The future of a Cork town may depend on a link to the M20, writes Sean O’Riordan
A BATTLE royale is set to commence next week as a community tries to overturn a decision by the NRA which could seriously damage the future growth of a north Cork town.
The people of Buttevant were delighted to hear their town was to be bypassed by the new M20— the Cork-Limerick motorway.
But shock and anger soon crept in when the NRA revealed it was not prepared to build a link road from Buttevant to the new highway.
All other towns along the 80km route will have slip road connections and even far smaller communities in Grenagh and Rathduff will have better access to the motorway.
The nearest direct links to the motorway are at Charleville and Mallow, both of which are around 10km from Buttevant.
However, the objective of the County Development Plan is to reverse the decline in the town so that “its population base and employment capacity will be strengthened in the future”.
The development plan also highlights “an objective to recognise its important strategic position on the Atlantic Corridor and the importance of having high quality links to the national primary route network”.
That’s what Cork County Council planners proposed — but the NRA, it has emerged, doesn’t agree.
Buttevant Community Council has now employed some big guns to take on the NRA at a Bord Pleanála oral hearing into the motorway. The oral hearing is due to get under way next Wednesday at the Charleville Park Hotel.
Local solicitor Matt Nagle, chairing a group of objectors, said Tom Hally of McCutcheon Mulcahy consultants will tell the hearing the omission of a link would have a very detrimental effect on the town.
“We are acutely aware of the benefits of having the town bypassed. But not having a link to the motorway will be disastrous. The NRA is basing its decision on current traffic patterns and not what will be required in the future. The future growth of the town will be totally disadvantaged if this decision is not reversed,” Mr Nagle said.
Auctioneer Tom Sheahan, a former mayor of Cork county, said locals would be delighted the vast majority of the 12,000 vehicles passing through the town on a daily basis would soon be using the motorway.
The population of Buttevant is currently just over 900. The County Development Plan, however, envisages it will reach more than 1,500 by 2020.
He said attracting people to live in Buttevant would be far more difficult without a motorway connection.
Also, the town is desperately crying out for new jobs which, Mr Sheahan says, are unlikely to be created if the link isn’t there.
“In the early 1980s Buttevant Concrete closed with the loss of 120 jobs. Ballybeg Quarries, which once employed up to 90 people, closed last year. The largest employer in the town is now Greenhall Motors, which has 18 staff,” Mr Sheahan said.
The county council has ensured a lot of infrastructure has been put into the town to aid regeneration.
Millions of euro has been spent in the last five years on upgrading water, sewage and broadband services, while an adequate amount of land has been zoned for housing and industrial development.
Mr Sheehan said the town had been bypassed by the Celtic Tiger but it had been hoped to reverse this trend. His wife, Lillian, is trying to promote Buttevant as a tourist destination to bolster the town’s economy.
Recently thousands of people attended a Red Bull-organised motorcross locally, which followed the exact route of the famous St Leger steeplechase, first run between Buttevant and Doneraile in 1752.
Ms Sheehan is now organising a medieval festival for the town, which was founded by a Norman family, the Barrys, in 1206.
“We have such a lot to offer and we’re hoping to capitalise on it. But if there is no connection to the motorway it will make it very difficult to attract in tour buses,” Ms Sheehan said.
The NRA is probably delighted it won’t have to face the wrath of hell-raiser Oliver Reed. The actor, who died 11 years ago, was a regular in the town’s Welcome Inn pub. He lived in the nearby village of Churchtown which will also be put at a disadvantage with no connectivity to the motorway.
Lisa Fitzgerald, who runs the Welcome Inn with her mother Mary Jo, said they get a lot of passing traffic, especially on big GAA match days in Limerick and Cork.
“I can’t see these people coming into town any more. They would if we had a slip road. Mallow has two slip roads, and there’s even access to the villages of Mourneabbey and Grenagh. We will be the only town on the 80km route not to have a connection and I’m afraid it will put us back into the dark ages,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Nigel Doherty, who runs the town’s Centra supermarket, said there would be nothing to attract young couples to the town if the NRA succeeds.
“It won’t just be bad for Buttevant but for adjoining places like Doneraile, Liscarroll, Lisgriffen and Churchtown,” he said.
Hardware store owner William Hutch recalled in the mid 1990s a plan had been drawn up to create a dual carriageway between Cork and Limerick which had a slip road directly connecting Buttevant. “It’s ridiculous what the NRA is doing,” he said.
Gerry Kelly, principal of the 218-pupil Coláiste Mhuire secondary school, said the NRA was giving the town something with one hand and then taking it away with the other.
“Ballincollig, for example, has eastern and western slip roads whereas Buttevant is being totally bypassed traffic-wise as well as from a social and economic perspective,” he said.
The principal said the campaign for a new secondary school was continuing, in line with the council’s plans to increase the population in the area.
Cork County VEC has acquired a site and is waiting for Department of Education approval to go to tender.
Cllr John Paul O’Shea (Ind) said the county council plan for the town was to see its population increase by 64% by 2020. “Strengthening the commercial and employment base of the town is essential to achieving this population growth,” he said.
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