Limerick native John Moran is chairman of the Land Development Agency which is involved in an ambitious plan to develop the area around Colbert Station for housing and community use. In this article, he outlines a strategy that could have major benefits for the people who will make up the Colbert Quarter community.
FREEDOM of choice! That’s a key result I want from the designs for the multi-billion euro plan to transform more than 100 acres of State-owned land at the Colbert Quarter in the heart of Limerick City.
Leaving the car at the dealers could mean €150,000 more for prospective residents to spend on the home of their dreams or other priorities for the family.
So why not have the designers help make car ownership less of an imperative for those living in the area?
4,000 new residents could save up to a billion euros over 40 years of a working life. It also goes a long way to making housing affordable.
Too often, for “affordability” we focus on cheaper bricks and mortar – reducing sizes, cheaper lands, even reducing quality – or using “free” state land.
Yet right there under our design pencils is a major factor much overlooked.
The secret is to eliminate car dependency.
Many people at some time calculate what they might do with “extra” money from giving up on takeaway coffee, the weekend pint, or even a pack of 20 cigarettes. But who considers the huge savings from handing the car keys back to the car dealer?
Money to improve their family’s quality of life while benefiting wider society and future generations.
Spent locally, imagine the amenities Limerick City and County Council could provide with the extra VAT alone. Imagine the jobs boost we would get. It could help pay for a larger home or even to switch from renting to owing in the first place.
We are facing some stark realities here in Limerick. Recently, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) reported, because of high costs of building, the cheapest new apartment in Dublin would cost €375,000. Building one in Limerick is not likely to be much cheaper.
To buy that home, requires €37,500 in savings and annual income of €96,000. No surprise then, large funds are buying so many.
Here in Limerick, it is worse.
Less than 12 per cent of households earn €100,000. The median income is only €35,313. In Limerick, a single person on €35,313 could only borrow about €124,000.
To not leave 88 per cent of friends and family behind, requires a new approach.
Certainly, we should not have to accept poorer quality just because we live in Limerick. Using state landbanks helps decrease housing delivery costs but not enough for most to buy an apartment and running that car.
So back to that steel box in the driveway (or the two of them!).
Adjusting data from the AA to reflect living in Limerick suggests the annual running cost for a second-hand Renault Clio is around €6,100 per year. Over 35 years, that would make up €214,000 in mortgage payments. Enough to justify borrowing an extra €150,000 today.
For two car families, that is an extra €300,000 to spend on the home of their dreams.
With residents jettisoning the car, there are other benefits too. Less public space for car parking means more parks, walkways, trees, more liveable neighbourhoods. It means less air and noise pollution and active healthy walking. It means bumping into friends and neighbours for chats.
This idea is not to ban cars. People can choose a car if that is how they prefer to spend their hard earned cash. Others for whom a car is essential for work or family reasons should still be accommodated.
But in this new approach, infrastructure to support car-free living is prioritised. It might seem like an impossible dream but it is well within our grasp with leadership from organisations like the Land Development Agency, Limerick City and County Council, CIÉ and the National Transport Authority can lead.
Neighbourhoods thrive when housing is affordable for all and they are designed for quality living.
Given its size and topography, Limerick is a very walkable and cyclable city.
As Chairman of the Land Development Agency, I make no apologies for advocating for reduced car dependency at Colbert – which after all is right at our main train station and a short walk from O’Connell Street.
4,000 of the new Colbert Quarter residents, could choose to save a billion euros of payments for car taxes, insurance, repairs, car payments over 40 years of a working life.
That is a billion euro reason to design Colbert with 5-minute neighbourhoods so that residents can choose not to own a car but can still get to work in Raheen, Castletroy or indeed Shannon.
Then, let’s think about what we could do with the open space and some of that billion euros – 100,000 new trees at Colbert (one for every resident in the city), new sports facilities the size of Thomond Park, new hospital facilities, more quality public housing and certainly better public transport links from Colbert to our other county towns and villages.
The future is ours to decide and with our new five-minute neighbourhoods we have many more futures to decide.