Campaign to Save the 'People's Forest Park' in Galway City from Road Development

A once great eco-social experiment that engendered civic pride, created a natural ‘carbon sink’ to offset global warming, produced oodles of goodwill towards City Hall and developed a unique ‘green corridor’ through the heart of our grey urban sprawl is now being threatened by plans before Galway City Council to build a roadway though its heartland.
(Image- courtesy of Galway City Tribune)
The proposal to construct one and possibly two roads through the grounds of the Terryland Forest Park that will connect an enlarged Dyke Road to the Quincentennial Bridge and onto the Headford Road fatally undermines the park’s core ethos of creating a major unbroken ecological corridor and will result in the forest being permanently reduced to a series of s
mall isolated parks surrounded by roadways that will ultimately kill off its wildlife denizens. Nor will it solve traffic congestion as it will be just bring cars further along onto an already gridlocked bridge. Furthermore, the possibilities of transforming the Dyke Road into a new major artery for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport will be lost forever.
Map (Click on Image for larger view)-
Terryland Forest Park will stretch for 160 acres from the Quincenntennial Bridge to Castlegar village creating a large green belt across Galway City.
Thousands of Galwegians Plant Tens of Thousands of
Trees
Only a few years ago, the Terryland Forest Park captured the popular imagination of the whole nation. Here for the first time in Ireland, thousands of citizens of all ages answered the call from local government to plant tens of thousands of trees in an effort to create wonderful urban forest on what was largely sterile land and provide a sanctuary for wildlife and an outdoor leisure facility for the city’s population. Up to 160 acres were zoned for the park much of it saved from the threat of built development and where over time 500,000 native Irish trees would be planted. It was a fascinating inclusive initiative and the once unstoppable march of the concrete jungle was somewhat abated by the creation of this magical green oasis planted and nurtured by the ordinary folk of Galway. As with the almost simultaneous introduction of a pioneering three-bin domestic waste collection system, our city led the way for Ireland to meet its international environmental obligations.
Citizens were asked to claim ownership of what was to be a ‘People’s Park’.

Family Picnics, Community Plantings, Giant
Outdoor Classroom...
And so we did as a litany of giant picnics, outdoor theatre, annual community tree and school children bulb planting days, art workshops and nature walks took place that often attracted thousands of participants. The once foreboding bureaucratic monolith of City Hall took on a more human appeal as politicians and officials got ‘down and dirty’ digging into the soil alongside their local constituents.
Forestry Interpretative Centre, Cultural Amphitheatre,
Traditional Crafts Skills... Artist Lol Hardiman's Stunning Interpretation of proposed Outdoor Amphitheatre (Click on image for larger view)
A sense of a shared collective responsibility took root as artists, ecologists, academics, state officials, forestry workers, planners, environmentalists and community activists metamorphosed into a committee of enthusiastic equals that endeavoured to steer the Forest Park towards a bright new green future. Schools started to use its grounds as an Outdoor Classroom. Plans were drawn up to develop tree nurseries, arboreal natural playgrounds, artificial lakes and canals, an outdoor natural amphitheatre, a forestry educational centre, a training facility for the learning of traditional skills such as drystone-walling and coppicing that would be productively used for the construction and maintenance of the park’s own natural boundaries, the use of compost produced from the household brown bins to fertilise the park’s flora and the consideration of switching to bio-fuels to power the park’s vehicles/equipment.
New Urban Habitat for Flora & Fauna
Nature responded as hares, bats, pheasants, voles, foxes, rabbits, swans and kestrel travelled along the Corrib and in from the countryside to populate a man-made wildlife haven located in close proximity to the city centre. The park truly became a‘green highway’ linking the wetlands of the River Corrib near Terryland Castle to the turloughs and farmlands of Ballindooley/Castlegar.
'Green Lungs of the City'
It rightly deserved the official epitaph of ‘Green Lungs of the City’.
The existence of the roads that separated the different sections of the park was to be overcome by creating linkages possibly using building rubble to create mounds either side of the roads topped off by eco-bridges. Fantastic!
Forest Park in Decline
But sadly over time City Hall seemed to lose interest in the partnership ethos of the park’s unique Steering Committee. The gaps between meetings grow longer and longer as the weeks became months even years with the result that the talents and vitality of a once energetic membership were lost. The few public events that did take place since 2005 did so with insufficient publicity and therefore community participation. Even the graffiti-covered 'Information' signs dotted around the park are no longer updated and advertise events from 2006! Inevitably the Park lost much of its popular support. Concerned councillors seemed powerless to stop the rot.

