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Joint Committee on Climate Action debate -
Tuesday, 23 Feb 2021

Decarbonising Transport: Discussion

I welcome Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony, an independent consultant in sustainability transformations, Mr. Niall Cussen, the Planning Regulator, and Mr. Andrew Murphy of the NGO Transport & Environment. I thank them for appearing before us to share their expertise.

I remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of that person or entity. Therefore, if the witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction. For witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, those witnesses may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present does.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also remind members that they are only allowed to participate in this meeting if they are physically located in the Leinster House complex. In this regard, I ask all members, prior to making their contributions to the meeting, to confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

For the information of anyone watching this meeting online, Oireachtas Members and witnesses are accessing the meeting remotely. Only I as Chair and the staff essential to the running of the meeting are physically present in the committee room. Due to these unprecedented circumstances and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely, I ask everyone to bear with us should any technical issue arise.

I call Dr. O'Mahony to make his opening statement.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

I thank the committee for the invitation to contribute to its consideration of climate action and transport. I have worked in research and policy on climate action and sustainability for 17 years. Currently independent, I am an adviser to the Finland Futures Research Centre and was lead author of the transport chapter in the Environmental Protection Agency's 2020 state of the environment report.

It is to be welcomed that the committee seeks to scrutinise action on transport. The target to reduce emissions by 51% or more by 2030 must focus minds. Ireland's national transport carbon emissions are per capita the fourth highest in the EU. Emissions have continued to grow even while we require them to decrease rapidly.

It is important to understand why we have been going in the wrong direction. An extensive rail system that existed at the formation of the State was largely decommissioned over the past century. In more recent decades, we have delivered the perfect conditions for lock-in to a carbon-intensive transport system. Through urban sprawl, our settlement pattern has increased travel distances. At the same time, transport policy directed major investment towards roads and motorways and allowed walking, cycling and public transport to stagnate or decline in comparison. As our wealth grew and increased demand for transport, decades of policy and private choices funnelled passengers into cars and freight onto trucks. A lock-in to an unsustainable system was inevitable.

The Climate Action Plan 2019, initiated by the then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, was a laudable effort at progress. However, it had a problematic relationship with transport. Key decisions on spatial and transport planning had already been taken in the national planning framework and the national development plan, NDP. They included modest, shorter term aims for compact growth and for shifting journeys to sustainable modes. As a result, it became clear that we would miss our 2030 emissions targets considerably. To plug this gap, the climate action plan was forced to ramp up the goal for the number of electric vehicles to a level that was difficult to achieve. We now have a far deeper emissions reduction target and it is a risky and potentially costly gamble to rely on electric vehicles to meet it. More importantly, this would make our 2050 emissions commitments harder to achieve and deepen the many sustainability problems associated with our transport system. Just some of these include world-leading traffic congestion, damage to economic competitiveness, road traffic accidents and the many impacts of particulate pollution on human health.

The commitments in the national planning framework and the NDP must be seen as a floor of ambition rather than a ceiling. They are not consistent with the scale of the challenge we now face. In response, the avoid-shift-improve approach is recognised internationally by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, and others as the standard for deep emissions reductions and sustainability. This transformative approach demands that policy move from short term to long, from marginal tweaks to big vision, and from improving technology to transforming systems fundamentally.

"Avoid" means avoiding the generation of more and longer trips by preventing low-density development and repairing our existing sprawl. It has common aims with providing affordable, high-quality housing in vibrant, well-serviced communities. It uses spatial planning tools to channel virtually all future development into the existing footprints of our cities and into revitalising the physical core of the villages and towns of rural Ireland. "Avoid" also includes short-term demand management.

"Shift" is the next priority. It means moving journeys from private cars to walking, cycling and public transport. It implements the settlement and transport planning necessary to make these sustainable modes the dominant forms of movement in the years to come. There needs to be a particular priority on rail for passengers and freight. Rail is the safest and most sustainable option over longer distances and can support greatly increasing walking and cycling.

"Improve" means smaller vehicles, better engines and moving to alternatives such as electric. This will remain a necessary, but not a sufficient approach for a sustainable low-carbon future.

Transformation involves bringing together spatial, transport and climate action policy. It begins with 2050 goals and implements the short-term plans necessary to meet them. In Ireland, we have major gaps to address. Our vision, our analysis and our policy all need a shot in the arm.

To conclude, if our severely congested, emissions-intensive and economically costly transport system were a heart patient, it would be in cardiac failure. Our policy is providing an aspirin when the patient needs a triple heart bypass. Making progress will require vision and political leadership. Through the disruption of the pandemic, we now have a unique opportunity to reset and put ourselves on the right side of history.

I thank the committee once more for this opportunity to speak and I am happy to answer any questions members may have.

I thank Dr. O'Mahony and now invite Mr. Cussen to make his opening statement.

Mr. Niall Cussen

I thank the Chair for the invitation. I have submitted a statement so I will cover some highlights from it. The remit of the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, is as an independent overseer of the implementation by planning authorities and by An Bord Pleanála of the regulatory and policy framework for planning set by the Oireachtas and Government. I will cover the various topics such as: avoiding increasing energy demands, accelerating the shift towards sustainable travel patterns and diversifying our energy systems.

Starting with avoiding increasing energy demands through proper planning, it is fair to say that, historically, our model of development has hardwired us to mainly low-density development dependent on car-based transport, perhaps due to a low awareness of the impacts on the environment and the weakness of sustainable alternatives. Legislative reforms introduced in 2010 included stricter controls on how, where and how much land would be sold for development but it has been very challenging to implement these reforms which has required dezoning in commuter locations and rezoning land for development in underutilised urban areas. Today, the Government’s Project Ireland 2040: National Planning Framework, NPF, commits to securing an average of 40% of the delivery of all new homes on brownfield and infilled development land, rising to 50% in cities and 30% in our towns and villages, through good local authority planning.

From our vantage point on the implementation of this we see a mixed picture. Some local authorities work hard on climate action-centred planning policy despite significant vested interest, political and sometimes public opposition where the link between certain developments and climate are perhaps not fully appreciated. Other local authorities increasingly point to brownfield and higher density development being much less economic compared to lower density greenfield development and point out that following traditional patterns of development might be essential in meeting housing supply pressures. Communities often want to retain familiar 19th century skylines as our cities and towns struggle to address 21st century challenges, including an extra 1 million people predicted by the by the national planning framework by 2040.

Building upwards and making better use of underutilised urban land, providing attractive, affordable and well-located urban housing and connected communities are many of the antidotes to our historical business-as-usual outwards pattern of energy-intensive urban sprawl. Yet urban regeneration, as many members of the committee will know, is massively time and resource-consuming, often litigious, and, if one does not have good participatory-based planning, can be locally contentious.

As we highlighted in the annual report of the OPR, until the NPF is properly reflected and acted upon, we will continue to approve and develop too much development in locations that continue to hardwire us into increasing energy demand.

Turning around the affordability, attractiveness and viability of large-scale housing development within our city and town centres is very critical as will a national brownfield and infill development land register to identify what compact growth means. Land activation measures such as progressing the Land Development Agency Bill, empowering local authorities to implement the vacant and derelict sites legislation and swift despatch of litigation arising are also vital.

Turning to the shift towards active and sustainable travel, all members of the committee will agree that spatial planning policies have a great influence in determining transport patterns. Technology can break old links between work and mobility. There is no doubt that Government is making unprecedented investment but we are championing the critical importance of full integration between transport and land use planning, like some of the recent plans such as the local area plan for Athy and the Dingle hub project.

We want to engage in skilling programmes for the local authorities in delivering sustainable mobility but in the context of shifting from promoting sprawling estates and scattered housing, which never work from a public transport and active travel perspective.

Turning briefly to improving the sustainability of our energy sources, communities want real action on climate. One of the best ways to tap that desire would be to show how every county in the country could play its part in delivering an estimated extra 4 GW of renewable electricity to 2030 and, indeed, more offshore energy generation to a carbon-free society by 2050. Yet our assessments of some local authority development plans find effective bans on the roll-out of sustainable energy sources. On top of the updated Wind Energy Development Guidelines we need a national renewable energy roadmap with county-specific targets and the designation of sustainable energy zones which can be built by the regional assemblies working with the local authority climate action regional offices.

The Planning Act under section 10(2)(n) already demands forward planning that reduces future patterns of energy consumption, shifts our present energy needs towards renewable sources and adapts to climate changes already happening. The pace in implementing this law is quickening since the publication of the NPF, the establishment of our office and the coming into being of local authority climate action plans under the legislation promised. Local government and local authority planning, however, has a central role to play in the Avoid-Shift-Improve approach I mentioned but it needs clear policy frameworks and resources to work with to ensure that local authority members focus on the task at hand.

Notwithstanding this and our statutory mandate, legislated for by the Oireachtas and supported by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we will work to ensure that all the constituent cogs in our country’s planning process work together in the planet’s and not just in local interests.

