The controversial afternoon car ban on Cork’s St Patrick’s St looks set to be suspended tonight after just three weeks.
The move follows weeks of controversy and intense pressure from traders who branded the move a disaster.
A special city council meeting has been called for this evening during which councillors are expected to recommend the temporary suspension, with immediate effect, of the street’s 3pm-6.30pm daily car ban for up to four months.
A package of parking incentives introduced last week to support city centre traders will be retained.
However, most councillors are expected to back the vision of the City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS) which is designed to improve the bus reliability and journey times and reduce reliance on private cars.
It is understood the council will spend the coming months engaging with the city’s business community on the strategy.
Some €200m of public investment has been earmarked for massive upgrades to the city’s bus network, which has seen passenger numbers grow by 23% over the last three years.
There are fears that if the CCMS is not fully implemented, the funding could be lost.
And it is understood that some of the city’s largest employers, including Apple, have also stressed to City Hall the urgent need for a public transport service their employees can rely on.
Tonight’s council meeting was announced after a meeting yesterday of the council’s party whips and leaders with council chief executive Ann Doherty, and the director of the council’s transportation directorate, Gerry O’Beirne.
It was organised in response to a meeting the night before of some 200 city traders who united in calls for the car ban to be scrapped. They say it has decimated afternoon trade and created an image that the city is closed.
Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald said councillors and officials have been listening to traders’ concerns.
“As a result, we have decided to hold a special meeting tonight where we will review the CCMS.
“It’s a democratic forum. I will allow each of the members to voice their concerns, and we will certainly try to make proactive decisions to address their concerns.”
However, he said a united message must go out that Cork is open for business, and is a great city in which to work, live and shop.
Ms Doherty insisted that she has the backing of council, and she said she plans to address with a Fianna Fáil councillor allegations made at the traders’ meeting that officials had misled the elected members.
“I am aware that one elected member has said some things about the officials and I’ll discuss that with that individual,” she said.
“But I enjoy the support of council which is something I’m quite proud of, and our team of staff, we work together, so if an individual has a problem, they should come and talk to me.”
The council’s Fianna Fáil leader, Terry Shannon, criticised the councillors’ remarks.
“We are 100% behind our chief executive and that type of language is offensive and unacceptable,” he said.
Sinn Féin leader Thomas Gould declined to comment on how he will vote tonight pending consultation with his party colleagues.
“We are listening. Senior management are listening as well,” he said.
“But I would just be cautious, that people might think this is being gotten rid of, or will be finished tonight.
“We have a long-term view of Cork city and any decision we make has to be integrated with the long-term view, especially with the boundary extension. We have to find a solution.”
Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer said: “We all want an open vibrant dynamic city — we just have to agree a way forward. I support the policy framework but we need to find a way of working with traders to implement it.”
Independent councillor Mick Finn said there is a need for long-term measures to facilitate the sustainable growth of the city.
“But we have to be able to marry that with the needs of traders, and we are trying to come up with a solution,” he said.
He also urged the business community to get more involved in consultation in relation to the CCMS over the coming months.
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