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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Eamonn Farrell/Rolling News

All is not lost - the civic plaza at College Green should still go ahead

An Bord Pleanála refused the plans but said they would enhance the amenity and attractiveness of this city centre location. The door is clearly open to resubmit, writes Green Party councillor Ciaran Cuffe.

All is not lost.

The decision by An Bord Pleanála  to refuse approval for a civic plaza at Dublin’s College Green could be seen as putting a grinding halt to Dublin City Council’s plans to improve the city centre but this cannot happen.

In its decision the planning board said that the principle of the proposed development is acceptable and that it would produce a quality public realm.

However it said the traffic modelling seemed insufficient; the impact on buses were uncertain but likely to be negative; the capacity of the Quays for buses was unresolved; and the Quayside footpath capacity was not demonstrated.

So is this the end of the road for the vision of a car-free College Green?

I don’t believe so, but like a school report that says ‘must try harder’ – both Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority must up their game in order to deliver the projects.

Part of the challenge is political. Achieving buy-in to these game-changing transport initiatives can be fickle.

This can be seen in the underwhelming level of political support for both the Liffey Cycle project and the BusConnects proposals.

The policy support is there: the Council’s City Development Plan; Public Realm Strategy and the National Transport 2016-2035 Strategy all seek the enhancement of the pedestrian environment in the city centre.

But if political support is not forthcoming they are hard to deliver.

The Dublin City Centre Transport Study from two years ago proposed removing through car traffic from the Quays west of O’Connell Bridge but this proposal was removed due to political opposition on the council. Implementing the study’s recommendations such as Bus Rapid Transit routes and contra-flow cycle routes has stalled.

It is a regrettable that the Minister for Transport has adopted a hands-off approach to initiatives such as these. Leadership from the top can smooth the implementation of ambitious plans.

Technical concerns must also be addressed. There were doubts cast on accuracy of the traffic modelling used for the project even though it is used on other major projects in the Dublin area.

This will require fresh traffic calculations. Concerns were raised about car and bus congestion on the Quays. This means we must redesign our bus network but this process is underway with the Bus Connects initiative.

Too many bus routes still have a homing instinct for O’Connell Bridge.

There simply is not enough space in the city to provide perfect conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, buses, trams, taxis and private cars.

The concerns expressed about insufficient footpath space can be addressed by taking away some space from vehicular traffic and widening the pavement. Successful pedestrian upgrades such as O’Connell Street and Grafton Street must be replicated throughout the city centre.

Traffic Evaporation

Ultimately an Bord Pleanála must connect national policies that link planning, mobility and sustainability.  These underpin the need to provide more pedestrian areas in Dublin and elsewhere. A positive aspect of these projects is that they change perceptions of the city and in doing so alter the way we travel.

Internationally there is now an understanding that if the public realm is improved people shift from car to walking and cycling for shorter journeys in a process known as ‘traffic evaporation’.

Our traffic studies show more people but fewer cars are now entering the city every year. This is good for business and for communities. 

However the traffic and transportation consultant advising the board seemed more concerned about cars being displaced to the M50, than about people switching to more sustainable ways of travelling. Indeed he made the curious assertion that public transport would not provide a suitable alternative to the car for journeys such as trips from Ringsend to Heuston.

The view that the car is king has got to change.

It would be an appalling vista if M50 congestion prevented us pedestrianising city centre areas. There may be grounds for a judicial review of the decision on this issue, but if not we should pursue a new application that addresses the board’s concerns

Cities cannot stand still. They must adapt or die.

Half a century ago the prevailing view was that the city must be reshaped to adapt to the needs of the motor-car. We now realise that people are more important than cars, and that the built heritage of our buildings and public spaces are of huge value to residents and visitors alike.

Ambitious Vision

As online sales challenge the retail trade there is a growing realisation that welcoming streets, cafes and car-free spaces are a pleasant alternative to suburban shopping malls. Well-designed city centres with trees, car-free areas and public realm improvements are the future if we are to tackle suburban sprawl.

As Dublin grows we must be more ambitious in our vision for the city centre as a walkable, bikeable, family-friendly destination that invites more people to shop, live in and visit in the years ahead.

Although an Bord Pleanála turned down the plans for College Green it said the plans would significantly enhance the amenity and attractiveness of this city centre location. The door is clearly open to resubmit.

As a first step I will urge my council colleagues to fast-track a revised submission to an Bord Pleanála in the months ahead.

 Ciarán Cuffe is a Green Party councillor and chair of Dublin City Council’s Transport Strategic Policy Committee

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