Seanad debates

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Commencement Matters

Light Rail Projects

12:30 pm

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. We have a rather topical item coming up.

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)
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I thank the Minister for taking this Commencement matter. He could have asked a Minister of State to come in so I appreciate him taking the matter in person.

The Minister knows the area well. He has lived in this part of Dublin for a long number of years. He is well aware of the proposal for MetroLink, which will erect a wall in the middle of the community of Ranelagh. It is proposed that a train will run every 90 seconds. It will separate the community forever and it will have a great impact on traffic and emergency services. If they had to attend to a heart attack on one side of the line, for example, trying to access the incident would be difficult because of the way the emergency services are configured. There has been little opportunity for the residents to make their views known. Residents on the northside were invited to appear before the transport committee. The Minister has no control over whether one group or another is invited to appear before the committee but they were excluded from that. I feel particularly aggrieved by that. They have requested a meeting with the National Transport Authority, NTA, which I hope will be granted shortly, and they have also asked to meet the Minister. I ask the Minister to look at his diary on Friday, if that is when he has his diary meeting, to see if he can facilitate the representatives of the residents and schools in the Ranelagh area.

The proposal is to close the Luas green line for up to two years. The official papers say it will be a year but the structural surveys on the embankment have not been carried out yet. If the embankments have to be reinforced, which I believe will be the case, it will take substantially more than a year. It will have an impact on the immediate area, not only Ranelagh and Rathmines but the entire southside of the city. To put the number of people who use the green line back on to other public transport or in their cars would destroy the southside of the city for up to two years. The economic impact would be substantial. I ask that the Minister look at continuing the MetroLink further underground past Milltown, which the papers propose, would only close the green line for three months. The green line could be closed for June, July and August during the school holidays which would lessen the impact on the city and its economic activity and mean having a better scheme to service the city.

The Minister's officials will probably say he cannot implement these proposals without breaking eggs. I am a realist. To put in the infrastructure that is needed, some people will be discommoded and disadvantaged but we have to try to ensure we do not destroy where we do not have to. There is a solution, although it is not a perfect solution. It may not be the one everyone likes but it would certainly maintain the integrity of Ranelagh. It would prevent an old-type Berlin Wall through the heart of Ranelagh, which would not only separate families and communities but would have an impact on small businesses and their economic viability if half their footfall is taken out.

I ask the Minister to meet the representatives of the residents' groups, who are the people most impacted. They have formally written him asking for that meeting. He may not have had time to consider it. I ask the Minister to meet them as soon as possible with his officials, to allow them to explain the impact on their communities. He will see that there is a viable alternative. The costing is €420 million. Similar major changes have taken place on the northside regarding the location of the stations. We are hearing rumours. The NTA said it may be move to a single bore tunnel. We need to know what impact that will have and what can be done. If it is moved to a single bore tunnel, as a result of the reduction in cost, can we reduce the impact it will have on communities such as Ranelagh and Rathmines?

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue on which he has been a loud and extremely effective voice. It is a difficult issue because when we embark on projects like this, some communities almost inevitably suffer discomfort or worse. It is partly my job to ensure it is Government policy that the kind of disruption to which the Senator refers, particularly in Ranelagh, is deferred or does not happen at all. It is difficult to embark on a project without doing that but I assure the Senator we have no intention of splitting communities in any way. We will do everything we can to ensure no communities are split by this particular project, which is of such great importance to the entire city and county of Dublin.

The recently published national development plan, NDP, which was launched earlier this year by Government as part of Project Ireland 2040, brings together the metro north and metro south projects, as envisaged by the NTA's greater Dublin area, GDA, strategy, into one project called MetroLink. It is a massive project and Ranelagh is an important part of it. Ranelagh will greatly benefit from it but the sensitivities of the people of the community have to be taken into consideration.

