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Planning framework a recipe for ongoing sprawl

Slowing development of Dublin to try to help other centres grow would be a big mistake

The M50. “There is a desperate need for someone in Dublin to have real land-use, housing and transport-planning powers so we can tackle the rising rents and gridlock which threaten our city.” Photograph: Alan Betson

The draft National Planning Framework is a recipe for the ongoing sprawl of Irish society. It will do nothing to reduce our carbon footprint and sticks to a development model which learns nothing from the mistakes of the past. It shows no understanding of how we can achieve the national objective of transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy established in the Climate Change Act, or how we could grow and renew our island in a different way.

The lack of vision is most evident in the transport section. It recognises what has gone wrong with our over-reliance on the private car, but then serves up a diet of nothing but more new roads and motorways. The plan rings the death knell for Irish Rail. With the exception of the Dublin to Cork and Belfast lines, the network is being left to wither on the vine. No strategic assessment of that decision has been outlined, no questions asked on how we could instead restore our old railway towns around their existing stations.

Not a single rail-based transport project is ready to go to public tender. Minister for Transport Shane Ross seems to have abandoned the Dart interconnector in Dublin and has no plans for new rail systems in Cork, Limerick, Galway or Waterford. What we are getting instead is the unsustainable transport model which Ibec has been calling for.

Over-the-top motorway

Billions will be spent on an over-the-top motorway from Sandyford down to Dublin Port and billions more will go on roads, up and down the country, where the level of demand will never reach the capacity limits we are paying for. Meanwhile, cycling campaigners and bus passengers are pulling their hair out because we cannot get the simplest low-cost solutions such as urban greenways and bus lanes over the line.

The framework mirrors other Government plans in being devoid of any ambition when it comes to tackling climate change. If we were serious we would have put a new national land use plan at the centre of this document. We would be organising our bogs, river systems, forestry and farms in new ways where we pay local people for the storage of carbon, the management of flood waters, the creation of local energy supplies and for the protection of biodiversity.

If we had a big vision we would be designating 30 per cent of our sea area as marine protected reserves, to halt the ecocide that is taking place in our world. If we were serious we would triple funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service to help turn the Wild Atlantic Way into a real wildlife corridor which would further draw people like a magnet to our western shore.

Instead the document says: “Ireland’s environment and diverse landscapes form part of our ‘green persona’ and we have much to be proud of.” A “green persona” is not good enough, particularly when you look at the decline in population that is occurring in our 19th-century market towns. There is no detail in the plan as to how we could turn that around. We cannot continue just allowing more one-off houses and seeing them turn into holiday homes. We have to stop the boarding-up of main streets and bring better conditions and life back into those old streets, so that people really want to live there.

Smart fund

There is talk of a new “smart fund”, where towns and cities can bid for capital support for visionary restoration projects. That fund needs to be backed up by new powers in local and regional government. We need people to take responsibility for the development of their own area but we are stuck with the reforms Phil Hogan introduced, which were designed to sate the popular notion that having fewer politicians is always better.

How can we stop the sprawl of Dublin city when it is part of a region that runs from the Shannon all the way across to Brittas Bay beach? Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government John Paul Phelan apparently wants to compound that problem by having four directly-elected mayors for each of the four Dublin authorities.

There is a desperate need for someone in Dublin to have real land-use, housing and transport-planning powers so we can tackle the rising rents and gridlock which threaten our city. Doing Dublin down it not going to work for anyone. We are competing with the rest of the world – not with each other. We need to bring people back to the centre of every village, town and city. Trying to stop Dublin developing in the false expectation that it will help the others grow is a big mistake.

The public consultation period for the plan has been extended to November 11th. It is not too late for people to have their voices heard and shout stop to the unsustainable course which Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance are setting us on.

Eamon Ryan TD is leader of the Green Party