Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Questions (64)

Robert Troy


64. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the College Green plaza; if he will advance an alternative option; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45947/18]

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Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Transport)

In light of An Bord Pleanála's recent decision on College Green, has the Department considered alternatives in consultation with the NTA and Dublin City Council? What is the Minister's plan for future traffic flow around College Green?

I thank the Deputy for his question. He will be aware that the planning application was brought by Dublin City Council and the decision to refuse was made by An Bord Pleanála. The council's application was made in its role as the relevant local and roads authority for Dublin city. I am sure the Deputy respects the role of the city council and all local authorities regarding their statutory roles and responsibilities.

The Deputy refers to the development of a plaza on College Green, which forms a central element of Dublin City Council’s plans for the area and features in the council’s development plan. There is a transport element to the council’s plans for College Green, and that was founded on part of the 2015 Dublin city centre transport study, which was developed by the council in partnership with the NTA. This transport study sought 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.

The study noted that the development of the Luas cross city service required a renewed focus on traffic and junction arrangements along its route, including the College Green area. Complementing that focus, the council sought to improve the public realm and create a new civic plaza. As I mentioned, I understand that the proposal to upgrade the public realm forms part of the council’s current development plan. Therefore, as the Deputy can appreciate, the planning application for the College Green plaza proposal is a matter for the council.

However, as I stated, there is a transport context for this. The issue of congestion formed the backdrop to the 2015 study and also forms the backdrop to any discussion of transport within the core city centre today. As we all know, the College Green area is an important transport corridor for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. The implications of An Bord Pleanála's recent decision are being carefully considered by the council in its role as the relevant local and roads authority for the area, as well as by the National Transport Authority in its statutory role as transport authority.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

That consideration reflects the statutory responsibilities of the various State authorities. It is not a matter for decision by a Minister as to what the traffic arrangements on a city centre street might be or whether a public plaza should be created or how it should be created.

What I am responsible for is the development of public transport policy and the overall funding to provide for its implementation. In that regard, we have made progress in recent years since publication of the city centre transport study in 2015. We have increased rail services through the reopening of the Phoenix Park tunnel; continued to invest in the city centre resignalling project; introduced ten-minute DART services; invested in new bus services and fleet; and invested in improved cycle routes and expanded public bike sharing schemes.

We are planning for the future too, through the BusConnects, MetroLink and DART expansion projects. Therefore, there has been progress in public transport in recent years and that progress will continue and accelerate with the roll-out of the projects to which I have just referred.

As to the specific issues in the College Green area, I expect the council and the NTA to fully consider the board's recent decision in the context of the known issues which remain in the movement of transport through the area.

Whether one raises the issue of congestion with the Minister, the NTA, Dublin City Council or Dublin Bus, the response is always that one must wait and see what the outcome on the College Green plaza is because the decision will be central to the future plans for traffic flows in Dublin. As the Minister correctly said, this issue dates back to 2015 when the NTA and Dublin City Council carried out the Dublin city centre transport study. Despite identifying it in 2015, it took Dublin City Council a further two years to make an application to An Bord Pleanála. Public hearings were postponed because Dublin City Council misadvertised in the national newspapers. Because the Government allowed a situation to continue where the membership of An Bord Pleanála was depleted, it took longer for the issue to be adjudicated on. Given the importance of the scheme and the additional time both the NTA and Dublin City Council have had, has the Minister met the CEO of Dublin City Council and the CEO of the NTA and brought them together to see how are we to advance the plans made or what are the next steps in the process?

The answer to the Deputy's question is "No" and I have no intention of doing so. The city council and the NTA are the principal parties. Obviously, An Bord Pleanála has played another part, but the city council is responsible for what happens. It is responsible for the appeal to An Bord Pleanála. It is responsible, with the NTA for taking a further decision. These people are grown-ups. I can only inform the Deputy of what I know about the issue, that is, at a council meeting last night a number of councillors stated the project for which permission was refused owing to the board's concerns about the significant negative impact it would have on bus transport and traffic must not be abandoned. It seems the likelihood is that councillors wish to go ahead with a plaza of sorts and respond to the reservations of An Bord Pleanála about the project. One of the councillors, the council's head of traffic, stated last night that there was an urgent need to reconfigure College Green to take account of the increased numbers of pedestrians and cyclists in the area and the new requirement for 55 m Luas cross city trams. They are taking their responsibilities seriously. Much as I would like to see a result as soon as possible, it is not up to me to become involved in the issue.

The Minister has a flair for blaming someone else or stating it is the responsibility of someone else such as Dublin City Council, the NTA or Dublin Bus. Does he have any responsibility to the tens of thousands who commute in and out of the capital city on a daily basis who have seen their commuting time increase dramatically in recent years? Does he have any responsibility to get the key stakeholders together to advance the major projects that need to be advanced because Dublin Bus is waiting to rerouting certain service until the decision is made? The Minister stated he would leave it to Dublin City Council. Given that it took the council two years, from the time it was decided to make the application, to make it, the fact that it misadvertised in the media, which delayed the project further, and that the application, as submitted by the council, did not meet the approval of An Bord Pleanála because the arguments put forward in it were weak, surely the Minister has some responsibility to bring the key stakeholders together to ensure we will advance the project and work to reduce congestion and get the capital city moving again.

The Deputy should stand for election to Dublin City Council as that is where he should be if that is what he maintains. It would be the proper platform. That is where the issue was discussed last night and where it will be decided. It is looking for various solutions and good luck to it. Like the Deputy, I would love to see it happen. The Deputy says I am washing my hands of something, but the opposite side of the coin is that he would ask, if I did do something about it, how dare I interfere with the NTA and Dublin City Council when it was none of my business. It is not a matter for me in which to become directly involved. It is unrealistic and untrue for the Deputy to say we have not done anything about the traffic problems in Dublin. The plaza is an area in which I have no jurisdiction. I do in others. Let me repeat to him some of what I have stated ad nauseam in the past but which for some reason he does not seem to be able to acknowledge or take in.

The Minister takes credit for successful measures.

We will have to move on.

We have done a large amount about traffic problems in Dublin city. We have increased the percentage of passengers on public transport which is part of our policy. I suppose Deputy Troy has never heard of ten-minute DART services.

It is chaotic.

I suppose he has never heard of the improvements in bus services and the bus fleet.

We are making no progress.

The Minister should take the ten-minute DART service and see what he thinks of it.

I suppose the Deputy has never heard of the Phoenix Park tunnel or the Luas.

There are other Members in the House.

I suppose Deputy Troy has never heard of the city centre resignalling project either.