A DECISION to move forward with the planned redevelopment of Market Square in Letterkenny has been deferred so that objections from local businesses and taxi operators over the relocation of taxi bays can be looked at more closely.
A petition with 51 signatures, put forward by Hugh McFadden on behalf of taxi drivers, was submitted to Donegal County Council in response to the major development.
In their objection they stated that taxis have been in Market Square for over 50 years and are an important part of the town. The petition requested that the development does not proceed and questioned who it would benefit while noting that it ‘looks good’.
The plans propose to remove existing car parking, loading bays and taxi ranks from within Market Square and to construct a replacement taxi rank on Main Street in lieu of six existing on-street parking spaces.
John McGinley of McGinley Cabs raised concerns about the impact on taxi operators stating that Market Square holds between ten to twelve taxis.
He questioned whether taxi operators were consulted and requested that a meeting is held with taxi companies. He spoke about the economic difficulties facing the industry and said the funding to redevelop the square would be better directed towards tackling homelessness, mica and dereliction.
He asserted that the message behind the project is that cars are no longer welcome in the town centre and raised concerns about the amount of traffic management roadworks across Letterkenny.
According to the Council the up-to-date cost estimate of the ‘Reimagined Market Square’ project is in the region of €2.5 to €3 million.
The local authority said its aim is to reduce the dominance of vehicular movements within Market Square and to release the potential of the square as a safe, flexible place for people to sit in, to rest, to gather, to hold events, to animate and for business to spill out onto.
They said the fundamental objective is to capture the full potential of the public space and that this upgrade is a key component in the necessary reinvention of the historic town centre.
To achieve this the design the square “must provide a visually and physically open and accessible space and must critically prioritise pedestrians over cars”, they said.
Kristine Reynolds, Director of Courtyard Investment Management, on behalf of 18 collective businesses, lodged a letter of objection to the replacement of the six existing on-street parking spaces from ‘Fonez’ to ‘The Four Lanterns’ with a designated taxi rank.
They said the reassignment of these spaces to taxi bays will have a detrimental impact on businesses in the immediate proximity and within walking distance.
In its submission Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce welcomed the development and noted the work of the Chamber to progress the project with the Council over the last number of years.
The Chamber said it is encouraged by the plans that Market Square will become a space that can be utilised, welcoming and be a gathering space for citizens and visitors.
Peaceful and safe
In relation to the removal of car parking at Market Square the Chamber said the design will ensure cars do not dominate the Square making it a more peaceful and safe space.
The submission claimed that the taxi rank at Ulster Bank is never used and that the taxi rank outside the Brewery is mostly used at night-time suggesting that the removal of these ranks should not impact taxi services as people move toward taxi apps.
The Chamber proposed that the taxi rank on Main Street should be for three spaces only to replace those at Market Centre.
They said given there is an existing taxi rank outside The Kitchen, allocating a further six spaces is unnecessary. They argued that the current car parking spaces equate to 100 shoppers/business users per day and to lose this would be damaging to businesses.
A survey of occupancy rates at the existing taxi ranks at Ulster Bank, the Brewery Bar, Market Centre and The Kitchen, was undertaken by the Council over a six week period across 48 inspections.
The survey showed that the highest number of occupied taxi bays across all taxi ranks surveyed was seven and this occurred on only one occasion.
The report found for 96 per cent of inspections, five or less taxis occupied bays across all of the ranks at any one time.
From the evidence gathered from the survey the Council proposed that there is a need for at most six taxi bays within the area between Market Square and St Oliver Plunkett Road.
They said this capacity can be supplied by the existing rank outside The Kitchen (three bays) together with the reallocation of three on street parking spaces on Main Street to taxi rank as opposed to the six initially proposed.
At Monday’s meeting of Donegal County Council members were asked to approve the Market Square works however this decision was deferred following a proposal by Cllr Ciaran Brogan.
Cllr Brogan made the proposal in light of the concerns of the business people and taxi drivers and the high number of submissions received.
He said the Council needs to look more closely at what is being proposed and suggested having a workshop to discuss it.
Taxis are an essential service and while there is a long term plan for a transport hub for the town he said in the short term they need to address the lack of taxi ranks around the town, he said.
“It is a huge investment for the town, Market Square has been talked about for a long time and it is important we get it right,” he said.
The proposal to defer was seconded by Cllr Gerry McMonagle. A workshop with members of the Letterkenny Milford Municipal District will take place to discuss it further.