Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

How household charge is likely to go down drain

The following story concerns a roundabout at Albert Road in Glenageary. In the past six months more than €250,000 has been wastefully spent on a foolish local authority project to 'improve' safety by restricting the movement of traffic, contrary to the essential theory and practice of roundabout use.

Set against the theory and practice of the household charge, it makes complete nonsense of Environment Minister Phil Hogan's repeated declarations about 'urgent services at local authority level' being paid for by the charge. He stands over a myth that the money is badly needed and will be prudently spent. It won't.

In this case the €100 payment from more than 2,500 homeowners in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council might as well have been poured down the drains -- except that most of the drains in the borough are blocked.

By a sleight-of-hand on the part of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council the financial burden for the roundabout project was transferred to the National Transport Authority (NTA) quango. It was still taxpayers' money and the initiator was the local authority. What might they do next?

Announcing completion of the project, John Broderick, a senior engineer in the council's 'transportation department' claimed that "the works were carried out to reduce traffic speeds approaching and exiting the various arms of the roundabout and on the circulatory carriageway of the roundabout, thereby making the roundabout safer for pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users. Funding of €275,000 was provided by the NTA for the scheme."

A different explanation was given at an earlier stage. It is closer to the truth. This states that the roundabout "has been identified as a suitable location for the implementation of measures as recommended in the new NTA Cycle Design Manual".

Essentially, this meant that the NTA set the policy guidelines and that they were user-specific, in this case for cyclists. The county council was able to take pride in a "free improvement". But at what cost to the users of the new facility?

There has been political misjudgment here for which Mr Hogan and the Government have ultimate responsibility. The democratic rights of elected councillors to make policy have been overridden by a deal between Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and the NTA transferring policy-making, contrary to the law.

The NTA's experimental thinking on roundabouts policy is flawed in making motorists pay the highest price. This has serious implications for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, probably for the whole country. The project contravenes law and logic.

Changing the Glenageary roundabout has narrowed the five approach roads into a single file, restricting access and causing tailbacks. Frustration has replaced calming.

There are no safety measures for pedestrians. Walkers with children and dogs rely on cars stopping voluntarily. Crossing points are too close to the roundabout. If a car slows and stops to let pedestrians cross, its rear end is still on the roundabout creating a new stopping point for cars or, alternatively, an accident.

The emphasis on cyclists is central and exclusive. Yet very few cyclists use the roundabout. Cyclists, to my first-hand knowledge, do not use the cycle lane. For personal safety or convenience they prefer the road or the pavement. Women with prams, men with dogs, ordinary pedestrians, are more at risk than they were because of the added confusion of a phenomenal 14 lights, eight of them new, gleaming down at night on this macabre memorial to the wisdom of a little-known quango wasting public money.

The NTA did not carry out a forensic cycle count before deciding that we needed this cyclist-friendly reform. After 43 years living beside it, I know the roundabout well. I am acquainted with pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. I use it at least five times a day. Local people who knew my mother-in-law, called it 'Granny Cleave's Roundabout'. She was often out picking up rubbish or inspecting the cowslips in the central area, since destroyed by mindless council 'gardeners'.

Reform has interfered most with motorists. The lavish local government emphasis has been to alter everything for the sake of the over-elaborate cycle lane. There was less danger before. Any garda report on accidents here would have rated our roundabout as safe. But no report was sought or given.

The legal situation is that under the 2001 Local Government Act, councillors constitute the policy-making arm of a local authority. They should have dictated and initiated the project. The council claims there was consultation "with the area committee" but the new roundabout was a done-deal between council and NTA.

In law, the NTA "is charged with devising and implementing projects. . . in line with government policy".

Its action was not in line with policy-making as outlined in the Local Government Act of 2001. Clear government policy was sidelined by both council and NTA. The council exceeded its legal rights and breached the legal rights of its elected representatives.

Furthermore, there is an anomalous future for the excellent Sallynoggin roundabout 400 yards along Upper Glenageary Road. If Albert Road, why not Sallynoggin?

Policy now dictates that it should be treated in the same way since the imaginary horde of cyclists who don't go down Albert Road are just as likely not to go down Lower Glenageary Road as well.

A third roundabout at the junction of Kill Avenue, Mounttown Road, Oliver Plunkett Road and Upper Glenageary Road was small but effective. It has been removed in favour of a universally condemned traffic-light system. The development of Dun Laoghaire Golf Course for housing provided an opportunity to correct this. The council did not take it.

These are now three incompatible road junctions, one under threat, one an absurd mistake and the third a cyclist-friendly fantasy. This is worthy of the fiction of Samuel Beckett or Flann O'Brien. A fantasy that has nothing to do with the modern world.

Those struggling over whether to pay the household charge may be absolutely sure that the money will be wasted in such foolishness unless Mr Hogan takes a very drastic hold on himself.