Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Transport Infrastructure Provision
I thank the Minister of State for his time. All three Government parties gave commitments in their manifestos to carrying out a feasibility study of metro south west. This was given on the back of considerable campaigning by the Metro South West group. As the Minister of State might imagine, the campaign group was delighted when it heard that the study was going ahead but when it sought the terms of reference, it found that the study was confined to a stand-alone metro to Knocklyon. The group was informed by officials in the Department of Transport that it refers to a stand-alone line to the city rather than being a continuation of the MetroLink to south-west Dublin. It makes no reference to that preferred option of continuation and does not take into account Firhouse as an area of growing population. The lack of this continuation of the link was the very basis on which the campaign over recent years was mounted. There was a lack of consultation with the group, which is a matter of regret because taxpayers' money is now being spent on a feasibility study where there is a perception that it has been designed to fail.
The group that is campaigning is not a fly-by-night group; it represents 35 residents' associations in that south-west triangle between the two Luas lines. They have gone to considerable effort to demonstrate that buses alone cannot deliver sufficient capacity to fulfil the public transport needs in south-west Dublin. The contrast between south-west and south-east Dublin is quite stark. South-east Dublin has the DART, the Luas and the long-established high-quality bus corridor along the Stillorgan Road, whereas south-west Dublin connectivity is based on buses alone. A deep analysis has gone into BusConnects, taking it at its height with all that it proposes. There still will be only an additional three buses and an additional capacity of 240 seats and passengers for that huge area of population and an even larger projected population. Developers are actively building houses, South Dublin County Council is developing land and 480 ha has been zoned for residential development. The bus capacity does not meet the population need, as it stands, let alone the future capacity. It is crucial, therefore, that buses will not be the only answer. We needed another solution and, as a result, an awful lot of work went into the south-west metro proposals, with an earnest analysis of the population and public transport capacity. It is deeply disappointing that the terms of reference of the feasibility study, as they stand, are so incredibly narrow.
The feasibility study should stand on a number of pillars. First, it should be independent and objective but, with due respect, the National Transport Authority, NTA, has stated that buses alone will meet the need. It has rejected the Metro South West group's proposals several times based on a significantly outdated study that has no relevance to the proposal as put forward by this campaigning group. It is not independent and does not seem objective, and so prescribing the terms of reference in this instance, I venture to say, is not appropriate on its part. The designation of the terminus for the continuation of the MetroLink should be left open. Prescribing it as Knocklyon greatly limits its capacity and its scope for being a really productive feasibility study. Lastly, it should be timely and co-ordinated so that the outcome of the feasibility study is in line with the rail order next year, and independent consultants need to be involved. The cost-benefit analysis of extending the MetroLink to south-west Dublin and using the boring machine there stands on its merits and makes sense.
I urge the Minister of State to have meaningful discussions with the campaign group and to include its views in the terms of reference.
I thank the House for inviting me to speak here for the first time. I am impressed by the passion and coherence of the question the Senator put forward. The Government is committed to a fundamental change in the nature of transport in Ireland. We believe that to deliver on this commitment, we need a whole-of-system perspective for all modes of transport, whether active travel, bus or rail. That means developing evidence-based multimodal transport strategies that will guide development over the medium and long terms, and transport strategies that are integrated with land use plans and enable local authorities to locate houses, jobs and other demand factors along high-capacity transport corridors. This is the type of framework that many of our EU and international peers use and it is the one that can deliver fundamental change.
In Ireland, we are beginning to see the emergence of that type of framework. In the greater Dublin area, there is a statutory 20-year transport strategy, developed by the NTA and approved by the Minister for Transport. It is a transport strategy that covers all modes and all counties in the greater Dublin area, namely, Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. It must be reflected in all land use plans and is subject to extensive and statutory consultation during its development. The current strategy was published in 2016 and referred to two metro lines, effectively a metro north and a metro south. Those projects were initially considered for development as one project known as MetroLink but, in response to issues raised during the non-statutory consultation process, the preferred route for MetroLink is now proposed to link the estuary in north County Dublin with Charlemont on the Grand Canal and future-proof for a later connection to the Luas green line. That project will be taken forward for Government approval next year and, if approved, will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála.
That does not mean we are not open to new ideas or the potential for other metro options. The NTA is preparing to launch a review of the transport strategy to ensure that it is kept up to date and informed by latest developments. This need to review and refresh is both common sense and a requirement of the legislation, which states that the strategy must be reviewed by the NTA every six years. As part of that review, the NTA will consider the potential for future metro options in the greater Dublin area, including the potential for one in the south west of the city. The first step in considering that potential is to conduct a feasibility study, a process the NTA is seeking to start. The study will consider whether a metro-type solution should be pursued further for this part of the city. The study area will be similar to that considered in the original transport strategy and will examine the south-west corridor in general. This is just one analysis being conducted as part of the NTA's broader review of the transport strategy. The intention is that all these various strands of analysis will be published by the NTA next year as part of the public consultation on the review of the strategy. Everyone will then have an opportunity to consider the information and to put forward their views on how the revised transport strategy should look.
The transport strategy is a very important framework for the future development of transport infrastructure in the greater Dublin area and I expect that many people will have interesting ideas on what any revised strategy should contain. I look forward to hearing the Senator's views on the matter.
I note and fully respect the openness to modality changes for our entire population. There is no question that we are trying to encourage that. The Minister of State outlined an evidence-based framework that goes along with work patterns, residential capacity and predicted development.However, the terms of reference for the Knocklyon feasibility study with Knocklyon being a stand-alone link, suddenly removes whole sections of the population who are currently only being served by buses. Therefore, having the metro terminate at Knocklyon does not make sense. With due respect to everything the National Transport Authority, NTA, does, it did a study previously where it also confined the population, whereas the population proposed by Metro South West group and everything it has based that proposal on is a population that is exactly the same as that which would justify the building of the green line. It really needs to be broadened and to consider the population of Firhouse.
As I said, it is whole-of-system approach. The route in the south west is not fixed. It is not decided yet. It is not even decided whether it will go south west. The south east is also being considered in a feasibility study as are other sections around the city. All the different proposals that are made for where we should expand our rail network will have to be prioritised according to each other. It is not yet fixed. I am happy to bring the Senator’s comments to the Minister. I absolutely recognise the south west of the city has a particular problem in terms of transport constraint due to the layout of the narrow streets. This came up during the BusConnects consultation in that it was a very difficult to put in public transport in that area. I am also aware that since 1975 there have been proposals for rail connections towards the south west of the city and beyond where the M50 is now.