The MetroLink project is the development of a north-south urban railway service that will run between Swords and Sandyford, connecting key destinations along the 26 km route. There will be 25 stations in total, 15 of them brand new. A large proportion of the route will be underground, including where it passes under the important city centre area and Dublin Airport. The underground section will terminate close to the Charlemont stop on the Luas green line, south city area, where the metro will connect to and run southwards on the existing Luas green line. The Luas green line will be upgraded to metro standard as part of the project. It will provide Dublin with a high-capacity, high-frequency, cross-city rail corridor, serving critical destinations such as Swords, Dublin Airport, Dublin City University, Ballymun, the Mater Hospital and existing destinations along the Luas green line to Sandyford. MetroLink will provide faster reliable journey times to and from these key destinations while offering interchange with other rail, DART expansion, light rail and bus services. It is predicted that capacity for 15,000 passengers per direction per hour during the busiest peak times will be required along this corridor. MetroLink will have the capacity for 30 trains per hour in each direction, so it will greatly enhance the public transport offering in Dublin. The creation of about 4,000 jobs during construction is also envisaged, which is highly significant for the economy in the region. The NTA, in conjunction with TII, recently completed a public consultation process on the emerging preferred route. The emerging preferred route is the proposal which has been identified as the likely optimal scheme from a technical design perspective, without the benefit of public consultation and input. It is not a finalised and selected scheme. The final layout will only be determined after consideration and evaluation of the issues raised during the consultation process. The purpose of that process, which also includes public consultation meetings, was to obtain the views of the general public, particularly those along the identified emerging route and to take that input into account in finalising a selected route. I gather there have been consultations and meetings on this subject in the Senator's area.

Following receipt of all of the submissions, the issues and concerns identified are being carefully considered by TII and the NTA in determining the final scheme proposal. A public consultation report is expected to be published later this year, following a full appraisal of the 8,000 submissions received. The NTA and TII expect that an application for a railway order, comprising the final design scheme, will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála during quarter 3 of 2019. A further public consultation will be undertaken in 2019 as part of the statutory planning consent process. This will include a report assessing the environmental impacts of the project as well as final details of any land acquisitions needed for the scheme. Subject to receipt of planning approval, construction of the project is expected to commence in 2021 with MetroLink open for passenger use in 2027.

I absolutely understand the concerns raised by affected stakeholders, including those communities in Ranelagh, so well represented by Senator Humphreys. I believe that the MetroLink project can bring many benefits. I am confident that the NTA and TII, through the consultative process that they have under way, will find a way of delivering the MetroLink project, maintain good routes that interchange with other public transport modes, and do it in a way that respects the social and community life of our city.

Given the MetroLink emerging preferred route proposal is the subject of a current independent public consultation process, I am sure the Senator will understand it would be highly inappropriate for me to comment any further on the details of the proposal at this time.

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)
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It is not my intention or that of the residents' groups to put the Minister in an awkward position, but the residents in Ranelagh believe the consultation process was deeply unfair. As I said earlier, others had access to the transport committee, to the National Transport Authority and to senior Ministers. This is not what happened on the southside of the city. When we requested a two-week extension to the public consultation we were informed that it would not be extended because of a specific request from residents on the northside that it should close on time.

The opportunities for people to express their views were very limited. That is why I am asking the Minister to find time in his diary to meet the residents' representatives. Above all there have been a number of announcements since the closure of the public consultation. We have heard of a temporary inconvenience of five or six years during the building of the MetroLink to Home Farm Football Club and certain GAA pitches. I welcome that they can be facilitated as they should be.

However, we have no information on whether the single-bore tunnel will affect the southside, whether it can be extended beyond Milltown or whether the residents' views will be taken on board. That is why I am so insistent that they should have an opportunity now to engage with departmental officials on the matter. They have some extremely good ideas. The residents know very well the impact needs to be highlighted; they went through this procedure with the Luas green line. They just want their views taken on board. They do not want their communities divided in half. They want equality. They want to be treated in the same way as every other citizen in Dublin is treated which they have not been up to now. They need to talk to the decision makers, to whom other residents in this city seemingly have access but the residents in Ranelagh do not.

As I said earlier, I ask the Minister to meet the residents' representatives. I ask him to ensure the National Transport Authority also meet the residents' representatives. We need to seriously look at taking the single-bore tunnel underground much further out into the suburbs. I know the areas involved and they need good public transport. The MetroLink opens up lands past Dublin Airport for the construction of residential units that we badly need. We know of the planning applications for a number of units to be built in Cherrywood. We know of the need for access. However, the impact this will have in the Ranelagh and Rathmines area needs to be taken on board.

I thank the Minister for attending today.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I wish to respond to the subsequent points the Senator has made. I am not averse to meeting residents' groups at all, although I could not obviously meet everybody who has difficulty with every transport project.

The public consultation process report is due to be issued later this year. This is primarily a matter for the NTA and it is not primarily a matter for me to interfere with that process. In fact, it would be wrong for me to do so. It should be left. The Senator might like the result of the public consultation report that is due to be released this year. After that I will certainly consider meeting the residents if the Senator still feels dissatisfied or aggrieved by the treatment he received from the NTA in this matter.

There will be another public consultation process in 2019 as part of the statutory planning consent process as the Senator will be aware. I will convey what he had to say to the NTA and I will communicate with him on its response.