Budget 2020

Thank you to Director Seán Coughlan and his team for preparing the Limerick Council budget for 2020. There is a huge amount that is positive in it with increased spending in many areas that require it. Councillor John Sheehan referenced climate change in his remarks. It is the most serious issue facing humanity. It is not an abstract concept. It will impact us here in Limerick as much as it will impact other nations around the world. I welcome Councillor Sheehan’s commitment to work with us in the Green Party. We will reciprocate and commit to working with all parties and none.

It is fundamentally important that we change how our society works such that we are not making the problems we face worse, and leaving ourselves needlessly exposed to increased risks. This is where the planning and the funding comes in. It is said that if you want to measure a government’s or a local authority’s commitment you look at where the funding is going.

In many respects this is a ‘business as usual’ budget which reinforces the travel and settlement patterns that have contributed to the crisis that we are in. This must change. However, we recognise that it cannot change overnight. While it is critically important that we transform our society we should do so in such a way that we don’t impact the mobility of our citizens or their quality of life. This is why we must work together and make those changes work for everybody.

Limerick Council is a large administration. It is like a big ship, and turning it is not easy, but if we can shift direction a few degrees we will certainly be in a better place in the future.

Time to allocate 10% of Limerick’s transport funding to cycling

The following text is a speech I gave at the Travel & Transport Strategic Policy Committee meeting, in support of a motion I had raised that 10% of the transport budget in Limerick should go towards cycling. The motion passed unanimously and goes forward now to full Council in November.

This motion is not simply about providing infrastructure for cyclists. That would be to misunderstand the issue. This is about enabling the effective movement of people. It is impossible for a city, or indeed a town, to grow unless it tackles and solves the mobility challenge. We saw this in Utrecht at the weekend. Netherlands fastest growing city is growing, in large part, because it has enabled cycling. That is to say that it would not be growing at this rate if it had not taken the decision to invest heavily in cycling infrastructure. It is a key point. Cycling and economic development go hand in hand because cycling enables the free and easy movement of people over short to medium distances, much more than cars or even busses do. And it does so at low cost to the individual and also to the State, notwithstanding multiple other benefits. Indeed, a 2014 report commissioned by the UK Department for Transport assessed cost benefit evidence for walking and cycling interventions. Almost all of the studies identified demonstrated ‘highly significant’ economic benefits, while the mean cost benefit ratio for the schemes identified was 6.28:13. In general investment in cycling projects provide the highest rate of return of all transport projects.

[Researchers who analysed the cost-benefit frameworks currently used to assess bicycle infrastructure projects in Copenhagen reported that the cost to society of 1km of car driving is more than six times higher (Euro 0.50/km) than cycling (Euro 0.08/km), when collisions, climate change, health and travel time are considered. And this does not include the cost of urban sprawl and dispersed settlement, which is a feature of investment in car infrastructure. ]

Referring back to Utrecht, it is a city of 300,000 people with a similar climate to ours. Councillor O’Donovan and myself can attest to that. My shoes are still drying out! In Utrecht 70% of all local journeys are made by bicycle. In Limerick, a city one third the size in population and similar in area, 70% of all journeys under 3km are made by private car. It is a staggering contrast. And this is not because the people of Limerick will not cycle. It’s quite simply because we have not provided sufficient infrastructure to enable them to do so. Would you let your children cycle to school these days? Few parents will, and who could blame them. There has in fact been a total collapse in Ireland in the number of children cycling to school since the 1980’s. It’s currently about 1 in 200 girls and about 1 in 50 boys. According to the last census more girls are driving themselves to school than cycling. Think about that. Even though only the 17 and 18 year old girls are legally permitted to drive by themselves there is still a greater number doing so than the combined total of girls aged 4 to 18 who are cycling.

Acknowledging the reality of funding mechanisms, this motion is not about berating the Council for lack of action, but rather about imploring it to increase its efforts and getting Limerick quickly to where it needs to be. It is also about seeking the support of my esteemed colleagues across all political persuasions. I would acknowledge the Council’s efforts and it is true that progress has been made. Go on to the Park Canal any morning before 9am and the number of cyclists heading to and from Castletroy will amaze you. A brave decision was taken by the last Council and it has paid off. A simple, well deisgned path through a beautiful amenity is fundamentally changing the relationship between the city and the university, after decades of disconnection. The path is so successful that we should probably be talking about widening it.

In 2015 the Council commissioned the Limerick Cycle Network Study. It is a good document and it lays the blueprint for developing an excellent cycling city in a short timeframe. We really do not need to wait for the Transport Strategy to make good decisions and good progress. We have excellent people in our Council and they can achieve this ambition. This Council must mandate them to do so.

