Fingal Mayor uses casting vote to exclude transport targets from Development Plan, against Planning Regulator advice

— Councillor says comments from fellow cllrs suggest some are climate change deniers.
— Another councillor complained road building could be impacted by the targets.

LONG-REPORT: A plea from Planning Regulator to include strong transport modal share targets in the Fingal County Council Development Plan will not be acted on after council officials disagreed with the regulator to include the targets in the plan, and a vote by councillors was decided by the casting vote by the Mayor.

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The issue was debated around 1 hour and 50 minutes into last Thursday’s Fingal Development Plan meeting.

Councillors voted 18 for, 18 against and one abstained on a motion to include firm targets in the plan. After the tie, Fingal Mayor, Cllr Howard Mahony (Fianna Fáil) used the Mayor’s casting vote to vote against the motion.

The Office of the Planning Regulator said that it was one of its key functions to assess statutory
plans, such as the council’s Development Plan, to ensure consistency with legislative and policy requirements relating to planning.

IMAGE: It was verbally noted that the vote was on Motion 148 and not 418 as listed. The three councillors shown as not voting were not present.

In a submission on the Fingal Draft Development Plan, the Planning Regulator said: “The draft Plan does not provide baseline figures for the existing modal split for existing settlements and including baseline figures would enable the setting of achievable targets for modal change for individual settlements (e.g. Balbriggan as part of the Local Transport Plans) and/or by settlement type (self-sustaining growth towns, etc.).”

The Planning Regulator recommended that the council “include existing baseline figures for modal share for the overall county and modal share targets for the plan period. It is recommended that this could best be provided at individual settlement level for the larger settlements, and at aggregate level for rural towns and villages and the open countryside.”

It said the inclusion of the baseline and targets for modal share would also “form a basis for effective monitoring in the implementation of the local authority’s movement strategy and climate change strategy, highlighting where implementation needs to be stepped up or addressed in subsequent reviews of the Development Plan.”

In a written response to the Planning Regulator, Fingal County Council, in July, said: “The setting of mode share targets at a County level, in the context of the Development Plan, would be cumbersome and unwieldy, given the data collection that would be required to ensure accuracy and the disparity across the County between dense urban areas and the rural hinterland. It is therefore considered that the use of mode share targets should be considered for inclusion at a more localised level, and this can be achieved through the development of various Local Transport Plans.”

Following this, a motion in the names of Councillor David Healy, Councillor Ian Carey, Councillor Daniel Whooley, Councillor Pamela Conroy, and Councillor Karen Power called on officials to include modal share targets in the plan.

The motion said that “In order to meet national and international goals for climate change and public health, the Council will aim for at least a 51% reduction in transport” would include the following modal share targets:

Baseline for Fingal (2012)Target for FingalTarget for Zone 1 areas in Fingal*
Public transport31%35%40%
Private and commercial51%35%20%
* Zone 1 areas = within 800m of a high-quality bus service, or 1600m of an existing or planned Luas/DART/Metro Rail station or in lands zoned Major Town Centre

Last Thursday, Paul Carroll a senior engineer in the planning section of the council said: “Our response is that we don’t believe that this is the right place for this type of information to be included in the plan. The Development Plan is obviously a series of policies which will, we think, see a significant change in the land use and transportation share of different modes being used over the next few years.”

He said that the council operates at a regional level under the NTA transport modelling and that implementing localised targets would be “onerous” and questionable how effective it would be.

Carroll said that the policies in the plan would help achieve a modal share change without having firm targets.

He said: “We have all the tools in our toolbox and putting numbers on them doesn’t add anything further to that policy toolkit.

Cllr David Healy (Green Party) asked: “What are the consequences of disregarding a recommendation of the Planning Regulator and exactly why is the Chief Executive recommending that the council not follow the Planning Regulator’s recommendation?”

He said other counties have received similar recommendations and followed them and asked what’s the difference between Fingal and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, which has included modal share targets.

