Wednesday, 31 January 2018
Topical Issue Debate
Light Rail Projects Provision
There have been some welcome developments in transport but they are not ambitious enough and, in some cases, will take many years to complete. The Luas link to Broombridge has been a wonderful success, with many commuters from the Finglas area commuting daily. One of the biggest problems with Broombridge is the lack of parking and set-down places, in addition to the lack of feeder buses to service the station. Amazingly, these were overlooked. I would like the Minister to look into this.
The southern part of Finglas is the area worst serviced with public transport in the whole of Finglas and the rest of the city. Areas such as Scribblestown, Valley Park, Tolka Valley, Dunsoghly, Rathvilly, Virginia, Kilshane and Deanstown have little or no service, although they have many elderly residents, young children and people with disabilities who cannot walk long distances.
One of the first public private partnerships for 70 housing units is planned for Scribblestown and the project is expected to start in the near future. Dunsink Lane in Finglas, beside Valley Park, has the potential to accommodate between 4,500 and 12,500 units, as does the valley area in Finglas south. A link to the proposed metro north - to the airport from Broombridge - could be constructed across virgin lands that are not yet developed. Even a stand-alone link from Broombridge to the top of north Finglas could be a stand-alone project. It would be economical and open up lands for development, especially along Dunsink Lane. It would also service one of our best hospitals, Cappagh hospital.
The population of Finglas is rising. Traffic congestion on the Finglas Road is at an all-time high and the nearby M50 resembles a carpark at peak hours. One does not have to be an Einstein to see public transport is the only way forward. The most economic, environmentally friendly and straightforward way to achieve what I describe is through the Finglas area.
This issue is very relevant to my constituency, including the community and families of Finglas. It may have come to the attention of the Minister, and I may have said to him at meetings in the past, that Dublin North-West is the only constituency in Dublin without two modes of public transport. It is entirely reliant on the bus network. It is fair to say that congestion is hitting Finglas harder than many other areas of the city. We need infrastructure and investment and we need them now.
We have spoken about this in the past. I am campaigning based on a two-step process. The first element of the first step is to develop, as Deputy Dessie Ellis said, proper park-and-ride facilities in Broombridge that would unlock the Luas cross-city route for a great many people in Finglas in the short term. The second is the development of Tolka Valley Park to allow pedestrians to gain access to it more easily and safely, particularly in the evening hours. The third is to have a feeder bus route. I have spoken with Dublin Bus and the NTA on this matter. They have, I am glad to say, agreed to a feeder bus to Broombridge. I hope to see it on stream in the very near future. I understand the drivers have been informed of it this week.
The second part of the process, after we demonstrate the demand in Finglas for the Luas, is to extend it there. This should have been done as part of the original Luas cross-city project. Finglas is a town with over 30,000 people, yet the line terminates in Broombridge, which is effectively an industrial estate. This is senseless. It is quite clear that the NTA is very keen on the proposal to extend the route to Finglas. I urge the Minister to use his considerable power and influence to expedite the project, not only putting Finglas on the agenda but putting it at the top, where it deserves to be.
I thank the Deputies for presenting their case. Both Deputies and I have ambitions. The only difference between them and me is that I have a chequebook they do not have, but I cannot just open it at will. The aspirations of both Deputies are ambitious and they have made a very good case.
The only problem is the timing and the commercial viability and good sense of doing those things. In terms of convenience, the constituency of the Deputies and the development of transport, the proposal should come under consideration but I am afraid it will not necessarily be immediate. I thank the Deputies, both of whom have legitimate cases to make, for acknowledging the fact that there are improvements in transport in Dublin. There are also great ambitions for same. I urge the Deputies also to make the case to the National Transport Authority, NTA, which can provide a more immediate interface than mine with Members, the public and others. They should make their presentations to the NTA because it has the power and makes the decisions. Issues only come to me at a later stage. The NTA is the operating unit that will in the first instance make a decision on the suggestions the Deputies have made, which are both extremely plausible even if they are not immediately practical.
The NTA's transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, GDA, provides a framework for the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services in the GDA over the next two decades. The delivery of these projects is obviously subject to a number of influencing factors, including funding availability. I have already ensured that budget 2018 will provide an enhanced four-year capital envelope of €2.7 billion for public transport over the period 2018 to 2021. The funding will progress key capital programmes set out in the NTA's strategy that will help address congestion and emerging capacity constraints on the public transport system across cities, including major projects in the greater Dublin area such as BusConnects, the DART expansion programme and metro north.
