Carrick-on-Suir Town Council is to examine the feasibility of making its New Street Car Park suitable for buses to attract the valuable coach tours to nearby Ormond Castle.
Town Engineer Eoin Powell is to carry out a series of tests at the car park opposite Carrick-on-Suir Town Hall to establish whether it’s suitable to accommodate coaches, the Council’s November meeting was informed.
The meeting also heard from Independent Cllr Pierce O’Loughlin that an owner of nine acres of land along the river at the rear of the Castle is willing to sell the property to the local authority for the purpose of developing an access road and parking area for tour coaches.
But the high cost of such a project means it’s unlikely the Town Council will be able to afford to pursue it in the short to medium term given major local government funding cutbacks.
Cllr Patsy Fitzgerald’s alternative and cheaper proposal of creating coach parking spaces at the New Street Car Park opposite Carrick-on-Suir Town Hall received the backing of all except Cllr O’Loughlin and Cllr Kieran Bourke at the meeting.
A third proposal put forward by Fine Gael Cllr Margaret Croke to develop a bus parking area in the Castle Field in front of the Castle was defeated by seven votes to two with Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan the only other councillor to support the motion.
Cllr Fitzgerald’s motion requested the local authority to allocate funding in its 2013 budget to carry out the appropriate alterations to the New Street Car Park to accommodate coach parking in view of the Government’s tourism initiative “The Gathering” next year and the recent launch of the Butler Trail, which includes Ormond Castle.
The reply from the Town Clerk Michael O’Brien stated that the Council needed to address a number of difficulties the proposal posed before reaching a decision.
The issues included how buses would get in and out of the car park, the replacement of the existing barriers with electronic gates/barrier and their cost, the loss of parking spaces and the large turning area required by buses.
Cllr Fitzgerald said he was happy with the Council’s response. Failte Ireland tour operators regarded the availability of parking next to a visitor attraction as a big issue and that is why buses should park in New Street Car Park.
He argued the cost of the works required to make the car park suitable for buses would be minimal compared to Cllr O’Loughlin’s proposal, which would involve the spending of several hundred thousand euro.
While it was great news that land on the quay was for sale, he considered developing a car park for buses at this location to be a medium to long term project and he wondered how it was going to be funded.
Cllr Cooney-Sheehan, who seconded the motion, pointed out that New Street Car Park was not only the nearest car park to Ormond Castle but also the nearest to the town’s retail centre. Dropping off and collecting tourists there meant they would also be drawn to walking into the town centre to shop.
She agreed with Cllr Fitzgerald that a short term measure like this was needed.
She didn’t want the Council to wait three to five years for a car park near the quay to be developed.
Cllr O’Loughlin said he was supporting the long term project.
He had reservations about changing an existing car park and warned the Council it needed to be very careful about introducing short term parking measures.
The proposal for New Street Car Park was just a piecemeal solution, he argued.
“I have heard from a solicitor today that the land is available for the Council to purchase.
“I hope we look at the long term and move this forward to open up a lot of avenues for hte development of the Castle.”
Cllr Kieran Bourke said he initially hadn’t any problem with a temporary car parking facility but he didn’t agree with it if it was to cost a lot of money and hamper the bigger project.
In relation to the nine acres site along the river, he said the Council had an excellent opportunity as they had been talking about developing a roadway around the castle and parking for some time.
He revealed that a structural engineer was carrying out a survey of the site Cllr O’Loughlin referred to in order to answer questions about flood risk, the soil conditions.
An engineer’s report would be available for the Council’s planners.
Cllr Bourke said he understood from the landowner that he was quite prepared to negotiate with the Council in relation to the sale of the land.
“That land can be bought fairly cheaply I am led to believe,” he added.
Cllr Fitzgerald responded that he was glad to hear about the survey but expressed the hope the Council would carry out its own survey before anything was done as it had to protect its interests as well.
Town Clerk Michael O’Brien said the Council needed to assess the various possibilities but hoped to be in a position to give a definitive response to Cllr Fitzgerald’s proposal at next month’s meeting.
Meanwhile, in proposing her motion, Cllr Croke argued that the Castle Field was not the “holy grail” and she believed providing parking for coaches on part of it would be the best use of the field owned by the people of the town if the New Street proposal turned out to be unfeasible.
But Cllrs. Bourke, Fitzgerald and O’Loughlin spoke out against the proposal. “We have a fine green area in front of the Castle which we should retain,” said Cllr. Fitgerald, who argued that developing car parking in front of the castle would be quadruple the cost of adapting the New Street Car Park for buses.
Cllr O’Loughlin predicted there would be uproar from local residents and the people of the town if they touched the Castle Field. Cllrs Sarah Dunne, Richie O’Neill and the Mayor Cllr Liam Walsh joined them in voting against the motion.