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Minister urges BusConnects 'rethink' and says 'alternative route must be found' in constituency

With BusConnects yet to progress to its next revised stage, public representatives have been having their say.

4368 Sexual Assault Treatment_90567565 Mary Mitchell O'Connor Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

MINISTER OF STATE Mary Mitchell O’Connor wrote to the National Transport Authority (NTA) just two months ago urging a “rethink” regarding the proposed core bus corridor that would go through her constituency in Shankill as part of the BusConnects plan. 

The Dún Laoghaire TD was one of a number of government ministers who’ve contacted the NTA in recent months to seek clarity on the concerns of their constituents over the plans. 

Under BusConnects initiatives aimed at transforming bus services in the greater Dublin area, delivering upon the plans would see the the creation of 230km of dedicated bus lanes along the 16 busiest corridors in Dublin as well as the redesign of the bus network along seven central “spines”. 

Following a public consultation, the NTA received 30,000 submissions on its plans.

NTA chief executive Anne Graham told an Oireachtas committee in March that work is continuing on revisions to the proposed network this summer, and a further consultation on that would begin in September. 

The creation of corridors that would see continuous bus lanes in and out of Dublin city centre will have an effect on some property owners along these areas. 

bus-connectssss How a street could change under the bus corridors plan Source: NTA

Concerns were raised after it emerged that some homeowners will lose some of their gardens due to the plans. The NTA has said that property owners affected by the plan are set to be fully compensated to the tune of €25,000 each.

In correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act, there were dozens of contacts from elected representatives either seeking more information on the proposals following concerns from constituents, or in some cases expressing their own concerns over the plans. 

‘Not worth sacrificing a community for’

In her letter to the NTA in May 2019, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor begins by saying she has “major issues” with the core bus corridor from Bray to Dublin city centre. 

“Over the past months, I have spoken to and been contacted by hundreds of residents of Shankill, distraught at the proposals for the village,” she said. 

Public transport is important but a route that notionally saves a few minutes in travel time is not worth sacrificing a community for, or destroying one of the finest urban villages in Dublin. 

Part of the bus corridor plan for Shankill would see the widening of the road at a number of sections of the main road through the village to allow the continuous bus lanes. 

shankill corridor Section of the BusConnects plan for Shankill Source: NTA

Mitchell O’Connor said that “four traffic lanes plus footpaths and cycle lanes going through part of Shankill village will devastate the heart of the village”. 

Also taking exception to the removal of trees and on-street parking, as well as compulsory purchase orders, she said she “cannot stand over this proposed bus corridor”. 

“Shankill has a wonderful Sylvan landscape with huge stretches of majestic trees,” she said. “That many of these would be ripped up to be replaced by a carriageway is nothing short of vandalism.

Projects such as BusConnects are intended to improve the lives of residents, not to rip the heart out of their village, their community. It is not acceptable to me, it is not acceptable to the residents of Shankill. An alternative routing must be found.

In its reply to Mitchell O’Connor, the NTA acknowledged receipt of the letter and said it would be counting that as a formal submission in response to the consultation process.

Passing on the message

While not directly expressing an objection to any aspect of the plan, a number of senior politicians decided to “forward on” responses from concerned constituents with a request for more information from the NTA. 

This included the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. 

An email on behalf of Varadkar was sent regarding the Blanchardstown to City Centre route in March.

90430725_90430725 Source: RollingNews.ie

“The Taoiseach has asked if the matter could be examined and if he could be advised of the position,” it said. 

In its response, the NTA stressed that what was in the plans at this stage were “initial concepts” and much more detailed work will be undertaken before the detailed proposals are finalised and submitted to An Bord Pleanála.

“All objections and submissions received during the public consultation process will be taken into account in the future consideration and development of the detailed proposals for the core bus corridors project,” it said. 

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone also raised a constituent’s concerns, with an email on her behalf saying she’d “welcome [the NTA's] comments on this matter”, while Minister Donohoe asked for an answer to be provided directly to one of his constituents.

‘Does not make sense’

Away from the government, dozens of other public representatives made submissions to the NTA over BusConnects. 

One TD who was particularly scathing was Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan.

0300 FF party's PMB motion_90507991 Fianna Fáil TD Jim O'Callaghan Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

He wrote in May: “As a public representative I have never experienced any infrastructural proposal that has caused such upset, annoyance and opposition as the BusConnects project.”

In particular, O’Callaghan criticised corridors 14 and 15, which connect UCD Ballsbridge and Blackrock to the city.

He said that the trees along Pembroke Park and Merrion Road are “very old and deserving of protection”.

The Dublin Bay South TD also said that the plans failed to into account “the upset and trauma that has been caused to people living on those roads who have been told that significant parts of their front gardens and the trees on their residential roads are going to be removed so that even larger roadways can be created”. 

“The proposal has been ill-thought out and does not make sense,” he said. “In particular, the roads that the NTA propose to convert into bus corridors already facilitate fast bus access and are not in need of further extension.”

NTA response

A spokesperson for the BusConnects project told TheJournal.ie that – in terms of the routes redesign – it had received over 30,000 submissions and would be reviewing them all before publishing the next steps.

“It is our intention to go out for a 2nd round of public consultation in September on the revised network,” the spokesperson said.

All submissions from all members of the public including elected representatives have been read and reviewed as part of the process and we believe the 2nd revised proposed network will have taken consideration of many of the issues raised.  

In terms of the separate bus corridors that TDs such as Mitchell O’Connor and O’Callaghan took exception to, the BusConnects spokesperson said that the next revised plan of that which would be put to to the public isn’t ready quite yet.

“The 2nd round of public consultation for that will commence later in the year,” the spokesperson added. “The first round only ended 31st May and all submissions for it are currently being reviewed.”

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Sean Murray

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