Thursday, 12 November 2020

Ceisteanna (7)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

7. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Transport the status of the development of the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, CMATS, and the need for a bus rapid transit system in Cork. [29627/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

During the term of the previous Dáil, I was very anxious to push the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, particularly the light rail element. I was glad that it was included in the strategy in the end. We are all very aware that it will not happen overnight, although I would like it to happen sooner than is scheduled. In the meantime, is there scope for bus rapid transit along those corridors? I think of the Glider system in Belfast. This is a very eye-catching and attractive system which could potentially be very suitable for Cork.

I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire. I absolutely agree with him. We mentioned Dublin earlier, but Cork also needs a sustainable transport system. The Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, CMATS, takes the right approach. It adopts a multi-modal approach to transport planning, provides the necessary evidence-based and plan-led framework and is an example of good long-term planning.

Now that we have the strategy, we have to move on to implementation. I am glad to say that a number of important steps are already under way in that regard, while the review of the national development plan will also have an important role to play. The CMATS was published earlier this year and includes a number of significant public transport proposals across bus, commuter rail and light rail as well as a proposed transformation of active travel infrastructure in the city region.

The Deputy specifically referred to bus rapid transit. He will be aware that the approach adopted for buses in the CMATS is similar to that proposed in Dublin, namely, the delivery of a BusConnects Cork programme of improved bus and active travel infrastructure. BusConnects is not only about making the bus system better, it is about completely transforming Cork's potential. Complementing that investment, it is also proposed to develop a light rail service running on an east to west corridor across the city and, in advance of its introduction, BusConnects Cork will deliver a high-capacity, high-frequency bus corridor along the route.

I will go into the detail of that proposal, if I may. We would hope that the route from Ballincollig would take in Cork Institute of Technology, Cork University Hospital, University College Cork and would go right through the centre, the business district and out towards Blackrock and Mahon via the docks. This would connect a great many key areas and desired lines.

We should accelerate and look to advance this good CMATS. It would be the councillors who have to decide this but I do not see why we could not introduce this high quality bus rapid transport route along that corridor in advance of the light rail going in. We could build up the demand and give the signal to developers that this is where to go. The council has to row in behind this. I had a good meeting last week with Cork city councillors and I think they are ready for it.

There is significant appetite for this. There is a widespread acceptance in the city and the surrounding areas that to achieve the population growth we want in the city and the region, we cannot just keep piling more cars into the south link road and into the city centre. It will not work and it will not be able to develop in the way we want it to. Bus rapid transit is not an immediate overnight win but it is potentially a quicker win than the light rail and it can happen along the same corridors.

One point I would make on the corridors is that a lot of the main services and industries are along that east-west corridor, as well as facilities such as the hospitals and universities, but an awful lot of the population spreads north-south. The failure to look at a north-south link connecting the north side and the south side, which is a desirable objective in any event, but potentially connecting that line to populations north and south of it, is something that should have been explored in CMATS and should continue to be explored because otherwise, people in Blackpool, Douglas, Mayfield or Togher will not benefit from the advantages of this corridor.

I agree with what the Deputy is saying about that route. There is the other main spine on the north side. Introducing a suburban rail service from Midleton right the way through to Mallow with eight stations also needs to be accelerated. It was in the plan but it was further out. These projects might need to come first and one of the benefits of coming first is that we get transport-led development of Cork. Cork has been hollowed out as everyone moved to Carrigaline, Ballincollig or further afield. We need to bring life back into the centre of Cork and I mention the Mahon to Ballincollig route and the Mallow to Midleton route. There is potential for huge development in the docklands on one side of the Lee on the old Dunlop site and on the Tivoli docks on the other side. That would be dramatic. I would put a cycling and foot bridge across the river there. We have to hold back on getting more road connections but some of those connections would provide a strong development to Cork right on the river and close to the centre. It would be a spectacular place to live.

I agree with the point the Minister makes on the north side and on the more traditional rail connections that will exist but none of that takes into account the fact that not as far out as Carrigaline, Passage or some of the commuter areas, there is a significant population that cannot walk to that or easily reach that corridor in Douglas, Togher, Ballyphehane and Greenmount. I have to say I am impressed with the Minister's knowledge of Cork geography. He is able to rhyme off place names but if he can visualise the chunk of the city I am talking about, it will not benefit from that corridor.

It is positive to see a delivery office set up for the docklands. That will be a crucial area to CMATS and the transport links. Cork Chamber of Commerce has been asking for a delivery office for CMATS. That is logical but so far it has not been delivered. Would the Minister be willing to agree to a delivery office for CMATS based in Cork?

Yes. My father grew up on Victoria Road. I know Cork well. The Deputy is right about Togher, Douglas and that whole area. That is on the BusConnects route too. It is not just that east-west corridor that needs to be built. There are north-south corridors. It is central to the BusConnects plan in CMATS so it is not just that one route. North-South public transport corridors are needed and BusConnects can do it. We can see it in Dublin. It provides the capacity and it will really serve the city well. The National Transport Authority, NTA, has been involved with the city council in setting up that office. The Deputy mentioned that both the city council and the NTA have been saying they need to work together so they could probably house that office together. It is ready to go. In my mind it needs additional funding and we will look at that.

We need a delivery office in Cork.

I would like to see one that involves the NTA and not just the city council. I would like to see them working together. It is a good idea.