For the benefit of the Seanad I have circulated a revised explanatory memorandum taking account of the amendments to this Bill which were made in the Dáil.
Senators will be aware of the heavy growth in the volume of traffic using our roads in recent years and of the serious problems which have thereby been created for the road authorities and for my Department in seeking solutions to these problems. From 1963 to 1973 the number of vehicles using the roads has increased by 69 per cent from roughly 382,000 to 646,000. In terms of mileage travelled roads at present carry about 96 per cent of passenger traffic and 83 per cent of freight traffic and the indications are that these figures are likely to increase. To cater for the needs of modern society it is clear therefore that the provision of a safe and efficient road system demands a high priority. The most important sector of the rural network is the national road system which although accounting for only 6 per cent of total road mileage carries 30 per cent approximately of total traffic. Many sections of these important national roads, particularly at the approaches to towns and cities, are deficient both as regards pavement structure and traffic capacity. In addition, most of our urban and city street systems are inadequate and seriously congested. These deficiencies cause serious social and economic losses to the community due to traffic accidents, time lost from traffic congestion, wear and tear on vehicles and increased fuel consumption.
The law relating to public roads needs updating in order to facilitate road authorities in their efforts to solve their road problems. The present powers are inadequate in many important respects. For example, the power to provide such modern facilities as dual carriageways has been called into question, and there is no power to provide motorways. The present relatively short Bill, which I hope to follow in due course with a comprehensive measure, is the first step in remedying this situation.
The Bill will in effect, by virtue of section 3, abolish the doctrine of ultra vires in so far as the activities of road authorities are concerned by conferring a wide general power on them to do all things necessary for or incidental to the construction, maintenance or improvement of public roads, thereby enabling them to adopt a flexible and progressive approach in their efforts to provide road users with an acceptable level of service from the aspects of safety, convenience and amenity. I am sure that Senators will welcome this development. It would be naive of course to expect that the financial resources which can be made available by the State would fully match the demands for funds put forward by road authorities from time to time.
At this stage I would therefore like to draw attention to the fact that this Bill is an enabling measure, which does not seek to set up special financial arrangements under which programmes for motorways and national roads could be launched. The provision of financial support by the State for such programmes must continue to be contingent on the amounts which the Government may from time to time decide should be made available for road purposes generally. At the same time I wish to put on record my own intention and that of the Government to ensure, as far as we possibly can, that urgent and essential schemes on the national and major urban routes will not be delayed for lack of funds. As evidence of my own and the Government's concern about the needs of the road system an additional £4½ million was provided this year for the roads programme over the amount provided by our predecessors last year.
In addition to the general powers already mentioned, the second urgent purpose of the Bill is to give road authorities power to construct, maintain and improve motorways. Motorways are now accepted in all developed countries as the most efficient means of carrying large volumes of heavy traffic with maximum safety. It has been established that the incidence of fatal and personal injury accidents on motorways is one quarter to one-third that on all-purpose roads. The stage has already been reached in this country where, having regard to current traffic flows, the need for motorway facilities on certain sections of our road network is already established.
There are two essential characteristics of a motorway: (1) it must be limited as to use to certain specified classes of mechanically propelled vehicles—pedestrians, pedal cyclists, certain types of slow moving traffic and animals are excluded from using it, and (2) access to it is only allowed at properly designed junctions or interchanges. Our existing public roads are "all purpose" roads in so far as they may be used by all classes of traffic, including pedestrians, cyclists and animals. In addition, under common law all landowners have a right of access to the adjoining public roads. Section 6 and 8 of the Bill make specific provision to enable access to motorways to be strictly controlled.