Terryland Castle- A Major City Eyesore

Historical Terryland Castle is now a prominent eyesore. Surrounded by an ugly modern metal fence, its interior a major bushing venue, its vicinity used as a dumping ground by City Council for old railway bridge parts, the castle's pathways and grass verges are badly maintained, oftentimes covered in refuse and broken up by the tracks of heavy council machinery.

Invasion of Litter & Anti-Social elements
The young woodlands, like green spaces everywhere across the city, are now being invaded by a dangerous invasive species as bush drinkers cover the forest floor with a layer of cans, bottles and takeaway foods, killing off wildlife and turning ordinary folk away from enjoying the delights of our natural environment (Check out www.greenwatchgalway.blogspot.com). The absence of anti-vermin litterbins and a Park-Ranger force is contributing to this malaise. But other positive measures can still help remedy this situation. Hence 'Friends of the Terryland Forest' campaign group met with John Gormley, the Government Minister of the Environment and requested him to introduce a national refundable levy on all cans and bottles in order to help end the destruction of our nation’s famed sea and landscapes.

But our city Mayor and his fellow councillors should ensure that the Forest and its natural riverine and country hinterland are saved for future generations by throwing out the proposal to build a road through the park whose construction will not contribute to providing a sustainable city-wide transport infrastructure. They must not betray the trust of the thousands of Galwegians that planted trees and bulbs in the grounds of a parkland that we were promised would be sacrosanct.
However the ordinary people of Galway must once again become the ‘Guardians of the Forest’ and demand that the park’s unique identity be maintained and its par tnership structures and community/schools programmes resurrected.

Growing Public Support for Campaign to Stop the Road
In late December the newly formed 'Friends of the Forest' group began their campaign to save this green sanctuary.
National and local politicians were lobbied and meetings took place with senior city officials.
We organised an Guided Walk for councillors through the effected area led by scientists Dr. Colin Lawton, Dr. Michelline Sheehy-Skeffington and Dr. Sasha Bosbeer as well as Derrick Hambleton, Chairperson of An Taisce Galway attended by Councillors Brian Walsh (FG), John Connolly (FF) and Terry Flaherty(PD).
On January 23rd a delegation, facilitated by Green Party Councillor and former Mayor Niall O'Brolchain, travelled to Dublin to meet with John Gormley, Minister of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government. We outlined our concerns to the Minister who agreed to visit Galway on February 25th to see at first hand the situation along the Dyke Road and in Terryland Forest Park.
Sadly, the Minister's response on his walk through the Park was not the unconditional support that we were expecting to hear him give. He stated that he could take no action or make any recommendation until the councillors had voted on the road proposal.
Yet over the last few weeks, the support from all 5 local TDs (members of parliament) has been fantastic. Noel Grealish, Frank Fahey and Michael D. Higgins expressed outright opposition to the road development.
We also had sympathetic hearings with Government Minister Eamon O’Cuiv and Padraic McCormack TD who requested us to meet with them again quite soon after we talked to their party councillors. Padraic reminded us that it was he who put forward a motion, in response to a local residents’ campaign, that led to the establishment of the Terryland Park project in early 1996.
Support amongst councillors is growing. Councillors Niall O'Brolchain(Greens), Catherine Connolly(Ind), Mary Leahy(FF), Padraic Conneelly(FG), Danny Callanann(Ind), Collette Connolly(Lab), Billy Cameron(Lab), and the Mayor of Galway Tom Costello(Lab) have all indicated that they will support us in our opposition to the road development.

