Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
MetroLink Project: Discussion
It is hugely important that community groups that have concerns can raise those concerns with their local representatives and Members of Parliament, be they Ministers, Ministers of State, Deputies or Senators. This meeting arises out of representations received by Deputies, Senators and Ministers from Dublin south city.
Regarding the process, I would like to outline to the witnesses the information I have been given. The NTA has now concluded the public consultation process on its proposals. This committee awaits its final deliberations. Early this year we conducted hearings on the proposals and we also visited various sites around north Dublin, particularly Glasnevin and Drumcondra, which would be impacted by the proposed construction of the MetroLink. Today, we are hearing from resident representatives from the southside of Dublin, particularly the Ranelagh and Rathmines area, on their concerns regarding the impact of the MetroLink proposals on their area. In this regard, I welcomeMr. Peter Nash, Mr. Neil Murphy, Mr. Denis Kinsella and Ms Jennifer Gilmore of Rethink MetroLink South City Group.
Before we commence, I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence.
They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Before I call on Mr. Nash to make his opening statement, I wish to make it clear that we have no statutory role or function in this issue but it is important to facilitate the Oireachtas Members who request the committee to hear what the witnesses have to say on the record. That is the context in which we are having this meeting. The witnesses will appreciate that it is the policy issues we would like them to address and their concerns and worries in that regard.
Mr. Peter Nash:
We thank members for the opportunity to address the committee. We also thank the Oireachtas Members in the Dublin Bay South constituency, who facilitated our presence here today. My name is Peter Nash and I am a representative of the Rethink Metrolink group in Ranelagh and Rathmines. I am joined by Mr. Neil Murphy, Mr. Denis Kinsella, Ms Jennifer Gilmore and Mr. Greg Ward. We represent a business and residential community broadly defined as living within the catchment area of the Luas green line between the Milltown and Charlemont stops.
I am sorry to interrupt Mr. Nash but a phone seems to be on and it is interfering with the sound recording. I may not have made that clear. We can all forget to switch off our phones. Could he please ensure his phone is switched off?
Mr. Peter Nash:
Sure. Our comments represent a consensus of the views of a series of well attended public meetings. We wish to emphasise our support for capital investment in suburban and urban rail networks as a solution to Dublin's transport needs into the future. The existing Luas is a clear example of the transformative positive impact such investment can have on our communities. We summarise our concerns regarding the emerging preferred route as the three Ps. The first is people, meaning the negative consequences for the community.
I am sorry but there is a phone on somewhere that is interfering with the sound, or else there is a big bee in the room somewhere. I will check to make sure it is definitely not me. I think the bee is dead. I am really sorry for having to interrupt Mr. Nash but the sound system will not pick up what he is saying if there is interference.
Mr. Peter Nash:
I understand. The second is policy, and our concern that this proposal represents a wasteful approach to transport infrastructure investment. The third is politics, which is about the public consultation on the project, which we feel has been inadequate to date. I will deal briefly with each concern in turn and, following that, my colleagues will address queries or questions from members.
The negative impact of the emerging segregated overground MetroLink solution has not been adequately considered in the process to date. Converting the current green Luas line to a segregated high-speed overground MetroLink southwards from Charlemont has significant adverse social, environmental and commercial consequences for the adjacent neighbourhoods. Because of its speed, frequency and inaccessibility, segregated high-speed overground rail, necessarily creates a clear physical partition within communities. Notwithstanding its most recent response to our local politicians, the NTA has asserted that complete segregation of the line will be necessary as a design principle for the MetroLink. That will directly impact on local communities at not one but five separate locations, namely, Dunville Avenue, Cowper Drive, a smaller crossing at Albany Road, and two crossings in the Milltown and Alexandra College area.
As a result of the proposed MetroLink solution, traffic volumes on the remaining key Charleston Avenue link route between Rathmines and Ranelagh will increase hugely with significant knock-on effects. As pedestrian crossing of the upgraded line will not be permitted at any point, the proposed availability of a lift solution, in addition to overpasses, at crossing points as the only way of crossing is problematic. At peak times, in particular during school term, the volume of cyclists crossing the current Luas line could not in any practical way be facilitated by lifts. The displaced cyclists will have no choice but to reroute to busy alternatives compared to the quiet streets around the existing surface crossings. We are talking about safety and the threat to life, not about inconvenience. Our area has had a cycling fatality in 2018 so it is a huge concern to us.
