*This was published in the Carrigdhoun Edition 24-02-2018 here
To be fair, Cork is to the forefront of Ireland’s project 2040 document which outlines the spatial planning vision of national government through the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the key capital developments of that vision in the National Development Plan (NDP). Cork is mentioned a total of 73 times in the NDP 109 page document. In comparison, Dublin was mentioned 126 times, Limerick 43, Waterford 21, Kerry 13, Clare 3 and Tipperary twice.
The plan outlines that we are getting new roads including the Cork to Limerick motorway, a new BusConnects rapid transit system, development at the Port, University College Cork (UCC), Tyndel, CIT, a new hospital, and a public-private partnership event centre. But in terms of the Harbour area, the investments are a bit more modest with a 55 million investment in the lower Cork harbour main drainage project and Carrigaline’s Western relief road.
The benefits of potentially having a new hospital and additional education facilities are important in developing on much needed investments in pivotal areas for a growing population. Another key aspect is the affect investments will have on liveability - how we get to and from work and how we navigate around the cork-region to go about our daily jobs. For this piece I will focus on this aspect of Project 2040 and what it means for harbour and carrigaline residents.
The BusConnects investment should have a significant impact on liveability in Cork. The BusConnects system should run very much like a light rail system with dedicated bus lanes, avoiding normal traffic congestion and the routes should also be accompanied by adjacent cycle lanes. If done right, this promises to be a great development. Our current public transport infrastructure is one of the key weaknesses for improving the well-being for citizens and for competiveness for businesses in the Cork area. The problems with the 220 and 220x bus are an example of how poor the bus system in Cork actually is. The new BusConnects system should improve things for city residents and those living in Ballincollig and Mahon. But, unfortunately this will have less of an impact for residents in the overall harbour area. Currently, my understandings are that the BusConnects service will only run from West to East, from Ballincollig to Mahon as per the map above. Harbour residents will have to rely on the current bus network which may improve due to developments with the Cork-Ringaskiddy motorway but the buses on this route will have to share the road with other transport. Consequently, it will not have the reliability, efficiency and time savings that a rapid transit system offers.
In my opinion, this is a significant shift in the right direction but is not going far enough to alleviate commuting problems and car dependency in the wider Metropolitan area. The network should be widened to incorporate the workplaces of the current city region and at least Little Island and the Ringaskiddy area. Yes, as mentioned the motorway to Ringaskiddy will help, but this is intended for strategic business related traffic as opposed to catering for travel to work needs. We need a real alternative to the car if we are going to solve congestion problems, cater for a higher population and have liveable areas in the future in the greater Cork-city region. The alternative system to cars needs to be efficient, reliable, have cheaper user costs, avoid current car congestion by dedicated routes and deliver people to their destinations faster than the car. Let’s really provide a concrete foundation for the future. And, in comparison to building motorways, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is cheap and potentially could offer much more well-being improvements.
Also in the plan, Carrigaline is going to get its Western relief road. For as long as I can remember, Carrigaline was going to get this relief road. Of course, infrastructure in the town is long overdue. Although, is it the right type of infrastructure? The problem with road investments is that they actually lead to more car dependency as they are a subsidy to car users. In turn more congestion is created in the long run as people converge around the centres of cities and towns. Roads are great for getting people to where they want to go but when they get there, the congestion, the trouble getting parking, the disruption they have for pedestrians and cyclists mean we do not particularly want to stay in the places we go to. This results in weaker business cores in our village, towns and cities as people are incentivised to go to shopping centres where there is less hassle.
In this context, in conjunction with this relief road, decision-makings of infrastructure in Carrigaline need to use this opportunity to alleviate the chaotic nature of its car dependent centre by making it more pedestrian and cycle friendly. A one way system in the main street could work great and we could look to the model of Clonakilty in this regard. But, Carrigaline needs much more than just a relief road. It requires a completely segregated cycle and walking network and access to a rapid bus transport system that integrates and connects Carrigaline to areas in the harbour and the city core. The community needs the opportunity to have a healthier town, but the current infrastructure is restricting this possibility.
Lastly, my greatest concern is the overall message of the Project 2040 plan which in summary is that 60 per cent of new housing is planned for the edge of towns and rural areas. This is completely unsustainable and repeats all the mistakes of the past. People are generally not working in rural areas or the edges of towns. For 40 years, we built too many houses in the county of Cork and too few in the city area. Currently, the available supply of housing land units in County Cork is almost 26,000. In Cork City it is only 3,472. In 2016, 2553 received planning permission in Cork County, whilst in Cork city, 439 houses received planning permission. The permissions for houses outside the greater Cork metropolitan area must be significantly curtailed to avoid the high costs of sprawl and the mistakes of the past. As Einstein said ‘insanity: is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.