Dublin continues to wrestle with issue of an eastern bypass for the city
A planning battle is likely to end up in the courts
More than 40 years have passed since proposals were made to encase Dublin city in a “motorway box”, of which the C-shaped M50 is the most tangible element. Turning that “C” into an “O” by extending the Dublin Port Tunnel southwards to link up with the rest of the M50 has long been an objective of road engineers, since an eastern bypass of the city was first proposed. But this crucial missing link, as they would see it, is controversial, not least because of its potential impact on Sandymount Strand and the designation of Dublin Bay as a protected Natura 2000 site under the European Union habitats directive.
Over the years, the proposed eastern bypass motorway route has also been protected – for example, by An Bord Pleanála ensuring several years ago that a housing scheme at St Helen’s, near Booterstown, would not encroach on the road reservation. Most recently, the National Transport Authority’s Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016 - 2035 recommended “the retention of a route corridor for this scheme … to facilitate the possible future use of the corridor for transport provision”, although it also said that only “the section of the route from the Dublin Port Tunnel to the South Port area is included for delivery in this strategy”.
When city councillors voted on May 30th to defy the NTA’s expressed wish to protect the proposed route, they were told by law agent Terence O’Keefe that removal of references to the eastern bypass in the draft city plan was “illegal” – a view reinforced by planning manager Jim Keogan, who said it was Government policy and “there is no discretion for us to decide otherwise. That is the law as it stands …”.
But if local democracy is to mean anything, surely the views of elected councillors who have a reserved function in relation to adopting the city plan must count for something. As Cllr Dermot Lacey (Labour) said, “I don’t care that an unelected quango has decided an eastern bypass is right for Dublin, I believe it is wrong for Dublin”. This row may very well end up in the High Court.