A BORD Pleanála hearing into plans for the €2 billion Dart Underground project opened in Tallaght yesterday – and was challenged by a legal team acting for companies belonging to Dublin hotelier and property developer Owen O’Callaghan.
Iarnród Éireann is seeking permission from the planning board for a 7.6km tunnel travelling in an southerly arc from Docklands Station through Spencer Dock, to Pearse Station and on to St Stephen’s Green. From there it travels west to Christ Church, Heuston Station and to a new surface Dart station at Inchicore. Along the route the line is designed to connect with Iarnród Éireann’s northern, Kildare and Wexford rail lines. Iarnród Éireann claims the tunnel would increase capacity in the capital’s suburban services from 33 million passenger journeys per year to more than 100 million.
However, as the oral hearing got under way, senior counsel for Mr O’Callaghan’s companies, Colm Allen, said there was a significant legal question about the “jurisdiction of the board to do what it is about to do”.
Mr Allen said the Dart Underground project had the potential to “sterilise” his client’s property for as long as 10 years. He also said “if necessary” he would be prepared to “go elsewhere” to establish his point about the jurisdiction of the board.
Mr Allen said he was attempting to be helpful to the inquiry by flagging this matter now, offering written submissions on the point for consideration by the board. This could, he said, avoid the possibility of a more difficult decision at a later date.
However, Tom Rabbitte, senior inspector with the planning board, said he intended to go ahead with the hearing in the standard format for such oral hearings, but would make a note of Mr Allen’s comments.
Joe Costello TD, Senator Pascal Donohoe, Councillor Kevin Humphreys and East Wall resident Angela Broderick also asked to be heard at the opening of the inquiry as they objected to the venue for the hearing. Ms Broderick said the Tallaght venue represented a difficult and expensive destination for many residents who wished to attend the hearing.
Mr Rabbitte said the board had been unable to secure a suitable venue in the city centre for the expected duration of the hearing, possibly due to the time of year.
In his submission to the hearing, Iarnród Éireann chief executive Dick Fearn said that despite government efforts to achieve sustainable transport in Dublin, the reality was that “trip making has continued to be by private cars”.
Congestion was an “inevitable consequence”, he said.
Michael Reidy, manager of strategic and business planning with Iarnród Éireann, said a number of people had suggested using the existing Phoenix Park tunnel linking Heuston and Connolly stations across the north city, instead of the new project.
But he said a report by consultants Ove Arup had found in 2000 that this was “the least optimal solution” to provide additional capacity into and through the city centre. He said it would add to capacity constraints on the Maynooth line and would isolate Heuston as diverted Kildare services would effectively bypass Heuston to get to the tunnel. The hearing continues today.