Proposed N3 Road ploughs across Heritage Sites
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
As the unending stream of cars roar by, bumper to bumper, along the N3 Road from Dublin to Navan, the National Roads Authority (NRA) is hard at work on the Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) for a new N3 Road.
The cars contain, by and large, over-tired, over-stressed commuters who couldn't find housing near their work in Dublin. These commuters are doomed to sit in traffic gridlock for an hour or two before they get to clock in.
Ruthlessly, the planners seem intent on carrying on with their CPOs, fairly impervious to public concerns. And they can afford to be
But the new N3 road plans may not be as welcome as one might expect. The CPOs are for land which holds one of Ireland's greatest archaeological sites - the area between the Hill of Tara and Skreen. It also contains one the finest and most popular amenity centres in the country at Dalgan Park.
Ruthlessly, the planners seem intent on carrying on with their CPOs, fairly impervious to public concerns. And they can afford to be, because siting roads is in the hands of the National Roads Authority (NRA) - which is accountable to no one but the Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey. And of course Dempsey is anxious to meet the requirements laid down in the Development Plan, which means improving communications and infrastructure at a pace to beat the band. Economic necessity dictates.
Planning, with or without brown envelopes, is bad business in Ireland
Irreplaceable natural amenities
Dalgan Park, owned by the Colomban Missionary Fathers, has been a place of quiet and peace, open to many community groups down the years. ``It provides a wonderful amenity, in an atmosphere of contemplative peace, in the most beautiful setting, lovely old hard wood trees, walks beside the small Skane River,'' Joe Reilly, local County Councillor, explains. ``The Columbans, partly through their commitment to Liberation Theology, have welcomed so many community groups here. It is an irreplaceable resource. With a motorway right beside it, this amenity will be lost forever.
``The EPR is proposed to run between Skreen and Tara, seat of the High Kings, and the focus of Irish prehistory dating from 400 BC, right up through the Medieval period to the 15th century. Numerous archaeological finds have been made across this terrain, including Bronze-age axe heads in the Skreen Townland and several finds from the iron age. The EPR runs right through the townlands of Blundestown, Castletown Tara, Jordanstown and Roestown. All sites where archeological finds have been discovered.
Save Tara and District Group (STAD) commissioned an Archaeological Assessment of proposed routes for the new N3, from Cultural Resource Development Services Ltd, based at UCD. The Report shows the whole area through which this road is to run as a rich archaeological resource, where many sites have already been identified, from aerial photographs, as important for excavation.
``What were they thinking of when they proposed to run a motorway right through this area?'' Tadhg Donnelly of STAD asks. As it is their group had to find several thousand pounds to gather expert material to put their objections forward.
``Its very unfair that people should be put to such expense to look after our country. Penalised, through no fault of their own,'' comments Joe Reilly. ``It should be the job of local councillors to ensure that planned development meets the concerns of the people in the County, but when it comes to roads, the councillors are bypassed. We really have no say in the matter.''
Dempsey's ``Quasi-legal'' stance
The recent Planning Bill, in the interests of speeding up the whole planning procedure, transfers some powers from the Minister for the Environment directly to An Bord Pleanála. Approval of environmental impact studies and the confirmation of CPOs are now in the hands of the Bord. The Act also gives An Bord Pleanála discretion as to whether or not to hold oral hearings into CPOs. ``The changes'', Joe Reilly points out, ``are about speeding up the process, not democratising it.''
``At the end of the day, these boards, be it the NRA, or An Bord Pleanála, or be it the Minister's own department, cannot be considered publicly accountable. Members of the Boards are government appointees.''
Dempsey himself, who also happens to be an elected TD for Meath, was invited by local people, concerned at the N3 development, to take up their case. He replied that ``because I may have to get involved in a ``quasi-legal stance'', he could not represent their views. ``Where does that leave the function of representation?'' asks Joe Reilly.
Unfair way to tax
The A.A., speaking for the long-suffering motorists, has a different objection. They point out that the Government raises the astronomic figure of £3 Billion per annum in taxes on motorists, which amounts to £21 Billion over the seven year national Plan. Yet the Plan schedules £2.8 billion for expenditure on roads. In the case of the proposed N3 route, it is planned to raise £1 Billion in the private sector, which will be repaid through toll charges on the users.
``Not only does the Minister intend to destroy our natural amenities and national heritage with his road development, but he intends to make people pay for it themselves, above and beyond the taxation on motorists,'' says Joe.
Commuterville for Dublin
``But is this road necessary?'' people in the area are asking. Joe points out that the plan for Navan for the next 10 years is projected to see its population grow from 20,000 to 80,000. ``We are paying here in Navan for the failure of planning and housing in Dublin. The Plan for Navan is not sustainable. We are simply becoming part of Dublin's ribbon development - a dormitory town, because Dublin has failed to build sufficient housing to accommodate the people who work there. They have failed because they didn't have the political will, and still don't, to stand up to the 9 or 10 developers who are holding land for housing off the market for their own ends.''
``If we have to become commuterville for Dublin, then why,'' Joe asks, ``do we not open up the old Dublin-Navan railway, and run an efficient commuter service directly into town? At least that would be a solution that relieves the inevitable traffic congestion at either end.
``There is no question that a rail service would be environmentally and financially cheaper, and would allow us here is the Royal County Meath to preserve our historic National heritage and our beautiful countryside.''
``But perhaps it is too late for the NRA, Bord Pleanála, or the Minister to think about that. Instead they rush into their traffic jams to get there faster. Planning, with or without brown envelopes, is bad business in Ireland.''