City officials are facing calls to release data from Cork’s controversial ‘robot trees’ to see what effect they have had on air quality since they were turned on a year ago this month.
It comes after Cork City Council told the Irish Examiner that people will have to wait possibly until next March for the information to be published.
Former Lord Mayor, Fianna Fáil councillor Colm Kelleher, who had to defend the spending of some €404,000 of public money on the devices when he officially launched them during his term in office in August 2021, said having to wait up to another seven months to see what effect, if any, these devices have had on city centre air quality is “just not good enough”.
“Nearly all elected members had reservations about these devices at the time but we were assured that they would make the city a healthier and cleaner place and I think we are all for that,” he said.
“We were told at the time that data would be available to show whether these things were effective or not.
“I think a 12-month wait is long enough. I find it disingenuous now for the council to suggest the data can’t be provided now.
“I think the data should be made available now and I will be pursuing this matter.”
Controversy erupted last August when it emerged the council was deploying five of the ‘city trees’ or moss wall devices at two city centre sites as part of a wider ‘greening of the city’ initiative.
The project was one of over 500 such projects in 11 counties that were funded from a €55m National Transport Authority (NTA) package announced under the July 2021 stimulus plan, in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
The moss in the devices is designed to filter the air and remove pollutants, with in-built sensors used to collate air quality data for analysis. The 3m-high devices also feature a built-in chair.
Critics branded them robot trees and said they would have a negligible effect on air quality, and this May, the Local Government Audit Service criticised the council for the lack of any “value of money assessment conducted in advance” of the spend on the devices.
A year on from their deployment, the Irish Examiner asked the council for data showing the effectiveness or otherwise of the devices, but was told it would be “analysed in Q4 of 2022 and will form part of an air quality report to be published in Q1 2023”.
Labour councillor John Maher, who led criticism of the devices last year, said in the absence of data, the robot trees are now basically some of the most expensive seats in the city.
“Given the level of public spend on these devices, we need to be able to see the data and having to wait until the first quarter of next year is just not good enough," he said.
“And given the scale of the climate challenge we face, we need people to buy into projects that will improve air quality, and unfortunately, this project makes that buy-in difficult.”