Cllr Karen Power (Green Party) said: “We have an obligation to reduce our transport emissions by 51% by the year 2030 and while I welcome the emphasis on modal shift in the draft plan, the submission from the OPR is clear that modal shift baselines and targets are needed as part of the plan.”

She said that many of the policies in the Development Plan include targets and this is for “good reason as targets focus the work of the council and increases the chances of success.”

Cllr Ian Carey (Green Party) said that targets are a powerful tool and asked his fellow councillors to keep in mind that the targets suggested are reasonable.

Cllr Darragh Butler (Fianna Fáil) questioned what effect the motion would have on new roads, housing and the airport.

He said: “Are we going to have limits and quotas… all well and good what they are aiming for in a motion, to me. Is this another motion that has a name behind it to prevent new roads from being built?”

Cllr Kieran Dennison (Fine Gael) said: “I’m all for targets but targets have to be realistic. I think these targets would be onerous.”

Cllr Brigid Manton (Fianna Fail) said: “I would hate to have a target in the Development Plan that was failed at and everybody feels they have failed… and that’s not going to impact well on the climate change numbers.”

Cllr Adrian Henchy (Fianna Fail) said he was “1,000%” behind making changes and said he was looking to the council manager to explain why they think the motion is not correct.

Cllr Eoghan O’Brien (Fianna Fail) said: “I cannot see how including targets can be a bad thing in terms of modal shift because it’s where we want to get to. It’s something that we can measure ourselves against and identify where we’re doing well and not doing so well.”

Cllr Brian McDonagh (Labour Party) said that the targets are reasonable and that it’s important enough to measure, so, he would support the motion.

Cllr Joan Hopkins (Social Democrats) said that the suggested targets were reasonable and that while there’s a good change targets might be missed, if such are not in place there’s no chance of reaching them.

She said: “It seems to me from some of the comments that there are climate change deniers in the room, we need to educate ourselves more and what’s going to happen if we don’t take these kinds of actions.”

Cllr Tom O’Leary (Fine Gael) that in his area of Skerries that they are getting pushback on walking and cycling promotion when they “have not even got out the door yet”. He said he was in favor of the pluses but was afraid of “unintended consciousness”. He said it would like to support it, but would like to hear from the council management.

Cllr Punam Rane (Fine Gael) said that walking, cycling and public transport shifts were all doable and fine, but said the private and commercial shit was a very big shift, But she said she was happy to support the motion.

Matthew McAleese, director of planning and strategic infrastructure, said that the council is not against setting a modal share target. He said it wanted that to be “on the record”, that the council is “committed to developing modal share targets”, and that it is not saying that it would be too much work.

“We cannot stand over the figures presented in the motion today and what we’re simply asking for is that we want to work with the NTA to develop modal share targets,” he said. He added that the council wanted to work with the experts in the NTA.

As previously reported, the NTA has defended its figures in a number of cities such as Cork and Limerick by outlining it is modelling rather than targets. But the Office of the Planning Regulator has called on councils to set more ambitious targets above joint NTA and council figures in city transport plans in those areas.

Cllr Healy said that the Planning Regulator, in its submission, has already disagreed with the approach outlined by Fingal.

He said that if the motion was agreed it would give everybody — including the Planning Regulator and the NTA — a chance to give their feedback.

Ann Marie Farrelly, Chief Executive of Fingal, said: “If they go on display, I think we are saying that they are the right targets for Fingal. That’s what Fingal as a planning authority are saying, we are recommending these targets. Not that they are out for consultation, but we would be actually putting them out there as Fingal targets. Without due diligence, they simply are not Fingal targets, they are targets that might work.”

Cllr O’Leary said asked if the work with the NTA could be done before the plan was finalised.

McAleese said that this would not be possible and it would take time.

Roisin Burke, a senior planner, confirmed that if the motion was agreed, the targets could be revised at a future stage before the plan was finalised.

Farrelly said the issue could only be revisited if a submission was made on the issue.

A roll-call vote was then called and votes were cast as the image above.

WATCH: Development plan meeting.

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