15 October, 2010

Consensus and all that

It was what you might call an ecumenical gathering.

Olivia Mitchell TD from Fine Gael; Owen Keegan the County Manager, Cllr. Lettie McCarthy from Labour, current Cathaoirleach of the Council and myself. We were outside County Hall for the launch of the Bluelinebus proposal - an issue which we all support. More of that later.

Achieving consensus on local issues is a lot easier that it is on tackling the economic challenges that we face on the national stage. As you might imagine, after twenty-eight years in the Greens I've seen plenty of arguments, discussions, rows, and disagreements. However if consensus can be achieved, then we're a step further on in tacking the challenges that face the Irish Economy.

I was taken aback by Eamon Gilmore's interview in the Herald the other evening. He seems to feel he can solve the budget deficit without any impact on the middle classes. I'm glad to see that he came out in favour of charging for water, and advocated a third tax rate on incomes over €100,000 per year. However apart from those two measures, and a proposal for a higher charge on 'trophy' holiday homes he doesn't appear to have provided enough measures to tackle the crisis. Lets face it, 80% of budget expenditure goes on health, social welfare and education. An increase in tax rates simply won't be a sufficient measure to bridge the gap. Reducing the budget gap by more than €3 billion this year will be difficult to achieve, will impact on everyone and will involve tough taxation and budget choices. Changing the tax system must form part of the equation, and as David Cameron showed us across the water last week the law of unintended consequences can kick in very quickly. What sounded like a reasonable proposal to target children’s allowances on those who need them most came across as an attack on stay at home parents.

I don't envy Brian Lenihan and his cabinet colleagues the task that they have over the weeks and months ahead, but at least there seems to be greater understanding of the grave challenges that we face. He did point out in New York a few days ago that 'half of income earners pay no income tax'. I'd be interested in seeing how many of those are part-time workers. Meanwhile Prof. Brian Nolan from UCD has stressed the progressive nature of the income levy at an ESRI Conference. Hopefully consensus can be found when the Opposition responds to the Taoiseach’s invitation to talks on the four year plan in the coming days.

In the midst of the seismic events on the national stage there's also a lot going on in and around Dún Laoghaire.

The changes in the 4/4A, 63 and 46A bus routes are being implemented. This has involved straightening out bus routes, clock-face timetabling, and a roll-out of bus stop timetables that inform you when the bus will leave the stop that you're waiting out, rather than the depot. The Real Time Passenger Information displays are being installed and should be online later this year or early in the new year. I'm working with the National Transport Authority (NTA) to ensure that the information is made freely available so that budding software developers can produce their own apps for this information. The change come at a time when we've less money available for current spending on both roads and public transport. There are benefits from more direct 'straightened-out' bus routes with reduced journey times. The 63 now has a half hourly service along some of the old 46A route and connects up to the Luas. One other element of the equation is a panel in the drivers cab that advises him or her to speed up or slow down to keep on schedule. This should dramatically reduce bus bunching, and the tendency for 46As to travel in packs. I’m working with Dublin Bus to make sure that the service improvements match what has been promised.

I wrote to the County Manager a few months ago about the Sutton to Sandycove Project (S2S) for a cycleway around Dublin Bay. I'm glad to say that he has now produced detailed draft plans for a contra-flow bike lane at Blackrock along Newtown Avenue.This involves a fair amount of rearranging parking and double yellow lines, but if it goes ahead it'll be of huge benefit to those of us who cycle in and out of town along the coast. The Transport Committee had a look at it recently and appear to have deferred implementation, but I'm hoping that the councillors will give it the green light in the not-too distant future. It'd be a good start for the ambitious S2S proposal.

The 'Blueline' is a proposal for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal that would link up the DART at Sydney Parade with the Luas at Sandyford. It was launched recently by the County Council. For most of its route it would use lands formally reserved for the madcap Eastern Bypass motorway proposal, and as long as its not a Trojan Horse for the Eastern Bypass I'll be giving it my support. It would link up St. Vincents Hospital, RTÉ, UCD and Sandyford Industrial Estate and comes with a price-tag of around €30 million. I'll be encouraging the NTA to include it in their plans.

On the Dún Laoghaire side of things I met with Gerry Dunne, CEO of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company recently. While we still have our disagreements over the unauthorised demolition of the buildings on the Carlisle Pier, I'm pleased to say that he's optimistic about attracting cruise liners into Dún Laoghaire Harbour. Walking down the gangway and straight into the town of Dún Laoghaire seems to me to be alternative to being bussed out of Dublin Port. They've already produced a good brochure to support the project and have joined up with other Ports that attract Cruise traffic to promote the proposal. I'm hopeful that this comes to fruition soon.

I also met Elaine Carroll the new 'Brand Manager' for Dún Laoghaire a few days ago. Her work is part of an INTERREG project that links Athy in Kildare with Dún Laoghaire with Holyhead and Ryhyl in Wales. She's hoping that the outputs might include a book and shopping guide to the town of Dún Laoghaire as well as a dedicated website. This could learn from the good work over on MaryleBone in London ? She also will be interviewing hundreds of people around Dún Laoghaire on their thoughts on the town's future development. This is similar to the work I'm doing with the "Vision for Dún Laoghaire" initiative where we're asking people what they like about Dún Laoghaire and what they feel would add to the town.

The Dún Laoghaire Baths are also back on the agenda . The Council has prepared a €20 million plan for a new swimming pool. Being realistic, it'll be hard to find that money in the current climate. I'd be happy in the meantime if the Council went ahead with a modest plan to carry out some simple works and open the baths in the summer months for the next few years. A lower cost affordable plan would at least allow people to experience what the Baths could be like during the Summer months, rather than waiting a for a large chunk of money to appear for the Council's plans.Of course I'd love to see an all year round pool heated by solar panels, seaweed baths, a kids pool and a cafe, and I had a good meeting with Voya who have a fantastic operation in Sligo, but lets get the first steps right.

The Luas extension to Cherrywood opens on 16th October. I'm looking forward to being on one of the first trams out of Sandyford. Hopefully we can extend the line on to Bray along the old Harcourt Street railway alignment in the not too distant future.

No comments: