Priority Questions. - Roads Projects.

Pat Breen

Question:

83 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport the priority areas that he instructed the National Roads Authority in determining the roads projects which will commence in 2003 and which will be announced later in February 2003. [2897/03]

I have asked the National Roads Authority in determining the allocation of funding to individual roads projects in 2003 to give priority to projects on the major inter-urban routes, to PPP projects and projects in the BMW region. This request reflected the need to maintain progress on upgrading the key inter-urban routes which link the major urban centres, the importance of getting some of the PPP projects to construction so as to maintain good market interest in the PPP programme given the significant level of private sector funding which the programme will bring to the national roads programme and the need to restore more balance in the investment in national roads between the southern, eastern and BMW regions.

These priorities are in line with the strategic framework set out by the Government in the NDP for the development of the national roads network. It is a matter for the NRA, within this framework, to allocate funding to individual projects having regard to the funding available. It is important to note that the priorities set for the 2003 allocations do not require the NRA to allocate all the funding available to these priorities nor do they preclude the NRA from funding other priority projects across the national road network.

I thank the Minister for his reply. What does the Minister consider to be a priority? Last March when the Taoiseach visited Ennis, he said the Ennis bypass was a priority. When the Minister met a deputation from Clare County Council recently, he said the Ennis bypass was a priority and that he would communicate that to the NRA. The Ennis bypass could have started in 2002 if the tender process had not been suspended in October 2001. While I do not want to pre-empt the projects or allocations the NRA will announce next week, why is an archaeological survey required for the Ennis bypass, given that it could take nine months to complete?

As the Deputy correctly said, the selection of projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority, subject to guidelines and whatever policy directives come from the Government from time to time. It is its call. The Ennis bypass has the necessary statutory approval. Tendering will resume as soon as the NRA allocates funding to it. Land acquisition of €10 million was undertaken in 2002. However, that was not sufficient to allow the project to proceed to construction. The National Roads Authority will advise further on the allocations for 2003. The Ennis bypass was allocated €10 million in 2002, but only €8.3 million was spent. There seems to have been an underspend. The Ennis bypass is a priority for the Government and the National Roads Authority. We are getting there.

If it is a priority, does the Minister envisage it starting this year? The Minister mentioned the BMW region. Access to the BMW region is vital. Ennis is a major urban route between Galway and Limerick.

I acknowledge that the Ennis bypass is a major project and a priority. I conveyed that view directly to the chairman of the National Roads Authority recently and to the chief executive at a meeting as recently as last week. It undertook—

We were not told that at our meeting.

The Minister, without interruption.

Did the Taoiseach tell us a lie?

The Minister, without interruption.

The Deputy may not get a second election out of it.

Given that Shannon is—

The Minister is still in possession. The Deputy should not speak from a seated position and should only speak when given the floor by the Chair.

I apologise. Given that Shannon Airport is an important issue at present and that we are making the headlines for the wrong reasons, it is important that the Ennis bypass is given the go-ahead as access is important. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, said this morning on local radio that this issue would have to be addressed, given the damage done recently to Shannon Airport.

My view is that the scheme should go ahead as soon as possible. I would like it to go ahead later this year if at all possible. However, as the Deputy rightly said, I must await the National Roads Authority's assessment of prioritisation. We secured substantial extra fund ing in the budget this year with an increase from €1 billion to €1.2 billion for national roads. That will bring the project forward.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

84 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Transport his views on whether, in an environment of budgetary cutbacks, he should prioritise public transport initiatives over unproven roads projects in view of his stated position that he has no ideological stance on transport issues. [3024/03]

With the integration of the functions relating to national roads and public transport in the Department of Transport on the formation of the Government in June last, there is now scope for more effective and efficient allocation of departmental resources between both sectors. However, because of under-investment in the past, there will be ongoing need for significant investment both in roads and in public transport over the coming years. In response, the Government has been proactive through the NDP in providing for a major and sustained increase in investment in transport infrastructure and services and funding for the transport sector has been increased in the current year over last year. Major projects in both the roads and public transport areas are proceeding.

When considering the balance between investment in roads and public transport, it is important to bear in mind that roads are the predominant form of internal transport carrying 95% of passenger traffic and 93% of freight traffic and, accordingly, that a high quality road network is of critical importance in underpinning ongoing growth and development and more balanced regional development; that a good road network is necessary to support a good bus service which is the predominant form of public transport at present; that investment in the roads network, in addition to facilitating economic and social development, will provide substantial road safety dividends and an improved quality of life in many towns and villages; and that rail-based transport offers an attractive and environmentally friendly alternative to the bus and the car where mass movement is required in urban areas and over longer distances.

It will be clear from what I have said that our response to the growth in transport demand does not involve just building more roads. These are undoubtedly needed, but they are being provided in the context of an integrated approach to transport requirements, including also major improvements in public transport, improved traffic management, promotion of alternative modes, better co-ordination of transport and land use planning and, particularly in the greater Dublin area, the management of road transport demand.

I am off the substitute bench for today only because Deputy Crowe is abroad on an important international mission. Perhaps the Minister will advise me of the status of the Dublin to Sligo road because it was supposed to proceed. As regards the railways, I would love to use rail transport more often to come here from County Louth. However, Compassion In World Farming would not allow cattle to be put in some of the carriages as a result of overcrowding. Commuters are forced to travel to and from Dublin in such conditions on a daily basis. I am aware that is also the case on other lines. Perhaps the Minister will advise me when the rail service will be improved. When will the report on the rail service be published?

As regards the bus service, why does it receive the lowest level of subvention of any EU state? The privatised London bus service receives a higher level of subvention than Dublin Bus. There are discussions about privatising or part privatising it, but weakening the service will not help the people of this city and those who visit it on a daily basis. Why has investment in Luas been cut by 9% this year? That means there will be further delays in completing that project.

The Deputy raised a few issues. In relation to the Sligo road, the National Roads Authority is looking at that situation but I have not got specific details on the progress of that consideration. As the Deputy is aware, a considerable part of that road has been dealt with by the NRA, which intends to come back to the issue. As I said earlier, the rail review will be published shortly and I hope that will provide an opportunity for a good debate in the House on our railways, in which I believe we should continue to invest. I will say more about that at the appropriate time.

With regard to the Deputy's point in relation to UK buses, I welcome this opportunity to dispel that myth. I visited London recently for discussions with bus authority people. For many years they have had a franchise model for buses in London city, as is the case in Stockholm. The number of passengers has grown dramatically, the number of bus drivers employed has increased dramatically and the level of services to the public has improved substantially. Whatever disorganisation occurred in deregulation in that case resulted mainly from a foolish decision by the British Government to put the rail track into private ownership. That is not a move which I would support. I believe that our infrastructure should be publicly owned, including railways, runways and, eventually, roads. However, the operators of services on those facilities need not necessarily be State dominated. On another occasion, I will comment further on the UK situation. There is a great deal of mythology surrounding it and those impressions are not borne out by the figures which I have studied carefully, apart from the one major mistake to which I have referred and which had to be reversed.

I wonder how bus drivers in Dublin might react in a similar situation.

I do not know. With regard to Luas investment, I agree there is a different figure for this year – the Deputy is correct in that regard – but it is a capital project. The profile of public spending on major capital projects is not a straight line graph. It goes up and down, depending on the amount of work in progress on site.

Would Action Aid be of any help?

I do not wish to give the Deputy a lesson in public finance. As a project comes towards conclusion, the volume of expenditure levels off. There is no delay on the Luas project due to funding.