Concerns as Kilkenny scheme gets go-ahead

 

AN BORD Pleanála has granted planning permission for a new road and bridge crossing of the river Nore which its critics claim would be the death knell for the city’s medieval character.

The controversial central access scheme, designed to ease traffic congestion in Kilkenny’s city centre and provide a much needed new crossing of the river, will cost €9.7 million

Supporters say it will open up a new “river quarter” in the heart of the city and make the area more attractive for visitors and for business. Kilkenny County Council says it will allow increased pedestrianisation, particularly on busy commercial streets such as John Street and High Street.

The bridge will be the city’s third, adding to John’s Bridge and Green’s Bridge which date back to 1910 and the 18th century respectively. Located between those two bridges, it will take the form of a cable-stay bridge about 60-70m in length. Other elements include a new roadway from the west of the city and a central access street that will ultimately link St Canice’s Place with Castlecomer Road.

The project is expected to go to tender early next year and will take about 18 months to build, with the official opening scheduled for 2015.

Fianna Fáil councillor Andrew McGuinness said the approval was “great news” for Kilkenny.

“One of the main aspects will be facilitating a new bridge connecting one side of the city to the other, which will have the potential to form a new river quarter that should be heavily focused on community and amenity, adding to the tourism package that Kilkenny has to offer.”

The scheme will improve access to the city centre, he said, and reduce the impact of traffic on the streets. Among the reasons given by the planning board for its decision were the “deficiencies” of the existing road network in Kilkenny, the “inadequacies” of Green’s Bridge and the need to “enhance cross-river linkages” while not attracting more through traffic.

However, Green Party environment spokesman and council member Malcolm Noonan has condemned the decision, saying it will split the medieval foundations of the city in two. “We can now kiss our reputation as a heritage city goodbye on foot of this decision.” He added that the council cannot afford to build the new scheme, formerly known as the inner relief road in a previous design.

The former mayor of Kilkenny said the council’s estimates of costs are “way off the mark” given the archaeological sensitivity of the area, “effectively meaning we will be seeking IMF-borrowed money to finish the bridge”.

The scheme was first proposed in the 1980s and some sections of existing roads were widened to accommodate the new roads. An oral hearing was held in 2008 and the planning board granted permission in principle for the bridge section after that hearing.