Equally, the implications of the proposed segregated rail solution for families with young children and persons with limited mobility are of particular concern. The existing Luas system facilitates those people well because it primarily operates at street level. The segregated solution will require lifts at all stations and experience to date with the Luas illustrates the constant technical problems with lifts and also the fact that they become a hub for antisocial activity.
The segregated line will partition both the Beechwood Catholic and Sandford Anglican parishes, which has implications for their parishioners and also place an additional burden on social services including, for example, the local meals on wheels distribution.
The construction of the MetroLink will have a significant impact not only on our local community but also on today's existing users of the green line. Given that it is proposed to shut down the green line while constructing the metro, it is concerning that the economic, environmental and social impacts have not been considered and clearly communicated. How are the 50,000 commuters who currently move in and out of the city every day going to get to work for that nine-month period? In addition, the management, logistical and health and safety aspects of hundreds of schoolchildren who currently cross the Luas line each day have not been adequately considered.
I will turn briefly from our community concerns to the subject of transport policy. We do not accept that there is a convincing case in favour of the emerging preferred route for MetroLink, especially on the southside of the city. The value of concentrating unprecedented amounts of transport capital investment in an area that is currently well served with a relatively recently completed light rail system is unproven and questionable. Under the current proposals, there are large geographical areas in south Dublin where major public transport deficiencies will remain unsolved in the long term.
Serious questions arise about the waste of public money in dismantling the existing Luas line, which has only recently been expensively constructed, as well as the waste and environmental irresponsibility associated with destruction of recently constructed public transport infrastructure. We have yet to see a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the impact of the closure of the line during the upgrade. It is possibly the case that the economic and social cost to the city could amount to a multiple of the cost of the upgrade. In addition, from a risk perspective it is not evident that any professional risk assessment has been carried out, as demonstrated by the fact that the current proposal for capital investment in transport on the southside of the city is concentrated on one line, which also means that all of the flows of people are concentrated on one line. Accordingly, there is a single point of failure, which in business is considered to be a high-risk approach.
We believe that the current consultation process is inadequate. The community is concerned about the absence of real, interactive engagement and the absence of any commitment on the part of the NTA or Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, to meet local communities to directly address their concerns. We have been appreciative of the rapid and enthusiastic engagement of all our local politicians who have moved quickly to listen to our concerns. However, the implications of the proposed major investment requires a much more interactive and intensive consultation.
Since we submitted our documents for this meeting, the most recent proposal from the NTA and TII has been made available to us. Sadly, the latest partial proposal focuses exclusively on only one of the many issues we have highlighted, namely, the Dunville Avenue crossing.
The emerging MetroLink proposal has been compared to the imposition of a Berlin Wall on the southern part of the city. The latest proposal from MetroLink is akin to the opening of a Checkpoint Charlie on that wall. Even when Checkpoint Charlie was opened in Berlin, the wall remained intact and the community remained divided.
Members of the Rethink MetroLink group thank members of the committee for the opportunity to meet them today. We look forward to listening to their observations and my colleagues will address questions as they arise.
I thank Mr. Nash. I appreciate that the addition he made at the end relates to something that only happened recently. I would be grateful if he could circulate it to the staff and we can ensure that it is incorporated into all the members' portfolios.
The committee normally calls people who wish to question the witnesses the following order: Fine Gael; Fianna Fáil; Sinn Féin; Social Democrats; Independents; Labour; and the Green Party. I will call Members in that order. We will have five minutes' questioning for each person. We will see how the questioning goes and will ask people to respond at the end. Is that the best way to do it? I am in the members' hands on this. I call Deputy O'Connell.
I thank the representatives of Rethink MetroLink for appearing before the committee. I also thank them for their work on behalf of people in the communities in the constituency of Dublin Bay South who could be affected by this emerging preferred route. I thank my constituency colleagues, Deputies Eamon Ryan and O'Callaghan, for engaging in a collective way. We do not necessarily agree on all topics but we are working together to try to find solutions for the area.
