damage is done, and engage directly with the public in envisioning a sustainable social and economic future for our fair city.

A group of locals have been protesting against the bridge for 24 hours a day for five weeks.

They are trying to halt the construction trucks from coming into the site.

The protesters say that they are not against development. One campaigner, Margaret O’Brien, told TheJournal.ie:

We’re not against development. We are absolutely in favour of it – but development that is local and sustainable and keeps Kilkenny’s unique character.

protestors-journal-gaurds-in-kettle-formation2-630x472 Source: Darragh Byrne

One protester even built a raft to attempt to prevent construction on the bridge.

He said that he is there to “try and stop [construction workers] driving piles into the river and try and stop them building the massive bridge through the medieval heart of Kilkenny, which the majority of Kilkenny people don’t want”.

Work had to be temporarily suspended for a time after protesters entered the water.

Concerns and councillors

Councillors are due to meet on the subject on 1 September, and have agreed to undertake a review of the CAS.

Earlier this week, Independent Councillor Breda Gardner raised concerns over the legal advice given to the council over the construction of the bridge.

gardakilkenny-310x415 Source: Darragh Byrne

She challenged the council to provide proof of its “assertion” that councillors were informed in June that works were due to be undertaken on the CAS or that expenditure had been committed.

The Save Kilkenny group said it will be placing pressure on elected councillors to hold an emergency meeting on the issue of the bridge.

In a statement, they rejected accusations of the protest not being democratic.

Allow our newly elected council to vote, under pre-contract signing conditions, on whether or not to proceed with this development. The mechanisms are there for this.

raft-3-630x420 Source: Danny Lahart

Of the cost of policing the protests, they said “it pains us to waste money in this way”, and they want to seek to support their elected representatives in exercising their democratic mandate.

We do not understand why such a simple and fundamental request needs policing at all. The large numbers of police deployed are being deployed at someone else’s choice –not ours, and considering the make up of the people peacefully, walking up and down each day, all of them ordinary people, of all ages and walks of life, the deployment is frankly both extreme and ridiculous.

The protesters say that under the scheme:

All traffic will end up in Vicar Street, as it currently does; only difference is an extra costly, concrete, Flyover Bridge that destroys the integrity of the medieval city that we love.

Their solution is:

Complete the existing Ring Road and stop this unnecessary expenditure before irreversible damage is done to our fair city

They also question whether the bridge is needed for development.

What kind of development needs a motorway bridge in the heart of a medieval city that thrives on tourism? We in one such bridge, in the heart of the city, become a modern city with medieval buildings, like hundreds of others. We lose our uniqueness as a tourist venue, thus we lose our main industry and the many jobs and businesses that this industry supports. How is this sustainable development?

On the suggestion that the bridge will lead to job creation, the Save Kilkenny protesters said:

Please specify these jobs! When will these jobs be created? Who will create them? In what areas? These specific answers are vital because only these specific answers can inform sustainability and whether or not current local businesses will be detrimentally affected.

They are calling for the construction of a secondary school on the Castlecomer Road side of the river, and do not believe a coach park should be built as part of the scheme.

But this weekend could see more movement in the situation.

For the moment, it looks very unlikely the protests will stop.

Read: Two arrested during protest against Kilkenny bridge>

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