On January 26th, the campaign took to the streets of the city as we organised a Saturday Information Stand on Shop Street at which we asked people to put their name to our petition condemning the proposed road development and demanding that City Hall re-establish the Park's former public events and re-convene a community-orientated properly resourced Steering Committee.
The response to our stand was phenomenal with over 3,000 people queuing up over three consecutive Saturdays to sign up at our little stand. Once we reached 10,000 names, the petition was presented in the full glare of local media to the Mayor and to city officials on the steps of City Hall by the Forest campaign group.
We were greatly heartened at the public reaction from all ages and from businesses as well as schools.
For the message that was coming across to us on the streets of Galway is that Galwegians are fed up with overdevelopment, urban sprawl, the failure to provide an alternative to the car-based transport network that undermines public transport and cycling, the lack of recreational facilities and the loss of valuable green space.
They are also fully aware that this park has had a special significance for them; they are well-versed in its community origins and the special role ordinary residents previously had in its once vibrant management structure as well as the high public participation in the former annual family tree planting festivals. They are upset that this unique public engagement has been lost over the last few years; that the park is not being properly maintained, and that the commitments made in 2000 to develop special recreational, artistic. educational and heritage facilities in its grounds have not been adhered to.

This issue highlights the growing frustration and sense of alienation that ordinary Galwegians are feeling towards the political process particularly at the way policies adopted with, and promises made to, the people of Galway are not been honoured.

Time for the Councillors to Become Heroes of the People!
We are now calling on the councillors to have the moral courage to ensure that one of the last of our picturesque green areas along the banks of the Corrib is not sacrificed to concrete and tarmac. This campaign represents a golden opportunity for the City Council to regain the public trust that has been sadly undermined over the years.

Council's Public Consultation Degenerates into Farce
When Wrong Maps Shown!
City Hall officials this week caved into sustained community pressure and agreed to hold another public meeting in early May on their proposal to build a road through the Terryland Forest Park. This was due to the fact that their much-heralded 'Public Consultation' on the re-development of the locality containing the forest (supposedly about re-generation and better traffic management) descended into farce when the maps shown by the highly-paid consultants excluded any reference to the proposed new road and the widening of existing roadways!
In another sinister development, the maps at the event also displayed a Terryland Forest Park much reduced in size so that the new road would lay outside its geographical boundaries!
The local media coverage of the public anger was sustained and led to the c ouncil reversing their initial decision not to hold another public meeting
Yet if the 'Friends of the Forest' campaign group and the general public did not kick up such as fuss (admirably supported by the Mayor), then many local people understandably would not have objected to a road development that they were told would not happen. We could then have been left with the situation in a few months time whereby the City officials could have said there was little real opposition expressed by the general community to the road proposals during the public consultation process thereby facilitating certain councillors to vote in the plan.

August '08: Minister Calls for End to Major Development on Floodplains
The stormy weather conditions in August which resulted in severe flooding across the country led to the Minister for the Environment putting local authorities on official notice with his public statement that he would be demanding an end to significent developments in floodplains.
As the proposed road through the Terryland Forest would not only be built on a floodplain but would also be below the water level of the River Corrib,the Friends of the Forest decided to issue a statement on the issue which received ample coverage in the Galway City Tribune.

