Here’s a fantasy light rail network for Cork

Patrick Street, Cork. Image: Dylan/Wikimedia Commons.

Here we go again: another fantasy metro network courtesy of a young reader…

Transport in the city of Cork hasn’t managed to keep up with the growing demands of its population. The greater Cork City area has seen an immense amount of growth over recent years, as more and more investment and development has been created in the city. Because of all this, Cork has become a very attractive place to live and work, and the city boundary has even enlarged to account for all this growth.

And these increases in population and development are set to continue into the future. In particular, the former Docklands area is set to receive a multi-million euro redevelopment, and development is planned for other areas of the city. And along with this will come a dramatic increase of population: the council estimates the city’s population will more than double to 500,000 by 2050.

Yet the city already has one of the worst rates of congestion in Ireland – commuters spend an average of 40 minutes stuck in gridlock each day, and rates are only increasing. Between 2015 and 2017, areas such as the South Link Road added 4,000 cars to the daily load.

Herein lies the problem. If transport is ineffectual now, think - what on earth might it look like in the future?

It is clear that the state of public transportation in Cork City needs a long term solution. Though some efforts have been made, these are all short-term solutions. While made with the best of intentions, they will not significantly halt congestion, nor prevent the gaps in public transport service from worsening as time goes on.

So what is the long-term remedy to Cork’s transportation woes? To follow Dublin’s lead in the creation of a light rail system in Cork.

The prospect of a Luas for Cork is certainly not a new idea. The boom years of the mid-2000s reignited interest in a system, as the positives of Dublin’s own newly opened Luas became evident. A promised investigative study never finished, due to the burst of the housing bubble.


But the prospect of a Cork Luas has recently become more probable: the Ireland 2040 infrastructure plan has promised one, albeit in very scant detail. The long-awaited Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy is expected to give detail on a potential light rail in Cork. 

Such a scheme would have several goals in mind – to connect suburbs with the City centre, link areas of development, and connect with as many services and amenities as possible. Such plans will be most effective in two different lines - one going east to west, and another north to south.

The primary route, from Ballincollig in the west to Mahon in the east, would serve a variety of Cork’s institutions, including the colleges and the future Docklands area. It also can connect the suburb towns of Ballincollig, Bishopstown, Blackrock, and Mahon.

A secondary route running from the Airport to Hollyhill would connect some of Cork’s most important facilities, such as the airport, and a variety of business parks, notably Apple’s European Distribution Headquarters. Of course, the city will look rather different in the future, so there’s always the possibility for expansion. Connections to the Suburban Rail at Kent Station, which serves areas such as Carrigtohill, Cobh, and Mallow, are also a must. 

Click to expand.

Once up and running, the Cork Luas will benefit the city in a number of ways. Usage of public transportation will increase, especially in areas situated near the route. Cars will be taken off the road, improving journey times for drivers, while public transport will become more reliable due to the lane-separated nature of the system. A decreased numbers of cars on the roads will be a positive step in reducing the amount of carbon emissions, helping Ireland to achieve its EU-set climate goals. In addition, the higher capacity of the Luas would mean that the city is future-proofed for expected population growth. 

There will of course be the expected challenges associated with introducing light rail to Cork, but these must not deter us. The introduction of light rail to Cork will provide the city with the desperately needed long-term solution to public transport problems. Such a service will alleviate an increasingly significant problem throughout the city, all while providing Cork with a valuable tool for further growth and development. 

Ciarán Meers is a secondary school student. You can read his full 80-page proposal here.

 
 
 
 

The Tory manifesto promises to both increase AND decrease the rate of housebuilding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Image: Getty.

In his 2014 Mansion House speech, the then-chancellor George Osborne expressed with uncharacteristic honesty the motives at the heart of how the Conservatives see British housing politics: “The British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us.”

Five years later these contradictions remain unreconciled and present in their manifesto, which contains two different and contradictory – but clearly extensively targeted and focus-grouped – sets of policies.

