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As College Green plaza comes to a shuddering halt, we must ask why we can't put ideas into action

The plan was long talked about but hit a major planning roadblock this week.

coll 2 The proposed College Green Plaza looking from Trinity College. Dublin City Council Dublin City Council

FOR THOSE IN favour of a new civic plaza in the centre of Dublin, the plans for College Green seemed almost too good to be true.

Fancy graphics of blue-skied open spaces with Dubliners rambling, sitting and cycling opposite two of the capital’s most famous facades.

It was envisaged that the College Green Plaza would have space 15,000 people, large enough to hold public events and concerts.

Obama’s visit in 2011 was held there, as was the return of Jackie’s Army in 1990, if somewhere was to become the focal point of life and celebration on Dublin’s streets this certainly fit the bill.

The overriding feeling among people was that the plans were ambitious but completely worthwhile. There were doubts about Ireland’s ability to actually get it done but most people were positive, ‘loads of European cities have such plazas or squares, why shouldn’t we?’

The announcement therefore on Wednesday that An Bord Planála had refused permission for the project was greeted with dismay by many. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar among them.

college green The proposed view from Foster Place view towards Trinity College. Dublin City Council Dublin City Council

The decision was based on a number of concerns, primarily the knock-on effect the plaza would have on traffic in general and on bus traffic in particular.

The planning inspector themselves sounded disappointed with the decision, noting that the plaza as described would, “produce a quality public realm which will significantly enhance the amenity and attractiveness of this city centre location.”

But on balance An Bord Pleanála felt that the plaza gave rise to too many issues that would make it contrary to sustainable development in the area.

Under the proposals, bus traffic on Dame Street would stop just short of College Green and a turning point would be introduced for the Dublin Bus fleet. Traffic along the front of Trinity College towards Suffolk Street would continue,  similar to how it does now.

bus war Buses turning at the proposed turning point.

For Dublin Bus, the effect of the changes was too much.

It made a number of submissions opposing the plans, saying that it would mean 4.3 million passengers a year moving from College Green to the Quays and 5 million passengers who would need to board somewhere else.

Dublin Bus argued that the current College Green bus corridor was the “most progressive” measure for buses in recent years. The company then made bigger headlines when it described the plaza plans as “socially regressive”.

The argument for the latter being that the displacement would have a greater effect on east-west bus routes that serve areas of greater disadvantage.

The strident objections of Dublin Bus made it next-to-impossible for ABP to give the green light to the project, such is the importance of buses for reducing private car traffic in the city.

What perhaps would have been possible though is a greater buy-in at an earlier stage on behalf of all the parties involved.

Ahead of any plaza, the Luas Cross City project caused significant traffic changes in the vicinity, even more than originally conceived, and Dublin Bus noted the new line caused the removal of some of its stops.

Any more changes would “undermine” its’ ability to deliver a service, Dublin Bus said.

The aforementioned Taoiseach is one of many who’ve expressed the hope that the College Green Plaza is not completely dead-in-the-water. But even if it is, lessons need to be learnt about how ten years of talking, scoping and designing has come to nothing.

One of the lessons is that consensus needs to be achieved sooner rather than later, something the BusConnects project has hopefully taken on board as it endures some stumbling blocks.

BusConnects also needs significant buy-in and now is the time to make sure its doesn’t become the latest in a long line of infrastructure projects to get shelved.

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