City Councillor Says "...I Am Sick of Trees All Over the City..."
Then in late August one local political representative, Councillor Michael Crowe(FF), launched a blistering attack on trees through the local media! His comment that "...I am sick of trees all over the city..." got front page headlines and arose supposedly from his specific concern over what he saw as evidence of person(s) living in a woodland near the Bohermore playing pitches. He wanted the trees there and elsewhere cut down. But his views subsequently led to angry responses in the newspaper letter pages from ordinary people extremely upset with his comments. As it turned out, this woodland was actually being earmarked as the site for a new roadway into the Galway Shopping Centre!
So yet again the powers-that-be want to sacrifice nature and trees to make way for roads.
This prompted Brendan Smith, campaign chairperson, to write to the media on the issue in the form of a letter which was published in the Galway City Tribune on September 5th:
Dear Editor,
Councillor Michael Crowe’s “…I am sick of trees all over the city…”quote in the City Tribune of August 22nd is the very antithesis of the views of his dearly departed local party colleague Michael Leahy who use to tell me often how much he loved nature and who was nearly always the first politician to turn up on-site with a spade to plant trees at Terryland Forest Plantathons.
But the councillor’s views are something that should cause us serious concern. Our city needs more trees not less to beautify our suburbs by populating the sterile green lawns surrounding our housing estates and to turn the plant-less roadways in front of the shopping centres along the Headford Road and elsewhere into tree-lined Parisian style boulevards. It is strange to think that least one of our local representatives is so hostile to the very ecological policies that he himself has voted in. This attitude could explain why good Galway City council policies, designed to protect our increasingly threatened natural environment, are not been implemented; why the public are not allowed any longer to take part in family tree plantings and outdoor artistic events in our fantastic but gravely underutilised parklands; why our precious landscapes are not adequately promoted as wonderful outdoor classrooms for the benefit of our school children; or why long-promised ecological facilities such as community tree nurseries, arboreal themed playgrounds and forestry learning centres are not being provided. Policy document after policy document on enhancing our natural heritage are gathering dust in City Hall. Sadly green spaces are too often viewed nowadays as just potential land banks for the construction sector. The Bohermore woodland that Councillor Crowe was particularly vehement about is a case in point. From his local, business and political background, the councillor should be well aware that there are written proposals to build a road through this woodland to provide increased access to the Galway Shopping Centre.
I have no problem with the councillor highlighting the anti-social activities that can take place in our parklands. For years I and many other concerned citizens have been pointing out to the council the urgent need to regularly maintain our green spaces, introduce ‘Park Rangers’ and provide an annual citywide programme of parks activities to allow the public to take ownership of our green resources. In September 2006 I specifically pointed out the need to remove the debris from the Bohermore woods. Recommenations were also sent in 2007 and 2008 to the Minister for the Environment requesting him to introduce a nation-wide refundable charge on all drinks cans and bottles purchased at off-licences so as to eliminate one of the greatest sources of litter in Ireland.
But Councillor Crowe must realise that trees are our friends not our enemies. Their absence is doing much to damage our personal health and that of the planet. As any primary school pupil will tell him, trees convert the lethal green house gas known as carbon dioxide into the oxygen that sustains life on Earth. It is mankind’s rapid destruction of forests that is contributing significantly to the dangerous climate change that we are now experiencing. Trees represent the greatest receptacle of global biodiversity that is in itself crucial to the survival of the human race. An oak tree for instance can sustain up to 450 different types of flora and fauna.
The destructive flooding that we are now experiencing is also aggravated by the cutting down of native Irish woodlands in our uplands and floodplains to make way for concrete and tarmac. Tree roots help to maintain soil stability and act as nature’s natural drainage system in absorbing rainwater.
Yet it worries me that a person in such an authoritative position as Councillor Crowe should have this negative opinion of trees which, if reflective of a wider view in the corridors of power, could do much to threaten our very existence. Hence I have written to the council’s environmental education officer requesting her to immediately provide information to councillors on trees and to remind them of the council’s arboreal policy namely that “…The Council recognises that trees are important natural features in the urban environment, enhancing the aesthetic quality of landscapes, providing valuable natural habitats and mitigating against the effects of air pollution…”.
It is worth noting too that London’s Lord Mayor Boris Johnston last month launched a major Urban Greening initiative for the city that will see a surge in tree planting and the creation of roof gardens. Hopefully Galway will follow suit and that we may yet see a garden on the flat-top of City Hall and a welcome return to the days when local politicians regularly joined the public in planting thousands of native ash, alder or oak trees at family day plantings with a more benign Councillor Crowe using a spade alongside the rest of us.


3 comments:

matt said...

Thank you all so much for taking the time to voice so much of what we all feel in relation to the proposed
threat to the Forest Park.
Keep up the good work.
And hopefully many others will be inspired to follow your excellent example and to do something practical to right this impending wrong.
Matt,Newcastle.

Friends of the Forest said...

Thanks Matt, Expression of support like yours is really great for our morale.

jkforde said...

Hi there, I've tried to find information and plans for the planned roads through the Terryland project on the Galwaycity.ie site but I must be missing it. (!)

I think a link to the information on your blog would be very helpful and would allow people to see what exactly is proposed and then people can decide to act. I'll post to Speedie's site as well to ask him to link to where the informaiton is available. Thanks ;]

John Forde, Mionlach