The Conservatives have two housing targets. The first is to make significant progress to hitting “our target of 300,000 houses built a year by the mid-2020s”. The second is their aim to build “at least a million new homes” during the next parliament, which implies a target of 200,000 homes a year. This is not only 100,000 lower than their initial target but also lower than the current rate of housebuilding: 213,660 new homes a year. They have therefore implied at separate points in the same manifesto that they intend to simultaneously increase and decrease the rate of housebuilding.  

There are similar conflicts in their approach to planning. They intend to make the “planning system simpler” while simultaneously aiming to introduce community-led design standards for development and planning obligations to provide infrastructure for the local community.

None of this is unsurprising, The Tories don’t seem to know if they want to build more houses or not – so of course they don’t know whether they wish to make it easier or harder to do so.  

Politicians like obfuscation on housing policy to placate NIMBY voters. Take for example prospective Conservative MP and ‘environmentalist’ Zac Goldsmith’s crusade to save treasured local car parks. The manifesto can equally be accused of pandering to NIMBY instincts, protecting their shire voters from all housing, including ones they might actually need or want, by promising to protect the greenbelt.  

Instead, Conservatives intend to foist development on Labour-leaning inner-city communities and prioritising brownfield development and “urban regeneration”. This requires massive, infeasible increases in proposed density on brownfield sites – and research by Shelter has shown there are simply not enough brownfield sites in cities like London. Consequently, it is not clear how such a policy can co-exist with giving these inner-city communities rights on local design. Perhaps they intend to square that circle through wholesale adoption of YIMBY proposals to let residents on each street opt to pick a design code and the right to turn their two-storey semi-detached suburban houses into a more walkable, prettier street of five-storey terraces or mansion blocks. If so, they have not spelt that out. 

Many complain of NIMBYism at a local level and its toxic effects on housing affordability. But NIMBYism at the national level – central government desire to restrict housebuilding to make house prices rise – is the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, 63 per cent of UK voters are homeowners and price rises caused by a housing shortage are hardly unpopular with them. 


There is anecdotal evidence that protecting or inflating the value of homeowners’ assets is central to Conservative strategy. When George Osborne was criticised for the inflation his help to buy policy caused within the housing market, he allegedly told the Cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom, and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. More recently Luke Barratt of Inside Housing noted that most Conservatives he spoke to at the 2018 party conference were scared “they’d be punished by their traditional voters if the values of their homes were to fall”. He was told by a Conservative activist at the conference that, “If you build too many houses, you get a Labour government”.

But the senior figures in the Conservative Party are painfully aware that the continuing housing shortage presents major long-term problems for the Party. As the manifesto itself acknowledges: “For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that homeownership is within their reach.” Perpetual increases in house prices are incompatible with this goal. The problem has greatly contributed to the Conservatives’ severe unpopularity with a younger generation priced out of decent accommodation. 

Equally, there is increasing evidence that ‘gains’ from rising house prices are disproportionately concentrated in the south of England.  The differences in housing costs between regions greatly reduce labour mobility, suppressing wage growth in the north and midlands, which in turn leads to greater regional inequality. The policy of coddling southern homeowners at the expense of the economic well-being of other regions is a major long-term stumbling block to Conservative desires to make inroads into the ‘red wall’ of Leave-voting labour seats outside the south.

Before dealing with the issue of where housing should go, you must decide whether you want to build enough housing to reduce the housing crisis. On this issue, the Conservative response is, “Perhaps”. In contrast, even though they may not know where to put the necessary housing, the Labour Party at least has a desire in the abstract to deal with the crisis, even if the will to fix it, in reality, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately the Conservative Party seems to want to pay lip service to the housing crisis without stopping the ever-upward march of prices, underpinned by a needless shortage. Osborne’s dilemma – that the will of much of his party’s voter base clashes with the need to provide adequate housing – remains at the heart of Conservative housing policy. The Conservatives continue to hesitate, which is of little comfort to those who suffer because of a needless and immoral housing shortage.

Sam Watling is the director of Brighton Yimby, a group which aims to solve Brighton’s housing crisis while maintaining the character of the Sussex countryside.