Yesterday I raised with Transport Minister the dangers of a road proposal that would impact negatively on the Lucan Demesne and St Catherine’s Park
Deputy Joan Burton:
St. Catherine’s Park, also known as Lucan Demesne, is a very beautiful regional park created in the Liffey valley. It serves three counties. Fingal is the largest part of it, followed by Kildare as well as Lucan in south County Dublin. It is a regional park for three counties. People have become very concerned in recent times as to whether or not a major new road may be built through the park. I have to say that one of my proudest achievements as a Minister in the 1990s, along with then Minister, Michael D. Higgins, was securing funding for the purchase of the lands at St. Catherine’s Park in the Lucan Demesne from the farming family that had made it available for sale. Importantly, it is also in the Liffey valley amenity area, which is a protected area of amenity that is absolutely vital to the enormous populations that live in Dublin 15, from Castleknock out to Mulhuddart and Clonsilla, in Lucan, Palmerstown and north Clondalkin, and in Leixlip and the surrounding areas in Kildare.
Controversy arose recently when it was discovered that an indicative road line in the Fingal county plan showed a major new road cutting through the Liffey valley right on the Dublin-Kildare border. The indicative line clearly shows that the road would basically slice straight through St. Catherine’s Park, affecting the whole of the park, but – I have to be honest – particularly the Kildare side. The reason I want to raise this issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is that I am aware, as I am sure the Minister is in his own constituency, that people like road engineers and planners from time to time put down desire lines, indicative lines and such like on how we might have a major new road or road linkage in a particular spot but are oblivious to the concerns and interests of the local community. In this case, the N3 and the N4 to the west of Dublin might be linked by a road through this indicative line that would basically avoid the M50.
The destruction of this wonderful regional park would be far too high a price to pay. If it was to go through, given the topography of the area with the Liffey located down in a valley with the heights on the south and north sides, it would effectively require another much larger high-level bridge over the Liffey so it would be extraordinarily expensive.
The existing indicative route could not only destroy St. Catherine’s Park, it would bring HGV traffic into the Ongar-Littlepace area in Dublin 15 to the particular detriment of estates with thousands of families, including estates like Beechfield, Blackwood and Littlepace. The Minister could set aside the fears of residents by making a clear statement. I want the Minister to ensure that notwithstanding various plans that may come from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the Liffey valley amenity is preserved. In respect of the capital plan, which is inadequately funded, as the Minister is aware, I had no idea that we could spend ransom sums of money on a huge new bridge over the Liffey at this point. I would like to hear whether the Minister has been briefed on this and whether he is aware of it. I know he is very positive about parks and green spaces as amenities, as am I. I would like to get his assurances on this point.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross):
I thank the Deputy for raising this subject. On the surface, the destruction of amenities is something we must take very seriously. I accept what the Deputy has said, particularly if a park is in danger of being destroyed or divided and if communities are being badly affected. Have I been briefed on this? Today was the first time I knew about this so I have not been briefed on it in any detail but I am aware of it. The Deputy has put a strong case but she might be in the wrong place.
I would like to clarify that link roads are generally regional or local roads and as the Deputy will be aware, the development and maintenance of such roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993, as amended. The selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is, therefore, a matter for the local authority concerned. Nonetheless the possibility that the lives of people in St. Catherine’s Park could be ruined must be taken very seriously if this is a real plan. I know it is only an indicative plan at the moment. It is also a matter for the relevant local authority in its capacity as the planning authority for its area to consider and adopt a development plan. My Department has no function with regard to such matters.
Where road projects are adopted, works are funded from local authorities’ own resources supplemented by State road grants, where applicable. Arising from the arrangements in place relating to local property tax receipts, the four Dublin councils became self-funding for regional and local roads under the main road grant categories from 2015. These grant programmes cover general road maintenance and strengthening, safety improvement and bridge rehabilitation works. Provision was made in the capital plan for the upgrade of roads in the vicinity of Grange Castle Business Park and the Department as providing grant assistance for that strategic scheme. This is, however, the only strategic road project in the Dublin area being grant assisted at present.
