Lots of matters discussed at Monday’s Wicklow County Council meeting. I have outlined some of the key items in this update. As always please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Proposed Park & Ride Facilities in Wicklow - very welcome news.
We received a presentation from the NTA on proposed new park & ride facilities in Wicklow. This is very welcomed news. Its not to answer to the transport challenges in the County but indicates that the required infrastructure is being put in place.
The Objectives were outlined as follows;
To maximise the opportunities provided by on-going investment in public transport infrastructure and services,
particularly in relation to the commencement in service of new public transport projects.
To provide the appropriate type and scale of Park and Ride at the right locations, with connectivity to the road and public transport networks and design that supports integration with the surrounding walking and cycling network.
Reduce reliance on the private car, reduce distances travelled by car and ensure Park and Ride facilitates greater use of sustainable modes.
Deliver an enhanced customer experience through safe, secure and user friendly facilities that consider
opportunities for interchange and address barriers to public transport use.
To set the standard for the design and layout of P&R sites.
With regard to Bray the following facilities are proposed in Fassaroe which will include 400 spaces.
The next steps include -
Completion of Options Selection Reports
Preparation of planning documentation including Environmental Impact
Continued discussion with landowners on agreements
Development of options for bus services
Submission of Planning Applications
It is anticipated that planning applications will be submitted before December this year. Points raised by Councillors included the need for cost effective services both in terms of parking charges and bus costs to ensure it is an attractive alterative to the care. The need for a reliable bus operator, which is not the experience in the north of the County with Bus Connects at present. Requests for e-charging points, green spaces rather than concrete fields and the option of including solar panels.
Section 140 Motion - Recycle Centre Charges
Our meeting this month commenced first with a 1 hr and 45 minute discussion on the Section 140 motion which related to potential charging for recycling services. I had covered this item previously, see https://www.aoifeflynnkennedy.com/post/proposed-charges-at-recycle-centres-what-s-it-all-about for full details.
Wicklow County Council made a presentation to the Councillors in July 2022 to state that it was their intention to introduce charges at recycle centres, something that is already in place in many recycle centres across the Country.
There are a number of reasons why the Council are proposing to introduce these charges, and these relate to a larger 5 Year Investment Plan on services in the County to include;
New roof and refurbishment of Bray Recycling Centre
Refurbishment including repair/replacement of roof of the Murrough Recycling Centre
Repair to roof and refurbishment in Arklow Recycling Centre
Set up a Recycling Centre in Blessington
Incorporate energy efficiency measures in all centres including photovoltaic cells/solar panels, removing use of diesel etc
Accept soft plastics in all centres
Develop Charity shop in Arklow and Murrough Centres
New Circular Economy initiatives such as Furniture upcycling, summer school book schemes etc.
Accept bulky waste like mattresses, sofas, and domestic construction waste in Arklow and Rampere and on regular occasions in other centres.
There was extensive debate on the issue and general consensus was that no Councillor wanted charges introduced.
What did become clear as part of the debates was that there is no detail on what charges are being proposed at present. Is it a charge to enter the recycle centre? Is it a charge for items which are currently free? Or is it a charge to be able to recycle larger items which are currently not being accepted such as old sofas, mattresses outside the normal ‘amnesty collections’ or builders rubble?
The lack of detail became an issue. I wanted to better understand exactly what was being put as an option on the table for consideration. I raised again the issue of people being unable to pay and requested that the Council ‘poverty proof’ any proposed changes in advance.
What was clear, and was clear at the time the Section 140 motion was submitted is that this motion based on legal opinion was that the motion had no legal standing. Councillors and Officials have very clear lines when it comes to what items are the officials area of responsibility and what areas are not. Voting on something that is illegal under current legislation is not appropriate in my view. This was the view of the vast majority of Councillors from across all parties and none.
As such the motion did not pass with the majority of Councillors abstaining. It is worth noting that no Councillor voted against the motion (in other words in favour of charges). The Chief Executive has committed to bring forward full details on the proposal which will be considered as part of the budget. This is agreeable to me as the adoption of the budget, or non-adoption is a reserved function and within the role of elected Councillors.
Review of Town Teams
We received a presentation on a review carried out on Town Teams. Town Teams are operational in all Districts except Bray MD. We did have a Town Team but is became inactive and was reactivated as the Town Re-opening Committee after Covid. Most Town Teams are a limited company, which allows them to access funding which is not available to the County Council. This was never the case in Bray, it always operated as a committee and had no legal structure. We had just agreed a new Terms of Reference when the Council initiated the review and as such held off until the review was completed before moving forward.
So what is a Town Team?
A Town Team is an independent group of local residents, elected members, business people and community representatives who come together to make their area a better place to live and work.
Town Team members come from diverse sectors and backgrounds and are all volunteers. The Town Team Movement enables local communities and governments to connect, organise and act to
regenerate the fabric of their neighbourhoods and to create better places.
County Councils / Local Authorities work in partnership with credible, constituted Town Teams across the country to deliver real and meaningful improvements in the town centre environment, and are there to support them in that role
The review made a number of Key Findings.
A. Town Teams in County Wicklow have identified and driven some very successful and
worthwhile projects across the county since their inception.
B. The Town Teams have to an extent successfully harnessed considerable voluntary effort and
expertise from within their communities, for the benefit of their areas.
C. There is an apparent lack of shared vision as to what the Town Team role is within their
D. There is room for improvement in terms of ensuring representation on town team
committees includes all relevant players and sectors.
E. There is a degree of confusion and examples of discourse relating to the lack of clarity as to
the role of the Town Team versus the role of the Local Authority and its elected
representatives. This is more prevalent in some of the towns.
There were very mixed views from Councillors regarding Town Teams. Some were not in agreement with their existence, believing that they are in conflict with the role of elected members. Some had genuine concerns about a Town Teams ability to work on projects but not being under the same legal and structural responsibilities as Councillors and some had concerns regarding treatment of Council officials by some Town Team members previously.
I am personally delighted to see the review completed and welcome the opportunity for Bray MD to get our Town Team up and running. The review has highlighted areas that have needed clarity and which I believe will help to address issues experienced by other areas.
Town Teams in my view provide an opportunity for more people to have a role in shaping our community, and that has to be positive.
Not everyone wants to run for local election. Putting your name forward, seeing your face on posters and knocking on doors is daunting and can be really tough. Town Teams allow people who are interested in their area to get involved in a different way. I’m looking forward to moving this item forward at our next Bray MD meeting.