No clear route forward for Kilkenny city centre

Debate over Central Access Scheme still rages as city and county merge

Kilkenny is part of the Irish Times 'Cities in Transition' series. Frank McDonald examines the dilemma planners face in trying to address congestion and heavy traffic in the centre of Ireland's most renowned medieval city. Video: Niamh Guckian

Mon, Feb 10, 2014, 11:13

Kilkenny is at a crossroads. As the ancient city is about to be absorbed by the county under Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s local government reforms, there is no consensus about how to proceed – particularly on the highly-contentious Central Access Scheme (CAS).

On one side of the argument are Kilkenny County Council, the soon-to-be-abolished town council (with the exception of Malcolm Noonan, its sole Green Party member), county manager Joe Crockett, consultant engineers Malone O’Regan, Scott Wilson and much of the business community.

On the other side are the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, An Taisce, and Complete the Kilkenny Ring Road Campaign. They’re concerned about the CAS’s impact on medieval heritage, its effect in drawing more traffic into the town. They want the unfinished ring road completed as a priority.

The council maintains that the CAS – long-planned as an “inner relief route” – is necessary if there is to be any chance of reducing traffic in the medieval core, with John Street, Rose Inn Street and High Street substantially given over to pedestrians to end the domination of cars in this area.

One-way system
In 2010, the council sought to implement a one-way system, but it only lasted for a week after Kilkenny became “gridlocked”. Critics such as Cllr Noonan say this was due to poor planning and a failure to “flag” the scheme in advance. There was also opposition from traders, who see traffic as a sign of life.

Kilkenny has no buses or park-and-ride sites, so it was almost bound to fail. “We were too ambitious,” the county manager said. But he pledged that traffic calming and substantial pedestrianisation would be implemented in tandem with the CAS – a 4.5km stretch of road with a new bridge over the river Nore.

Crockett says he asked the consultant engineers to redesign the project, taking out roundabouts and narrowing it to a single carriageway, 7.3m (24 ft) wide.

This would allow traffic to be “redistributed onto the new bridge and associated streets” and was approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2011.

“It’s critical for Kilkenny that we have a pedestrian-friendly city centre. That’s what has driven thinking in terms of having wider footpaths, cycleways, etc,” he says. “We have to go one-way and, for that to happen, we need the new access route. It’s a plan-led project that will deliver a perfectly balanced city centre.”

But there are houses in the way of the €10.5 million scheme, including one on Vicar Street which Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, director of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, insists has a late medieval gable, or at least the remnants of one – a claim dismissed by the council’s consultant archaeologists, Valerie J Keeley Ltd.

Digging deep
Following the discovery of what Crockett describes as a pre-1700 stone window frame, they are carrying out a further dig in the immediate vicinity. So the terrace of three houses on Vicar Street – intended to be demolished last summer to facilitate the CAS – are still standing for the moment.

Also lying in its path, Ó Drisceoil says, is a section of the ditch that enclosed the early medieval St Canice’s monastery as well as deposits containing “an abundance of fantastically preserved timber waterfront structures” between the river and Vicar Street, parts of a medieval mill complex and a famine graveyard.

The National Monuments Service initially opposed the CAS on the basis that it would “cut through the precinct of St Canice’s”.

However, following discussions with Kilkenny county and borough councils – in which chief archaeologist Brian Duffy was involved – and some changes to the scheme, the objection was withdrawn.

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