Tuesday, February 21, 2023

By Tomás Keating

Construction on Ballina’s long-awaited sensory park will begin in the coming months after the project was given the green light at last Wednesday’s meeting of Ballina Municipal District.

Local councillors agreed to proceed to the so-called Part 8 planning stage following a series of amendments proposed by Mayo County Council’s senior planner, John McMyler.

Under the proposed plan, a sensory garden will be constructed at Tom Ruane Park on the banks of the River Moy at Clare Street. The facility will include hard and soft landscaping works, surface paving, planting, boundary treatments and all other associated site development works. It will offer a wide variety of sensory experiences, particularly for people with special needs. The idea for the garden was first put forward by the FLOW Community Project, founded by Mayo senior footballer Pádraig O’Hora and Ryan Cawley.

Cathaoirleach of the Ballina Municipal District, Cllr Mark Duffy says it is brilliant to see that the project come to fruition.

“I would like to compliment David O’Malley, Ryan Cawley, Pádraig O’Hora and all on the working group. I would like to thank the Ballina public who really got behind it, especially all the people who fundraised and volunteered,” Cllr Duffy said. “It would be great to see work begin soon, especially in our 300th year in 2023.”

However, there was some disappointment among members that there will be no public toilets at the park. There were 15 submissions made by the public, three of which requested wheelchair-accessible toilets, but the council has no plans to install toilets right now.

Fine Gael councillor John O’Hara believes toilets are essential in the new sensory park.

“I have a sister with Down Syndrome, and I know what it’s like. Luckily, she can walk, but you’ll go down there and you will see a lot of incapacitated people or people who take medicines, meaning they need a toilet nearby,” he said. “I am 100 per cent behind the project but I think when we are building something new, toilets are essential.

“I am saying for years that we haven’t had enough toilet facilities in the town. With these spaces, you are wasting your time if you don’t have a toilet.”

Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael Loftus said the council must install portaloos in the short term.

Manager of the Ballina District Declan Turnbull said wheelchair-accessible portaloos will be provided in the short-term, but acknowledged that building toilets is a “whole different ball-game” with regard to planning and funding.

Councillors also requested that facilities be made available to provide food and tea/coffee, but Mr Turnbull says trading bye-laws do not cover the park.

He confirmed that the tendering process for the project will be completed in the next month, and work will commence soon after. He hopes the will be sensory park will be fully operational in 2023, but construction could run into 2024.

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