Mr. Nash referred to the consultation process, which ended in May. Do the representatives of Rethink MetroLink have a view on the transparency of this process? Do they believe those who openly engaged with the process, in particularly at the event in the Hilton Hotel in Charlemont, were appropriately notified of the impact the emerging preferred route would have on the area, including, as mentioned by Mr. Nash, the potential closure of the Luas green line? At our meeting last week, we were told that closure could be for six months, but I do not see how that could be the timeframe. I ask for the witnesses' views on that.
Do the representatives of Rethink MetroLink have a view on alternative routes? One of the proposals is the route out to UCD through the Morehampton Road area. Another is the route proposed by many people, including Deputy Eamon Ryan, on the Rathfarnham side. I ask for some detail on that.
On the footbridge option, at last week's meeting it emerged - I do not want to misquote anybody - that bicycles were not considered during the consultation process. Those of us who live in the area know of the use of bicycles, particularly by children who attend Scoil Bhríde and Lios na nÓg. Even somebody standing outside Morton's shop for five minutes would realise bicycles are key to how people get around the area. Do the witnesses have any views on that matter?
I gave information on the two other options of going over Dunville Avenue or going under it. Some people have mentioned that back in Victorian times there was a line over that area. However, we no longer live in those times and the area is quite different now. How does the group feel about going over the avenue as opposed to going under?
If this was to proceed, the Luas green line would be closed, buses would bring people to their destinations instead and traffic would be rerouted through Ranelagh village. We need to consider the practicalities involved for people who bought homes in the Sandyford area and who are dropping children to school or to childcare facilities en routeto their jobs in the city centre. Has the group received representations from those people? This will have an impact on their daily lives for what I imagine will be far more than nine months.
Okay, it is the Chairman's committee. I thank him for facilitating this meeting. I thank the witnesses for their submission. It is apparent from what they say that they believe there will be very negative consequences for parts of the Dublin Bay South constituency if the proposal proceeds as planned. I ask them to elaborate on that.
The witnesses also clearly believe that we need greater investment in public transport - particularly rail transport - throughout the city. In the part of Dublin where we are, we are very lucky to have the Luas system operating. Are the witnesses concerned about changing the character of that rail system to a heavy industrialised rail link as opposed to what we currently have, namely, a safe light-rail link that complements the residential nature of not only the communities they represent but also all communities?
My next issue relates to policy and it comes back to what the Chairman stated earlier. This is not just about a micro local issue. The rail transport map of Dublin shows that the eastern part of the city is very well served by the DART link from Howth to Bray and by the Luas green line. Do the witnesses believe that, on a policy basis, the western and south-western parts of the city need to be further developed and accommodated with rail and Luas links?
The next matter might also be one for the committee. From recent research it is apparent that a socioeconomic divide is developing in Dublin along east-west lines. That is something that has occurred over the past 20 or 30 years. Part of it relates to the fact that the eastern part of the city has been extremely well served by public transport, much to the disadvantage of the western part of the city. If we want to ensure that western parts of the city have more home ownership and increased socioeconomic advantage, we should accommodate those parts of the city with better public rail links. I would be interested to hear what the witnesses have to say on that.
People living in this area and along the Luas line went through a period when heavy works were being done on the green line, as did people on the red line. The two lines cost approximately €770 million to build and we are now proposing to dig up the green line. What is the witnesses' view as to why this is being done? Do they agree that the primary reason the NTA is attracted to this line for MetroLink is that it is land that is owned already?
Are the witnesses concerned that the Luas system, which is highly successful, is to be replaced by a more industrial-type heavy-rail system? What impact do they think it will have on local communities?
Do they agree that when we are talking about rail development and public transport in the city, our first priority should be getting a fast rail link to the airport, whether underground, preferably, or otherwise? That is the primary objective. Do they also agree that if we are going to develop public rail links throughout the city, we should concentrate on promoting and extending the Luas red and green lines, which have been extremely successful?
On the local issues raised by the witnesses, the project is going to have a detrimental impact on their communities. This will not be like some rural rail line where a train will come every hour or hour and a half. It is going to effect a significant and permanent divide within the two communities. I would like the witnesses to elaborate on the practical impact that will have. I am probably close to the five minutes at this stage?
I hope the committee will agree with my recommendation that, at the conclusion of this hearing, a report making policy recommendations on the extension of the Luas and the inappropriateness of MetroLink, notwithstanding the non-statutory role being played, be produced.
