The N59 needs to be upgraded. That statement will come as no surprise to those of us who regularly use the main road through Connemara. It is a view shared also by all public representatives and officials.
There are many stages to upgrading a road many of which take place long before actual machinery appears. And I want to assure readers and residents that work is ongoing to upgrade the N59.
Earlier this month I chaired a meeting in Dublin between officials from my Department, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Galway Oireachtas members. The meeting was very useful and constructive and heard of the progress that is being made on the plans to upgrade the N59 between Oughterard and Clifden which I’d like to outline here.
Oughterard to Maam Cross
The N59 has been divided into two parts for the upgrade project. The first section is from Oughterard to Maam Cross which is very complicated given the protected status of the pearl mussel species as well as the presence of special habitats.
Planning permission and funding of several million euro has been granted for this section. However, An Bord Pleanala has imposed strict conditions which must be met including the difficult task of completing ‘method statements’ which detail specific actions and possible risks prior to any works taking place.
A further complication is the unusual situation of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) being put in a ‘consenting authority’ role by the Planning Board.
Since the summer, the officials from the NPWS and Galway County Council have been working together to progress the project.
Plans at a more advanced stage for 5km between Bunakill and Maam Cross. This is because this area is further away from the Owenriff River. Galway County Council will be putting a hot-rolled asphalt overlay on the 11km between Claremont to Bunakill.
Maam Cross to Clifden
Galway County Council had worked hard on a planning application for this section of the road. However, An Bord Pleanala refused permission to Galway County Council because of the impact they felt the project would have on four Special Areas of Conservation.
As with many people I was extremely disappointed with the Board’s decision which has delayed the upgrade works. It is particularly disappointing given the fact that the majority of this part of the overall project is online meaning it doesn’t depart much from the existing N59.
In its decision, however, the Board stated that it is generally favourably disposed to the road improvement in the interest of traffic safety and community need which is positive.
Since the refusal in May of this year the County Council has been working on a new application. It is very likely that work can take place without much difficulty on 10km of this part of the N59. With some adjustments it is also likely that works can proceed on a further 11km of the road. This leaves approximately 7km of road where there are major difficulties in planning the upgrade project without impacting on the conservation areas.
I will continue to work to ensure the NPWS and Galway County Council find a solution for that section and that all concerned work together towards delivering the upgrade of all of the N59 for the communities of Connemara.