I thank Mr. Cussen for that presentation and call on Mr. Murphy to make his opening statement.

Mr. Andrew Murphy

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the members of the committee for the opportunity to attend today's committee hearing on the implications and opportunities in decarbonising Ireland’s transport network. Transport & Environment, T&E, is a Brussels-based European-level NGO, advocating a more sustainable transport network at European and national level. T&E’s vision is a zero-emission mobility system that is affordable and has minimal impacts on our health, climate and environment. I have been with T&E for almost seven years, focusing largely on the aviation sector. A graduate of NUI Galway, I have been living in Brussels for ten years, moving there initially to work for the European Commission’s transport directorate.

Ireland is not alone in witnessing a growth in transport emissions, with this sector now the largest source of emissions across Europe. However, the absolute growth in emissions from Ireland’s transport sector - an increase of 136% since 1990 - is stark compared to an EU average increase of 20%.

It would be tempting to ascribe such exceptional growth to Ireland’s increase in GDP and population over that period. However, this would ignore the role that policy decisions at all levels have played. After all, it is Ireland’s choice where we put this population growth and how we invested this wealth.

Nearly all aspects of the Avoid, Shift, Improve approach are impacted, directly or indirectly, by European legislation. How this legislation is amended in the coming years will be crucial to achieving substantial emission reductions in the transport sector.

Europe's effort sharing regulation incentivises avoid and shift through target setting for parts of the economy, including transport. That regulation is, however, under threat. Vehicle regulations set targets for large and small vehicles, and have been decisive in driving the uptake of both low emission and high emissions vehicles. The environmental and climate impact of fuels is regulated through the fuel quality and renewable energy directives, shaping the development of biofuels policy in Europe. Aviation and shipping have to date received only passing interest from European regulators. That has led to damaging consequences for these sectors' ability to decarbonise.

In addition to these regulations, the EU also plays an important role in financing transport infrastructure. For example, the EIB has in the past lent heavily to carbon intensive projects, especially airports and roads, a position which is evolving as the bank aligns its lending with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

European legislation is now starting to pay dividends where, for example, the reforms to car standards introduced in the wake of VW’s "dieselgate" scandal are driving the deployment of zero-emission vehicles. The bulk of European legislation is now under review under Europe’s Green Deal which will touch on issues in respect of electric vehicles, batteries and biofuels.

The European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy – Putting European Transport on Track for the Future, published last December, will guide European policy in this area. It envisages smart and climate neutral cities across Europe, delivered through a range of measures, including shared mobility and increased cycling and walking infrastructure. There is no one single fix to eliminating emissions from transport.

Policy developments are mutually reinforced by technological developments.

Improvements in battery technology, with regard to both range and price, have repeatedly exceeded expectations. The price of batteries has fallen 85% in a decade and they can now go further and charge faster. I consider myself one of the strongest proponents of the direct electrification of the transport system via electric vehicles. We are far from realising the full potential of this area, due in part to some persisting myths regarding battery electrification. Nevertheless, I have no intention of owning an electric vehicle because I have no intention of owning a private vehicle of any type. I live in a major city with ample access to cheap public transport and where an increasing priority is given to walking and cycling.

This gets us to the key issue of decarbonising transport. Stricter regulations and developments in technology mean we can, for most modes, offer people access to low-carbon mobility. However, the public should always be given a choice and no one should be forced into a 20th century model of private car ownership which continues to have substantial negative financial, social and economic consequences. A one-for-one switch between internal combustion engines and electric vehicles would be a missed opportunity. It would undermine the effectiveness of public transport investments, place continued financial pressure on families and would risk putting Irish cities further out of step with their European counterparts.

Our transport policy is linked with our industrial and economic policy. The right choices in decarbonising our transport sector can have enormous benefits for our economy, creating employment opportunities across the island. With 97% of our transport energy demand met by imported fossil fuels in 2017, we have an opportunity to switch to developing our own fuels in Ireland, including fuels for the shipping and aviation sectors, through presently untapped offshore renewable energy potential.

I said “most modes” have an immediate pathway to decarbonisation. A major exception is aviation which, before Covid, was the fastest growing source of emissions in Europe. That is not by accident. Our failure to effectively regulate aviation emissions, and instead to subsidise their growth, has created this situation. This lack of regulation has consequences. Measures put in place to decarbonise other sectors, including measures relating to cars, buildings and electricity, are starting to pay dividends. Aviation is increasingly isolated as a high emitter of carbon, a problem which will return to threaten the sector post Covid. This lack of regulation does the sector no favours and Ireland’s role in resisting such regulation at European level is short-sighted in the extreme. As an Irish citizen living overseas, I am acutely aware of the role aviation plays in connecting Ireland. Those who talk up the strategic importance of aviation to Ireland should be equally vocal in ensuring the sector cuts its emissions. With effort, and in time, we can develop solutions for aviation too. I look forward to taking members' questions.

I thank Mr. Murphy and the other witnesses for their opening statements and for attending today's session to inform the committee about the issues at play when considering how best to reduce our national transport emissions, which are the fourth highest per capita in Europe and which comprise 20% of our overall national emissions. This meeting is confined to a maximum of two hours. I propose that each member be given two minutes to address their questions to the witnesses to ensure that all members get an opportunity to pose their questions and to allow witnesses sufficient time to answer. We will have a second round of questions if there is time. Is that agreed? Agreed. I will take members in the order in which they raise their hands. While the clerk is noting the order, I will start off the questioning.

Given the scale of the challenge ahead in achieving at least 51% decarbonisation in transport by 2030, there is a fear that our planning policy is not aligned with our ambition. In other words, is the national planning framework fit for purpose? As Mr. Cussen pointed out in his opening statement, the national planning framework commits to securing an average of 40% of all new homes on brownfield and in-fill development land, with this average to rise to 50% in cities and to fall to 30% in towns and villages. However, this indicates that 50% of homes are to be developed around cities and 70% around towns and villages. This seems to pull against the principles of compact growth and the town centres first approach. It will also continue our problem of urban sprawl, which beds in dependency on cars. This dependency is at its worst in towns and villages, given the lack of public and active travel options. As Mr. Cussen points out, we must away move from promoting sprawling estates and scattered housing which, to quote Mr. Cussen, will "never work from a public transport and active travel perspective."

All three witnesses mentioned the approach of avoid, shift and improve. Dr. O'Mahony commented that the commitments in the national planning framework and the NDP must be seen as a floor of ambition rather than a ceiling and that it is not consistent with the scale of the challenge we face. The highest priority in this approach is given to avoiding, which is to say avoiding the generation of longer trips by preventing low-density development and repairing the sprawl we already have. As Dr. O'Mahony points out, this approach channels virtually all future development into the existing footprints of our cities and into revitalising the physical core of the villages and towns of rural Ireland.

I address this question to all three witnesses; is the national planning framework fit for purpose when it comes to achieving our targets for the reduction of transport emissions? I also have a question for Mr. Cussen in particular. We have seen evidence of local authorities enabling schemes that are quite dependent on cars at the periphery of urban centres through local area plans but it is claimed on paper that they are aligned with the national planning framework, NPF. As regulator, is Mr. Cussen prepared to intervene in such cases to prevent their development if they will lock in dependency on cars and greenhouse gas emissions?

Mr. Niall Cussen

Would the Chairman like me to address that question now?

Yes, if Mr. Cussen would like to go first.

Mr. Niall Cussen

We work within a regulatory and policy framework that is set by the Government. We are not ourselves a policymaker. Our job is to enforce the national planning framework and the targets contained within it. It is not for me to comment on whether the NPF is fit for purpose or whether we should have some other framework. My job is to enforce the NPF as it has been laid out. As the record will show in respect of the submissions we make on development plans and the points and recommendations we have made to Ministers regarding the power of direction in respect of development plans, we are very active in enforcing that regulatory and policy framework. We will also not be shy with regard to the implementation of section 10(2)(n) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, which requires local authorities to comprehensively address the issue of climate change in their development plans with regard to patterns of development, transportation, adaptation to the effects of climate change and so on.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

It would be very difficult to argue that the national planning framework is aligned with our new and deeper objectives to reduce emissions. The first reason for this is that it is for the period to 2040. To consider transformation options, we need to look at 2050 or beyond. These are big systemic changes and this is very important. A second reason is that it needs to look at alternatives. Rather than just looking at small changes or redirecting 40% of new developments into existing footprints, it needs to look at the possibilities for approaches that are more transformative and more radical. If one does not consider radical measures when looking at transformation, one is not seeking transformation.

