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'This cannot happen': Records show how TDs lobbied NTA to change original Metrolink plan

Plans for the line were changed this year following local opposition on both sides of Dublin.

Charlemont Luas stop, where the Metrolink will now terminate following updated plans to the project
Charlemont Luas stop, where the Metrolink will now terminate following updated plans to the project
Image: Rollingnews.ie

GOVERNMENT AND OPPOSITION TDs lobbied the National Transport Authority (NTA) to have the original Metrolink plans changed before the authority altered the route this year, new documents reveal.

Records released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act show the extent to which politicians questioned aspects of the original proposals for the line, first published in March 2018.

Correspondence released by the NTA reveals that Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald were among those who shared concerns about how the project would affect their constituents.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan and Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys also contacted the NTA on behalf of residents on Dublin’s southside.

Changes to the Metrolink project were unveiled by the authority in March, after widespread opposition to the plans among locals on both sides of the city.

The most significant changes occurred in Glasnevin and Ranelagh, which are served by Donohoe and McDonald and O’Callaghan and Humphreys respectively.

The €3bn line will run now from Swords in north Dublin and terminate at Charlemont near Ranelagh, rather than Sandyford as the NTA originally proposed.

‘Significant detour’

The proposal to terminate the Metrolink at Charlemont followed opposition from locals in Ranelagh, who claimed that the plans would be like imposing a “Berlin Wall” in the area.

Under the original plans, a through-road from Dunville Avenue to Beechwood Road would close to facilitate the construction of the line, a move which locals said would have caused traffic chaos in the area.

In April last year, a month after the NTA published its plans, Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan contacted the NTA to object to the proposed closure of the through-road.

“The permanent closure of this roadway to vehicular traffic and the restriction of pedestrian traffic to a footbridge will have a significant detrimental impact on the residences and businesses of the area,” he wrote.

I am particularly concerned that people living in the vicinity will now have to engage in significant detours in order to get to the shops on Dunville Avenue and/or the schools on the eastern side of the track.

He added that residents and businesses in the area were “extremely concerned” about the plans, and asked the NTA to alter the proposals to allow traffic to continue to use the road.

Beechwood The proposed station at Beechwood, located where Dunville Avenue meets Beechwood Road Source: Metrolink/National Transport Authority

The following month, Labour senator Kevin Humphreys also contacted the NTA to express “extreme concern” about the impact of the plans.

“The nature of the proposed overground Metro here would be catastrophic to the permeability and flow of this long established community,” he wrote.

Humphreys claimed that the plans would block access to local schools, businesses and Beechwood church, suggesting that a proposed footbridge at Dunville Avenue was “not fit for purpose” and that individuals with mobility issues would be among those affected.

“If this was to occur in a rural context there would be outrage – it shouldn’t be any treated any differently in an urban context…,” he said.

“The proposed plan will essentially divide the community in half. This contradicts so much of the work done on a national level, in an effort to build and support local communities.”

Luas The Luas Green line at Dunville Avenue, which would have been closed to facilitate the Metrolink Source: Google Street View

As part of the NTA’s upgraded plans, the through-road at Dunville Avenue will now remain open when the line is constructed, and a proposed upgrade to the Luas Green Line south of Charlemont will occur “at an appropriate point in the future” instead.

Residents’ gardens

However, while concerns were raised about the impact of the closure at Dunville Avenue, complaints were also made about the closure of the Luas Green Line for upgrade works.

Many claimed that services along the line would be suspended for up to four years as the works took place, although it later emerged that this would happen on a staggered basis along sections of the line, rather than all at once.

In May 2018, Humphreys again contacted the NTA to express concerns about the impact of the Metrolink on Luas services.

In a submission to the authority’s CEO Anne Graham, the Labour senator asked if the proposed location where the Green Line and Metrolink would meet could happen further away from Charlemont.

Budget Day 2015 Labour senator Kevin Humphreys wrote to the NTA on multiple occasions Source: Rollingnews.ie

“Although Charlemont may be one of the cheaper options, due to the cost of extra tunneling, it comes with a number of costs that far outweigh the benefit,” he wrote.

“[They are] costs that could be avoided if the two services linked at a location further south.”

He claimed that connecting the Metrolink and the Green Line at Charlemont would lead to the closure of the line from Charlemont to Sandyford for a year.

However, it later emerged that services would only be suspended from Beechwood – which is two stops further south than Charlemont – and Sandyford for nine months.

Humphreys also re-stated that the move would cause a “permanent division” in communities in Ranelagh, and expressed further concerns about residents’ gardens in nearby Dartmouth Square.

“The gardens of houses in Dartmouth Square and hundreds of meters [sic] of Victorian embankment on which the Luas line now sits will be subsumed to accommodate the new service,” he said, before adding that stronger alternatives needed to be considered.

Humphreys Concerns about the link at Charlemont raised by Labour's Kevin Humphreys Source: National Transport Authority

In further correspondence in November, Humphreys also said that media reports about the project were causing “grave concern and anxiety” and “confusion and uncertainty” among locals in Ranelagh and Rathmines.

He called for the NTA to clarify which options it was considering for the line to assuage the fears of residents in both areas.

“Residents alone [sic] the line deserve some measure of respect and courtesy in relation to the impact on their home and community,” he wrote.

Leaks are being used for naked political advantage for Fine Gael both internally and externally and there is a need now for the National Transportation Authority to publish all information that has been now shared with Government ministers and leaked by them to the media.

The linking of the Metrolink and the Luas Green line was removed from the plans when the NTA published its updated proposals in March.

Na Fianna GAA club

Across the city, the original plans for the Metrolink also sought to use the pitch of Na Fianna GAA club in Glasnevin as a boring site for up to six years, a move the club claimed would have put its existence in jeopardy.

As opposition to the proposal grew, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar publicly called for an alternative to be found to avoid the line running under the grounds of the club.

However, Varadkar wasn’t the only Cabinet member to share concerns about proposals for the line in Glasnevin.

In November 2018, Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe wrote to Anne Graham to share correspondence from the Griffith Avenue & District Residents Association (GADRA) requesting an update on revised plans for the project.

“I would be grateful if you could examine the issues raised and provide me with your views and comments on the matter,” he wrote, attaching a letter from GADRA seeking clarity on whether homes in the area would be based above a new station in Glasnevin.

However, correspondence from Graham or the NTA was not released under FOI.

Paschal Paschal Donohoe's correspondence to the NTA from November 2018 Source: National Transport Authority

Meanwhile, the potential closure of Na Fianna’s pitch also saw Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald contact the NTA to express concerns to the authority.

Although McDonald acknowledged that the project was “vitally important”, she also stressed how Na Fianna, local soccer club Homefarm and secondary school Scoil Chaitríona provided “a vital hub of education, sport and culture in the community”.

“The club is a vital aspect for many families in this community,” she wrote.

Many have advocated that ‘It is not about the loss of pitches, grass and turf, bricks and mortar. It is about the loss of the heart of a community to a generation in the area and that is unthinkable’.

McDonald also said that 3,000 members in the club should not have to move from the grounds, and she expressed concerns for residential property owners who would also be affected.

“This cannot be allowed to happen.” she added. “An alternative route must be developed.”

That route was subsequently developed, and it emerged that the club would no longer lose the use of its pitch.

A further round of public consultation for the new route is currently underway, and will end on 21 May.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in 2021, and it is hoped that the first Metrolink services will begin in 2027.

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