Saša Novak Uí Chonchúir

Green Party Councillor for Limerick City North

Candidate in Local Elections on 7th June

Guiding Limerick through Covid-19 – UPDATE

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I am, after seeing the amended version of the Draft Guiding Limerick through Covid-19 plan, extremely disappointed.

We have had 464 submissions to the plan. 55% in favour, 35% against and 10% neutral according to the team who worked on it. Simply looking at numbers that means that 65% of those who spoke up were not opposed to the plan. And the 35%, the share of those who opposed, were listened to and their issues were taken on board. The amended plan presented today was not a compromise, it was a concession to those 35% while completely ignoring the input of the 65%. To say that the original plan could not be approved today because it had no consultation is ridiculous. It had 14 days of consultation and 65% of people who submitted responses did not object to it!

The only contentious issue was the reduced pedestrianization, specifically on Catherine Street.

I proposed that we look at the original plan as an option again with the only amendment to make Catherine Street a one way street with wide footpaths and a few spaces for EU Parking Permit holders and a few click and collect, similar to what is already there in lower Catherine Street.

We have expert planners who came up with the original draft plan. The Limerick Chamber of Commerce endorsed the plan. We have traders on actual streets that were lined up for pedestrianisation supporting it. We had a plan in line with international best practice. We had the public who is the customer in the city in favour of this plan. Yet we were forced to backtrack. A large part of the plan is traffic calming measures. That didn’t need consultation, that could have been done months ago. Footpaths widened, cycle tracks protected, measures put in place for speeds to reduce, pedestrian waiting times at traffic lights reduced and optimised, call units removed. We did nothing. Dublin did, Ennis did, Limerick didn’t.

If we focus on the people who started or continue to cycle into the city, we did not need a consultation to protect the existing cycle lanes. The NTA promised wands and orcas to any local authority who requested them.

I acknowledge that people are afraid of change, and their fear of the unknown is legitimate, but we have to be able to tell the fear apart from uninformed scaremongering by the retailers who have always done the same thing and haven’t supported their claims with facts. 

I take this quote from Dee Ryan of the Limerick Chamber, who endorsed the original plan:

“If we keep doing things the same way we have always done them, we will get the same declining result.”

We are also forgetting that retail alone isn’t the answer to revitalising the city. That stands in normal times and especially in times of a pandemic.

I think most of us are in agreement that the majority of Irish people will not be holidaying abroad this year, they will be staying in Ireland. And where will they go? They will go to Ennis, they will go to Waterford, Kilkenny. They have already made their cities welcoming and pretty weeks and months ago. The whole country knows it, it’s been in the news, on social media.

What can Limerick offer to the Irish tourist? A shortcut to Kerry or Clare or Galway. 

We are putting the future of our city centre in the hands of a man who needs to collect 10 suits for a wedding and a bag of cement or peanuts and wants to park on the street 50 metres away from the shop instead of in a multi storey car park 100 metres away from the shop. And the family with 3 young kids coming for a weekend break from the East will drive straight through Limerick and off to Clare to safely stroll around the pedestrian streets of Ennis, stopping there for dinner, for drinks, for shopping.

We are talking about opening of some streets for public health reasons which would cause a person safely isolated in their car to drive an extra block or two to the next parking space or a multistorey. We have 15 off-street car parks and over 3,000 on-street spaces in the city. And if we focus just on the people driving to the city, what we don’t have are safe streets and wide footpaths to bring people from their parking spot to the city to safely queue for the shop, to be able to sit down at a cafe, a restaurant or a pub.

Some are afraid of sending a message that the city is closing to people when in fact it is opening. Park your car in one of the 15 multistories and roam freely.

I finish with an analogy. Recently there was an objection by a councillor to a high density development on the basis of, among other things, long term public health effects of the Covid pandemic and the necessity arising from this to consider a lower density development. Which I presume would be achieved by decreasing the number of units built there since the land is limited. We are saying, yes, we can do that, we can decide to build less units there.

However, we cannot lower the number of units, people, walking the streets of Limerick. If anything we need to increase the number of people walking the streets of Limerick for it to survive and thrive. So if decreasing the number of people is not an option, the only possible solution in the aftermath of a pandemic is to increase the space where people can walk, stop and talk, live.