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The Ceannt Station Redevelopment

Brian Guerin
Ceannt Station is located on the south-western corner of Eyre Square. At 5.97 hectares (14.8 acres), it  would seem to be the ideal location for an integrated central bus and rail station for Galway city.

Accordingly, the Department of Transport recently announced a redevelopment of Ceannt Station. This is to consist of a transport interchange, with three full-length platforms (allowing for intercity and commuter service expansion), 25 dedicated bus bays, and enhanced car parking facilities (for public transport users). But this is not all. A major part of the plan provides for eight hundred residential units, including a “social and affordable housing” component. Cultural and community facilities also form part of the scheme. In speaking about the plan for the new “station quarter”, Minister for Transport Martin Cullen stated, “The new, expanded and integrated transport facilities envisaged in the CIE plan will support much improved public services in terms of capacity and ease of use. Good quality facilities of the type proposed are essential to attract more users to public transport.” The Minister also said: “It will be important in developing and taking forward the planning proposals outlined here today, that CIÉ consult widely with local and regional authorities and development interests to ensure that the proposed redevelopment of the station integrates well with local and regional development plans.”

As far as the expansion of bus and rail facilities at the station are concerned, the proposals seem remarkably modest: three full-length platforms (for both intercity and commuter service use), and 25 dedicated bus bays. There is also a car parking provision, with the assurance that this will be only used by “park and ride” commuters, not the  tenants of the housing development. According to Irish Rail, passenger numbers on the busy Galway to Dublin route have expanded to 1.5 million in 2006. It seems strange then that the purported redevelopment is on such a modest scale; in fact, it appears that by far the most ambitious aspect of the plan is the handover of much of the land at Ceannt Station for residential development.

The figure of ¤1 billion, quoted in CIE's press releases, refers to the value of the Ceannt Station site, not to the level of investment required to turn Ceannt Station into a hub for regional public transport. It is apparent, from the scant details provided, that the plans are inadequate for providing the transport needs of Galway City itself, with its population of 70,000 people, whatever about satisifying the demands of the Western Seaboard.
CIE's “proposal” for Ceannt Station is devoid of specific information. No plans for the proposed development have been presented. There is no indication of how much of the site will be given over to private ownership, and how much will be retained for public transport facilities. CIE has provided no analysis of public transport needs to justify its plan. This approach is suspiciously similar to the Government's adoption of Private Finance Initiatives for large infrastructure projects in general, and a massive motorway building scheme in particular, without bothering even to carry out feasability studies to back up their policy decisions.

Criticizing the proposal, Michael D. Higgins TD stated that it resembled the project of a property developer more than that of a body which bears primary responsibility for the provision of public transport. Indeed, the suspicion that the needs being served here are those of property developers than of the public has some basis in fact. Though the site is publicly owned, and it is CIE's responsibility to use this land for the continued development and improvement of public transport, it appears that the meagre public transport facilities on offer in CIE's proposal are not being funded through the Public Capital Programme. Instead, funding will be provided through the use of a large part of the site for private development. It seems that there has been no attempt to provide for any potential future expansion of the facilities to meet growing transport requirements. This begs the question as to whether the talk of “redevelopment” is simply public relations, meant to disguise the intention to give the entire site over to residential and commercial development.

Statements of interest for the commercial component of the proposal are to be heard immediately, whereas the initial application for planning permission will not take place until the Autumn. This suggests that the Government is waiting until the election is out of the way, before announcing news that may be less than palatable to those expecting the improvement of Galway's public transport facilities: a radical reduction, if not removal, of those facilities, in favour of handing over yet more public land for private development.

What the public might want from the redevelopment of Ceannt Station is not even a consideration: no public consultation has taken place concerning the scheme. The public which funds the Government's unresearched and profligate “development” proposals are expected simply to accept without demur what is done in their name.

© The Tara Foundation, 2007