Some of the negative impact this is going to have on the witnesses' community and the wider area was flagged. Do they have any proposals to counteract that and, if so, can we hear them? Information in that regard would be helpful to put to the representatives from the NTA when they come before us. The lack of consultation and engagement by the NTA is not surprising but it is still disappointing, as is its lack of enthusiasm to meet with communities and hear their points of view.
The witnesses should remember that the NTA, like the HSE, was set up to implement Government policy and to take the heat off of the Government. It has worked a treat. When an issue is flagged now with the health service, it is the HSE that is automatically attacked as opposed to the Government. The HSE only implements policy. That is its task and remit. On that note, I suggest the witnesses should meet with various Government Ministers next to raise their concerns. The NTA is coming in next. We cannot force it to do anything. Given the lack of consultation, however, would it be helpful if we requested that NTA examine the feasibility, specifically for this project, of setting up a liaison officer for the communities? Various community groups would then have direct access to that officer and he or she would be responsible for dealing with the groups, relating and responding to them, etc. Perhaps the witnesses will let us know if that is something which might be helpful because when the public consultation is over, it is usually just shut down and that is it. The announcement is made and there is no going back. If it would give another avenue, and the witnesses are in favour, let us know.
I thank Deputy Munster, who also made some good points. That was two minutes and 12 seconds. We are doing well on time. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy, followed by Deputy Joan Collins, Senator Humphreys and Deputy Eamon Ryan.
The witnesses are welcome. We all expected metro north to feature as part of the national development plan but I was surprised when MetroLink was announced, particularly in view of the profile of the public transport already available in the area. Ranelagh and Rathmines are vibrant areas with a high density in occupancy rates where people can easily cycle into town, etc. It surprised me that an already good Luas line would be upgraded so quickly.
On the information the witnesses feel they need, the consultation process was mentioned. Is it information that the witnesses require? I accept some of the points in respect of policy. In the context of what is proposed, however, what information is not coming forward from the NTA? The word "consultation" tends to be used very loosely and also to be in one direction with proposals outlined. Real engagement, though, means consultation is two ways. People are asked what they think to begin with, prior to the announcement. The need for consultation is also met afterwards, including how cyclists and people with disabilities are going to be handled, what lifts are going to be installed and so on. Will the witnesses outline what was deficient in the information required?
They might also outline their practical experience of how they were notified about this and the follow up. I cannot lose an opportunity to say that the solution to Dublin's transport crisis is the DART underground. We keep postponing that and thinking that we are going to add bits and pieces on and not bring it all together. I cannot for the life of me understand why that did not end up being the highest of priorities. It would have been disruptive but as disruptive as this. I will leave it at that. The main purpose of this meeting is to hear from the witnesses about their engagement and discover what questions we might pose if we take this matter up with the NTA.
I thank the witnesses for attending. I will be brief. I heard Mr. Kinsella making his points on "Morning Ireland" earlier. All the points have been made and there are many questions. Mr. Kinsella's main point relates to the project going underground. Does he have a figure for that or was it ever raised by the NTA as a concept? I agree with Deputy Catherine Murphy on doing that in the future.
I will be equally brief rather than saying the same things again. I will take up Deputy Catherine Murphy's point regarding the DART underground. It was suggested that the latter would run across the Dublin Bay South constituency. I was a great supporter of the proposal because it would have connected all our public transport needs in the city. It was objected to by a large number of residents. I am putting the matter in context. I do not support the current proposal but I did support another proposal that affected another community because it was balanced and the right idea for the city.
Public consultation is important because nobody expected the southside MetroLink proposal that has emerged. Will the witnesses tell us about their experience of the public consultation, how they were informed and how they were engaged with? The other matter not touched on is that relating to driverless trains and that brings us back to remarks in respect of the Berlin Wall. I refer to the fact that nobody will be in the engine at the front of the train and there being somebody on the line. The experience in Berlin was that large infrastructure had to be built on either side of the track to prevent people getting on. That has not been touched on at all. Do the witnesses have any views on driverless trains and the level of infrastructure - fencing, railings, walls or whatever - that would have to be built, from a health and safety perspective, in order to prevent people getting onto the tracks and the impact it would have on their communities?
I reiterate that looking at transport needs on the southside, starting on the coastal road, there is the DART line and then the Luas green line. Moving further inland towards Harold's Cross, Terenure and Firhouse, there is no line. That is a dense area of the city with high demand but there are no Luas or DART lines.
