*The pedestrian crossing in Spanish Point was one of the final Active Travel projects in Clare.
ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES in West and North Clare have slammed the manner in which Active Travel has been pulled from rural areas as “utterly discriminatory”.
Funding to the tune of €4.5m has been provided by the National Transport Authority (NTA) to Clare County Council for Active Travel. This year is the third of a five year cycle and will see an allocation of €5m for the local authority, senior engineer in the Council’s roads department, John Leahy confirmed.
Speaking at a meeting of the Physical Development Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), Leahy outlined, “We had a large number of relatively small schemes for year one and year two, that is largely over now as the NTA are focusing on large urban towns, Ennis will receive the bulk of the funding and Shannon after that, the Tulla Rd cycle scheme will be the focus this year and next year, it is an expensive project, the decisions are made by the NTA, they are nationwide decisions”.
To date, €1.8m in funding has been secured for the Tulla Rd scheme but the total cost will be in the region of €4-5m.
Mayor of Clare, Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) said the move to deploy all the funding to “big towns like Ennis and Shannon” was “very disappointing”. He stated, “we all know you can’t do things overnight, there is a number of good projects that would benefit from Active Travel, now we’re told it is highly unlikely we will get funding for these projects”.
Absence of Active Travel funding in West Clare is “a massive blow,” Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) lamented. He felt the Council should now consider filling the role of road safety officer as a greater priority to an Active Travel post, as a result.
Disappointment was also voiced by Cllr Liam Grant (GP). “It is really disappointing to see the NTA focusing on urban areas for Active Travel, lots of places in West Clare could do with it. If this is coming from the NTA now looking at large projects, does that mean it is a blanket no to areas outside of Ennis and Shannon. In West Clare, we’ve seen people knocked down on roads and a dire need for footpath and access”.
Schemes across the county “are not getting traction” from the NTA, Leahy acknowledged. “We will include them in our applications again in December and prioritise applications in each Municipal District, if there is no Active Travel, there will be some funding but a lot less as to what we were used to in year one and year two of the programme. We’re talking to the Municipal Districts and will try develop a programme in relation to that,” he confirmed.
Active Travel was also a source of debate at the September meeting of the West Clare Municipal District with proposals tabled by Cllr Lynch and Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG). “To enable enhanced mobility and connectivity in rural towns and villages we request the Minister for Transport to apply the active travel scheme equally to urban and rural areas or open a new separate scheme, with equal financial support, for the sole purpose of rural towns and villages,” Cllr Lynch asked.
Executive engineer in the Active Travel office, Conor McDonagh stated that they would “reiterate the concerns raised” with the NTA who “at their discretion, decide which proposed projects or schemes are provided with Active Travel grant funding”.
Citing road safety and healthy mobility options in rural towns and villages, Cllr Garrihy called on Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan (GP) “to immediately restore Active Travel allocations to towns, villages and schools of the West Clare MD and to address the imbalance in the allocations Urban Centres of Ennis and Shannon which was evident in the allocations early 2023”.
Kilrush based Lynch stated “Ennis and Shannon practically got all of the Active Travel scheme. They are doing footpaths out of a separate pot whereas we’re expected to do 48 percent of the county’s road network out of the one pot. Rural roads are a disgrace, it is horrendous and you couldn’t put a bike on it”. He felt it was time to invite Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Jack Chambers (FF) to a special meeting of the West Clare MD. “We’re lucky we had a bad summer because we’d be giving out about resources for our beaches otherwise”.
It is a further attack on rural Ireland, Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) claimed, “All of this is under an umbrella of planned obsolescence, they are making sure no house is built on the N67, N68 or N85, it is unbelievable, it is planned obsolescence”.Areas like Miltown Malbay, Ennistymon, Lahinch, Lisdoonvarna, Doolin, Ruan and Kilkee have all benefitted from Active Travel, Cllr Garrihy recalled. “Active Travel was one of the most exciting things we saw, everyone did enormous work on it, we got excited and walked into our towns and villages to see how we could get links and make simple wins”.
He continued, “then we got the dagger through the heart of not giving more money but withdraw the money. Active Travel in towns and villages do the smallest but most important things of slowing down traffic, I was getting laughed and hammered for putting in five pedestrian crossings in Lisdoonvarna but it slowed down traffic”. Garrihy said the funding needs to be restored and in fact doubled “to make up for last year”.
As elected representatives, “Active Travel is the single most important think which came across our desk in the last four years,” Cllr Shane Talty (FF) noted. “We refer back to the meeting in Ballyvaughan that it was called out that Clare County Council were failing to roll out Active Travel in these areas, that claim was made by a Senator but the national scheme has changed tack”.
“We’ve an Active Travel officer but it is utterly discriminatory because their role is primarily in Ennis and Shannon,” Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) observed.