The NTA’s transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, GDA, 2016-35 sets out principles for future road development in the GDA. The strategy refers to the future enhancement of orbital movement between the N3 and N4 by widening existing roads and the development of new road links. As I have outlined above, however, implementation of any such measures is a matter for the local authorities concerned.
Even though it is entirely a matter for the local authorities, my division made inquires of Fingal County Council today and got some information that the proposed link between the N3 and N4 has been a specific objective of Fingal’s county development plan since 2005. The road proposal is shown on sheet 13 of the current Fingal development plan 2017-23. A small portion of the road proposal is also indicated in table seven of the current development as road schemes N3 and N4 link Ongar to Barnhill. This would allow for access to zoned residential lands to the south of Hansfield train station on lands known as Barnhill. All road proposals in the county development plan are indicative. The N3-N4 link road is an indicative line on the development plan and no detailed route alignment map with a selection of road between the N4 and the approved road alignment within the zoned lands at Barnhill is available for inspection on the Fingal website.
Deputy Joan Burton:
I thank the Minister for his reply and for taking an interest in this proposal. This is a park of under 200 acres in an area with the most enormous population growth. I invite the Minister to see it because the Liffey runs through it and there are plenty of opportunities for the Royal Canal and the Liffey to be linked via a pedestrian footbridge up at the Royal Canal and to expand a very significant walking, and possibly cycling, route for west Dublin and possibly continue it on the south side. This could eventually link up with the cycle way that is being developed in Dublin Bay via a Liffey route. We should exercise our imagination about the potential of this for people living in very heavily congested areas. This is an enormous amenity that is widely used. Admittedly, when I persuaded the then Government to acquire this land, a proposal supported by Michael D. Higgins, Bertie Ahern and John Bruton, it was with a view to providing an amenity for people. I hear what the Minister is saying, namely, that his Department has no role in regional roads. He referenced the Hansfield development. Hansfield is a special development zone that has been zoned for over ten years which if completed, would provide for another 3,000 houses. Those houses would be very popular with people and I am totally in favour of that. However, the road entry that is required for that does not impact at all on Lucan Demesne or St. Catherine’s Park. It is quite a distance away. It is the question of that route, which would be relatively small and which is needed to access the housing, not then being used as a trojan horse to create a linkage at that point and in St. Catherine’s Park between the N3 and N4. If the council is telling the Minister that it needs the Hansfield access route to be developed, I would say “Yes” in the context of housing but that has nothing to do with that then passing over the Liffey or potentially destroying St. Catherine’s Park. Although Fingal County Council has given the Minister information, what it has given him is not quite fair. I can certainly given the Minister more details. When he sees the detailed map, he will see what I mean.
Deputy Shane Ross:
The only part of the road that is indicated on the current development plan is within the zoned lands at Hansfield-Ongar to serve the existing schools and residential development. A Part 8 procedure for local authority development has also provided for the design of a section of road to cross over the railway line south of this into zoned residential lands at Barnhill. No work has been done on the construction of this section of road to date and no further design or route options further south have been commenced
If it is any comfort to the Deputy, I am sure she will already know that any impact on the Liffey valley and St. Catherine’s Park, to which she referred, would be carefully considered in any design process or route options.
Furthermore, any project of the likely scale required for the proposed road would have to follow the processes required under various EU directives and related Irish legislation, including the environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive and the habitats directive. These environmental assessments must take account of a number of environmental receptors and themes, including landscape, cultural heritage, biodiversity, impact on humans, material assets, air and noise. They must also look at realistic alternative options and set out the preferred option. This will be subject to public consultation in the future. This is all set out in legislation. There has to be an integral and transparent part of any decision-making process for the identification of any proposed new road route and design. As I outlined above, no process has started for this road proposal.