The recently opened Luas cross city will add an estimated 10 million extra journeys every year on the Luas network. In addition, the green line capacity enhancement project, recently approved by the Government, will address current capacity limits at peak hours on the Luas green line and cater for future demands along the line. Funding of more than €300 million has been allocated under the plan to continue planning, design and construction of the new metro north, with construction work commencing In 2021 and passenger services starting in 2027. Design and planning work is already under way and I am pleased to inform the Deputies that in a few weeks a public consultation process will be undertaken on the emerging preferred route, EPR. The cost of completing the new metro north project is estimated at €2.4 billion and is being considered in the context of the ten-year capital plan which will be published shortly.
Turning specifically to the issue raised by the Deputies, the latter period of the NTA's GDA strategy 2016 to 2035 includes a number of proposals to develop the light rail network further in the GDA. This includes the extension of the Luas cross city from its terminus at Broombridge to the north of Finglas to provide a high capacity radial service from this large suburb into the city centre in the latter period of the strategy. There are currently no proposals to provide a metro link from Broombridge to the airport via Finglas. Provision for appraisal and planning for Luas to Finglas and other Luas extensions being included in the latter stages of the NTA transport strategy are being considered in the context of the forthcoming ten-year capital plan.
I thank the Minister. We all welcome metro north and we are waiting for it to get moving. I wish we could speed up the process as the timeframe is a bit long. There is an onus on the Minister, the Department, the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland. They should look at the project and all the State agencies should be instructed to examine it. It would not cost an arm and a leg to extend the line from Broombridge to Finglas as it is only a short distance of approximately two to three miles to extend the line into north Finglas. It could be planned that the spur would link into metro north. The project could be a stand-alone one or linked in.
There would be significant benefits to the environment in terms of traffic congestion and pollution. The main Ashbourne road is chock-a-block with traffic coming into the city. People also come off the M50 from various areas and the road into the city is chock-a-block as well, especially in the Hart's Corner and Glasnevin areas. We have an opportunity to plan in advance. The fields in Dunsink Lane are virgin fields. We have an opportunity to put the metro north through the area and then to talk to Fingal County Council.
I thank the Minister very much for his response. I noted with interest yesterday that the Taoiseach said it took him 75 minutes to get to work, which is an indication perhaps of the increased traffic levels throughout the city and the increased busyness of the economy. However, it is not unusual for my constituents in Finglas to take that long to get to work. According to the small area census data, it is routine and regular for people living in Northway estate, Scribblestown, Finn Eber, Rathvilly, Heathfield, Kilshane and Valley Park to spend in excess of an hour on their commutes to work. None of them has access to a train station that in some cases is only 1 mile south of them. None of them has accessibility to the Luas, which terminates only 1 mile south of them. The expansion and extension of the Luas would do a great deal to transform the lives of these families, commuters and communities. It would unlock the city for the citizens of Finglas but it would also unlock Finglas for the citizens of the city. There is a great deal of potential in Finglas to build residential accommodation on the available land. Now is the time to strike. A railway order should be signed now while the land is available and empty and while we have the capacity to build key capital infrastructure projects which this area has needed for years if not decades.
I thank the Deputies for what they have said. I understand Deputy Elllis's plea and I sympathise with it. I do not think he could contest that with me. He outlined the benefits for the proposal he made in terms of traffic reduction and the environment. That is fair enough. In terms of cost, Deputy Ellis said it would not cost an arm and a leg.
That is not very specific to say the least. My suggestion is that a cost-benefit analysis should be carried out on it. I would be happy if the Deputy could provide to me an estimate of the costs and the benefits in writing.
I would be very happy to present it to the NTA and to hear its criticism or assessment of it.
I do hold out some hope for what Deputy Rock said. I wish to respond to him about BusConnects because he mentioned the fact that his is the only constituency in north Dublin without at least two forms of transport. The NTA, which is the primary mover in this regard, does not think of places in terms of constituencies. It looks at the situation in a different way. However, I accept the Deputy's point. BusConnects is a very exciting programme that is being introduced on a cross-city basis. The four-year capital plan provides for investment of more than €770 million to progress the BusConnects programme. It was launched last summer by the NTA. It will completely overhaul the bus system in Dublin by implementing a network of next generation bus corridors with segregated cycling, three bus rapid transit routes, a complete redesign of the bus network, a simpler fare structure, a cashless payment system, a state-of-the-art ticketing system, new bus livery, new bus stops and shelters, and the use of low emission vehicles.
We must acknowledge the significant progress that has been made in all constituencies, not just by BusConnects but by the Luas cross city and metro north in the capital's transport network.