— Council CEO and planning officials voice objections to motions
— Issues of funding and delays in planning of schools raised by objectors.
Councillors in the Fingal County Council area of Dublin voted against a development plan proposal to provide safe walking and cycling routes to new schools at the same time the schools are being planned.
In cycling-friendly countries such as the Netherlands (pictured above and below), it is standard practice that safe routes are built before or alongside the construction of schools. It is Irish national policy to have such routes, but that’s often not the practice in reality.
Those who voted the proposal down included all councillors present from the larger political parties. Overall the councillors opposing the motion included five from Fine Gael (another was absent), five from Fianna Fáil, and two from Labour. A number of independents and a Renua councillor also voted against the measure.
Councillors from the Green Party, Anti-Austerity Alliance, Sinn Fein, Social Democrats and a number of independents supported the motion, but it did not gain enough overall tallies with a roll-call vote ending in 16 for and 19 against the measure.
The proposed motion said: “In tandem with identifying and procuring new school sites, plan safe walking and cycling routes to school from the residential areas to be served by the school. Where land must be acquired to provide these routes, work with landowners and relevant parties to acquire or arrange for the necessary land.”
At a meeting of the council, Cllr David Healy (Green Party), who proposed the motion, said: “The only question is: Are we going to be serious about providing safe routes to schools or not? Because at the moment we have a spectacular failure [in providing routes].”
He said residents have requested safe routes to schools and were asking how their teenagers are going to get to proposed schools outside urban areas. Cllr Healy said that the manager’s reply was ‘don’t put anything on the development plan maps’ and ‘wait until there is a planning application for a school’.
It was indicated that the motion, if adopted, would delay the process of building schools. Mayor of Fingal, councillor Darragh Butler (Fianna Fáil), said: “It could delay the school. If you had a landowner who would not play ball and it was not possable to acquire the land for the route, what happens to the school? I might be reading it wrong, but that would be my reading of it.”
Cllr Kieran Dennison (Fine Gael) said: “I am concerned about the necessity of acquiring land [for a route] in tandem with the school site; we know when the council has to acquire land compulsorily how long that can take if there is resistance from the landowner. I fully understand Cllr Healy’s motive, and if he wants to amend it, but could not support if it’s like this.”
But Cllr Healy said that it would more likely delay schools if the planning routes were left to the pre-planning stage. He wants routes to be planned when school sites are selected.
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One senior executive planner, Matthew McAleese, suggested amending the motion to make it less restrictive. But even after it was amended, AnnMarie Farrelly, director of planning and strategic infrastructure with the council, spoke against the motion. She raised the issue of funding and said the proposal would still be “problematic”.
Cllr Healy said it’s national policy to provide routes to schools and that the approach taken with walking and cycling access to schools within the development plan was “vague generalities” and ‘we don’t know where we’re going to get the money’.
Under the heading of “Safe Cycling Routes”, the National Cycle Policy states: “We will provide safe cycling routes to all primary and secondary schools and third level colleges by 2020. An audit will be carried out of every school / routes leading to the school from residential areas.” It says the responsibility for this is with local authorities (ie councils) and the Department of Transport.
Paul Reid, chief executive of the council, said: “You just quoted government policy, but nowhere in there does it talk about pre-conditions being the acquisition of land and I think that’s the constraint that you’re putting on us that is too much.”
Another motion in relation to routes between residential areas and a school site in Kinsealy, north Co Dublin, is expected to be voted on tomorrow (Tuesday) or Wednesday. Cllr Healy is suggesting routes to Portmarnock, Balgriffin, and the area south of Swords. The Kinsealy site is currently host to the Malahide/Portmarnock Educate Together National School and is planned to also be the location of a new secondary school.