20 Jun 2008

So lets say you’re a small GAA or soccer club in the west of Ireland, or a doctor’s clinic on the outskirts of a midlands town or a beauticians near, oh, wherever and you lodge a planning application to extend, say, a bathroom or something and the planners send you a pesky letter telling you to submit a Traffic Impact Assessment. Such fuss and bother: all those unfocussed, unjoined-up, cut and paste reports costing €1,500 min. + VAT, which don’t mean all that much as they slowly make their way along some planning authority shelf to an inevitable rendezvous with a recycling bin… But at least, you console yourself, it’s not just you: everybody has to get these reports. 

Everybody, except Fingal County Council. 

Hunter’s Run is a typical residential neighbourhood close to Clonee in North County Dublin. Built in the 1990s, its arranged in such a way that a series of little cul-de-sacs are clustered like a necklace around a large and very pleasant green. The whole idea behind the development – the idea the residents bought into – was that the little-de-sacs would effectively be traffic free zones, allowing their kids to run straight from their homes and directly onto a giant, lush playing field. The traffic scheme was designed to tie into the concept with only a very modest number of cars expected to turn off the main road en route to their homes.

When the development was finally finished, Fingal County Council took control of the green and for awhile things were just fine. 

Now, the larger Clonee area is becoming ever more built up and the need for all sorts of facilities is increasing. The growing local GAA and Soccer clubs were pressed for a new place to call home and took their case to the Council. Fingal officials decided to resolve the issue to by allowing both clubs to take up lodgings on the Hunter’s Run green.

The Council published a Part 8 Notification (that process which planning authorities use instead of a planning application) and entered into discussions with local residents. As I understand it, many of the local residents as well as their children are members of the soccer and/or GAA clubs in question, so there was no real objection in principle to the idea. But absolutely everyone was concerned about traffic – this was, after all a series of tight, narrow cul-de-sacs which were designed to take hardly any traffic whatsoever. How were they to handle a sudden influx of cars? But the  Council allayed any fears, suggesting that use of the green would be limited as to times, days of the week, etc.

Nearly three years later, soccer and GAA games and training sessions are being held almost every night of the week as well as all day Saturdays and Sundays. The narrow little roads of Hunters Run are constantly clogged with traffic: parents dropping off their kids for training drive all the way to the end of the cul-de-sacs, do a u-turn and then duck and dive against the inward flow of cars as they try to make their way back to the main road: on games days cars are parked so tightly that there’s barely enough room to allow for a one way flow (what if an ambulance was needed?): residents get trapped in their houses as driveways are blocked; cars are left up on the grass.

Some local residents, tired of the relentless clutter and the tedium and the nuisance and the noise and the stress and the constant asking of complete strangers to 'move their cars down a little' so they can go and do whatever it is they have to do, brought the matter to the attention of the officials in Fingal. The residents wondered why, when the Council was going through the Part 8 process, it hadn’t prepared a traffic management plan? Turns out, because it was a Part 8 procedure (and despite the fact that the beneficiaries of the procedure – the sports clubs – are private organisations) ancillary traffic situations are considered ‘exempted development’. But residents pressed the Council on the matter, making the point that even though it might not (technically) have been required to prepare a traffic management plan, it might be a good idea to prepare one anyway. But the Council responded in no uncertain terms that it had no intention of preparing such a plan. Instead, it offered a ‘take it or leave it’ solution where some of the (precious) green area would be paved over and made into a car park. The residents said no – a better solution was necessary.

Months have now passed. The soccer and GAA games continue on a nightly basis as well as at weekends. Council officials aren’t returning the residents calls. The word is the Council are going to press ahead with their unloved car park.

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