It was standing room only by the start of a public meeting last week to discuss the vision for the future of Kilkenny City.
Despite the balmy summer evening, around 100 people packed into the council chamber in City Hall last Wednesday. The meeting, called ‘Kilkenny’s Future’, was to be a forum for peoples’ opinions on the City Development Plan and the future of the St Francis Abbey Brewery site.’
Mayor David Fitzgerald chaired the meeting, while county manager Joe Crockett made a slideshow presentation entitled “Kilkenny: Placemaking – branding – economic development.”
Mr Crockett said that Kilkenny already had a very good reputation as a city in terms of how it has developed over the years.
“If you ask someone to name a place that has got it right and has a good brand, Kilkenny is what comes into mind,” he said.
Among the areas of priority going forward are third-level education, agri-food business, tourism, and pharma logistics.
Mr Crockett said that progress was being made on all of these areas. He pointed to the recent opening of a third-level campus in St Kieran’s College, to ongoing discussions with Glanbia, and the council’s commitment to establishing a ‘Medieval Mile’ through the spine of the city.
Following the presentation, the floor was opened for those in attendance to contribute their own vision for the city.
Dan McEvoy asked whether it would be possible to establish some sort of civic trust bond, in which the people of Kilkenny could invest. The idea was greeted with a good deal of interest from those in attendance. Mayor Fitzgerald said the idea had merit.
“It might be worth looking at,” he said.
“I don’t know wheteher it is appropriate or not, but it would allow people to invest in their own community.
A number of speakers had criticisms of the Central Access Scheme and bridge, saying that bridges should be built further outside the city, rather than through the centre.
Community activist Mick Greene said the project should be put on hold to free up the funding.
“The Central Access Scheme and a new city library will require funding of 16 million,” he said.
“Projects requiring that level of public funding should be suspended until a full local area plan has been agreed.”
Also emerging from the meeting was a degree of public disillusionment with the current consultation process at local government level.
“The Part 8 process is not a very satisfactory way of having a dialogue and a conversation,” said Declan Murphy of An Taisce.
“There is a hunger for all of us in Kilkenny to take part and talk out what we have in mind.”
President of Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce John Purcell said that the implications of this merited consideration.
“We have a borough council – if people feel it isn’t working, we need to reflect on that,” he said.
Reacting the following day, Mayor Fitzgerald agreed that there were flaws with the Part 8 process.
“It is a criticism I have myself,” he said.
“It is too bureaucratic and doesn’t engage with the public enough. It’s too technical a process: People rarely submit ideas – they react to ideas.”
The Mayor also said that the business community needed to do more to have a say in the future of the city.
“I would like to see the business community set out their own clear vision of where they see Kilkenny over a 10/20-year period,” he said.
“If I have one criticism of the business community, it is that there is too much time spent reacting to the local authority and not enough time spent formulating their own report and vision.”
Roisin McQuillan of Rothe House asked that particular attention be given to signage in the city, especially in the context of the proposed Medieval Mile. She also said that the lack of available coach parking at the Northern end of the town meant that businesses along the Parliament Street/Irishtown side were losing out on the tourism trade.
These remarks were in part echoed by Seamus Brennan, who said that with a number of exceptions, Parliament Street was ‘a disaster’.
“It is half-dead,” he said.
“This requires national attention. The Government needs to bring back a proper urban renewal project, with proper restoration of old buildings and tax incentives at a micro level.”
Martin Murphy of Murphy’s Jewellers cautioned against a return to a one-way system on High Street, or even total pedestrianisation.
“As a High Street trader, the one-way system was very damaging to business,” he said.
“Pedestrianisation is an idea worth looking at, but I feel it wouldn’t work in Kilkenny.”
Instead, he said the council should consider the ‘Shared Space’ concept as espoused by Ben Hamilton-Baillie. Mr Murphy warned against a ‘monoculture’, saying that the diversity of the city’s shops was what made it unique.
Following the meeting, a number of people gave their names and details, to be included in any public process in the future. Mayor Fitzgerald said he was pleased with how it went.
“We had a full house, and there were some very good ideas and questions from the floor,” he said.
“I was also very pleased to see a number of brewery workers and former workers in attendance.
“We started the ball rolling with this. I see huge potential to create a focus group to work through some of the ideas.”