23 Jun 2008

If the amount of paperwork involved in even the smallest most insignificant application for planning development were any way to judge, we should have the most beautiful cities and towns in the world. Yet we don’t.

One of my favourite places to visit is Gort in County Galway. It’s got great little restaurants, nice bars, a river, some quiet little retreats and the most fantastic community spirit (half the town is Brazilian!) you’ll find in the whole of Ireland. Yet if you were to visit Gort for the first time and didn’t know how great a place it really is, nothing would encourage you to get out of your car – you’d be forgiven for thinking that Gort is, quite frankly, a bit of a hole.

Here’s why. While individual building owners, planning applicants and general townsfolk are made jump through hoops dealing with Galway County Council to make little modifications no one would ever really notice to their houses and premises, everything that the Council itself (and the other service providers like the ESB, Eircom, etc.) are responsible for – roads, paths, street furniture, lighting, landscaping, parking arrangements, overhead cables, etc. – is absolutely atrocious. I can't make up my mind which is the worst part: the parking area in the central triangle that looks like an open air car auction in the most out of the way town on the vast planes of North America;

or the multi-layered footpaths so steep you could abseil down them;

or the overhead wires the very sight of which is enough to give you tinnitus…

The contrast between the fine experience of sitting in one of Gort’s pleasant cafes and the frontier town experience of standing in the middle of the main square is quite somethin’.

Not just Gort, of course. Dozens of great little places around the country could double for Ukrainian towns in a C4 documentary about the devastating effects of Chernobyl. Is it maybe time that the responsibility for taking care of our town and village centres is taken away from the councils and handed over to the community? Gort would be in great hands if that were to happen.

Interested to hear about other places which would look less neglected if the council had nothing do to with them. Photos welcome.

Monday, June 23, 2008 12:42:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I agree totally regarding the state of Gort. It is potentially a lovely town, but there is no consideration given to looking after it. Is this because the Councils are just not bothered or do they not have enough money? Should they transfer responsibility for such matters over to a publicly elected committee?

Its the same in Cork City. There are areas down around Penrose Wharf that are appalingly neglected. I noticed the Green Party did a little transformation of a planter that has lifted a dismal hole enormously. They have a sign up to let you know who was responsible. Maybe thats a good way to go- sponsored upkeep with a little bit of considered advertising?

The border between city and county cork is also disgraceful. On the north east side, the dual carriageway has weeds up to your neck- perfect for crashing cars that you can't see coming around the roundabout.

Up at the airport there is a "model" of an aeroplane sculpted out of a hedge in the middle of the "airport roundabout". Its not tended to, so it looks like a giant green blob. This is the first thing you see when you arrive by plane to Cork City. If we were trying to unimpress visitors, this is an excellent way to do it.

Up Cork!
Monday, June 23, 2008 7:56:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hi Garry,

As a native of Gort and someone who has moved back to the area to live/work in the last couple of years i agree with you in relation to your article. Its a lovely little town, very friendly and with huge potential, however little or no money has been spent on it to improve or maintain the town. We are constantly hearing that until the By-pass occurs nothing will be done to improve the roads/paths etc. Im always amazed that a town like this which has huge history attached to it , eg; (Coole Park, Thoor Ballylee, Kilmacduagh monastery) is not hightlighted more and money spent on it as a tourist destination, also we are a stone's throw away from the Burren. Im a new member of Gort Tidy Town's and although some great work has been done you won't see much improvement until the infrastructure is complete. Kind Regards, Fiona.
Fiona O' Driscoll
Monday, June 23, 2008 8:32:59 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Fiona, I'm going to be straight up and honest with you. As an East Clare resident of long standing, many's the time I've driven through Gort on the way to Galway. When I first arrived in this part of the world I used to think that, judging from its 'outside' appearance, Gort must be a 'socially disadvantaged' town. Then, two years ago, I did a thing called Community Challenge for RTE with Kevin Flynn, Austin McInerny, Nilton, et al, and discovered to my amazement that, as a place to live, Gort is about as good as you'll find. Anywhere. Its an absolulely amazing little place. I'm sure that if its common spaces were were left to the people of Gort themselves to take care of, it would be a totally different town than it appears right now. This really, really bothers me.

Do you agree with me, Fiona (as I think Paul in Cork does), that a certain amount of our current income tax should be set aside to directly fund a Town/Village council which would be responsible for the care of our towns and villages (schools too, perhaps)? Send me an email at info@garrymiley.com if you get a chance and if you want we'll have a cup of tea next time I'm in town.

Paul - got your photo of the plane in Cork. I'll put it up on the site as soon as I can. And, yes, what's the story about the weeds on the roadside all around the city? I was in Patrick's Street a couple of weeks ago and I was just thinking: does the Council never wash the streets? So soon after an expensive make-over, it looked very shabby. Maybe I was there on the wrong day...
Friday, July 04, 2008 2:46:35 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Pity you did not do some research Gary! Work in progress! Perhaps you did not notice the new "Hestia" (Urbis) elegant lights (Urban and Village Renewal) in the Square. We await The ESB's removal of the old wires/poles. over which we have little control in time programming! When I have time I will respond properly! I have not even got time to read your entire article or ensuing comments now. Apologies! I think you should do the local authority the justice of enquiring before "letting fly". However you have my sympathy. I tend to react prematurely myself often too! Have you seen our G.C.C. architectural walks downloadable from from Galway East Tourism site (narrated by Peter Harbison on Gort etc. etc.http://www.galwayeast.com/wayfinding/index.php Please look at them together with the Ecclesiastical Heritage downloadable itineraries. I regret , for example, the demise of the sash window in Gort. Unfortunately Conservation legislation postdated a lot of this loss.The usual perceived car parking loss issues and predated traffic management issues arose in Gort with UVR. Maybe send your comments to all engineering offices nationwide!You might also be interested in the vibrant Brazilian sector of the population there and their great integration locally, and look beyond the purely physical. Planning and communities act at other levels too!

In haste, Mary F
Mary Flynn
Sunday, July 06, 2008 9:24:20 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Mary, I don't thing you read my article. I'm very familiar wtih the situation in Gort which, if you had done any research yourself, you would have discovered.

If the management of Gort were in the control of the people themselves, it would be a very different place. Those aspects of the environment which are in the hands of the local authority, the NRA, the ESB, (traffic problems, parking, road surface, footpaths, awful lighting, disused poles etc.) there is no excuse for. Absolutely none whatsoever. How long can a town be a work in progress? How long can people be expected to wait for some U+V renewal money before a few new lights are installed in the square? Can you ask the people of Gort to wait half their adult life for proper paths? Decent road surfaces? A presentable square?

I'm sorry, Mary, the Council (like all other council's around the country) are letting communities down: their inability to deliver on a better environment points to serious problems within the local authority structure. We need another model. Directly elected mayors with executive powers and the proportionate reallocation of taxes from the exchequer is, in my view, the way to go.

I've heard the 'look beyond the physical' argument before in other towns and other contexts. But my argument is this: the Council didn't bring the Brazilians to Gort. It didn't create Brazilian culture. Whatever contribution the Brazilian community makes to the town is to the credit of the Brazilians. The Brazilians are doing their part for the success of Gort. The Council's role in Gort is not to ride on the back of exceptional community spirit, it is - fundamentally - to provide services. At the end of the day, that's all it can be judged on.
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