*Photograph: John Mangan
Big changes are set to be introduced to the streets of Ennis including the installation of an interactive pavement fountain, demountable umbrella structures and making Barrack St operational for one-way traffic.
A majority of Ennis councillors agreed to put the part 8 application for public realm improvement works before the September meeting of Clare County Council where a decision on its approval will be made. O’Connell Square, High Street, Bank Place, Old Barrack St and Barrack Square will undergo alterations if councillors give the application their backing in the next fortnight.
Under the application, new street furniture, an interactive pavement fountain with tapered step surrounds and demountable umbrella structures are to be installed at O’Connell Square. There will be additional tree planting and signage added while traffic flows within the square will be maintained. The works bring with it an estimated fee of €3.5m.
New street furniture will be added to Barrack Square, High Street and Bank Place. Shared surfacing in natural stone materials will replace the existing stone and footpath surfaces at O’Connell Square, High Street and Barrack Square. Footways will be resurfaced in natural stone materials at Bank Place and Old Barrack St.
A one-way traffic flow is proposed along Old Barrack St from Upper O’Connell St to Market Place in the plans. It is estimated that works at Barrack Square would take between 51 and 67 weeks to complete while a timeframe of 99 to 125 weeks is envisaged for O’Connell Square.
Cllr Pat Daly (FF) proposed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Ennis Municipal District that the application go before the September meeting of the County Council. “The improvement on Parnell St has been fantastic, it has been a dying street for many years but it is coming right”. Support was also voiced by Cllr Mary Howard (FG) who said that a recent trip to Dungarvan and Kilkenny opened her eyes to how public spaces are used. “It is lovely to see town centres being used in family friendly way for buggies and wheelchairs”.
Citing a “continuous loss of car parking spaces in the town centre,” Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) said he supported the principle of the application but warned that it would result in the “significant loss” of spaces in Barrack St and Bank Place. “I believe we are somewhere believe 1000 – 2000 car spaces short. Abbey St Car Park is a traffic jam everyday. I am not supporting the application in the current format. I don’t know if we will have a viable town if we continue to take away viable parking spaces in the short-term”.
“It is a very important step to revitalise our fabulous town and give it a more attractive image,” Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) commented. She said she listened very carefully to Cllr Flynn and cautioned, “If we continue to reject these new plans and new visions for our town we are going to stay in a stalemate and I would be fearful of that, if we move forward with these project we will have to address the long-term need of car parking in the town”.
Ongoing works at Parnell St were welcomed by Cllr Mark Nestor (FF) who believed the design for Barrack St was “the kind of outdoor public space we need to be looking at and seeing can we develop more”. Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) also backed the application, “We are very aware of the challenges we face with parking. Towns are going to be more visitor experience centred than retail focused going forward”.
Funding to the value of €189,000 was awarded through the URDF for a detailed design of the works and to bring the concept to a planning stage. Senior executive officer, Leonore O’Neill highlighted that no objections were submitted by the public. The project was lodged as an application for URDF funding, it will be known in late October or November if this has been a successful bid. Should planning and funding be secured, construction is earmarked to begin at the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022. A year and a half is expected to be the timeframe for the project which will result in the loss of approximately 30 car parking spaces in the town.
Reference to the Ennis Town Centre Concept Plan commissioned by the Town Council in 2002 was made by Cllr Flynn. It stated that at the time the town centre was under capacity by 1000 car spaces. He also quoted an objective from the Ennis Town Development Plan 2003-2008 that any developments in the town centre that could not provide car parking spaces on its own site were to make specific contributions of €2500 per space to the Council who would the provide the spaces, he said €1.2m was collected during this period to provide almost 500 spaces and said nothing materialised. “We are killing the chicken never mind the egg,” the former Fire Chief commented.
Workers in the town are affected in their work because they are watching the clock to renew parking tickets, Cllr Daly added. Staff are occupying 70% of parking spaces in Ennis “at any time,” Cllr Howard stated. “The top two floors in Dunnes, there are rarely cars in them. The multi-storey in the Market is not being utilised to its capacity either. We do have parking but it is not being used correctly,” she added.
The Clare GAA / Cloister Car Park is to be opened in approximately two weeks, O’Neill told the meeting. The delay is due to the need to install equipment to connect to VMS signs to state the occupancy of the site. She continued, “There is a lot of car parking that is under-utilised in the town which is not necessarily in the ownership of the Council. Market multi-storey has low occupancy rates, Holy Family had low occupancy during the summer, Ennis Train station is under-utilised”.
Concluding the debate, Cllr Flynn remarked, “Blaming people for not using private car parks that are not sign posted or easily accessible is also wrong”.