I know the national planning framework was formed a number of years ago, before the real urgency of this issue came to bear, but we do not have analysis available in Ireland which can support choices. We do not know what it would mean by 2050, were we to redirect all development into existing footprints. We do not know what would be involved in taking a transformative approach to sustainable modes of transport in order that they dominate mobility in the future. There would be capital costs and other implications but our current approach is very costly for our economy in terms of competitiveness. It is widely accepted at this stage that this is not an emissions problem but a sustainable development problem. I do not think it is credible to claim that the national planning framework is in line with our commitments. It is, however, very important that it is protected because it is what we have. We cannot backslide on this and adopt a weaker approach but we also need to urgently study the alternatives that can be put in place. The political process will then decide what is desirable for the nation.

Mr. Andrew Murphy

I am not so familiar with Ireland's national planning framework but I will pick up on some of the themes that have been raised around planning, the evidence base and what can be achieved. This is absolutely the case. One example of this is the shift to rail freight.

Ireland has the lowest amount of rail freight in Europe. It is very near the bottom, perhaps after Malta and Cyprus. We should also be evidence driven on how much we can actually shift to rail, particularly in a short period like ten years. Across Europe, we have about 18% of freight transferred by rail. On a good day, we can get maybe 23% of freight transferred by rail. There is not going to be an easy solution to shifting to rail. That is why it is important to drive forward electrification in those sectors which cannot be so easily changed by a switch to public transport or planning changes.

Both the 2019 climate action plan and the programme for Government are either quite weak on the application of freight transport or they pursue some of the wrong solutions, such as using natural gas or using biogas for freight transport. To some extent that is understandable. The technology in this area is moving fast. Just this month, Scania ditched plans for hydrogen-powered trucks and instead is going all out on battery electric vehicles.

When we are talking about this, we need to be clear on what we can achieve through changes in planning, the shift to rail and what needs to be electrified. The pace of electrification needs to be accelerated if we are going to reach that 2030 goal.

I welcome our guests and thank them for their interesting opening statements. I confirm I am on the parliamentary premises.

Given the subject matter we are discussing this afternoon, I want to focus on the difficulties we have in achieving sustainable communities because of urban sprawl. In equal measure, we also have very well-thought-out and well-worked plans on large-scale, higher density development, especially in our cities. We regularly see, however, planning applications refused.

As the planning regulator who operates under a policy framework issued by the Oireachtas, what are Mr. Cussen's views on how he proposes to assist in achieving those sustainable goals and large-scale, sustainable developments within Dublin city boundaries? Deputy Devlin and I, as the city representatives, would agree we pass local area plans and strategic goals and yet here we are a decade later and still nothing.

On large-scale transport systems, I was heartened to hear Dr. O'Mahony and Mr. Murphy mention rail in particular. It is really close to my heart. Oireachtas Members have been derided for even suggesting that rail freight should become a larger part of the offering in the State. We have, of course, a chequered history with closure of lines throughout the country. Will our guests comment on the slowness of getting metro and DART extension projects off the ground, not just in my constituency but in parts of west Dublin, Kildare and Meath?

Mr. Niall Cussen

On how we can assist in securing urban regeneration, proper planning and sustainable development, I will make several points. We statutorily assess the plans of the planning authorities and examine them rigorously. If they go far enough, we would be obviously supportive of them. If they do not, we point that out through our recommendations and the observations we submit. They have statutory effect. It is obviously an obligation on the planning authority to address those.

Public awareness is important in terms of what compact growth means and how we can achieve that in practice. We are very engaged around that. We have published toolkits for public engagement. We sponsor the "Eco Eye" series and there is a programme airing tonight on the very topic the Deputy has raised. I would recommend it as good viewing.

This is about raising public awareness about the urgency of this issue and its connectedness to other challenges that we face as a society, whether they are climate, economic, social, mobility and so on. We are also engaged in training programmes with elected members. To date, we have had seven events with an eighth one coming up this Friday. We have had hundreds of engagements with the 949 councillors the length and breadth of the country. They tune into our monthly webinars on these very matters. There is strong evidence of elected council members becoming much more aware around these issues and indeed understanding some of their cruxes and the trade-offs which have to be addressed in securing compact development.

To help get things moving, we will have reviews of local authorities. We are a statutory reviewer of local authorities, including An Bord Pleanála. We have a pilot programme with four local authorities being reviewed this year. We will be building up to a series of six per annum thereafter. We will be looking closely at local authority policies and programmes regarding active land management.

The Deputy raised a point about local area plans being adopted and particular opportunity sites identified. What has been the progress since the last plan adoption and moving matters forward? We will be asking straight questions on capacity and agility. In fairness to our local authorities, having much experience of working in them myself over recent years, they are extremely hard pressed. They need to be supported, resourced and funded appropriately to take on these functions. Some of the pointers around that are also included in our annual report.

The witnesses spoke about their professional experience of other jurisdictions in rolling out rail projects. We have been talking about metro in Dublin since 1971 when it was first proposed by An Foras Forbartha. Some 50 years later, we are still talking about it. While it is about to go to planning - or so we believe - these are the difficulties we have in this jurisdiction. I do not have time to talk about DART expansion north and west. What are the witnesses' views on this and the difficulties that we have in actually delivering on these ambitions?

Mr. Niall Cussen

We probably have had a stop-start approach to capital investment. From my experience of engaging with my opposite numbers or professional links in other European countries, they often work with the benefit of a sustained and continuous programme of public capital investment, particularly around public transport. I alluded to this in my statement. Even the knowledge and the momentum of that creates a basis then for corresponding public and private investment and the achievement of the compact growth objectives. For various reasons, many of which will be familiar to members of this committee, we have had a stop-start cycle.

However, on quite a positive note, for the first time we have an integrated spatial plan backed by a capital investment plan. That of itself is actually quite unusual as one goes around other European countries. It is not so often that one will see such a strong alignment between a national planning framework and national development plan. We might well argue does it go far enough and so on. The very fact that we have that as a building block of public policy in this country is a huge breakthrough, however. It obviously gives us a platform to work through.

There have been very encouraging and positive signs from Government that the commitment is there, notwithstanding the Covid headwinds and economic challenges, to maintain that public capital programme, which is absolutely vital to give the planning authorities, elected members, communities and so on the certainty that public transport infrastructure is being invested in and progressed. Then we can work out all of the other relevant details. There is another issue, of course, namely, the extent to which there are legal challenges around large planning cases but that is another matter.

I thank Mr. Cussen for concluding as we are very short on time.

If it is helpful to the Chairman, I will happily cede my second round.

That is okay. I was going to go directly to Deputy Whitmore anyway.

I thank our three speakers for what have been really interesting presentations. We are tight for time so I will focus on electric vehicles, EVs. Dr. O'Mahony made some interesting comments in his opening statement. He said that because of the deeper emissions reduction target, it is a risky and potentially costly gamble to rely on electric vehicles to meet that target. Our target is for 950,000 EVs by 2030. It is obvious we have not had a very good track record in rolling out EVs or the infrastructure for same. We are still struggling on that front, with only 7.4% of new passenger sales in 2020 being EVs. That compares with 74.8% in Norway or indeed 18.1% in Finland. If the target of 950,000 by 2030 is not achievable, what kind of target does Dr. O'Mahony think is feasible? What are the kind of changes the Government would need to put in place to ensure the target was met, because meeting even a significantly reduced target would be difficult at this stage?

I am also interested in Dr. O'Mahony's opinion on using EVs to meet that target and how cost-prohibitive they are. Is there a risk there will be a whole section of our community who cannot afford to use this technology and therefore, when it comes to a just transition and ensuring everyone can play their part the cost will exclude them from that?

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

On the achievability of the electric vehicles target, I would not say it is not possible to do it with electric vehicles - it certainly is - but it relies on a number of things. It relies on the supply of minerals required to make the batteries being constantly available globally, including sufficient supply to manufacture the vehicles that would come to Ireland. That is not guaranteed. It also means we have a system that just requires more technological change overall. That already becomes more costly. It is the wrong approach to start at 2030. We must always start with 2050 and with the preventative approaches of avoid and shift, only coming to improve at the end. I would not say it is not possible, but our target in the climate action plan to move up to 936,000 electric vehicles is the same diffusion rate as Norway's. Norway is the world leader and that has cost a lot in terms of public subvention. If we are relying on the cost of electric vehicles coming down, we are taking a little bit of a risk that it will happen on an expected timeline. It also embeds the other sustainability issues.

Electric vehicles cannot deal with the issue of particulate matter completely. A total of 50% of emissions will remain because they come from tyre and break wear. It affects cognitive development of the unborn child, mental health and cardiovascular disease. There are a whole range of human health impacts so, again, relying on that is ceding ground to an approach to transport systems which is not sustainable. That being said we should still do it. We should still pursue EVs and alternative drivetrains but not prioritise them.

The Deputy has hit on a really important issue of people who may not be able to afford this. If we rely on EVs and potentially on retiring cars before their usual end of life and give public subvention to help people to do that - scrappage schemes and other things, that is a direct transfer of wealth from the State to people who are usually wealthier. It leaves out people who may be on the minimum wage or may be earning less. To provide a mobility system, not a transport system, that serves all is another reason from a just transition equity perspective to prioritise avoid and shift and not just improve in EVs.

