No to Forest Road, Yes to Forest Classroom & Greenway

In advance of the public consultation (Jan 25th) on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout, we are asking the people of Galway to attend a public information event on Monday (Jan 23rd) on the Terryland Forest Park which will outline the health, educational, environmental and social benefits of Ireland’s largest community-driven urban forest park project.

It is important that the public are made fully aware before it is too late of the need for council investment, protection and promotion of what is known as the ‘Lungs of the City’ and the damage that a proposed road construction through the park will do to its status as an Ecological Corridor, as a major carbon sink in combating climate change, as an Outdoor Classroom for the benefit of schools and colleges, as a tourist amenity and as an Outdoor Gym and Greenway for the citizens Galway city.

At the meeting we will outline a programme of social, learning, crafts, health, gardening and environmental projects being organised for 2017 by teachers, heritage enthusiasts, scientists, gardeners, medical professionals and community volunteers in this urban forest. These activities include meadow-making, wildflower plantings, a traditional scything festival, bat walks, nature trails, walking/cycling tours, a scarecrow festival, bee keeping, organic gardening and citizen science events.

The lack of opportunities for today’s urban youth generation in particular to enjoy woodlands and the wilderness is having serious negative learning and health repercussions. The need for children to experience the magic of forests and the wilderness is borne out by the latest scientific and medical research worldwide which shows the fundamental importance of integrating woodlands, trees and wetlands into the fabric of our cities. Building a road through the park would not only destroy wildlife as well as a tranquil greenway for walkers, it will directly damage people’s health by introducing high levels of pollution. For vehicle emissions are associated with rising levels of dementia, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agencey (EPA) recently stated that 1,200 people die prematurely every year in Ireland due to air pollution with the World Health Organisation listing Galway as one of the worst offenders in Britain and Ireland for breaching air safety levels.

It is accepted that trees are the most cost effective way to tackle urban pollution, absorbing between 7% to 24% of atmospheric contaminates.

On a biodiversity level, Terryland was initiated as an ecological corridor for flora and fauna by providing a green link to connect the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway, a key development at a time when the status of over 60% of Ireland’s native species is precarious. 

We welcome the fact that two days after our meeting, engineers from Halcrow Barry Consultants will host a public consultation on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout in the new Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre

But our fear is that the views of the engineers as well as of senior officials in City Hall fail to fully understand Terryland’s role in citizens’ health and biodiversity protection, a situation that seems unbelievable considering that Galway is the designated Green Leaf or Green Capital of Europe for 2017.  For at last week’s council meeting when plans were unveiled for the first time of the six design options on revamping the Kirwan Roundabout, not one of the engineers either in their written or oral presentations made reference to the ‘Terryland Forest Park’ by name.  This in spite of the fact that three of the options are based on dissecting the lands of this key recreational and ecological zone.  This negative stance was similar to City Hall’s recent bye-law recommendation to ban children from climbing trees in parks as well as when the council’s CEO in September introduced the forest road development via a Material Alterations to the Galway City Development Plan, where the construction was (under)stated as just a “link road between Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and Liosbaun Estate. They are by this approach devaluing the fundamental importance of forests and other green spaces, treating them as land banks to be used for built development and expansion when they want.  

There is no doubt that the Kirwan Roundabout and access roads infrastructure needs to be revamped to support motorised and non-motorised vehicle users. But it is going against the trend of other European countries that the engineers are not being given the wider holistic remit to consider the installation of a proper pedestrian, cyclist and public transport infrastructure nor to review the synchronisation of the traffic lights which are presently leading to tailbacks on the Kirwan roundabout. Likewise as with other countries’ such as the United States, Netherlands and Britain, there is no consideration given of building Green (wildlife) Bridges to connect the different sections of Terryland Forest presently separated by Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and the Quincentennial Bridge Road.

The Terryland Forest Park project was established as a partnership between City Hall and communities in 1999 and with its 100,000 native trees is officially recognised as the Lungs of the City. Such a proposed road construction punctures these lungs, goes against council’s own environmental policies and is a betrayal of the trust of the people of Galway who in their thousands have planted tens of thousands of trees and native wildflowers over the last two decades.

We want the citizens to reclaim their forests and do what the council signage says at the main entrance to the park, “Citizens of Galway, This is Your Park, Take Ownership of our City’s Cultural Woodland”. The council have no right to renege on their written promises and to steal what was planted and nurtured by the ordinary citizens of all ages. We need investment not destruction.

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