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Urban sprawl forces workers into 100-mile city commute

COMMUTERS are now regularly making round trips of more than 100 miles from all over the country to work in the capital because of growing urban sprawl.

Towns as far away as Gorey, Carlow, Portlaoise, Mullingar and Dunleer are rapidly developing as commuter belt locations because of "hinterland explosion", a top economist revealed yesterday.

Addressing the National Housing Conference in Galway, Colm McCarthy warned that the urban sprawl phenomenon has been accelerating and claimed the Government's strategic planning guidelines envisaged a continuation of the trend.

Mr McCarthy said that 50 mile commutes to cities were no longer seen as unacceptable while 20 and 30 mile journeys to work were becoming more prevalent around provincial cities.

He warned that overdue planned road developments would speed up this phenomenon.

Commuting to employment generating zones growing rapidly around the M50 in Dublin from 30-40 miles outside Dublin was as attractive and as quick as a cross-city commute from one of the inner suburbs.

The M50 which was meant to be a by-pass had become Dublin's main street.

These zones included Airport/Swords, Blanchardstown/Mulhuddart, Leixlip/ Maynooth, Tallaght/ Citywest and Sandyford.

Mr McCarthy said the morning car commuting journey from the Dun Laoghaire, Deansgrange, Foxrock area to Dublin Airport now takes a minimum of 60 minutes, up to 90 on a bad day.

The commuting time from the Cooley Peninsula, north of Dundalk, was no greater and would fall as the Drogheda by-pass and other N1 improvements came on stream.

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This was also true for the other major routes into Dublin, he said.

There was agitation to accommodate the hinterland housing explosion through public transport investment including expensive new rail systems such as reopening the line to Navan.

He called on the Government to adopt a policy of compact urban development with an unwillingness to invest heavily in accommodating sprawl and an insistence that high-quality rail would be restricted to core urban areas.

"In Dublin this could mean investment mainly inside the M50, and a policy stance which says in effect, you can live in rural splendour if you wish and commute to the city, but we will not make it easy for you," he added.

According to Mr McCarthy it was unfortunately not possible to improve the road from Dublin to Galway without improving also the attractions of car-commuting form the east midlands into Dublin.

He argued that towns and cities such as Sligo and Waterford could be considered for new centres of growth as they were well away from Dublin's "magnetic field".

There was a problem created by proximity to Dublin as "edge cities" such as Airport/Swords, Leixlip/Maynooth, Citywest and Cherrywood were easy commuting distance from locations up to 70 miles away.

Mr McCarthy told the conference that the sprawl already evident throughout most of Leinster was also present on a smaller scale in the hinterlands of the main provincial cities where there were nonetheless calls for expensive improvements to the public transport system.

He hit out at what he claimed was the Government proposal to build a small number of remote commuter suburbs and an expanded suburban rail network with very few stations on each line.

"Meanwhile the existing urban core is to be served by a metro system (LUAS) much of which will serve areas of static or declining population," he added.

On house taxation, he said the abolition of stamp duties was recommended almost 20 years ago and he believed no convincing argument for their retention has ever been advanced.

"There is no longer any revenue need, and the simultaneous withdrawal of mortgage interest relief and of stamp duties would be an interesting policy package," he added.

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