What is the view of the witnesses on the feasibility of putting a line in place in that area?
One matter that has not been highlighted is the financial impact on the city's southside. We can talk about the impact on residents and the community but closing the line for nine months will put 75,000 commuters back onto the roads. How will the Beacon Centre and Sandyford Industrial Estate manage to carry out their business? What will the impact be on the greater Dublin area? The alternative is to run it out through Rathmines, Terenure, Firhouse and the suburbs where there is a great need for public transport. Since this was announced and there was a public consultation involving 8,000 people, there has been a roll-out of information but no reopening of the public consultation. We started out with a dual-bore tunnel which is now a single tube, and with stations on the northside that now appear to have disappeared. There seems to have been no further public consultation on whether there is to be an underpass or a flyover at Dunville Avenue. It would be interesting to know if residents were given the drawings for the underpass or overpass by the NTA.
Deputies and Senators would not be here unless their communities had very serious concerns about this and they have the full backing of the Members of Parliament in respect of their concerns. Even if there is no statutory process by means of which we can address those concerns, it is important that whatever constructive ideas Deputies and Senators have are forwarded to the appropriate authorities on their behalf. Deputy Munster spoke about having an officer who would liaise directly with communities and that might be helpful, notwithstanding the fact that the statutory process is finished.
Ms Jennifer Gilmore:
I thank the committee for allowing us to be here and for their well-informed questions. I will deal with the community impact as this is something I see personally as someone who lives in the area. On the southside, the proposal is for an overground line and for an underground metro on the northside. It will be a high-speed driverless train which will be travelling approximately every 90 seconds, straight through what is a lovely village community. It will be irreversibly detrimental to our community.
I have lived in Milltown and Rathmines for most of my life and I watched the Luas line being built. I travelled here on the Luas today and I see how it has enhanced our community. It revitalised it because it is accessible and really well integrated into the community. I have spent the past few months at home with my new baby and his buggy and I have used the opportunity to look around my local neighbourhood to observe how it works. It is a largely pedestrian community and people get to the shops or to school by foot or by bicycle.
I will deal with some of the issues raised by Deputy O'Connell. The project affects the Luas from Charlemont down to Sandyford but I will concentrate on my community. There are five pedestrian crossings in our small section of Luas line, two of which take cars, at Alex and Dunville. Two of the crossings are not even mentioned in the metro submission, the one at Albany and the one at the back gate of Mount St. Annes. The community is a community of older people and young families and the area is well suited to those groups because it is relatively flat and has a lovely accessible transport system with flat crossings, as well as a nice array of local shops and businesses. At the Cowper stop, there is an old people's home which has a preschool in it so it suits both older people and young children. The children leave their schools every day on their buggies and their scooters and cross the Luas line, unimpeded. This has created a lovely village feel to the whole area and if one was planning an urban development this is what we would want to create but we are about to destroy it.
My next door neighbour is in his 80s. He had a very bad stroke last year and now walks with a walking frame but he can cross the Luas line. There are three preschools, five junior schools and three secondary schools in the area, all of them within spitting distance of our three Luas stops. There are almost 6,000 pupils going to those schools, many of them travelling on foot or by bicycle. There are 650 units in Mount St. Annes and they all use the back gate to get to town, on foot or by bicycle, or to go to Ranelagh, Rathmines, Rathgar and Terenure, and the same is true of the back gate at Alex. If we replaced our flat pedestrian crossings with footbridges or lifts, this would deter people from walking or cycling. If a journey is made a bit longer, there is evidence that it stops people from walking or cycling, meaning that they use their cars instead. What is proposed will turn a pedestrian area into one in which more cars are used.
Anyone who uses the lifts on the Luas knows that, generally, they are not fit for purpose. They are frequently broken and I have been stranded in Dundrum with my buggy and a woman in a wheelchair. I got lucky because somebody helped me down the steps but nobody could help the lady in the wheelchair down the steps. I do not go to Dundrum on the Luas any more.
It is well known that underpasses and lifts do not create safe spaces. Last week, one of my neighbours in Ranelagh met two people shooting up in the lift there. We were all really concerned about a young child who was with its parent at the Charlemont Luas stop a couple of years ago and who was stuck by a needle when grabbing the handrail in the lift at that stop and who then had to go through the psychological trauma of HIV and hepatitis testing. Footbridges and lifts are not a good addition to small village communities.
