Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Roads Projects.

Gerry Reynolds

Question:

4 Mr. G. Reynolds asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he proposes to alter the national development plan in relation to the upgrading of the N4 and N5 to dual carriageway status; if so the amount of extra resources he will allocate between now and 2006 to the National Roads Authority to enable that body to undertake these extra projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10057/01]

The NDP provides for a total investment of £4.7 billion, 1999 prices, over the period 2000-06 in the national road network and sets out a strategic framework for the improvement and maintenance of the network over that period. Five routes were specifically identified in the NDP for development to motorway-high quality dual carriageway along their entire length.

The NDP also provides that significant improvements will be carried out on other major national primary routes, including the N4 and N5. The NRA, in conjunction with the relevant local authorities, is now pursuing the detailed programming of this work and will determine appropriate road types in that context based on the roads needs study, current and projected traffic growth and, when completed, the national spatial strategy. In relation to the N4-N5, I am informed by the NRA that there has been significant improvement of this route in recent years through projects such as the Collooney to Sligo dual carriageway; Mullingar bypass – dual carriageway; the Curlews bypass; the Longford bypass, and the Lucan-Kilcock motorway. Enhancement of these routes is continuing through projects under construction such as the McNeads Bridge dual carriageway, Drumsna – Jamestown and Cortober-Lough Key. Projects well advanced in their planning or close to commencement include the Strokestown-Longford scheme, the Ballaghadereen bypass, the Sligo inner relief route and the Kilcock-Kinnegad motorway. The value of current and prospective improvement work on the N4-N5 route during the NDP period stands at over £600 million.

All these improvement works are designed, in accordance with the roads needs study, to deliver a level of service involving average inter-urban speeds of at least 80 kilometres per hour; in practice this level of service will be frequently bettered. The programme is also designed to cater for increasing traffic volumes over the period to 2019.

While there is no proposal at this stage to amend the provisions of the NDP, the need for the development of new routes to augment those mentioned in the plan, including the N4 and N5, will be kept under review over the period to 2006 and, in particular, in the perspective of the mid-term review of the plan which will take place in 2003. Where the need for a new route is established, funding will be provided for the advance planning and design of the route in the plan period with a view to bringing the project to construction within an appropriate timeframe.

The reason I raise this issue is that there has been much concern about job losses in the west and north west in recent years. The north west region has lost 2,000 jobs. Will money be made available to bring the N4-N5 to dual carriageway standard between Mullingar and Sligo and between Mullingar and Castlebar within the period of the national development plan?

I outlined for the Deputy the £600 million intended to be spent on the N4 and N5 routes during the period of the plan. I also indicated that this sum is based on road needs and is kept under review. The NRA focus is on planned works and development to ensure an enhanced route in the next five or six years. If further upgrades are necessary in the context of 2003 review, they will be undertaken and money will be made available on the advice of the NRA.

I understand the concern of the Deputy and people in the north west to ensure they have the best possible roads and rail service. I agree that that is important. My concern, however, is to ensure the NRA is not sidetracked into unnecessary studies. It must be allowed to proceed with the design work in order that construction can start and the £600 million can be spent. That is the focus. The programme will be reviewed in 2003 at which time the regional assembly will have an opportunity to make an input. The NRA is working on what is contained in the national development plan.

I welcome the expenditure of £600 million. The Minister may not be aware that two of his party colleagues have announced that the N4 will be upgraded to dual carriageway status between now and 2003. That is the reason I seek clarification. Will there be a single carriageway between Mullingar and Castlebar and between Mullingar and Sligo?

Time is up. We must proceed to Question No. 5.

Will the Minister clarify that matter?

Dual carriageway proposals are being considered by the NRA.

Michael D'Arcy

Question:

5 Mr. D'Arcy asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the position regarding negotiations with the Irish Farmers Association in respect of fair acquisition of lands for road widening, road building and infrastructural development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10058/01]

The IFA has published proposals for reform of the arrangements for compulsory acquisition of land. In the context of the commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to the "fair and efficient implementation of compulsory purchase orders" the proposals have been discussed by the IFA and my Department and other relevant agencies, includ ing the National Roads Authority. The discussions are ongoing.

Unfortunately, I did not receive much information. Does the Minister accept that the CPO system has been a bone of contention and is most unsatisfactory? Does he also accept that the compensation offered is completely inadequate? Is the question of non-viability of farms taken into consideration? When a valuation is made is the potential for development of the lands in question also taken into consideration? If the system of land valuation is to be adjusted, will legislation be required and, if so, when may we expect to see it?

I do not accept the contention that the system is wrong and that people are not adequately compensated. I agree, however, that some procedures within the CPO system could be improved and fasttracked to make it less burdensome for those whose land is being acquired. This is being considered. The system should operate efficiently in order that landowners will not have a CPO hanging over their land indefinitely. The decision should be made quickly. The Planning and Development Act, 2000, will be of help in this regard. Fair compensation should also be paid quickly.

Compensation is composed of a number of elements. I do not accept that people are not getting a fair price. They are getting the market value of the land as decided, in many cases, by an arbitrator who is totally independent. They are entitled to compensation and to have severance taken into consideration. If a farm is being divided – we are aware of cases where a road runs through a farm and the land either side of it is not viable – this should be considered. Injurious affection is another aspect taken into account. Also included are accommodation works where the provision of an underpass, roadway or slip road is negotiated by the landowner. Depending on individual circumstances, the market value of the land could account for a smaller proportion of the compensation package than some of the other provisions.

Nobody should have the notion that a remote person just decides on a compensatory figure and says that that is what a person will receive. There is a procedure for compensation. I accept what the Deputy said. We can speed up some of the payments and look at some of the issues raised, but I must enter acaveat. The national development plan cannot be compromised by excessive demands from any one sector, whether contractors, farmers or landowners, although I am aware that the Deputy is not suggesting this. I will endeavour to meet the main concern, the level of compensation on offer. There are complaints also about the lack of timely information for farmers and the delay in paying compensation which we hope to address fairly.

When may we expect the completion of these negotiations? The Minister will appreciate there are numerous schemes being held up for want of EIS reports. Farmers are not allowing the NRA to go on to their lands until these negotiations have been completed.

We certainly have no desire to hold this up longer than is necessary.

The farmers are accusing the Minister of holding it up.

There is no way the Department or the NRA will cave in and start lashing out money to the agricultural community or farmers. Provided people are willing to be reasonable the issue can be solved. There must be reason on both sides.

Is the Minister saying farmers are not being reasonable in their demands?

No, I am saying there are some things being looked for which are not deliverable. Otherwise we would be adding another £3 billion or £4 billion to the national development plan, which is not feasible.