We are currently at 1.4% of Capital spending on cycling specific infrastructure.

Make Limerick Ireland’s Cycling City, Ireland’s Utrecht, in 10 years. If we do this we solve the mobility challenge and we make ourselves well placed to also be Ireland’s fastest growing city and the best place to live, work and visit. Let’s make every town and village in County Limerick a place where parents let their children cycle to school, confident that they will not be injured. We have a great opportunity, let’s seize it. I beg you to support the motion.

Urban Design & Planning

At today’s Metropolitan Council Meeting I called for Limerick to employ an urban designer (in house) for professional input into all capital projects. The reason for submitting this motion is that there is a gap at a high level in the Council at the moment, and very important decisions regarding the future of our city are being made without the right professional input. Engineers or architects should not be expected, on their own, to make fundamental decisions about our city, whether it be where we build new roads, how we use our streets, where we put bus and cycle lanes, etc. If we are to create “Great Streets”, as the Limerick 2030 plan insists we should, then we need urban design at the heart of this process.

If we want our city to be able to compete for investment and offer quality of life to its residents, we need expertise to deliver Great Streets. When the IDA are bringing companies around the city we want them to see a high quality urban environment, a vibrant place that can attract the best talent. A great street is where people come to meet, to socialise, to play. It makes the best of our fantastic heritage, it encourages people to linger and chat. Great streets combat loneliness: when a street is designed around people it encourages interaction.

We have some great people working in the Council but the focus has been traditionally on roads and the private car. We need new skills, preferably from someone who has worked internationally in fast-growing regional cities that are designed around people. I think many of us agree in this chamber that the time has come to start making some difficult decisions to allow our city to compete and thrive. We need to make sure we have the in-house expertise to make those decisions count.

An urban designer would focus on how our streets would be used. I know there is sometimes a fear that our streets might feel “dead” without cars. That can be a danger if streets are not designed to encourage people to congregate and linger. An urban designer would work with retailers, disability groups and other stakeholders to maximise the accessibility of a street and make it an environment where retail of all types could thrive.

An urban designer would perfectly complement an active travel officer, they would work together to promote safe walking and cycling environments as well as an urban landscape designed to attract people.

Shannon LNG

PRESS RELEASE:Shannon LNG driving damaging fracking industry abroadSpeaking today Green Party Energy spokesperson Brian Leddin said: 

“Just two weeks after the Global Climate strike highlighted the urgency of transforming our energy system and reducing global carbon emissions the government is determined to continue with new fossil fuel infrastructure on the Shannon estuary, driving international demand.
 

Government plans to have the project, which would see fracked gas from the United States imported, designated as a Project of Common Interest (PCI) by the EU this Friday 4th October would result in a free-hand to by-pass the conventional planning process. This project will lock Ireland into continued fossil fuel use just as we desperately need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels if we are to stand any chance of meeting our international obligations and mitigating the onset of climate change, and the global chaos that would come with that.
 
“The problem with fracked gas is that its extraction is leading to the leakage of much higher levels than expected of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is about 87 times more potent a green house gas than carbon dioxide and some scientists have suggested that methane emissions from the fracking industry in the US is leading to the increased warming we are seeing compared to what was expected from previous climate models.
 
“The government is supporting and pushing the project despite no high level assessment being done to compare it with reasonable alternatives. There has been no assessment of fracked gas in the Irish energy mix. Despite Ireland having declared a climate emergency, and having banned fracking on our soil, in advancing this project and setting Ireland up as a terminal for fracked gas, our government is being duplicitous. In doing so they are not only condoning the pollution of communities in the United States they are condemning our children to a turbulent changed world caused by climate change.”

Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy

The Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy will set out the major transport infrastructure projects in this region for the next 20 years. It is currently underway with consultation taking place with key stakeholders, such as transport providers and campaign groups. The public consultation phase is expected to begin in the new year with the Strategy due to be published in the summer. We will be concentrating our efforts on ensuring that the strategy priorities sustainable transport infrastructure, i.e. rail, tram, bus, bike and walking. Green Party policy is to push for a 2:1 split in favour of sustainable transport spending over road spending. 

Climate Action, Biodiversity & Environment SPC

In March of this year the Citizen’s Assembly recommended that every local authority create a strategic policy committee to deal with climate change. Legislation has not been passed to make this a mandatory requirement and, as a compromise during discussions with the Green Party and the Executive in Limerick City & County Council it was agreed that the Environment SPC be changed to the ‘Climate Action, Biodiversity & Environment SPC’. My Green Party colleague Sean Hartigan is one of the most suitably qualified people for this committee, having a long career in environmental education before entering politics. I know he will do a great job. Councillor Jerome Scanlan (Fine Gael) is the Chairman.