We feel that this will sever our community and will adversely affect our schools, churches, shops and businesses. It will force people into cars and will create a giant wall with a lot of noise that will lead to urban blight, where currently there is a lovely village atmosphere across a number of different areas, along with an integrated and accessible transport system. We are very upset about it and we cannot understand how the NTA could choose this option when we already have functioning transport and when there are vast swathes of the southern part of city that do not. Buses are not going to solve the problem either.
Mr. Neil Murphy:
I will address some of the points that arise from the issues surrounding consultation and, in order to be expeditious, will make straightforward points.
We fundamentally assert that the consultation process has been flawed. I recognise what Deputy Imelda Munster has been saying about the experience. There is a difficulty in that when consultation is not on a statutory basis, when it is almost as a courtesy and there are no rules, it can turn out to be a smokescreen.
Deputy Catherine Murphy asked if we would share our experiences of the consultation process. It arrived in our world sometime around April when the NTA went public on its plans. In short order there was a very short form of consultation available to us locally on the Charlemont stop at the Hilton Hotel. There were also occurrences on the north side, but, in effect, what it amounted to was a presentation on the boards of their its document. There were no answers to questions. If I asked a question about traffic flows, the data for Dunville Avenue or how they would impact on the tightly geared village of Ranelagh, I was simply told that it did not have that data. In very short order we were invited, with everybody else, to make a submission by 11 May. We met that date, having come together quickly as a community, but we have heard nothing back. We are entitled to rely on the NTA's document which states: "Following a full appraisal of the feedback, a public consultation report will be published by the end of 2018". Therefore, we think there will be serious concern that 8,000 submissions have been made and we have not heard anything about it.
It is not as if the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, are digesting the submissions alone, but it is rolling on in the manner of a headlong driverless train because at this committee on 20 June the deputy chief executive made a statement in reply to Deputy Robert Troy - I have the transcript - that it would publish a new upgrade proposal by June. At this point we are in consultations, but now it is jumping ahead towards a new publication date. As it happens, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, made a statement in the Seanad in which he referred again only to the notion of a digested or composite report coming out towards the end of the year. Nevertheless, the NTA is pushing on. On 9 July, in a letter to Senator Kevin Humphreys, its deputy chief executive stated baldly there would be no bore - the underground system - beyond Charlemont station into Ranelagh and all of the rest. How can he make statements such as this if we are still engaged in consultation?
The other side of consultation is communication and access in some form. On 11 May, when we made our submission, we requested a follow-on meeting with the NTA. We had a number of our representatives request that the NTA meet us. The Minister made a statement in the Seanad in which he said he felt it would be inappropriate for him to meet us but that he would convey our request for a meeting to the NTA, but we have heard nothing from anybody. The question was asked as to whether we had heard anything back about the new floated proposal which had been presented to Oireachtas Members. The simple answer is "No". We have heard nothing; it has been in the ether, but we have nothing with which we can deal.
Deputy Imelda Munster's suggestion of a liaison officer with authority, who would access and could give us some data is useful because the further point we would make is that a number of members have asked whether there could be an alternative route through Firhouse or elsewhere. In a way we find that surprising because as far as we see it, there is only one game in town and that is the preferred route that has been published. We have no data with which to engage for any other possibility. For example, if we consider what Senator Kevin Humphreys said about the Firhouse route as an alternative, €800 million has been spent on the Luas green line. According to the NTA's stated position, the reason it must have a high speed, driverless MetroLink to Sandyford is it must service the growing demand, with a link to Cherrywood. Here are some simple facts. As a concept, the development at Cherrywood is wonderful, but what is proposed, as per the description, is that within a decade there will be 30,000 people living there. There are actually 30,000 sons and daughters going to University College Dublin, UCD, to a campus of equal size. If the other direction was looked at to deal with the issues of people living in Terenure, Rathfarnham and Firhouse, the facts are that there are 46,000 people living in Lucan, as opposed to the 30,000 who will live in Cherrywood. According to the 2016 census, the Tallagh catchment area has a population of 287,000, the equivalent of the population of Galway, Waterford and Limerick put together, who survive on the equivalent of the green line, namely, the red line. There is no sustainable argument that Sandyford cannot be serviced by the green line. If there is new, fresh capital to spare, we argue that there should be a move to provide services to Terenure, Rathfarnham, Firhouse and Tallaght, where I worked for 30 years, to provide a new benefit. That is what people call a win/win.