Mr. Murphy may wish to address that question as well as it is relevant to his area.

Mr. Andrew Murphy

Fundamentally, the next ten years will be extremely different from the past ten years where the deployment of EVs is concerned. The primary reason is that the range of cars available in a showroom and their prices are largely decided by EU legislation. This legislation forces manufacturers to lower the CO2 produced by those vehicles and therefore puts more electric vehicles on the road. In the last quarter of 2019 and 2020 there was an uptick in sales of EVs in Ireland. They were offered at lower rates to encourage uptake. On the issue of cost, those who have bet against the cost of EVs declining have lost every time. Batteries have reduced in price by 85% in the past decade and have decreased by 17% in the last year alone. Batteries are one third of the cost of electric vehicles. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which is among the most optimistic about the cost of EVs, upgraded its forecast for price parity between EVs and internal combustion vehicles to between 2023 and 2025. EVs are cheaper to produce, maintain and power.

The next ten years will be very different. People point to Norway and say we will need Norway-type subsidies to ensure the deployment of EVs but that is not necessarily the case. If they are going to become this cheap, they can be deployed. However, I would stress, and this is very evident in yesterday's figures on the sale of EVs of Ireland, that there is a big difference between battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The Irish taxation regime needs to be amended to reflect some misleading figures by manufacturers and the European legislation needs to be amended to fix some of the loopholes which are emerging with EVs. Targets for Ireland refer to zero or low-emissions vehicles. We need to drop the reference to low-emissions vehicles and just go all in on zero-emissions ones.

I thank the contributors today. I thank also colleagues whose questions and contributions will probably inform what I am about to ask. Mr. Murphy is advocating for a complete switch from internal combustion engines to EVs. The question has been asked a little bit by Deputy Whitmore, but to what extent does Mr. Murphy think it gets us off the hook when we are talking about the avoid part of the strategy? I wish to address specifically a project near me which the contributors may be familiar with, which is the Galway ring road. One of the arguments there is that it would increase emissions by 37%. Electric vehicles address some of that issue. Dr. O'Mahony talked about urban sprawl and the increased travel distance. In some parts of that proposal, it would increase what is a 5.5 km journey to 22 km. Taking all that into consideration, should we be looking at these types of approaches or is it getting us off the hook when it comes to investment in a proper transport system for a city?

I also wish to ask Dr. O'Mahony about rail freight. The horse has bolted to a certain extent as far as reaching our targets by 2030 and 2050 is concerned. It might be too late for a huge investment in rail. However, if we are looking at the reopening of existing lines, such as the western rail corridor, for freight, this would require only a small amount of investment. Could this be part of the solution?

Mr. Cussen has answered about his remit as it relates to the national planning framework.

To what extent do the witnesses think it would be logistically possible to tweak the framework as we go, now that we have more scientific evidence? Do they think it is quite dangerous not to tweak it from a planning perspective if not doing so would mean we see changes to our settlement patterns that would create a difficulty in implementing the framework?

Each of the witnesses has two minutes to respond to Senator O'Reilly. Her first question was for Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Andrew Murphy

I thank Senator O'Reilly. It is ten years since I left Galway but when I last lived there, the outer bypass was a major issue and it is still being debated. I remember reading the impact assessment for the proposed bypass ten years ago. The evidence then was pretty clear that building the road would cause more cars to be used in Galway and would make the city more car dependent. Is our vision to have electric buses stuck in traffic behind electric cars? That is what we will get if we pursue both the electrification of vehicles and the construction of more roads. When we talk about the electrification of cars, we always talk about Norway and how great it is but we should look at what Oslo is doing. Oslo as a city is being very aggressive in getting cars out of the city. It has been closing streets to cars and removing on-street car parking. Supporting the electrification of vehicles is not the same as supporting endless road building.

To touch on the mineral issues which were raised by Deputy Whitmore, there is a problem with the minerals used in battery production. Last December the EU proposed the world's first law to regulate the mineral content of batteries, including enforcing social conditions for extraction and recycling targets for some of those minerals. Obviously, the more vehicles we have to produce, the more challenging it is to ensure that production is done sustainably. We should electrify as much as we can but we must focus on the electrification element and not the road building part.

Next is Dr. O'Mahony.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

Senator O'Reilly asked about the expansion of freight. Is that correct?

My question was around freight as it relates to rail and reusing existing rail lines. We may not be able to go full-throttle with putting in new rail lines but where we already have rail lines, such as the western rail corridor, should we be looking at recommissioning them?

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

First, it is usually argued that the Irish rail system is underutilised. A decade or two ago, around 4% or 5% of freight was rail freight so there are opportunities to look at that. Reopening existing lines is an option and the all-Ireland strategic rail review provides an enormous opportunity to examine this further. Instead of taking the possible expansion of rail off the table, we should look at it. Just because we look at an option does not mean that we go down the road of taking it. What I am advocating in terms of transformative approaches does not mean that we go to the extremes of this. It means that we look at those extremes and see what the implications are in terms of the capital investment costs, the positives that come from them in terms of the public good vis-à-vis reductions in road traffic accidents, air pollution and all of the other impacts of an unsustainable system. Looking out to 2050, we need to be considering the implications of moving the bulk of freight over to rail. What would that mean? How much expansion would it mean? How many new rail heads or hubs would it mean? What would it mean in terms of technological approaches to logistics and bundling goods together from different companies, whether they are intermediate products for industry or final products for consumers? We need to look at all of this. We do not necessarily switch everything over but at the moment we are working in a vacuum, on both the passenger and freight sides, because we do not have the evidence to allow us to look at transformative approaches.

Mr. Niall Cussen

I thank Senator O'Reilly for her question. It is important to remember that as with local authority development plans, the national planning framework is a cyclical plan that will have to be reviewed or revisited by the Government in conjunction with all stakeholders on a regular basis. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 established the legislative basis for the national planning framework and its renewal out into the future. That will ultimately be a matter for the Government and the processes are laid out in the legislation, including Oireachtas scrutiny of the preparation of revisions to the national planning framework.

As I mentioned in my paper, a very important starting point would be the compilation of a national brownfield land register or database. As it stands, with regard to the laudable objective of 30% for villages, 50% for cities and 40% in overall urban terms, it is actually very hard for us to monitor the effectiveness of development plans in a very precise way. It is very important that we start down the road of having those strong objectives in planning frameworks but the measurement of it, in terms of how it is actually being achieved on the ground, is still somewhat uncertain. That is an issue that we are continuing to research and to engage on with our parent department and the local authorities more generally.

In regard to the Senator's point about tweaking the framework while taking on board the latest scientific evidence and the evolving climate action objectives, that will naturally come in the round in terms of the evolution of the national planning framework. We need to think through the unintended consequences of having extremely ambitious targets for brownfield development without considering the deliverability and affordability of same. As Deputy Farrell mentioned earlier, in many cases local authority development plans will include brownfield regeneration sites and yet members will see, some years later, that progress towards getting those activated is slow. The effectiveness of our vacant and derelict sites legislation is an issue. The mechanisms and the tools that are available to local authorities to get brownfield development sites into production so that they provide sustainable, high-quality and affordable options for people are very important. If we have very high targets that are unattainable, effectively that displaces demand to other locations, as we have seen with some of the patterns of development around our cities, where we see suburban development.

I thank Mr. Cussen. I am giving some latitude to witnesses but we are against the clock and I want to be fair to everyone. Deputy Bruton is next.

I will comment briefly and then pose a few questions. There may be a risk of a false dichotomy being created between electrification versus compact development. The reality is that we need both. In terms of compact development, at best 1% of our housing stock is built each year. We would like to be at 2% but that is still a small proportion that will be delivered by 2030. Obviously, as Dr. O'Mahony said, by 2050 the number will be bigger and will have much more impact. Our entire car fleet will change over the next decade so there is an opportunity to have a significant influence on the fleet that is purchased over that period. That will have an immediate impact. Dr. Murphy is right that electrification is an available and usable option. We must bear in mind that 90% of journeys over 8 km in Ireland are driven journeys and it is difficult to replace a lot of them with public transport, no matter how ambitious we become. We have an immediate problem as well as a long-term one.

As we move from the climate action plan, which was built around a 30% target, to a 51% target, what changes would the witnesses propose we make to that climate plan? In that context, how do we measure the cost-effectiveness of interventions? I speak from experience with the national broadband plan, which was expensive but, in my view, absolutely essential. I found it very difficult to get public support for that within the system because the tendency is to look at the short-term costs. How do we deal with the issue of the choices that have long-term benefits but high short-term costs?

How important do the witnesses believe pricing is in achieving the objectives of transition? Carbon pricing has its supporters and its opponents. I refer to road pricing. How important will they be as we move towards the 2050 target?