One particular motorway project which is at present being examined proposes to replace a section of the Dublin-Belfast national primary route between the city and a point beyond the Airport. A compulsory purchase order made by the Dublin County Council in 1971 to acquire land for the project cannot be dealt with by my Department until section 7 of the Bill is enacted. Senators will be aware that the Government have recently given approval in principle to a proposal for the provision of a motorway bridge across the Liffey. This bridge and approaches is one of the key elements in the comprehensive programme recommended in the Dublin Transportation Study to meet the projected needs of the Dublin region over the next 20 years. While the bridge and its approaches can be regarded as a self-contained project which would independently afford substantial improvement of traffic flows in central city areas, its actual benefits will be much wider as it will also provide access to the proposed new roads to Dublin Airport and the west and to a new Fairview bye-pass. In addition, surveys in relation to the Dublin-Kilcock road, which are at present being completed by the road authorities concerned, may lead to the development of motorway proposals for sections of that road.
I cannot emphasise too strongly that under the provisions of sections 4, 5 and 6 of this Bill no decision can be taken by road authorities to go ahead with these or any other motorway projects until all interested parties have been duly notified and afforded an adequate opportunity to state their views at a public inquiry. It will be my task to consider all aspects of the proposal, objections and points of view expressed, and the report of the inquiry, before I decide to approve of a motorway scheme. The Bill provides for payment of compensation for damage by depreciation of any interest or enjoyment in land suffered by a person through closure of a means of access to a public road because of the construction of a motorway. Where compensation cannot be agreed with the road authority there is provision for reference to an arbitrator to determine fair compensation. If construction of a motorway involves severance of a holding, the road authorities will be obliged under the Bill to provide means of access from one part of such a holding to another. In addition I will have power to direct that such means of access be provided in any case in which I consider it reasonable to do so.
Allied to the question of compensation is the question of persons displaced from their houses by a motorway. There has been some uninformed public comment on this aspect. Some displacement of houses may be inevitable, but I want to assure the Seanad that it will be kept to the absolute minimum and that houses will not be demolished except when there is no other way of getting round the problem. If people have to be displaced it will be the duty of the local authority to re-house them in as convenient a location as possible and I am sure that a local authority will not fail to meet its obligations fully in this regard.
With regard to the powers of co-ordination under sections 11, 12, and 13 of the Bill, it is necessary in view of the larger scale and complexity of works on national roads and motorways that planning and construction be co-ordinated at all stages in the interests of economy, efficiency and uniformity. The sections referred to will enable the Minister to achieve these objectives. Senators will note that these powers will be used only after consultation with the authorities concerned.
Section 8 (3) deals with a situation where planning permission for development has been granted but the development has not commenced or is not completed. The manner in which notice will be served on the person concerned is to be prescribed by regulations. In this connection I said in the Dáil that I would consider the merits of providing a statutory definition of the commencement of development in relation to a planning permission and I have since reviewed this aspect in detail. I would propose amending this Bill if the implications of an amendment were limited to the purposes of the Bill. As the Seanad will appreciate however such a definition, if it were practical would relate to the general code of planning legislation rather than to roads legislation as such. In the circumstances I am satisfied that it would be inappropriate to use the opportunity of this Bill for the purpose of amending planning legislation by defining the commencement of development in relation to a planning permission. For the purposes of section 8 as it stands therefore the commencement or non-commencement of development where planning permission has been granted will be a matter of fact to be determined by the planning authority.
Finally I should like to refer to the environmental aspects of roads. The Bill, as introduced in the Dáil, contained in section 3 provision conferring express powers on road authorities to undertake works of landscaping and planting and so on in the interests of amenity and environment. In the course of the Dáil debate it was felt that the Bill might usefully contain a statement of general principle in that respect. I therefore included in section 4 of the Bill a provision requiring road authorities to have regard to the preservation of natural and scenic amenities and to consult such authorities as they consider necessary for the purpose before preparing a scheme for a motorway. This provision taken in conjunction with the express powers already referred to, will, I am sure, help to bring clearly to the notice of road authorities the importance which the Oireachtas attaches to amenity and environmental considerations.
Other amendments made to the Bill in the course of its passage through the Dáil, and which I suggest have made it a better Bill, include provision to make it clear that fences and retaining walls forming part of a motorway will specifically be the responsibility of the road authority, and extended provisions in relation to service of notice of the making of a motorway scheme.
I commend the Bill to the House.