The point Ms Gilmore is making is that there are two kinds of people. There are people who are resident adjacent to the current Luas line and somewhat aware of the proposal. They are increasingly becoming aware of it, but they do not all know because their communities are coming to life. There are others who use the Luas every single day and have built their life plans around it and they do not know at all. Let us take young people living in Charlemont or Ranelagh who say they want to buy a starter home. As they have a job with Facebook in Sandyford, they will take the Luas to get there. They do not need to buy a car, which is good for them and the city. They do not have an idea that they will lose this system on which they have built their life plans for nine or 12 months or however long it will be. We cannot say how long it will be because we have not been told. It is a major hit. Coming to Deputy Jim O'Callaghan's suggestion of collecting ideas and making a strong recommendation - we would welcome the committee doing so - if we, as citizens, want to change our front gardens to put a car in the driveway, we have to post a notice to let people know. In order to reach out to all of these people to let them know, why should the NTA not have to have a graphic at every Luas stop along the way detailing the current plan and explaining in three points or so what it plans on doing, indicating which crossings will be closed and for how long the Luas will not be available? Citizens are entitled to know this information, rather than waking up one morning and asking where is the Luas. In terms of consultation, the different parties involved truly deserve to have the information. It is not available and we cannot access the NTA. Therefore, we would appreciate any effort the committee could make on our behalf to tell the NTA that it has to respond to these questions.
On the August date, we assert that it is highly inappropriate. The Oireachtas is in recess. Many people have to take their break at this time.
To say they will come back and drop something on the table at the end of August when we are working to a schedule whereby, as they told us in their document, it would come towards the back end of 2018 is entirely premature. Part of the committee's recommendations should be that proper consideration should be given, the report should be given to us, and that this should happen in the autumn rather than in August.
My apologies that I had to do a radio interview on this same subject, which was reason I slipped out, and I am at a disadvantage, therefore, in that I did not hear what Mr. Nash, Ms Gilmore and everyone else had to say.
I have only one question. If the witnesses have answered it, they do not need to come back to me on it. I was looking for local knowledge on this issue of accessibility and about urban and community design. I am 100% in favour of the metro and I recognise that we have to increase public transport capacity on the south side as well as on the north side. We can do that best by running the metro line to Harold's Cross, Rathgar, Terenure, Rathfarnham and on to Firhouse and Tallaght. The driverless, automated, segregated system is an entire design concept from start to finish. The route I suggest means we do not have the difficulty we are having with this route where we are trying to integrate that driverless, segregated system onto an existing driver-accessible, low-floor, relatively low speed system. That is a real difficulty.
I grew up and have lived most of my life in the area and I know it down to the minutiae of what it means to have that crossing at Albany Road that no one would ever think about because it is only small number of people crossing. A person living on Moyne Road and who normally goes to Beechwood church for mass might not go to that mass and go to Rathmines instead. It would change the whole character just by losing this crossing. Mount Saint Annes is not featuring in any consideration but it is a loss. It is not just our constituency. It is as much an issue for Windy Arbour, Dundrum and Sandyford.
Perhaps the witnesses have mentioned it in previous examples, but if not, will they give some flavour as to what the local accessibility means, because it is an intangible thing. It does not appear in any balance sheet or any cost-benefit analysis. People might not even be going to mass. They might be going to St. Philip's.
I call Deputy Lahart. Given he was not here at the beginning, I advise him that we have a maximum of five minutes for questions. We have a fair idea of the issues, so if it is in order and if the witnesses are happy with it, I propose that one of them would address outstanding issues and we will then suspend, because we have two more long sessions after this. If there is anything that the witnesses wish to send us, we will make sure that it gets to the NTA.
I attended one of the meetings on behalf of Deputy O'Callaghan where the witnesses views were made known pretty emphatically. Mr. Murphy in particular made some points and I have done some research, so I want to focus on some points that might be more parochial. There are a number of fundamental points I want to make which play into the argument. One is about communication and consultation. We have BusConnects, for example, the public consultation for which is also running through the summer. We have extracted, fairly easily, an extension to that from the NTA. Public consultation through the summer months seems to be a favourite of State and semi-State bodies, whether by accident or design, and I cannot help but be suspicious that it is by design to catch or wrong-foot people.
Another point, assuming this has not already been made, is that it is regrettable that the NTA does not meet the group directly. I assure the witnesses that every one of their public representatives, all of whom I know well across parties, is ensuring that every point they make is being communicated to the NTA.
A further point is that this is ultimately a political decision. Politics changed the route of metro north, the interconnector and so forth, and I believe it will be politics that will change this decision. Given that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport weighs in on several other portfolios, I invite other Ministers to weigh in on his portfolio because that is the only way something tangible and change will happen in this regard.
The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is one of the few Deputies who requested that this meeting would take place. There is a Government meeting in Kerry today and he cannot be here. It was his intention to be here, in fairness to him.
The Chairman has defended him stoutly. I would expect nothing less. Another fundamental point, which I have made before and I will make to the NTA, is that investment in public transport must be democratic. In my constituency, the Luas red line serves Tallaght and there is a massive gap between that and the Luas green line. The demographics relating to Cherrywood, which Mr. Murphy pointed out, are very accurate. I know the Tallaght area and its catchment intimately. The purpose and design of Cherrywood is that people can work and live there and do not have to travel distances to get there.
The democratic nature of investment in public transport is not evident in this. The Luas green line is barely 15 years old and the Government wants to double down with further investment of €500 million to upgrade it while there are suburbs such as Firhouse, Knocklyon and Ballycullen, which are burgeoning areas, along with Rathfarnham and Templeogue. There are a number of concepts which I know the Green Party representatives have spoken about, and although they do not exclusive rights to them, we are ad idemon one of them. There is a possibility of connecting the green and red lines for the same kind of money. There are a number of routes by which the green and red lines could be connected, for example, along by Marlay Park out to Old Bawn and Tallaght, or from Churchtown via Templeogue village, Greenhills and St. Peter's Road out to Ballymount and the Luas red line at the Red Cow. This would provide a circular Luas line connected with a metro line to form a T shape.
My view, which I believe is shared by some of my colleagues, although I do not speak for them, is that the NTA ought to proceed with the metro north element of this and get going on it pretty quickly because everyone is in agreement with it, but it needs to go back to the drawing board on this other piece. That certainly would be our strong view, but it is politics that will make the decision on that.
I will ask Mr. Kinsella to wrap up on behalf of his group. Before he does so, I thank the witnesses for coming and making very cogent, articulate and very thoughtful points, something which was clear from their presentations.
Mr. Denis Kinsella:
I thank the committee for affording us the opportunity to attend and speak. I will keep this brief as I know my colleagues have covered most of the points.
A specific question was asked whether we have concerns about the nature of this high-speed driverless train. Absolutely, that is the core of the problem. We believe fundamentally that that type of segregated rail is unsuitable for running overland through high-density residential communities. It should be underground if it is to be that type of rail service.
My colleagues touched on the alternative routes so I will not propose to do that again. We believe fundamentally that this is the wrong route. Any alternative route that is chosen, two of which we have discussed, has the following advantages. First, it will avoid the destruction of the very successful and only very recently upgraded Luas green line. Second, it will allow us to create a network of rail links which will serve Dublin and its commuting community far better. Third, it will avoid the commuter chaos which will be precipitated by the closure of the Luas green line to allow the construction works to go ahead.
Fourth, it will avoid the negative business impact that will affect all the businesses along the Luas green line from Sandyford, through Dundrum shopping centre and into the city centre due to the difficulty both staff and customers will have getting to those businesses during the closure of that line. Fifth, it will avoid the issue of a single point of failure. It will allow some flexibility within the system if there is an issue on a line as there will be some ability to allow displaced commuters to move to another line and still get to where they want to go. For all those reasons we believe an alternative route is a far better decision and a better way to invest taxpayers' valuable money.
I thank the Chairman for facilitating this meeting. All the local public representatives have written to the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland asking them to meet the residents groups. Will the Chairman reinforce that request by writing to them and asking them to meet the residents?
I do not wish to fight with the Senator. I want to make sure that the committee does everything appropriately. We will send a transcript of this meeting to the NTA as soon as it is available and ask that it meets the residents, as the Senator has requested. We have no issue with that, but we cannot interfere with the statutory-----