OPINION: ‘Tinseltown’ public realm enhancement works for Strokestown rubbing residents up the wrong way

By Emmett Corcoran

 

Emmett Corcoran. Pic: Kieran Croghan

‘Primum non nocere’; first, do no harm. This philosophy dates back to Hippocrates and ancient Greece. It is a philosophy so well tested that it has truly stood the test of time. Personally, it is a philosophy by which I try to live my life. And very little upsets me more than when governments, local or national, produce plans which fail to be cognisant of this simple and practical philosophy. Unfortunately, this appears to be what has happened concerning the proposed public realm enhancement works in Strokestown.

As the quaint town of Strokestown finds itself at the crossroads of preserving its rich historical essence and embracing modernity, the proposed redevelopment plan heralds a phase of transformation. However, with the promise of a further public consultation before the Council would publish the Part 8 planning notice not honoured, concerns among residents have intensified, particularly around issues of parking and accessibility.

Last Thursday, October 19th, a public meeting was held in the Percy French Hotel. 60 or so residents attended the meeting and voiced a myriad of concerns. Tempers were understandably frayed as residents tore into the public representatives who were brave enough to show up.

 

Cars equal commerce

 

While it has become vogue to remove cars from cities and towns across the country, the practicalities of rural living mean that if you remove cars, you remove people. And this was the number one issue raised at the meeting.

The parking demand can range from a few hundred cars at peak times during the day to over two thousand cars requiring parking at large community events, such as the Agricultural Show, throughout the year.

The proposed 260 delineated parking spaces drastically fall short of the demand, especially during these peak times.

This reduction in parking availability threatens to create hurdles for parents during school pick-up hours, attendees of large funerals, and the day to day activities of the locals. The ripple effect would undoubtedly extend to local businesses, potentially deterring visitors due to the lack of parking, and thereby reducing footfall in the town centre.

 

Impact on accessibility

 

Accessibility is another crucial aspect that the current Council plan seems to overlook. The proposed cycle lane, while a nod to modern urban planning, poses challenges for individuals with mobility issues. The plan, in its current state, lacks a comprehensive understanding of the diverse needs of Strokestown’s residents, including the differently-abled.

 

The crux of the matter

 

The heart of this matter extends beyond mere opposition to change. It’s about ensuring that the change envisioned aligns with the practical needs and the historical ethos of Strokestown. Residents are not averse to redevelopment; the concern lies in ensuring that the redevelopment is inclusive, practical, and respectful of the town’s heritage.

The window for submissions, open until 3rd of November, presents a vital opportunity for residents to voice their concerns. It’s a call for constructive engagement, where the feedback can help refine the plan to better meet the needs of the community, while preserving the town’s unique character. And whether we like it or not, showing up to a meeting and voicing your concerns is ‘all for nought’ if you don’t submit those concerns in writing.

It is the quality and quantity of these submissions which will determine the council’s next moves and whether they will make the few very simple amendments required to satisfy the majority or continue with the plan in its current form.

 

Submissions clinic

 

To assist in this process, a volunteer clinic is being organised at the SCDA office on Bawn Street from 11 am to 2 pm on Saturday, 28th of October. This clinic aims to guide anyone uncertain about how to make a submission, ensuring that the voices of Strokestown’s residents are accurately represented in the planning process.

 

Opportunity ahead

 

Strokestown indeed warrants investment and thoughtful redevelopment. Yet, it’s crucial that such plans are moulded with a thorough understanding of the town’s unique fabric and the practical needs of its residents.

The current plan, which has some good elements such as footpath and carriageway resurfacing, reducing the size of the roundabout and the introduction of pedestrian crossings, fails to address the disconnect with the town’s reality when you look at the elements which plan to introduce excessive vegetation, reduce public parking, and provide cycleways which are little more than obstructions, on the widest streets in Ireland.

The submission process, if heeded by Roscommon County Council, offers an opportunity for the local authority to take on board the concerns of residents and address them in a meaningful way. However, if they don’t do this and simply refuse to make the necessary changes which will satisfy the public disquiet, I fear the town will be stuck in neutral or worse, put into reverse.

As I see it, the message is quite clear: the people of Strokestown want an investment that will help the town thrive. They do not want their town to be turned into something it is not and never has been. And efforts to introduce a type of faux ‘Hollywood heritage’ will potentially be met with appeals and legal challenges.

Whereas, with constructive feedback and a willingness to amend the plan where necessary, there lies a promising pathway to a redevelopment that honours the past while looking forward to a vibrant, accessible, and thriving future for Strokestown.