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Pedestrianisation planning not a walk in the park

News

MAXIMISING SPACE ‘Parklets’ have been developed in towns in the US and New Zealand, with easily assembled and dis-assembled decking. Businesses can now apply to Mayo County Council for permission to carry out similar alterations when re-opening. Pic: Flickr.com/Mark Hogan


Council asks businesses to submit plans for on-street outdoor furniture

Áine Ryan

AS GOVERNMENT formation talks reached a conclusion over the weekend, and the influence of the Green agenda became apparent, the timing for developing a plan for the pedestrianisation and enhanced use of our public spaces seems serendipitous as the county reopens its doors to its tourism industry.
However, the realities of such al fresco services are complex and not only weather-dependent but also must address and facilitate both vehicular flow and footfall.    
The Chairperson of Destination Westport, Ciara Joyce encapsulate the complexities involved for The Mayo News yesterday: “From a tourism point of view the idea of pedestrianising Bridge Street is great in theory but there is concern over the level of traffic congestion this will create. We currently do not have the infrastructure for the traffic and it is not really an option until the bypass is in place. An alternative solution would be to remove car parking on Bridge Street altogether. This would widen the streets and allow for additional space for tables and chairs.”  
Indeed, the importance of some form of public space provision for relevant businesses was recently confirmed in a Westport Chamber of Commerce survey when over 80 percent of respondents stated they needed measures to ensure their cafes, restaurants and pubs were viable because of the two-metre social-distancing regulation imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Council statement
Furthermore, following a debate at last week’s meeting of Mayo County Council regarding a formal question put by Fine Gael Cllr Peter Flynn about the importance of opening up public spaces, the council released a significant statement about its plans to support businesses towards improving their outdoor eating infrastructure yesterday (Monday).
It has now confirmed that those who run cafés, restaurants, hotels or bars, where food is served to the public for onsite eating can now ‘apply to Mayo County Council for a licence to put tables and chairs on the footpath or public realm space outside your premises’. It continues: “As part of this initiative, Mayo County Council will consider refunding of the licence fees paid for outdoor tables and chairs for the year. In some cases, Mayo County Council can consider the temporary assignment of suitable, adjacent parking spaces or other outdoor spaces for use by a trading business for the location of tables and chairs and suitable weather protection, if required.”  
The council also states that if ‘a parking space or spaces are to be temporarily reassigned to provide additional seating for the premises, the fee as specified previously will be used to offset the cost of the provision of planters and attractive planting to enclose the space’.
The Interim Chief Executive of Mayo Council, Peter Duggan said it would make its expertise available to business owners to help implement these outdoor facilities.
“We recognise that these are difficult times for the hospitality sector and for that reason, the cost of licences will be refunded or where a parking space is being repurposed as a seating area, it will used to offset the cost of enclosing the space from traffic in a safe and attractive manner,” Mr Duggan said.
He said all information was now available on www.mayo.ie for the scheme ‘Supporting Business through the Public Realm’.
Vibrancy on streets
WELCOMING this announcement, Cllr Peter Flynn said: “Based on feedback, over the last few days, it is clear that our towns have more cars than pedestrians in them and if we are to give our businesses a chance to survive in 2020 we need to have people back on our streets while observing social-distancing guidelines. Streets without people are soulless and we need to create a vibrancy and atmosphere that will attract locals and visitors into our towns.”
He cites instances where ‘Parklets’ have been developed in towns in the US and New Zealand, with easily assembled and dis-assembled decking.
“Using Westport as an example I think we should be reducing our key streets to one lane of traffic from June to October and use the rest of the street for parklets, walking lanes and short term set-down areas.”
Cllr Flynn said we need to develop the potential use of the Quay, Octagon and carparks for pedestrians and the business community. He suggests that these measures could be seasonal and reversed in October at very little cost.      

Ballina’s public spaces
THE north Mayo capital of Ballina must also consider the enhanced use of its public spaces, according to Cllr Mark Duffy (FF). He told The Mayo News yesterday that he’d carried out a door-to-door survey of businesses on Pearse Street last Friday.
“There are mixed views about its pedestrianisation but there is a healthy middle-ground. We have such a beautiful main street, it lends itself to some form of pedestrianisation or better use of public spaces even for some periods of the week.”