My final question relates to compact development. Do we need to move to some sort of planning gain model whereby communities in which high density development is taking place get something back? Do we need to see deeper integration of the local development plan with the national plan? I am happy with written responses if there is not enough time now.

I ask witnesses to be succinct as possible. I will go to Mr. Murphy first.

Mr. Andrew Murphy

I will be as brief as I can because they are all excellent questions. We can improve the climate action plan through more focus on freight. It is suggested that there are no low-emission freight vehicles in the climate action plan but technology has changed rapidly in two years.

In terms of cost-benefit, I would drop the increase in the biofuel lending rate. If we look at where we are getting the ethanol from and the competition we have with land, the most recent National Oil Reserves Agency report on the sourcing of biofuels in Ireland, be they advanced biodiesel or bioethanol, raises some flags regarding origins of such fuels.

On where else we can increase ambition, the Tánaiste has launched his working-from-home proposal, which will study the potential benefits of working from home. We should await that study but that is another obvious way to increase ambition.

Carbon pricing is not the most effective way of reducing transport emissions because the consumer is forced into a particular model and if the price goes up, he or she is not necessarily able to then switch out to a different model. The Deputy mentioned that carbon pricing has supporters and opponents. The big supporters of carbon pricing are car manufacturers who would rather shift the burden onto the consumers and individuals as a way of having to do less themselves. We think of car standards at European level. Carbon pricing always involves a social equity issue. If there are ways to address the social equity issue but there will not be a big climate benefit from engaging in carbon pricing why go to the hassle of the potential risk of social inequity?

Does Dr. O'Mahony want to go next?

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

Yes. I will try to be brief. On the climate action plan, in terms of short-term actions progress has already been made on spending almost €1 million per day on cycling and walking. That needs to be embedded further. In addition, demand management and the result of the pandemic in terms of working from home, as Mr. Murphy mentioned, is very important. It is important because it has been acknowledged internationally that looking at 2030 is not the right way forward. We need to look at 2050 and look at 2030 and 2040 as the way-posts to decarbonisation. To do that, we will need better evidence of what we can do with avoid and shift. The estimates in the literature vary from a 20% to 50% reduction in emissions in terms of avoid and shift. There is potential that that will be higher in Ireland because our population growth is estimated and it is the higher population projection of 6.7 million. That could be higher. We do not know. We do not have the evidence.

In terms of cost-effectiveness analysis, relying only on such an analysis is not appropriate to understanding systemic transformations. It gives one the results and the implications in terms of the cost per unit carbon that is reduced but it does not answer any of the equity questions. It usually involves a forecast rather than alternative scenarios that explore avoid and shift so it is necessary but not sufficient.

In terms of pricing, I agree with Mr. Murphy. There is a conclusion in the literature that pricing is not enough. Carbon pricing is a supplemental measure that can prevent rebounds if the price of fuel comes down but the conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its transport chapter were very clear. We need to do the systemic long-term changes, with 2030 and 2040 changes supporting that, and carbon pricing can assist. It is not one's first measure no more than electric vehicles.

I thank Dr. O'Mahony. I have to push on. Does Mr. Cussen want to comment?

Mr. Niall Cussen

Yes. I thank Deputy Bruton for his questions. As I indicated earlier, some changes that would really help in achieving the reductions would be that roadmap, that translation of the national RES-E, the 70% by 30%, and what will come after that, targets into more regional and county specific allocations, particularly in the context of onshore renewable energy deployment probably being, in the short- to medium-term sense, a much more cost effective solution vis-à-vis the longer-term offshore solutions. That is important to address.

Pricing is very important in terms of shifting behaviour. In terms of the way we build housing currently, the cost on the development side in respect of greenfield land can be much lower than in an urban or brownfield context, even though, in a greenfield context, it costs the State and the taxpayer a lot more to service it from an infrastructural perspective. Brownfield locations very often having access to existing infrastructure. Pricing and the price of land and how we get that shift towards brownfield development are important instruments.

With regard to compact development, I agree absolutely with the Deputy that community benefit and, indeed, development contribution schemes are mechanisms in the planning Acts that could be used more in the context of ensuring that local communities see the benefit from the regeneration of their areas. Again, in terms of the link between local area plans and national policy, that is something we will be paying very close attention to once many of the local area plans are reviewed into next year and in the years beyond and the current round of city and county development plan reviews are completed.

I thank Mr. Cussen. I call Deputy O'Rourke.

I thank all the witnesses. I have two brief questions as I am conscious of the time. The first is to Dr. O'Mahony. I am interested in his opinions on the potential for the expansion of rail. There are a number of proposals for expanding and improving the services and the infrastructure but many of them fail to meet the cost benefit analysis threshold of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Does he believe our tools for assessing these projects are suitably robust to appreciate and estimate the true value of rail?

The second question is to Mr. Cussen. I ask him to speak to his powers of enforcement or the opportunity to improve the policy or regulatory or legislative tools available to deliver on the national planning framework or the compact proposals. He mentioned a number of pieces in his opening statement. He touched on the national brownfield and infill development land register, the Land Development Agency Bill, the vacant and derelict sites legislation and also the dispatch of litigation. He might comment on those matters.

Finally, will he expand on the point in terms of renewable energy? He mentioned the need for the updated wind energy guidelines, which is something I have raised repeatedly with the Minister. I see communities in conflict with planners on a regular basis in respect of renewable energy. Where does he see the opportunity to resolve that with his proposal for a spatial plan?

I will go to Dr. O'Mahony first and then Mr. Cussen.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

In terms of the tools, does the Deputy mean specifically for the appraisal of projects?

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

The Deputy mentioned the results of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's cost-benefit analysis in terms of rail transport. That is a very interesting point. It is absolutely crucial. In Ireland, we are using time horizons of our cost-benefit analysis that are short. We are using discount rates that are very high for a wealthy country. What that means in terms of an actual cost benefit analysis is that it will devalue the benefit of a mitigation project, which is something that improves a situation and reduces emissions, and also devalue the cost of a project such as a road that increases emissions. The way we are applying our system currently is directly biased towards emissions intensive and low sustainability projects because of the way we set up our cost-benefit analysis.

Mr. Niall Cussen

I thank Deputy O'Rourke for his questions. Regarding our powers of enforcement, the way the legislation works is that we independently assess the plans of the local authorities by reference to the requirements of the legislation, the national planning framework regional and spatial economic strategies, and various guidelines and policies set out by the Minister and the Government that are relevant to planning. At a strategic level we determine the fit between what the local authorities set out in their plans and that broader context. If we feel they are broadly up to the mark, we will support those plans. If we feel there are gaps or breaches of that regulatory and policy framework, we will set that out in our statutory observations, which include recommendations and which effectively have to be followed through, and other observations, which may cover more detailed points. If the local authority does not follow our recommendations, we have the option to recommend to the Minister the use of his or her power under section 31 of the Act to direct the local authority to take such steps as are necessary to close that policy breach. That is just how the enforcement process works. As for some of the references in my statement to, for example, the brownfield register and some of the other areas such as that, we are engaged in research programmes and in constant dialogue with our parent Department and local authorities on how that can be done, particularly regarding the use of cutting-edge geographic information systems, GIS, and we have some ideas about that.

Yes, it is very important to progress the wind energy guidelines. From constant engagement with both the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, I understand that is a top priority, and I think that will be seen before too long. The addition of the roadmap in terms of how the RES-E targets will be delivered and the relevance of that at a local authority level also create the opportunity for community participation in some of those projects. We have seen very good practice in Ireland of community renewable energy projects, especially in wind, and that should be looked at.

I thank Mr. Cussen. I will cut across him because we are trying to stick to the transport side of things.

Mr. Niall Cussen

That is all right.

We will certainly do a lot of work on the energy generation side of things. Deputy O'Rourke raised a very good question, which we will come back to.

I will be very quick. I have just one question for Mr. Cussen. It concerns local development plans. In my home county the restrictions Louth County Council is imposing on the development plan and the criteria for one-off rural housing are too severe. I am from Dundalk. The goal is to try to push people in rural County Louth into, say, an urban centre in Dundalk. There are about 40,000 people and the goal is to try to expand that to 80,000 over the next 20 years, according to the chief executive. In Mr. Cussen's view, is there a compromise ground? Would it be something like serviced sites in rural areas where there can be much smaller urban settlements and where people can continue to live in rural Ireland and are not forced to move perhaps 20 km into the next largest urban centre?

