‘We will do what we have to do to get there’

The disappointment of losing out on the Tidy Towns prize last week has already been replaced by a resolve to reach even higher next year.

The disappointment of losing out on the Tidy Towns prize last week has already been replaced by a resolve to reach even higher next year.

A huge amount of work went in this year by both the local authorities and the volunteers in KKB this year. There was a huge weight of expectation, and many truly felt that this was to be Kilkenny’s year.

The city ended up winning the county award, the regional award, a tourism award and a gold medal – but again fell short of the overall prize.

“We were pleased to have received the four awards, but hopes had been high that we were going to go the extra distance,” says KKB chairman David Fitzgerald.

“So from that point of view, people were disappointed. But also, resolute that we have to do what we have to do to get there. And people are more determined to correct the mistakes and solve the problems.”

Year-on-year points increases show that Kilkenny is improving – but everyone else is improving as well.

“It’s like the top flight of any sport, or other competition,” says Cllr Fitzgerald.

“It’s won and lost by milimetres, or one-hundredths of seconds – the margin between success and failure is very tight. To use a hurling analogy, we lost it in the last minute. We played a good game to that point, we had ourselves in contention.

“And to take the hurling analogy further, like Brian Cody doesn’t whinge at the end of the match about the referee, or the decisions that were made – we aren’t going to whinge about not winning, except for the fact that we are going to redouble our efforts, address our weaknesses, and come back fighting in 2014.”

He disagrees with any suggestion that the adjudicators were pedantic in their criticisms – such as, for example, remarks about Kilkenny’s choice of flowers or our two different varieties of street signage.

“That’s the standard if you want to win, at the top level,” he says.

“That’s the standard that other places have achieved. And that’s why we cannot whinge.”

There is no doubt that, for a large urban area, a four-point improvement is an enormous step forward. So where do we go from here?

“Well, next year, the re-paving of High Street will be finished, and we will have a new pedestrian bridge,” says Cllr Fitzgerald.

“The industrial buildings of the brewery site will be gone and a new vista of the city will open up. These are all opportunities. We have already started on some new biodiversity projects. The issues highlighted in the report that we have to fix will all be fixed.”

These issues include increasing the amount of natural habitat, how estates around the city are managed, as well as blackspots such as the lanes off High Street – Poyntz Lane, Collier’s Lane, Chapel Lane – which all suffer from graffiti and poor maintenance of buildings.

Next year is unchartered territory however, as pending changes to local Government mean that the borough council will cease to exist. As a county and borough councillor, Cllr Fitzgerald says he has no sympathy for political bodies being rationalised, but has some concerns about where revenue generated in the city will be spent, and what it will mean for resources allocation.

But KKB will continue to focus on winning the competition that Cllr Fitzgerald calls a ‘recognised seal of quality’.

“The Tidy Towns win has a huge impact on your economic message, your tourism message, and your community message,” he says. “It’s not just window boxes and flowers.”