It’s undemocratic, say some Dublin councillors. It’s national policy being forced onto the city. It will ruin Sandymount. But, this time, it’s not the incinerator.
This time, it’s the Eastern Bypass, a proposal that’s been floating around since the 1970s for a big road to connect Dublin Port and the South Eastern Motorway segment of the M50.
When Dublin city councillors met last week to discuss and amend the draft Dublin City Development Plan, they passed nine motions opposing the bypass, which would cut through parts of the north inner city and the south inner city, and across or under Sandymount Strand.
Green Party councillors, Labour Party’s Dermot Lacey, Fine Gael’s Kieran Binchy and independent councillor Vincent Jackson all asked that the next development plan oppose the motorway.
Some wanted to encourage sustainable transport and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, others to preserve Dublin Bay.
Head of planning Jim Keogan told councillors that they shouldn’t adopt any of the motions. All nine were passed with huge majorities.
It looks as if Keogan may ignore those votes anyway.
Here Comes the Law
The reason, said Keogan, is that if he does not put the bypass in the development plan, he would be breaking the law.
“This is national transportation policy. It has been approved by the Government and has been signed off by the relevant minister and is now national policy. And we’re obligated, we shall, we must include national policy within our development plan where it pertains to the administrative area of the planning authority,” he said.
Section 9 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 does state that development plans must match national plans.
What if the council were to ignore the law and include the motions in the development plan any way? Keogan refused to even consider it.
After councillors continued to push, though, the council’s law agent Terence O’Keeffe approached the mic. “Here comes the law,” heckled independent councillor Mannix Flynn.
O’Keeffe put it simply: “If you put this into the plan, it will be challenged.” When the last development plan was challenged by the Sisters of Charity, it cost the council more than €1 million, he said.
Councillors are against plans for an Eastern Bypass for a bunch of reasons.
It goes against the basic tenets of modern planning and the realisation that public transport is a better answer, and more new roads just means more new cars, said Labour councillor Andrew Montague. “It always makes congestion worse,” he says. “It never makes it better.”
Cuffe, of the Green Party, said he’s amazed at how local authorities persist with such outdated plans. But more pressing for him is the fact that if the bypass is mentioned in the development plan, the land that may be used for that can’t be built on for other uses.
The Green Party’s first motion on the issue stated: “The Council notes with concern that this proposal could cost in excess of €4 billion, and effectively sterilises at least fifty hectares (500,000 square metres) of land that could provide for 2,500 housing units within close proximity of the city centre . . .”
(Transport Infrastructure Ireland’s (TII) map of the protected corridor does make it look quite large.)
Dublin City Council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, responded that it’s unclear how much the transport route would cost and the land would not be used to build 2,500 homes.
However, Keogan, the similarly named head of planning, said at the meeting that if the council wanted to deliver housing in the area, he was sure it would be possible without interfering with the proposed corridor.
Green Party councillor Claire Byrne said that it would look ridiculous to build a motorway through Dublin Bay, given its designation by UNESCO as a biosphere.
Lacey, of the Labour Party, also addressed the plan’s impact on the bay. “I think Dublin Bay should be seen as an asset to be enhanced and protected, not destroyed,” he said.
At the meeting, Ruairi McGinley was one of two councillors who spoke in favour of the bypass, saying it will be needed in the future. The other was Fianna Fail councillor David Costello.
Echoes of the Incinerator
To council watchers, this stand-off might look familiar, as if we’ve been here — or somewhere near to here — before. The lack of local power echoes the argument over the Poolbeg incinerator.
One of the bugbears for councillors is that it is the National Transport Authority (NTA), with its unelected board, that is pushing for the Eastern Bypass.
Cuffe says he’s struggled to get information from the NTA or TII on their current plans.
Mention of the bypass was removed from the last development plan, said Byrne, just to be put back in after lobbying from the NTA and Dublin Port Company.
“Who’s deciding the development of the city?” she asked. “Is it us, the elected representatives, or is it the NTA? Again, it is a complete erosion of democracy.”
Lacey says the last government didn’t have the project in their programme for government, but the NTA continued to push it.
As he sees it, he’s not answerable to the NTA. As he sees it, the body is “an unelected quango” and “a body to weasel unpopular policies through”.
If the Eastern Bypass runs across Sandymount Strand, it will be bad for the city, he said. He doesn’t want any mention of it in the development plan, in case this is used to push the plan forward.
The NTA didn’t respond to queries about the motions, and whether the votes of elected councillors should have precendence.
But Sara Morris from the NTA’s press office said that the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy, which covers the period 2016 to 2035, only includes plans to build part of the Eastern Bypass route, from Dublin Port Tunnel to the South Port area.
The rest of the route won’t be built until after 2035, she says, but the NTA recommends keeping the corridor clear for future works.
“It proposes that the corridor that has been protected for many years, remains protected,” she says. “The Transport Strategy doesn’t limit the future use of this corridor to a road scheme only, it specifically states transport provision, which recognises the potential of the corridor being used for public transport purposes in the future.”
She said that the board of the NTA might not be elected, but it is appointed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Now that the bypass is national policy, assistant manager Keogan said, he will follow legislation and exclude the nine motions.
So councillors aren’t sure what will happen when the next draft of the plan is published.
“It will be interesting to see if the document that is published is the same document that councillors passed,” says Lacey. “And if it’s not the same then I think we’re in for an interesting legal squabble.”
One reason why councillors are being stubborn may be that the argument over the Eastern Bypass has echoes of the Poolbeg incinerator — which the majority opposed, but was pushed through anyway.
Byrne, of the Green Party, mentions how undemocratic the process was that led to the incinerator.
Lacey said the incinerator was mentioned in past development plans, even though councillors never passed a motion agreeing to the proposal.
Having learned their lesson with the incinerator, councillors have consistently voted against the bypass and are now resisting its inclusion in the development plan.
“Engineers are trying to ram this through in the same way that they rammed through the incinerator – in a totally undemocratic way,” says Lacey.
He would be happy with a compromise, though – on a development plan that completely omits any mention of the bypass.
Dublin City Council’s press office didn’t respond directly to queries as to whether references to the Eastern Bypass would be excluded from the next draft development plan, or if councillors’ motions would be featured.