Mr. Niall Cussen

Again, these are ultimately matters for the Government in the context of the implementation of the national planning framework. The Senator might note, however, that there is some strong content in the national planning framework relating to that, in particular the putting in place of a programme that would in effect incentivise or enable the coming forward of brownfield and regeneration opportunities in smaller towns and villages, so the very alternative he is talking about is there. I think many people who choose, in effect, the rural settlement option are often very interested in the option of being able to locate in a smaller town or village, particularly if self-build site options etc. are available at modest cost with the infrastructure laid out. Going back to our public awareness brief, we raised this in our sponsorship of one of the "Eco Eye" series which looked at this very topic and how some local authorities, especially Tipperary County Council, have been very proactive in this space. There are certainly some opportunities to look at those examples, and we are very happy to engage with Louth County Council on how to square that circle or address that dilemma in a positive and proactive way.

I have questions for a couple of the witnesses. I will try to get through them as quickly as possible. The first is to Dr. O'Mahony. In his opening statement I think one of the very first sentences concerned the decommissioning of our rail system throughout the 20th century. Part of that happened where I am from. I am from west Cork and I represent Cork South-West. There was the west Cork railway, as it was called. It went from Cork through to Bandon and Enniskeane and on to Bantry and extended right out to the west, with branches off to Clonakilty, Courtmacsherry and other areas. It must have been an amazing thing to witness. However, if I were to stand up in the Dáil tomorrow and call for a return of the west Cork railway and ask for it to be rebuilt, I would be laughed out of the Chamber. A lot of the old rail lines - in this instance almost 100% - have been taken back into farmland, so the process of starting up a project such as this would be described as pie in the sky by many. My question for Dr. O'Mahony is this: how do we get to a point where this becomes a more real conversation that is not one of dreams and unachievable aspirations but one that may be achieved? As he has rightly stated, we have a road network but the N71 is not fit for purpose. In non-Covid times it is absolutely logjammed because of the amount of vehicular traffic on it. A railway would go a long way towards relieving that pressure and reducing carbon emissions. What is the best approach in that regard that would make this a more realistic proposal?

My next question is for Dr. O'Mahony as well. He mentioned roads and road building, but would he not agree that certain road infrastructure does have a place in terms of the vibrancy of our towns and villages? Mr. Cussen spoke a lot about "Eco Eye". It recently featured a piece on Clonakilty and how it was held up as a model for how things should be done in terms of public realm works and giving people back public spaces. Clonakilty happens to be my home town. One of the things that was mentioned-----

If the Deputy could finish his question, I will put it to the witnesses.

All right. I feel like I have not been given as much liberty as everyone else, but that is fine. A big part of how that happened was that we have a southern relief road built. Some towns are crying out for relief roads to take that big volume of traffic from the town centre which chokes up the town, allowing town centres to take back their public space for pedestrians and footfall. That is a really important question.

I have one more question for Dr. O'Mahony about schools. The busiest time in most of our towns and villages is school time, when there is mayhem and traffic runs. Can public transport play a role, even within our smaller towns of 5,000 or 6,000 people, in the form of pickups in different estates to take that volume of traffic away from towns?

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

The rail question is an interesting one. It is a reflection of where we are that it sounds outlandish to propose something that could be hugely beneficial to the public good. That is because we have essentially run down the system for decades upon decades, and it is now almost a cultural thing that it is not regarded as a viable option. I would suggest that in the climate action plan we need to see a commitment to a study on transformation of spatial planning and of mobility to see what is plausible and to see all the implications and costs. Then a politician can make a claim of a desirable policy without it being pie in the sky because there is some evidence and analysis to back it up.

It is very important that in the next climate action plan we look not just at short-term measures but also at really improving our evidence base.

Of course roads have a role. I am not advocating that we get rid of cars. What I am saying is we need to re-tip the system away from cars because they are damaging many parts of the public good that we value, such as our well-being, our economy and emissions.

It is sensible to look at school and public transport. I am old enough to remember when I used to always walk and cycle, partly because there were fewer cars on the road. It is also important to think of how we would look at active modes, which are good for children's health, whereby we have segregated cycle lanes in all towns that children can use to get to school and then also look at the public transport options. The cheapest and healthiest way of doing it is to start with walking and cycling. I encourage the use of the hierarchy of a wide shift to active modes and then public transport.

I thank the witnesses for their time today. This is a topic I could speak about all day but I will not. I know the Chair will make sure that does not happen. As a representative of an urban area, I want to ask Dr. O'Mahony and Mr. Murphy about the Dublin bikes scheme, which was referenced in the opening remarks. It has been a great success and it has provided that shift. Unfortunately for the region of Dublin, there has not been a bike sharing scheme to cover the entire area. This presents limitations to the benefits one can enjoy from this type of scheme. Will the witnesses touch on the regionalisation of bike and car sharing schemes and the benefits that would accrue from them?

My next question is for Mr. Cussen. I thank him for his opening statement and remarks. With regard to the guide to the planning process and the document he gave to us in advance of this meeting, I compliment his office on the information that has been given to the public about the planning process. The new leaflets are very beneficial and I compliment everyone involved. In saying this, recently we have witnessed a large volume of strategic housing developments, which I hope will come to an end quite shortly. Mr. Cussen spoke about sustainable planning. Does he have enough resources to deal with the large-scale developments, which, it has to be said, are mainly infill sites in urban areas? I am interested to hear his thoughts on this.

Mr. Cussen also spoke about the role and responsibility of the regional assembly. Taking in context the role of the regional assembly, and of the councils with regard to the climate action plans that each local authority is working through, what is Mr. Cussen's view of how we could reform or strengthen their role in all of this? At times, local authorities, particularly in Dublin, have their own individual climate action plans and on top of all of this is a regional strategy. I know they are all meant to intermingle at various levels but I find it cumbersome. Mr. Cussen might touch on this. Mr. Cussen also mentioned the brownfield land register and that it is his intention to have it complete. By when will this be done?

We generally afford witnesses the opportunity to send in written statements in reply if they wish because we are very tight for time due to the Covid restrictions and we would certainly welcome their further thoughts on members' questions.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

I thank Deputy Devlin. Specifically on the Dublin bikes scheme and car sharing, car sharing has usually been private so local authorities can assist in support of it but in practice it has been more private. The Dublin bikes scheme is a little bit different from the schemes in other European countries because we have basically required it to pay for itself. If we look at the emissions reduction per euro spent on it, it is very low. It has all sorts of public good benefits because cars are taken off the road and public health is improved. It is a very cheap way of getting around. I was quite sceptical of it at the time. I remember people saying they expected the bikes to end up in the Grand Canal. It has been fantastically successful and must be applauded, and it needs to be extended.

Many of these measures, and this is also true of rail, and Mr. Cussen mentioned serviced sites and achieving compact growth, have a cost element. We need to look at what these potential costs are and come up with innovative arrangements to finance them. Finance is very important and was given a section of the transport chapter of the EPA's report. I agree with the Deputy 100% that we should be looking at regionalising a bike share scheme and pushing car share schemes. They are very sensible measures that do not have a huge financial or fiscal footprint but in some cases we may need to look at whether it is possible to give more public subvention or whether we can look at innovative financing arrangements. It is also important that there is leadership from politicians to push and say that it is hugely beneficial to the public good and that they want it for the people of wider Dublin, Limerick or Cork. We must ask whether we can push this through, such as through drawing down new funding to support walking and cycling.

Mr. Niall Cussen

I am delighted that Deputy Devlin found our guides helpful. That is great feedback and I appreciate it. I will pass it on to the team. We hope to do a lot more on this, including videos. We will do further leaflets. Many ordinary people often find it somewhat difficult to understand or fathom the workings of the planning process. What we want to try to do in terms of our public awareness is to dispel some of those myths and put better information into the public's hands on how they can really influence the planning process.

The Deputy asked a number of questions. It is fair to say the strategic housing development process has put all the various strands, including An Bord Pleanála and the local authorities, under a lot of pressure, particularly in terms of resources. Perhaps it was an initiative to jump start the assembly of planning consents, which had almost completely withered away after the banking crash. As the Government has clearly signalled, it will run its course in the very near future. This may allow some reorganisation of resources. To this point, the Deputy mentioned the regional assemblies. Certainly they have more potential in delivering a shared service or a collective approach in co-ordinating the work of local authorities. There is some evidence of this already happening through the climate action regional offices, which, in effect, work across a number of local authorities. There is certainly a very strong case for more on this, as is referenced in my statement.

To clarify one point on the brownfield register, it is something for the Government to progress. I was merely making the point that it would be really helpful in measuring progress to achieve the existing brownfield development targets in the national planning framework. We are doing some research to support this if work on it is prioritised in the very near future.

Mr. Andrew Murphy

With regard to cycling, I can speak about the changes made in cycling infrastructure over the past year because of the Covid crisis, which has transformed parts of cities. Paris is going in an equal direction as is Amsterdam. This does seem to be the way cities are going. If we want more people to live in the cities we need to make them more liveable. This means reducing a lot of congestion and reducing the amount of air pollution that comes from freight, which is powered by compressed natural gas. It also means looking at the issue of night flights in Dublin airport, which are under consideration, and the impact they will have on people living in these urban areas.

