Kilkenny County Council officials and councillors at the site of the South East Greenway
The process of consultation between Kilkenny County Council and residents in Ferrybank to choose the first Greenway carpark has set a standard for all future public consultations.
What started out as a ‘tricky process’ was collaborative and the council brought the community with them, local councillors say.
Director of Services Sean McKeown explained that Kilkenny County Council engaged consultants ‘Connect the Dots’ to facilitate community engagement.
Connect the Dots is finalising its report on the process and Naomi Murphy from the company described the main points to councillors.
She said public confidence in the engagement process rose from 58% at the beginning to 92% by the final online workshop, in February.
The process really showed residents were being listened to and good will and trust were built up during sessions. Consultants were brought in when the selection process to choose the car park began, and residents raised concerns about possible sites.
Work began with the community last November, when leaflets were distributed in the area with information about a survey and online workshops.
Ms Murphy said survey results showed local excitement for the Greenway and its benefits, but concerns about the impact of the proposed car park.
Well-attended online workshops were held in December, January and February.
Some of the initial concerns raised by residents were about increased traffic in the area, because of the carpark, that this would make the area less safe for children and lead to pollution. There were also concerns about anti-social behaviour and the lack of available information.
However, the majority of responses were in favour of the Greenway, saying it would be a great amenity.
Ideas for encouraging use of the Greenway were gathered - including coordinating with schools, having small shops, bike rental, playgrounds or other amenities along the route and ensuring ease of access.
The Greenway was seen as promoting cycling and having use for people to get to work and school.
Local people shared their views and expertise through Q&A sessions and smaller, ‘break out’ discussion groups with trained facilitators. At the final workshop the ‘option 5’ site, adjacent to the Greenway and the new link road from Abbey Road to Belmont, was chosen.
Mr McKeown said two reports will now be published - the Connect the Dots report and the more technical site selection report.
District chairman, Cllr Eamon Aylward, said the process and outcome show the value of public consultation. It had started out as a “tricky process” but people felt listened to. Instead of pushing through a plan they brought people with them. There will be a further opportunity to engage in the process when the car park goes to planning, and there will be another information session for residents.
Cllr Pat Dunphy agreed this consultation was a lesson on how it should be done.
“That consultation was the way to do it,” Cllr Ger Frisby said, welcoming that ‘everyone is on board and everyone is behind it’.
Cllr Tomás Breathnach complimented Mr McKeown for his initial communication with local residents when difficulties arose and Ms Murphy’s professionalism and willingness to listen. “It gave people great confidence in the process, and has set the standard for us in south Kilkenny.”
Cllr Breathnach said people deserved credit for engaging with the process. Cllr Aylward said they had made great progress and it is important now they keep the lines of communication open for what is going to be a huge project that will benefit the whole area.
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