Dec 18, 2004

Concreting Over Ireland

An excellent article from the UK Guardian - extract below

Ireland is used to violent change. Over the centuries, scores of armies of conquest, from the Danish hordes to Oliver Cromwell, have left their brutal mark on this soft and beautiful land. Today Ireland is threatened again. But this time no armies are massing on its border, nor are foreign fleets preparing to invade. This threat is an internal one. It comes from home.
Forget what you've seen in the tourist brochures. Do not be deceived by the glossy pages of mist-wreathed mountain vistas, wild open bogland and friendly, brightly painted little towns. Many of these are stock publicity photographs, already several years old. Today's reality is altogether different. If you want a tamed landscape dotted with off-the-shelf mock-Georgian houses, congested with nose-to-tail traffic and suffused by an ugly suburban sprawl, then céad mile fáilte - welcome to Ireland. This is the land of the bulldozer, where Tarmac, churned-up mud and shopping malls are as likely to greet the visitor as historic castles and windswept bays. This land has been mauled by the Celtic Tiger, chewed up by double-digit economic growth - and what's left is barely recognisable.

Let's start by opening up a recent map of the republic. Have a look at the miles and miles of dotted blue lines that radiate out from Dublin. They are proposed motorways - 900km of them in total, giving Ireland the biggest roadbuilding programme in Europe. €1.2bn is sunk into new roads every single year, far more than the government spends on public transport. These are not widening schemes or road improvements but new motorways that will plough their way through field and forest, hill and dale, bringing the roar of traffic to parts of the country more used to the chatter of birdsong....

Ireland is one of the most car-dependent countries in the world. Irish motorists drive on average 24,000km a year, far above the UK's average of 16,000 and even topping the US's 19,000. Petrol costs 50% less than it does in British filling stations, and a third of Ireland's diesel sales go to Northern Irish drivers crossing the border to fill up cheaply. Even the Irish government admits the rate of private car ownership and the volume of traffic have already reached levels predicted for 2010. Road traffic nearly doubled over the last decade, and the numbers of people commuting by car to Dublin in the morning rush hour increased by 149% between 1991 and 2001.

The impact on society has been profound. Family and community life has suffered as commuting distances and travel times have spiralled. The number of people travelling more than 15 miles to work has tripled since 1981, and more than a third of male workers leave home before 7.30 in the morning to start their daily commute. The school run has become one of the biggest sources of congestion. Half of all primary school children were driven to the school gates in 2002, compared with one in five back in 1981. Cycling has fallen by four-fifths.

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