On the point on rolling out rail, we should always analyse various scenarios of what might be beneficial in terms of the climate benefit and the benefit to the Exchequer. As I understand it, Irish Rail has an ambitious plan to expand many suburban connections throughout the country. They need to be pursued as quickly as possible. We also have the need to roll out charging infrastructure as quickly as possible, particularly to decarbonise freight which, as I said, cannot be switched to public transport.

An additional level of investment in expanding rural rail should be examined but we should be prepared to not like the answer much if it comes back that electrification of the car fleet is cheaper. The cost of installing new rail lines is not getting any cheaper, whereas the cost of electric vehicles is. Second, we certainly should not delay the necessary investments in charging infrastructure and suburban rail while we study further development of rail in Ireland.

I thank each of the three witnesses for their thought-provoking presentations. On overall strategy and thinking, has there been examination of the general outlook as a result of the pandemic? Anecdotally, there is a suggestion that people want to live in less densely populated areas. According to the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers, people seem to want to move from the more densely populated urban areas to more rural areas. Does that have an impact on what the planning framework is trying to achieve? Could Dr. O'Mahony talk to us about that?

I represent a broadly rural community. What will the rural village of the future be like?

It is good to hear from Mr. Cussen that there is engagement with the local authorities and their members. Will he comment generally about their preparedness for what is coming down the track? It seems to me, from talking to local authority members, that they are now starting to realise the implications for them and for the work they have to do. Can Mr. Cussen give the committee some measurement of where they are at in terms of their acceptance of it or otherwise? Notwithstanding what we have to do on the transport side, there are real concerns - returning to Dr. O'Mahony's point on the quality of life issue for people, which is what we need to be about and should be the central focus - about what those homes of the future will look like.

The witnesses should comment on the lack of willingness by local authorities to invest more heavily in addressing the dereliction that exists in rural villages and towns. I see local authorities across the country which would much rather buy a site on the edge of a village or town and build 20 or 25 local authority houses - this is not coming from private investors, but local authorities - rather than looking through each village and realising that there are 35 or maybe 40 derelict buildings that could be brought back to use. While it is more expensive and more labour intensive, it seems to be the appropriate route to take.

Mr. Niall Cussen

On what is coming down the track and the degree of acceptance among councillors, we have had huge participation in the training we have organised. There have often been up to 200 members tuning in on webinars and staying for the duration of the two hours or two and a half hours. There is certainly an appetite out there. It is an appetite that one can find articulated more among the urban members and younger members, that is, some of the newer entrants into the ranks of local government members. There are 949 councillors and in the last local election in 2019, there was a turnover of just over a third. There is a section among the members which is still coming to grips with this and trying to work through its implications. I am strongly of the view, however, that the continued rolling out of our training programme, as well as that of the climate action regional offices, which is under way at present, is crucial in reaching out to each and every member. The last analysis by the Association of Irish Local Government, which represents councillors across the country, showed that in some local authority chambers, there is participation by up to 80% of members in at least one of our training sessions. These are positive indicators of the level of engagement but we have a lot of progress to make, particularly in respect of understanding some of the practical issues the Senator raised. That sense of a lack of willingness by local authorities to tackle dereliction goes to the very heart of the matter. There is criticism of the slow pace of progress in the housing capital programme but when one looks more closely at some of the questions which the parent Department often asks of local authorities about why they are progressing in a particular way, it can be because the Department is raising the very point the Senator has raised. Sometimes, the questions that come down from the centre to the local authorities, as a means to perhaps try a bit harder, are sometimes taken as criticism of the four-stage housing programme. However, there are some local authorities which are very proactive in this space. Members should consider Monaghan County Council and the Dublin Street regeneration in Monaghan town. That is a local authority that really has started to look much more assertively at how it can itself be an agent of regeneration and renewal in its towns. That is something about which our reviews programme will examine and disseminate a broader awareness across the sector. The Senator also raised an important point about quality of life and what the villages and towns of the future could and should look like. Some of the media pieces we sponsored are trying to highlight that. We will do more work on that and I will be very happy to follow up with the committee on this.

We would appreciate that, I thank Mr. Cussen.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

Senator Dooley has pointed to some very interesting issues. Something that comes through quite strongly in how we approach mitigation, transition and transformation is that we really need to think about the future of our country in how we deliver well-being sustainability. It is not about how we deliver transport or how we look at agriculture but about starting with a strong concept that can be brought through the analysis and then ultimately to the political decision making. That is really important. We do not have a model that allows us to do that and to look at the real win-wins.

On whether preferences have changed during the pandemic, it is very likely that they will. People are reacting to what is almost a traumatic occurrence in how we live our lives. Some people may want to push out further away from towns and villages. It may push towards more dispersed housing and that is problematic because living with the pandemic is something that in its extreme impacts is something that goes on for a relatively short time in the context of our long history. This will pass and then we are back to the same issues.

To return to well-being and sustainability and how we can give an idea of a positive future, Senator Dooley mentioned rural Ireland. We need to consider how the cores of villages can provide all the services, potential employment opportunities and provide affordable housing and affordable rents. These are the big issues that we need to deal with to get a handle on this because otherwise, we will feel as though we are taking things away from people. To answer this question appropriately, it is necessary to look at win-wins, which means starting with well-being and sustainability and examining how to really change things fundamentally to deliver better outcomes.

I thank the witnesses for their presentations. We all agree there is a need for urgent transformation of public priorities. Dr. O'Mahony mentioned rail. Should we look at rail electrification on a similar scale as the weight we gave to rural electrification? Deputy O'Rourke mentioned trains earlier. There is currently discussion of electrifying the trains to Maynooth but Kilcock is literally only a stone's throw away.

A cost-benefit analysis might show it is not worth doing now, but it will be worth it. There is no doubt that the train line will be electrified as far as Kilcock. Why not do it now?

I appreciate the comments of Mr. Murphy. He did not talk in the abstract. He said he does not intend to have a car. My son never intended to have one until he had a child. Due to the fact he lives in north Kildare, he has had to succumb to having a car. It goes back to the lack of planning. We do not have a history of urban planning in Ireland. We need a sense of urgency around that.

I have a question for Mr. Cussen. I was a councillor in Kildare County Council before being elected as a Deputy. He said there is nothing worse than sprawling housing estates. There is nothing worse than sprawling housing estates with one way in and out. Somebody who lives at the back of such an estate has to travel a significant distance to get to a school that is just behind his or her wall.

I mentioned that we do not have a long history of urban planning. I know Mr. Cussen only has an oversight role. The planners in Kildare County Council were interested in this as well. When we are planning cities and villages, we should not hand all of the power to developers. Local authorities could plan how a town or city is going to expand and ensure every road goes somewhere. We are trying to introduce permeability into estates, but no estate wants to have a breakthrough. They do not want lanes and so on. I appreciate that Mr. Cussen has an oversight facility and I know there are difficulties in terms of joined-up thinking. Does he believe that communities should drive the systemic transformation that we need for the future?

I thank Deputy Cronin. I will put the questions to Mr. Cussen.

Mr. Niall Cussen

Deputy Cronin has raised important points in respect of local area plans and how effectively they hardwire in the presumption or strong encouragement that people will decide it is a no-brainer to walk, cycle or use public and active travel modes in conducting most of their daily business. We know from the statistics that 50% of journeys made in this country are under 2 km and a very large proportion of those journeys are done by private car. Those figures come from the national travel survey from the CSO.

The points the Deputy has raised are important in respect of how residential areas are laid out. As somebody who is familiar with the north Kildare area and the issues she has raised, I can also point to examples of sophisticated thinking about permeability, the provision of pedestrian access and creating shorter routes to walk children to school rather than a family member feeling he or she has to drive because it is the only way round. I know of places where that was achieved, permitted, approved and developed. As soon as such places opened up, things became very contentious. They are sometimes politically contentious issues.

It is important that the political process shows leadership at local and national level on how things are connected. When there are good local area plans and urban design, and all of that has been built into the process, including cycling and pedestrian networks, it is important that the political system stands firm in maintaining those linkages in the face of opposition that might come from a particular group which might not like such a plan. It is important that there is integrity in the process.

Does Mr. Murphy want to comment?

Mr. Andrew Murphy

I will comment more broadly on the issue of economic sustainability and, in particular, what we are doing to our rural communities in response to the point made by Senator Dooley. We have discussed our current model. We can sum it up by pointing out that we import most of our energy from abroad for our transport system and we concentrate most of our employment in big cities. If we do things right in transforming our transport system, we will be able to upend that in two ways. First, we can move a lot more manufacturing, even for batteries, to Ireland. Science Foundation Ireland is sponsoring some exciting work via Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, AMBER. Battery factories are opening up in other parts of Europe that previously lost employment. We should be targeting that in Ireland. Second, we will have an abundant amount of renewable electricity in Ireland. From 2030 onwards, the SEAI suggests that we will have more than enough for what we need in Ireland. It is not inconceivable that from the 2030s onwards we can produce zero-emission jet and shipping fuels in Ireland. That can take place in areas around the Shannon which have had low employment in recent years. This is what we should be looking for when we talk about transforming our economy and transport system, and doing both together. This can be a powerful driver of employment across Ireland. In our next economic recovery, we should always prioritise a model which disperses employment across Ireland as much as possible.

