Thursday, 18 October 2018
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I want to raise this issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport because it is an indication of the mess that the future development of the centre of Dublin is in currently. The Minister has taken a hands-off approach to public transport in Ireland's capital city, where a significant population lives and where people come in from the suburbs all around Dublin, including from my constituency of Dublin West, which includes Blanchardstown, Mulhuddart and Castleknock. If there was proper investment in public transport, those people would find their commute getting shorter; instead it is getting longer.
The BusConnects proposal has recently been developed. That proposal, which the Minister was involved in establishing, is seriously flawed. He said it had nothing to do with him and passed it on. Communities all over Dublin are left uncertain as to what will happen.
The central part of the BusConnects proposal was, in my view and that of many engineers, premised around the fact that College Green plaza would be implemented and significant numbers of major bus routes would be removed from the city centre. Those routes were to go down the quays and turn over the Rosie Hackett Bridge and, by other mechanisms, make their way to the south side of the city.
An Bord Pleanála, to which Dublin City Council decided to submit its plans and proposals, stated that the quays are too congested to take much more. That is clear to anyone who uses the buses daily going up and down the quays, as I do, and I know the Minister is also a bus user. An Bord Pleanála saw merit in the plan, but stated the impact, particularly on things like bus services, would be disastrous.
I got details of contracts for consultants relating to transport, presumably authorised in the Minister's capital budget. For 2017, Jarrett Walker & Associates, the firm which designed BusConnects, is listed as having been paid €407,000. In 2018 to date, the same firm of consultants is listed as having been paid €208,000. That is a total of €615,000 in consultancy fees in two years, which is not an inconsiderable sum. We are now thrown into total confusion.
This relates to the Minister's leadership of his Department. A hands-off approach is not good enough for Dublin city and the vast population it serves in terms of public transport. The Minister cannot, like Pontius Pilate, wash his hands of this because he is in the lofty and honourable position of being a Minister. He cannot say that Dublin city transport has nothing to do with him and refuse to get involved.
This decision of An Bord Pleanála simply adds to the confusion about what will happen in Dublin city centre. It is a grievous blow to the city, but so too is the Minister's BusConnects programme, which is now out to public consultation. The topic has been discussed on many occasions in the House. I do not know what will come back after Christmas because now a central feature of the plan, fewer buses within College Green, has been thrown out by An Bord Pleanála for the very good reason that there is not enough bus transport and the quays are already too congested.
The proposals the Minister has been flying kites with simply cannot be implemented.
I thank Deputy Burton for raising an issue in terms I have heard before in the House and will no doubt hear again. I reject the premise of what she says but I will try to answer some of the more relevant questions as to whose responsibility this is.
The Deputy is aware that the planning application was brought by Dublin City Council.
The decision to refuse was made by An Bord Pleanála. The decision is being considered by the council and the National Transport Authority to determine the implications. From a transport perspective, the proposal was one of a number of measures developed as part of the Dublin City Centre Transport Study, which was a joint initiative by the Council and the National Transport Authority. The issue of congestion is one which formed the backdrop to that study and forms the backdrop to city centre transport today also. The measures proposed by the transport study were designed to address the transport issues facing the core city centre area, facilitate the implementation of the Council’s development plan and safeguard the future development of the city.
In line with those objectives, the study put forward a number of proposals around an improved public transport offering for the city. Since the study’s publication in 2015, the NTA also published its statutory Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area and we have this year witnessed the publication of the national development plan and now have visibility of the proposed funding allocations over the next ten years.
A number of recently completed projects have already served to improve the capacity and quality of public transport in Dublin. Since 2015, Luas cross city has opened, heavy rail services have expanded through the re-opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel and ten-minute DART trains have been introduced.
We have invested in improved cycle routes and expanded public bike-sharing schemes. We have also invested in new bus services and a new fleet and improved passenger experiences through the roll-out of real time passenger information and the continued development of the Leap card. These are positive developments. We know that we need to continue to increase our levels of investment in public transport and active travel measures, which we plan to do under the national development plan. The Deputy will be well aware of the substantial investments planned to improve the bus network and infrastructure through the BusConnects programme to which she referred disparagingly. The NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland are continuing to plan for MetroLink with a view to construction commencing in 2021 and services being ready to start by 2027. The NTA is continuing to work with Iarnród Éireann on the expansion of the DART, which will see the network electrified as far as Drogheda to the north, Maynooth to the west and Hazelhatch to the south west. The issues underlying the development of the 2015 study remain and the NTA will continue to work with all stakeholders, including the council, to improve public and sustainable transport options in the city centre.
The Deputy should note that the Government and the Minister set policy, but we also allocate funds. Not to acknowledge the progress made in the expansion of the DART, with ten minute DART services, the Luas cross-city service, the proposals for BusConnects and the increases in public service obligation, PSO, funding is disingenuous. This is mainly a matter between Dublin City Council which made the application and An Bord Pleanála, the planning authority, which made the judgment.
I thank the Minister for his reply. It is good of him to come into the House to talk about this vital issue for everybody in the city of Dublin. The achievements the lists include the study commissioned in 2014 and 2015, the opening of the Luas cross-city service, the expanded heavy rail services as a result of the reopening of the Phoenix Park tunnel and the introduction of ten minute DART services. I was one of the people who lobbied for for many years for the new Luas service to Broombridge and was particularly involved, as the Acting Chairman knows, in lobbying to have the tunnel under the Phoenix Park reopened. For the Minister in some way to claim that he has some relationship with these achievements is rather grandiose and history does not support it. I am delighted that they have all been made and about the real time information application for Dublin Bus. It precedes the Minister's time in the Department. I am talking about his time in it, the fact that he seems to have no time at all to get involved in dealing with the slow strangulation happening in Dublin city centre which has a serious impact in places other than Dublin city in Fingal, south Dublin and Dún-Laoghaire Rathdown. Each of these council areas has seen huge population growth. They require more buses and train carriages, particularly on the Maynooth line, electrification to happen much earlier and the College Green issue to be addressed. The Minister has not told us what his response is as Minister to An Bord Pleanála's decision. I said the application had been made by Dublin City Council. What does the Minister propose to do about the mess that has become infinitely more complex as a result of An Bord Pleanála's decision? An Bord Pleanála states the plan has merit but talks about a lack of public transport services. We have added into this the issue of the BusConnects programme, a deeply flawed proposal, with the astonishing information that Jarrett Walker has been paid €615,000.
I thank the Deputy for repeating almost exactly in her second contribution what she had said in her first. I have responded adequately to it and do not want to be guilty of engaging in the same type of repetition. I emphasise the message I gave her that it is primarily a matter for the council and the NTA. Their application has, rightly or wrongly, been turned down by An Bord Pleanála and it will be for them to consider what action to take. That is from where the initiative came and where it has to be responded to. I have said repeatedly to the Deputy that the initiatives and large projects undertaken by the Department during the years, not only under the national development plan, have been extensive and expensive. She cannot just dismiss BusConnects, the Luas cross-city service and the Phoenix Park tunnel project and claim the credit for herself.
It was well lobbied for. It is wonderful that something she championed has been achieved for once. She should not pretend the Government is not responsible for some of the great and very successful projects on which we have spent public money and of which she herself is a beneficiary.