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John O Connor, of Retailers Of Ennis with fellow members Mary Kelly, and Martin Casey. They are warning against what they call the 'blanket pedestrianisation' of the streets of Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Contrasting views expressed on Ennis pedestrianisation

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THE chair of an Ennis retailers group has warned against “blanket pedestrianisation” of the county capital’s town centre saying it would lead to “commercial apartheid”.

John O’Connor of Retailers of Ennis was reacting to the release of a survey by Clare County Council this week which showed more than 70% of respondents would like to see some form of pedestrianisation in Ennis ‘immediately’. (See Clare Champion story here)

He believes compromise is needed if there are any future plans to make Ennis’ streets car-free. He insists it would need to be carefully planned out, with the needs of business owners and those who need to access those businesses taken into consideration along with increasing parking.

Mr O’Connor fears that full pedestrianisation of the town centre would drive people out to the peripheries resulting in a “business desert” in the town.

“We have always maintained if you continue with blanket pedestrianisation you reach a situation where you have, in essence, commercial apartheid. Take a businesses on the periphery of Ennis and you have a business right in the middle of Ennis like myself. If you close off access for people doing their business in their cars, that puts us at a serious, serious disadvantage. If the place is blocked people will go to the periphery to do business there.”

The independent community group Better Ennis, however, warmly welcomed the results of the survey that showed an overwhelming majority in favour of pedestrianisation of the core town centre streets.

A spokesperson for the group told The Clare Champion, “The survey displays the value of trial and evaluation, allowing the pedestrianisation period to bed in, for people to familiarise themselves with the changes, and most especially the value of engagement with all members of the community – people of all ages, all abilities, people who have business in the town, people who live in the town, all members of our community, because our public space is just that – it belongs to everyone.”

The spokesperson added that the survey results demonstrated an understanding that the experience of a town centre needs to be a pleasant place to spend time, not dominated with car traffic and car storage.

“Retailers are competing with online offerings – a pleasant and sociable experience will win out over convenience. But also, with remote working, every town can now compete for people to come and live, to set up business, with every other location.

“We need people back living in the town centre, over the shops, breathing life back into our streets at all hours of the day. This will only come when our town centre is a pleasant place to live – well-designed public space, good air quality, green spaces, and one where people, their health and quality of life, is prioritised.”

Mr O’Connor for his part insisted the retailers group is not against pedestrianisation, and pointed to the fact that while a member of the now-disbanded Ennis mobility plan task force it suggested measures such as pedestrianisation at certain times.

He continued, “The physical nature of Ennis and the narrow streets gives itself to pedestrianisation at certain times, and we have always advocated for that.

“Christmas time comes and the place is pedestrianised and that is great. But you always have to keep in mind you want people to access the town, to have this beautiful experience and do business, because that is what it is all about. You don’t want a business desert in town, where people are walking around with their lattes and saying how beautiful it is to walk freely.”

“If you want pedestrianisation you have to plan it out. You have to be very thoughtful of businesses and not reach a situation where businesses are forced out, because accessibility is the big problem,” he said.

“Parking has always been the perennial problem, and it has never been satisfied and until you get close parking to access the town of Ennis full pedestriansation will never happen. And it shouldn’t if you want Ennis to be a business centre.”

The question of parking and car traffic was also highlighted by Better Ennis as being among other important reasons why it believes pedestrianisation is important.

“We cannot say we are taking climate action seriously if we don’t tackle emissions from private car journeys – many of which are short journeys. We need to reduce car usage. It is not only a climate change problem, but a public health problem – with sedentary lifestyles, polluted air from traffic, and noise pollution.”

“There is still a lot of work to be done to tackle the problems of traffic in our town centre. It won’t be done by additional parking. All research and evidence-based approaches involve ensuring that there is a good network of connected cycling lanes, connected paths, and prioritisation of people walking and cycling and rolling, over inefficient private car traffic, especially at pedestrian crossings.

“If we enable the majority of people to choose a healthy mode of transport, it will be easier for those who must use a car, who are reliant and dependent on them, to access the town.”

The results of the Ennis pedestrianisation survey were released this week by Clare County Council. The survey was conducted online and in paper format in October, 2021.

A spokesperson for the council commented, “the focus of Ennis Municipal District is to make Ennis an attractive, safe place to live, work, visit and socialise while maximising its economic and tourism potential. We will continue to work with our partners, residents, business representatives and community groups and look forward to continued engagement with the public.”

The information from this survey will be fed into future transport planning for the town including the formulation of the ‘Ennis Mobility Plan’ which will examine all forms of modal transport for the town centre and its environs. Clare County Council would like to sincerely thank all those who took the time to participate in this survey.

The full survey results are available at: https://www.clarecoco.ie/your-council/[news]/ennis-pedestrianisation-survey-results-45703.pdf.

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