I thank Mr. Murphy.

I will be very brief. I thank the witnesses for their brilliant contributions . Most of my questions are for Mr. Murphy. He referred to Scania and its move away from fuels towards electric freight, and the fact that the EU has a new hydrogen strategy. From an Irish perspective, should we consider hydrogen from an energy storage basis rather than for freight, rail or anything like that? Would it be misguided to go down that road?

I refer to shared mobility services. As someone who spent a lot of time in Brussels and Europe for five years, I realised that one can get from a train to a bus and park one's bike. One of the issues in Ireland is that we do not have a joined-up approach. In Ghent or Leuven one will see hundreds of bikes. People are able to cycle to a point and then get a train to the city to go to work. We always hear that cities like Dublin are very old. There are lots of older cities in Europe that have such schemes.

Perhaps Mr. Murphy could give us some examples of cities which have done shared mobility really well. Even though we have a history of one-off developments, perhaps people can drive a car to a point and park and then get public transport or live close enough to work to be able to cycle. How do we join up the transport system?

Mr. Andrew Murphy

There is a debate about hydrogen in Europe. We should ramp up it up. Green hydrogen should be produced from excess renewables in Ireland. The question is where we put hydrogen once it has been produced. I am not an expert on electricity grids or heating. There is a role there.

In terms of transport, it does not make sense in cars and vehicles. It is too expensive - it is more costly than batteries. It makes a lot of sense in shipping and aviation because those modes of transport do not have low-carbon alternatives. One cannot put a battery in a plane because it would be too heavy. Likewise, they are too heavy for ships. We are an island, and rely on shipping and aviation to remain connected. We are an island which can have abundant offshore wind.

Other European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, are moving ahead with a hydrogen strategy which is producing fuels for their shipping and aviation sectors. I wonder why we are not doing that in Ireland. As I understand it, the programme for Government has a commitment to a hydrogen strategy. It is very important that this is set up. It is important that we are incredibly optimistic about the employment potential that can bring to all parts of Ireland.

On the Senator's final point on shared mobility, it comes back to not seeing this as a case of public transport versus private cars. There is a grey space in between where, as she said, there is shared mobility. Twenty years ago, we did not have the option of using an app or a website to book time in private cars and book cars in advance. It is now possible to do so. The International Transport Forum said two years ago that Dublin can meet most of its mobility needs with 2% private car ownership. We can be a lot more exciting.

I share the Senator's enthusiasm for how Brussels has evolved over the years. There are ample examples of such development around Brussels. It is about finding the right role for public transport and making sure people have access to it when they need it.

I might put the same question to Dr. O'Mahony. It is also his area of expertise.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

On cities, in response to Senator Boylan there are lots of examples of cities that have been successful. Seville is one such city. It moved from a very low base in terms of cycling and for a relatively small amount of investment managed to ramp up its level of cycling.

It is also important that this links up. We often call it the first, last or only mile because it links up directly with public transport. With regard to the examples of Vienna, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, there are lots of more established cities as well. The sustainable urban mobility plan process can be used to really empower that kind of positive change. It comes back to an issue to which Deputy Cronin referred a moment ago. Is it something that is not relevant or possible now? Transformation is fundamentally about thinking about how we get to desirable outcomes. It is not about predict and provide or saying there is a problem and let us react to it. We need to think long term, have 2030 to 2040 as the way-post to that and then consider how we can really ramp up walking and cycling and how one links that with public transport, which was also mentioned by Mr. Murphy, because public transport can facilitate walking and cycling and vice versa. It involves that systemic aspect.

Those were very interesting contributions. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan said earlier that if he stood up in the Dáil and called for the reinstatement of the west Cork railway, he would be scoffed at. I would applaud him because I think that is the future, particularly for long-term planning and freight. We have so many trucks on our roads - dirty, big, smelly and dangerous vehicles that go up and down our roads all the time. Back in the day, everything from coal to Guinness was transported on trains but we hardly use them for freight today. We must think about this. As one of the witnesses noted, we should look at financing freight and transport by railway and price and study it. This is really important. I do not think we should frame this as a question of whether railway is better than electric cars. That is the wrong way to go because what we are looking at here is not just managing costs but the price we will pay if we do not get it right in terms of climate chaos. Having to produce loads of cars at the other end of the planet regardless of whether they are made in Germany or Japan will not be good for the climate so the less of that kind of big machinery we produce, the better.

My next question concerns something I am passionate about, namely, free frequent public transport. It has been introduced in Luxembourg and Melbourne in Australia and, to a lesser degree, in parts of the Netherlands. I think it is coming up on a year since it was introduced in Luxembourg and studies are showing that it has taken a significant number of cars off the roads. Since public transport is free and frequent and people can use it conveniently, they use it both with their bicycles and when they are walking. They get on and off it. This is removing cars from the roads. To come back to cost, whatever we would pay to introduce that would be worth it given the outcome. I would like to hear the witnesses' views on that.

Mr. Andrew Murphy

Making public transport either free or lower cost needs to sit alongside making it more efficient and making sure people are not sitting in buses that may be free but are stuck in traffic along with other cars. We need a holistic approach to free public transport, with price being just one aspect. The Government has a 2:1 commitment in favour of sustainable transport and I hope this will improve the public transport system over time.

Mr. Niall Cussen

It might not be my speciality but I think Mr. Murphy put it well. For many users or would-be users of public transport, the availability of a good quality service and its good performance, particularly in terms of travel time, are crucial. We must remember that public transport is not free to provide.

Does Dr. O'Mahony wish to add anything? I think he will be interested in the question about rail transport as well as the one about free public transport.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

In respect of considering rail transport, which is what Deputy Bríd Smith is advocating, it is a very positive position to take because, as I said, we do not have the kind of analysis that allows us to make informed decisions about which exact pathway we would like to go. It is very important that we improve our evidence base. What was the second question about?

It was about free public transport.

Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony

It is true to say that there is a cost. Again, it is a measure that could incentivise the use of public transport so it obviously has that plus. In terms of making political decisions, again, we need the kind of analysis that allows policymakers to make informed decisions knowing who this will benefit and by how much. All of these measures have different characters. They may be win-wins or have trade-offs. We need to consider that with cost being one of them. It is sensible to consider that. The Deputy's point that this is not just about cost is very important. It is very difficult to cost the impact in terms of loss of life from air pollution and road traffic accidents and the cost on the economy from the drag caused by congestion. It is the political process that needs to make those value-based decisions after we have appropriate analysis that can inform it.

Does Senator Higgins wish to contribute?

There is a total of two and a half minutes remaining so if she could squeeze her contribution into that time-----

I might ask for written answers because I would really appreciate that. One question is on the review of the TEN-T programme - the idea of funding new projects and looking to engage with Europe on the western rail project and those kinds of large-scale projects - while another concerns land use by local authorities and how we can look more at funding. Again, when we look at the recovery and resilience strategy, it concerns the idea of giving local authorities not just the power but the funding they need to directly develop.

My three questions are really about permeability. When we talk about compact growth, does that need to be reimagined so it is not technical density of office buildings, empty or not, but a liveable space in our cities? It concerns the idea of the 15-minute city, about which there were comments, and permeability in terms of better use of public rights of way. Can public rights of way - the network of laneways in our towns and the network of connections in estates that were built before intensive car usage - be reimagined so that we are not just talking about cycling and walking on the sides of roads but around other networks in respect of walking and cycling? Could the witnesses comment on better use of that public right of way infrastructure and the possible formalisation of that?

Should there be better use of environmental impact assessment and social impact assessment at a much earlier stage in the planning process so that these issues get caught, we do not have a backlog later at the judicial review level and better quality decisions are made at an earlier point? Those are the key points I wish to make.

Could the witnesses comment on the sustainable development goals, SDGs, which are now mandated in local development, specifically SDG 11 around sustainable cities and communities and how that might be one of the imperatives or mandates for change in how we approach liveable and walkable cities?

The Senator indicated she would be happy to receive written responses from the witnesses so if our witnesses-----

If they have time to comment, it would be great but I-----

Unfortunately, I cannot allow it. We have reached the two-hour point and must vacate this room as per the Covid guidance.

We would very much appreciate written responses from our witnesses, including to Senator Higgins's very good questions or on any other part of today's discussion. If they would like to send them in, we would welcome that. I thank the witnesses for attending what was an interesting and engaging discussion. We very much appreciate their time and their expertise.

The joint committee adjourned at 3 p.m. sine die.