Left Field by Ronan Judge
IT costs Ennis Town Council somewhere between €70,000 and €80,000 in lost revenue every time it drops the cost of parking by 10 cents. That according to Town Manager Ger Dollard who was speaking at yesterday’s council meeting. That’s an awful lot of cash, though the figure wasn’t outright accepted by the newly independent councillor Paul O’Shea.
Cllr O’Shea requested that Mr Dollard provide the calculations to back up his figures at the council’s next meeting. Mr Dollard said he would oblige but sounded fairly confident that the figure for lost revenue would fall somewhere between €70,000 and €80,000. It is no coincidence that as the town council prepares to draw up what may prove to be one of its final ever budgets, the issue of parking charges has again reared into view. Its presence as a topic of discussion at yesterday’s meeting was necessitated by a recent survey produced by Retail Excellence Ireland that identified parking accessibility as a big problem in Ennis.
Parking featured elsewhere on the council’s agenda with the news that parts of the town centre are to be pedestrianised during December. Parking will be free up to noon daily, in accordance with a request from Ennis Chamber of Commerce. Parking and pedestrianisation have become inextricably linked when it comes to discussing the future development of the town centre. It’s a long-held aim of the council to pedestrianise part of, if not all of, Ennis Town Centre. Equally, the Chamber of Commerce have argued that full pedestrianisation could only be ever be considered when the Inner Relief road linking Station Road to the Clare Road opens.
Well that, according to the council, is due to happen this month. So are cars going to be removed from Ennis on a more permanent basis? Certainly the council seem to be inching that way. In a November report to councillors, Town Clerk Leonard Cleary states, “Ennis Town Council needs to be working towards a long-term solution regarding some increased level of pedestrianisation or indeed a compromise that presents a continuous trial in at least one of the three additional proposed areas.”
These areas would have to include O’Connell Street, The Square and/or Abbey Street. Mr Cleary acknowledges there are historical objections to full pedestrianisation of Ennis’ main streets.
In 2010, the council abandoned after six weeks a six-month trial of pedestrianisation when businesses said Saturday takings had plummeted as a result of the experiment. Whether such strength of opposition still exists remains to be seen. The council asserts that the feedback they have received from customers and visitors to the town has been favourable towards pedestrianisaton.
People surveyed in the Ennis 2020 community-visioning project also expressed a preference for some form of traffic-free streets. Certainly there are days, particularly at lunchtime when secondary school students spill onto the streets, when it seems absolutely crazy to have cars still going down O’Connell Street.
(And before anyone starts shouting about telling kids to stay off the streets at lunchtime, think about all those euro these kids spend on food in shops, pubs and fast food outlets. Think about all those student-friendly menus.)
In such a debate, where the interests of commerce clash with a council’s overall responsibility for a town and its citizens, Cllr Brian Meaney’s comments yesterday made a lot of sense. He told the meeting that a town is more than just a collection of buildings and parking spaces required to provide commercial activity. He said a town is something more important and personal to the people who live in it.
Cllr Meaney wasn’t downplaying the importance of businesses. On the contrary, he stressed that businesses are the lifeblood of any town and a vital source of employment. Pointing to the flood of reports in which Ennis is rated and reviewed, Cllr Meaney’s point was that too much of the narrative associated with Ennis derives from a business context.
So the question remains, is one (if admittedly large) sector entitled to hold so much sway over the future direction of Ennis? Pedestrianisation could benefit both sides of the argument. But with town councils set to be abolished, the clock is ticking.