Irish Cement

Yesterday’s decision by the EPA to grant an incineration license to Irish Cement is opposed by the Green Party. This issue has been running for some years now. In 2016 the Green Party were the first to raise concerns about Irish Cement’s proposal. Back then there was a broad welcome for the project. Local media articles welcomed the news that ‘alternative fuels’ would be burned in the kilns instead of fossil fuels, and some 90 jobs would be protected.

Our opposition was guided by the waste management hierarchy, which is set out in EU Law. It can be expressed as follows:

  1. Try and prevent waste in the first instance
  2. If you can’t prevent it, recycle it
  3. If you can’t recycle, treat it thermally, i.e. burn it to recover energy
  4. If you can’t thermally treat it, then dispose of it, i.e. landfill

Green Party policy is that this waste management hierarchy should be followed. During the planning stage of the process, the An Bord Pleanála inspector acknowledged the EU waste management hierarchy in his report but ignored it in his recommendation, allowing permission to Irish Cement to go straight to stage 3 of the hierarchy on the justification that the Southern Waste Management Plan permits thermal treatment. In the proposed list of waste to be incinerated at Mungret there is a huge amount of recyclable material including used tyres, animal faces, urine and manure, wood and bark, sawdust, wood shavings, paper and cardboard waste. According to the EU waste management hierarchy none of this should be going into an incinerator; it should be recycled.

The An Bord Pleanála inspector ruled that hazardous material should not be burned on the site and he struck off the list anything that mentioned ‘hazardous’ in his description. However, he left red mud on the list, presumably because it does not mention the word hazardous in its description even though it contains mercury, arsenic and a whole plethora of other heavy metals and presumably chemicals used in the extraction of the ore from the mud.

The system of giving planning permission for a project like this is wrong in that An Bord Pleanála must consider it only from a planning perspective, i.e. how it fits with the area plan, and it is not qualified or tasked to give a ruling on the environmental damage aspect. It is only following the grant of planning permission that the environmental aspect is considered by the EPA, and they decide on whether or not to give a license and under what conditions. By right both the environmental and planning considerations should be looked at up front and simultaneously when reaching a decision on whether or not to grant planning permission.

By ignoring the Waste Management Hierarchy we are at real risk of creating a monster that needs to be fed, and efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle are fundamentally undermined. We are in effect creating an incentive to produce waste.

Energy from Waste Incineration (EFI) is done all over Europe, and while not ideal, it can be done relatively safely. A major issue with the Irish Cement proposal is their track record at their plant in Mungret. Nearby residents frequently report dust accumulations due to ’blow outs’ at the plant. Indeed, Irish Cement has been successfully prosecuted and fined for such breaches of its license on a number of occasions. Added to that there is a very minimal monitoring regime in place to identify when these occur. Irish Cement must self-report any instances when it fails to comply with its license. Furthermore, air quality monitoring by the Council, EPA and HSE in the Limerick area is not sufficient to give us a clear picture.

Notwithstanding our misgivings about the process that led to Irish Cement getting a license to burn waste, this is also very much a matter of confidence, or lack of, in the company given its past record.

Dalgaish Park

We are happy to support the provision of 42 units of social housing in Dalgaish Park, Moyross. We made representations relating to design quality (the homes will be built to the ‘Near Zero Energy Buildings [NZEB] standard), safe and secure bicycle storage and access to public transport. Moyross has been in transition for a number of years, since the Regeneration Programme began. While there have been challenges along the way we believe this scheme will enhance the area and provide much needed accommodation for those on the housing list.

Dog Fouling

A number of people have raised the issue of dog fouling of our footpaths. As well as being a public health issue it is serious problem for wheelchair users and other mobility impaired persons. Some areas may be considered blackspots. Unfortunately, Limerick Council has issued very few fines in recent years and the street cleaning regime in certain areas is lacking also. Furthermore, there are only three dog foul bins in the city. We are pushing for a greater number of bins, increased fines (which will require Ministerial approval) and an improved street cleaning regime in certain areas. 

Limerick Cycle Bus

It was great fun cycling with these kids this morning. It’s worth remembering that of all journeys in Limerick that are 3km or less, a staggering 70% are made by car and many of them are the school run. If we can solve the school traffic problem then we will solve many of our transport challenges. Providing infrastructure so that kids can safely cycle to school and their parents can safely cycle to work is key to building a modern, progressive city.