Thursday, 28 June 2007
Light Rail Project.
I thank the Minister for staying on after Question Time. It is not usual for Ministers to take Adjournment debates, and I am glad he has stayed for this.
The Minister made several points in his reply, including that one of the problems was that the RPA could not contact a resident or a residents' group. In reality, within the last week the RPA arbitrarily cancelled a consultative meeting with the residents' group. Nothing could be more incorrect than the information given to the Minister on that point.
On the issue of funding independent expertise for the residents, they have been told that it has not been approved, yet the Minister told the House that there is no such issue. There is no doubt in my mind, having attended packed public meetings in the Drumcondra area with at least 700 or 800 people present, that there will be massive unrest if the confidence and trust of residents is not re-established. It is this type of deception and subterfuge by the Railway Procurement Agency that is threatening this major infrastructural project for the northside of Dublin. The Minister gave two examples of that deception in the House which can be easily verified.
There is a view among residents in the Drumcondra area that the hidden agenda is that the development and speculative potential value of open space in the area is being given a higher priority than the residents' homes and that the route has been changed from the publicised one which went under open space to one which goes under the most residential part of the Drumcondra area almost in its entirety.
All public representatives in the area have been involved in this and despite assurances from the RPA that it is reviewing this and considering reverting to an open space route, it persists in concentrating all its preparatory work on its own preferred route through the housing area. Again, the evidence contradicts everything its says and that is causing huge unrest.
I thank Deputy Gregory for sharing his time. This is an important issue. Everybody in the Drumcondra area is in favour of and has welcomed metro north. However, they were appalled when they saw from another map circulated to them that the original route which had been distributed when the decision was taken had been changed. The RPA now says the original route was only an indicative one and that the new route which goes almost entirely under houses and which is totally different from the original one that went almost exclusively under open space is the preferred one. Naturally enough everybody in the area is more than concerned. People are also concerned about the issues raised in Marino in regard to the Dublin Port tunnel, particularly as the new route goes under so many houses. Some 660 houses will be affected.
There have already been half a dozen meetings, a couple of meetings with the Taoiseach and two to four meetings with the RPA. There has also been a meeting with the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Martin Cullen. There was a protest last week and a meeting cancelled by the RPA and there will be a protest this evening. It is a huge issue in the area and, as Deputy Gregory said, approximately 600 to 800 people have attended the meetings, one of which was attended by the Taoiseach. Can we not get back to the original route which maximises the use of open space and minimises the use of residential homes? That is what is sought. The only way we can do that is for the Minister to direct the RPA to do what it originally showed on the maps.
Deputy Joe Costello will know I have no authority to direct the RPA. Whatever route is finally chosen will be subject to the normal statutory procedures of An Bord Pleanála. In case anybody is trying to make a political point about this, it is not within the remit of the Minister to direct the RPA to choose a particular route.
I thank both Deputies for raising this matter. They are right that it is an important one which would benefit from everybody taking a step back to allow a bit of space. I appreciate the manner in which it has been raised by both Deputies and the way they have addressed it in the House. As they said, this is one of the flagship projects of Transport 21. It is extremely important for the northside of the city and much further afield. It will carry an estimated 34 million passengers per year when it is operating. Trains will operate every five minutes and the estimated journey time from the city centre to Dublin Airport will be 17 minutes.
The RPA has been mandated by the Government to procure and implement the project. As the Deputies rightly acknowledge, there was extensive public consultation to determine the route for metro north which commenced in February 2006. There were a number of open days that provided opportunities for public engagement. The consultation process continued right up to the end of June 2006. Following the consultation process, the RPA board then decided on the preferred route. I understand that a number of indicative routes were shown, the consultation took place and it chose a particular route. That is normal in such situations.
I will not bore the Deputies with the obvious benefits because they have both acknowledged them. I wish to mention a number of stops. The proposed Drumcondra metro stop will be located to the rear of St. Vincent's Centre for the Deaf at Drumcondra Road. Other options examined would have had significant negative impacts. In particular, they would have required road closures for up to three years. I understand that between the Drumcondra and Griffith Avenue stops an emergency access and ventilation shaft easily accessible to emergency services is required. The south west corner of the St. Patrick's College playing fields has been identified as a suitable location. The location of the shaft influences the route onward to the Griffith Avenue stop.
Work is under way on the preparation of an environmental impact statement and the documentation required to support an application to An Bord Pleanála for a railway order, which is the legal permission needed to build and operate the metro north. The authority to make a final decision on the alignment of metro north rests with An Bord Pleanála through the railway order process. The terms of that statutory planning process allow considerable opportunity for the public to comment on and object to the detailed plan for the project.
I have met the RPA and I assure the Deputies that I have asked it to engage extensively with the residents in the area in exploring mechanisms. I do not doubt what the Deputies said about the cancellation of a meeting last week. I was informed that a particular individual whose name was given as a contact for the residents' organisation could not be contacted by the RPA despite several efforts over the past week or ten days. There is clearly a problem of communication.