Dublin City Council officials are still chewing over An Bord Pleanála’s report setting out why it rejected their proposal for a pedestrianised plaza and traffic changes around College Green in the heart of the city.
But there seem to be three options for what to do next, and they’ll have to pick one or a combination of them, said Dick Brady, the council’s head of transport, at this month’s full council meeting Monday at City Hall. “Kicking it down the road isn’t an option.”
Most of the councillors who spoke at the meeting backed option number two. That would mean taking on board the feedback and lodging a new plan.
Filing for a judicial review or making changes using existing legal powers are both in play too, though. “At this stage, we haven’t made any decision,” said Brady.
A New Plan
The College Green plaza is a “must-have project for Dublin”, said Ciarán Cuffe, a Green Party councillor and head of the council’s transport committee. It would be a “game-changer that we should support”.
Some comments in An Bord Pleanála’s report about road space and demand were “bizarre”, Cuffe said. As was the fact that the traffic modelling was written off because a couple of trips had different results for journey times.
Larry O’Toole of Sinn Féin said he supported taking into account what’s in the report, and drawing up a new submission. “I don’t think we should abandon the idea of the plaza anyway.”
Frank Kennedy of Fianna Fáil said he, too, had been enthusiastic from day one about the plan. He supported trying again with a revised version – it would be money better spent that on a judicial review, he said.
“We’re not delivering on any pedestrian projects in the city at the moment,” said Claire Byrne of the Green Party. “We have to deliver this.”
“Let’s go back and get it right,” said Fine Gael’s Naoise Ó Muirí.
Both Sinn Féin’s Mícheál MacDonncha and Labour’s Dermot Lacey raised a bigger question around transport-management in the city.
“We have chaos when it comes to the leadership and management of transport in Dublin city,” said MacDonncha.
There are as many as 65 different bodies responsible for traffic in Dublin, and possibly more, said Lacey, all working in their own interests. “That’s a crazy situation.”
There are genuine concerns about the impact of changes on public transport, but College Green can’t stay as it is now, said Paddy Smyth of Fine Gael. “It’s too dangerous, it’s too hostile.”
“I think we need to be bold and we need to do what we can under the current legislation,” he said.
Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan should use his powers under the Road Traffic Act to give road space to pedestrians, cyclists and the public.
Public space isn’t made by fancy fountains, Smyth said. “It’s made by giving space back to people.”
While the bigger picture is being sorted, the council should plan for the future, said Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats.
Some of the recommendations from An Bord Pleanála seemed reasonable, Gannon said. The council should make footpaths along the quays and laneways in Temple Bar better for pedestrians and can do that in anticipation of seeking permission for a new plan. “Let’s act like it’s going to come,” he said.
Engineer Brendan O’Brien said the council had already made substantial improvements on north and south quays, which was acknowledged in the report, but An Bord Pleanála still felt that the quays couldn’t handle any more buses.
The council had also looked at bus stops on the quays with operators such as Dublin Bus, to see how to rationalise them. “There was a huge amount of work went into it,” O’Brien said.
Gannon said a first iteration of the plaza could include an east-west route through it, which could be revisited later.
Fine Gael’s Paddy McCartan said similar: that the council should look at a plan for a smaller plaza with a route for buses along its fringe. “Whatever emanates from this, it is vital that there is an agreement with Dublin Bus that we can pursue this in the interests of the city.”
“We can’t simply sit here and do nothing,” said Pat Dunne, of Independents 4 Change. Footpaths need to be widened. “It is packed and people can’t get through.”
A few dissenting voices said they were happy with the ruling. Lord Mayor Nial Ring said he was delighted to hear the result. “The soul of the city has been saved.”
Councillors also agreed a motion from Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney calling on the Bank of Ireland to hand back the old parliament building at College Green.
When she put the motion on the list a year back, she thought it would complement a plaza at College Green, and while that is uncertain, it still has the potential to contribute to a future vision, she said.
“I believe we should unashamedly be asking that this building he handed back to the state,” she said.