I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 87 together.
Good progress continues to be made on the metro north project. The oral hearing before An Bord Pleanála on the railway order application for the project commenced on 1 April. In addition, the procurement process is being advanced. Four bidding groups submitted the first round of tenders for the public private partnership contract to the Railway Procurement Agency at the end of February last. These continue to be evaluated by the RPA.
The credit crunch and resultant lack of liquidity in funding markets has affected all forms of bank lending. PPPs, which rely on bank lending, not unexpectedly, have not been immune to these developments. The lack of liquidity in global financial markets is affecting PPPs internationally. It is widely acknowledged that funding of PPP deals is costing more and taking longer to agree than had been the case in the past. There is also greater competition amongst projects internationally for the limited bank lending resources available. The European Investment Bank has become a very important source of finance for PPP projects and is supporting many projects throughout the EU.
Metro north is being procured as a PPP and, therefore, faces the same challenges as other PPPs in securing funding. However, the metro north contract is not due to be finalised until 2010 which allows time for the global funding markets to achieve greater stability. The RPA, the agency responsible for delivering the project, is also in discussions with the European Investment Bank in regard to the project.
The RPA remains of the view that the procurement and funding can be successfully concluded. This is based on the ongoing active participation by the international consortia in the PPP tender process and recent trends which indicate a continuing easing in the global financial markets. This easing is anticipated to continue further in 2010, when metro north is due to reach financial close.
I have no function in regard to the procurement of this project. I have not been approached by any of the bidding consortia to seek aid securing long-term finance.