Thursday 26 May 2011

Rail agency defends use of overhead cables in city centre

OVERHEAD CABLES used to power trams in Dublin city centre were once an integral part of European streetscapes and could be reintroduced without overly damaging architectural set-pieces, a planning inquiry has been told.

The Railway Procurement Agency said yesterday that overhead cables had been sensitively installed in a number of European cities including Strasbourg, the centre of which is a Unesco world heritage site. The agency is seeking permission from An Bord Plean├íla to build a city centre Luas line linking St Stephen’s Green with Broombridge via Dawson Street, College Green and O’Connell Street.

Chief architect with the agency Anne Kiernan told the inquiry the Dublin tram system of the late 19th and early 20th centuries utilised poles, which exemplified the style of that period. Ms Kiernan said the agency had considered the full length of the line, from St Stephen’s Green to Broombridge, from an architectural viewpoint.

It had come up with a mix of solutions involving the overhead power supply fixed to adjacent buildings where streets were narrow, and supporting poles in a modern design – often integrated with lighting and other street furniture – where space allowed.

Ms Kiernan, who said she was also qualified in construction management and legal studies, said where architecturally sensitive buildings were encountered, a “cradle system” would be used to achieve “the longest possible span” without supporting poles, to minimise visual intrusion.

In relation to College Green, she said such a “cradle” system would be used to preserve the view of the facade of Trinity College, while keeping supporting poles a maximum distance apart.

Poles are proposed at the colonnaded facade of the Bank of Ireland, in a similar position to those used by the original tram line on the street.

Ms Kiernan said photomontages indicated “very minimal impact at this location which results from the careful consideration of the number and sighting of the poles”.

A similar cradle system would be used for the area north of Fusilier’s Arch at St Stephen’s Green, which would provide a view of the arch from Grafton Street which would be free of poles.

Outside the GPO, the design for the overhead power supply has been integrated with proposals for lighting, trees and changes to the median space. It is also proposed to use cantilevered poles and another cradle to minimise visual intrusion.

Ms Kiernan said she believed the introduction of the tram line would offer an opportunity to “significantly improve” the quality of the public realm along the route and she would be making a submission on this in due course.

However, proposals for the Luas extension have been criticised by environmental campaigner Peter Sweetman, among others. He told the inquiry the State would be in breach of European legislation if it granted permission for the line. He said the European Court of Justice had found that Irish legislation in relation to environmental impact assessments was flawed.

“This hearing, in not taking into account recent European Court decisions, is acting illegally. The court clearly found Irish legislation on what constitutes an assessment was insufficient.”

Mr Sweetman later told The Irish Times his argument was that environmental impact “statements” that were accepted under Irish legislation were not sufficient to meet the requirement for an environmental “assessment” under European legislation.

He also claimed it was wrong that parts of the application to the board were for a 15-year permit. He said this would “sterilise” the land with no commitment from Government that the line would even be built.

Irish Times

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