Chambers Ireland: “Uncomfortable Conversations” Over Road Projects

Chambers Ireland has stated that "uncomfortable conversations" are currently taking place within the chamber network regarding road projects, although the business organization is attempting to lead in shaping decision-making.

Speaking before an Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action, Chambers Ireland’s Director of Policy and Communications, Shane Conneely, argued that his organisation is advocating for better public and sustainable transport infrastructure, with a view to providing people with an alternative to using cars.

Conneely argued that “quality-of-life issues are making it harder for businesses to attract and retain staff across the country.” The long commutes by car, he added, have been “normalised” and are impacting quality of life while “damaging households and communities.”

Conneely also pointed out the impact that cars have had on urban centres across the country, where they have been undermining the economic potential of cities and towns. The comments came as part of a wider discussion about the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the climate-focused committee.

Green Party TD and Cathaoirleach of the committee, Brian Leddin, asked Chambers Ireland about business chambers across the country that have advocated and continue to advocate for road projects.

He acknowledged the leadership of Chambers Ireland in promoting more sustainable transport projects and asked whether there was a tension or challenge within the network as some local chambers continued to advocate for car-focused road developments.

Mr Conneely responded that “uncomfortable conversations” were happening within the chamber network about road projects, but Chambers Ireland was “trying to lead” in shaping decision-making.

He explained that it could be difficult when a road project has been delayed for 10 or 15 years, and personal credibility has become tied up in its delivery, and counterfactual beliefs that “if this was built 15 years ago, everything would have been great” cannot be disproven.

Conneely argued that this was part of a wider societal issue, and he had spoken with individual board members and individual business members of chambers around the country who believe that a particular ring road would be the one to solve all their problems.

However, he added, “Realistically, those things cost several hundred million more than you think they’ll cost and when they’re brought in, you could have probably had a light rail system for the same price.” He also pointed out that Chambers Ireland cannot issue any edict to the 39 independent chambers around the country regarding what approach to take with transport projects, but it has been “reshaping discussions” away from projects like motorways and more towards transport corridors.

Conneely further argued that he believed that as things move forward, there would be fewer chambers championing the same kinds of projects to the same degree as before. Chambers Ireland is advocating for a more holistic approach that considers sustainable transport, including cycling and walking, as well as the provision of better public transport.

Mr Conneely concluded by stressing that the provision of sustainable transport infrastructure is key to unlocking the potential of rural and regional areas. The current situation, he argued, where people are forced to use their cars for even the shortest of journeys, is unsustainable, and there is a need for better public transport infrastructure across the country.

Chambers Ireland’s efforts to promote sustainable transport infrastructure are crucial, particularly given the organisation’s broad membership base.

The organisation represents over 8,000 businesses, with members drawn from 41 chambers of commerce across the country. Chambers Ireland’s advocacy for sustainable transport infrastructure and better public transport is to be welcomed, particularly in light of the wider push towards achieving the SDGs.

The move away from car-focused projects towards more sustainable alternatives is a welcome development, as it recognises that the current model of car dependence is damaging to individuals and communities, and undermines economic development.

By advocating for better public and sustainable transport infrastructure, Chambers Ireland is taking an important step towards ensuring that Ireland’s economic and social development is sustainable and inclusive.

The need for sustainable transport infrastructure has become even more pressing in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for more space for walking and cycling, and has also demonstrated the potential of remote working to reduce the need for commuting. By promoting sustainable transport infrastructure, Chambers Ireland is helping to ensure that the recovery from the pandemic is sustainable and equitable.

Moreover, the move towards sustainable transport infrastructure is in line with the European Green Deal, which seeks to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

The Green Deal recognises that transport is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and that reducing these emissions is crucial to achieving the EU’s climate targets. By advocating for sustainable transport infrastructure, Chambers Ireland is contributing to the achievement of these targets, and to the broader goal of creating a more sustainable and resilient economy.

The move towards sustainable transport infrastructure is also in line with the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change.

The Assembly called for the development of a more sustainable transport system that promotes walking, cycling, and public transport, and reduces the reliance on cars. Chambers Ireland’s advocacy for sustainable transport infrastructure is thus in line with the recommendations of the Assembly, and with the broader push towards more sustainable and equitable forms of economic development.

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