Sunday 15 September 2019

Bus Connects: Emotive issue of trees a big obstacle for radical bus plan

Concerned: Albert Tobin with his partner Emily Campbell
Concerned: Albert Tobin with his partner Emily Campbell
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Any campaign to bring about a major change in any system will undoubtedly involve a lot of PR, spin and projections.

Bus Connects is no different, with promises of journey time savings of up to 40pc and 50pc on shiny new hybrid buses, safer cycling and a much better bus frequency.

It would seem like the National Transport Authority (NTA) is pushing on an open door when trying to persuade us about the benefits of the ambitious project.

However, while the benefits will in theory be obvious for commuters stuck in traffic jams, it is the communities along the proposed bus corridors who have picked some of the information apart.

They have highlighted all the trees that will be cut down, the gardens that will be eroded to make way for wider roads, and the long-term effect the plan will have on communities and the environment.

Albert Tobin and his fiancée Emily Campbell live on Crumlin Road and under the Bus Connects plans will lose about two metres of their front garden - including a cherry blossom tree out on the footpath.

READ MORE: Thousands of trees may be axed for Bus Connects routes, warns professor

It's not the first time trees have proven to be such a divisive topic. Back in 1997, a group of tree protesters, many of them from abroad, moved into the Glen of the Downs woodland in Co Wicklow and took up occupancy in tree houses and tunnels in a section of woodland scheduled for felling as part of a £20m road improvement programme between Kilmacanogue and the Glen.

The occupation began a two-year protest which only ended when campaigners were directed to leave following a lengthy hearing before the High Court in Dublin.

Now, with the advent of Bus Connects, ribbons of different colours have been tied around Dublin trees to highlight their vulnerability.

However, the NTA says certain trees not in the Bus Connects plans at all have been ribboned in the city centre.

The NTA has consistently said it will plant more trees than it cuts down, in different locations but near to where the original trees stood.

Controversy: Shane Ross was accused of distancing himself. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Controversy: Shane Ross was accused of distancing himself. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The potential number of trees that could be lost is 1,527 out of a total of 60,000, according to Dublin City Council parks and landscape division. That equates to 2.5pc.

The NTA has also been criticised for the way it calculated the projected reductions in journey times if Bus Connects gets the green light.

The information it used in its public information adverts and videos has come under scrutiny.

A group in Terenure and Rathgar lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) over ads on buses.

The NTA's case wasn't helped when it felt the need to remove three videos from its online campaign promoting Bus Connects because it was accused of incorrectly depicting the city's traffic problem as being worse than it is in reality.

One video showed traffic static for 20 minutes at one junction in Kimmage, whereas the original footage showed that it actually cleared in two minutes.

The Bus Connects people said it was an editing error when making the video shorter for Twitter.

Transport Minister Shane Ross has also become embroiled in controversy over the scheme.

Last September, he was accused of trying to distance himself from the project at a residents' association meeting in his Dublin Rathdown constituency.

Fine Gael TDs also raised serious concerns over the Bus Connects plan at a private party meeting, with fears it could become as politically dangerous as the water charges fiasco.

Irish Independent

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