Spatial Planning and Transport in Mid West Ireland ? Developing a Deliverable Strategy
N Richardson, Mott MacDonald, UK; S Doherty, Mott MacDonald, IE
The Mid West Area Strategic Plan (Ireland) considers the concentration or dispersal of planned growth. Both have benefits for urban and rural communities but with major implications for public transport provision, particular to access employment.
The Mid West region of Ireland is largely rural with few centres of population. The country?s third largest city, Limerick (with 77,000 population), is the main focus with Shannon providing additional employment, partly associated with its international airport. Smaller towns have limited employment opportunities and car use dominates. The challenge is to deliver an integrated spatial strategy that provides effective transport links within and beyond the region, taking into account connections between where people live and where they work and aspirations for growth in the region.
Current transport provision focuses on car use with extensive car parking and new inter-urban road links constructed as part of the national programme. A network of coach services is in place, many of which link smaller communities with the main urban areas outside the region. Local bus services have changed little in recent years. The large rural area is characterized by scattered settlements and very scattered housing making public transport provision difficult and hugely expensive to provide.
The strategy addresses the question of where new housing and employment should be located. The dichotomy is to concentrate growth in Limerick city, Shannon and Ennis and hence improve the prospects for sustainable transport but this would be to the detriment of the substantial rural hinterland. Alternatively, growth could be distributed more evenly across the region with pockets of employment across the smaller communities although providing transport services would be difficult. The various agencies involved (one city council, three county councils, regional and national organizations) need to present a consensus on the most appropriate way forward.
Options are limited: rail services, despite some recent investment, can offer only a limited service to selected locations; bus and coach services need to be provided without the need for excessive subsidy. There is poor uptake of cycling and walking opportunities are constrained to journeys within the urban areas. Inevitably car journeys address most people?s needs but are incompatible with future aspirations for sustainable travel. In the future, the main option is likely to be bus and coach, hence designing services that balance regular demand with commercial realties will be important. The implication is that employment needs to be concentrated on core bus routes, especially if there is to be substantial investment in services and infrastructure.
To reconcile this with rural travel needs, a hierarchy of services can be determined. This focuses buses in Limerick city to meet local needs and developing bus rapid transit on the core corridors where priority measures can be accommodated (Raheen employment area, General Hospital, city centre, Annacotty employment area, National Technology Park and Limerick University). These services can be linked to Park and Ride either in the form of large sites at the periphery or with a series of smaller sites along the route, many of which are associated with out-of-centre retailing and other land uses. Beyond the city, selected services could extend to smaller centres with inter-urban coaches linking communities on main roads. Within the rural area, local taxibus services could address some needs but would require substantial subsidy given the very dispersed nature of the population.
The Mid West Ireland situation demonstrates how the land use strategy and transport planning interact and need to be developed jointly to achieve any form of sustainable approach.
Association for European Transport