I am pleased to be in the Seanad for the Second Stage debate on the Roads (Amendment) Bill, 1997. While this is a short and somewhat technical Bill, it deals with a number of important issues. The Bill has already been considered by the Dáil and was examined in Committee. During its passage through the other House, Deputies from all sides participated in a positive and constructive debate. I know that the same will be the case in this House.
The Bill has four primary aims: to clarify the power of local authorities, as road authorities, to compulsorily acquire a substratum, that is an underground slice of land, for the construction and maintenance of a road tunnel as part of their powers under the Roads Act, 1993; to amend the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, to provide a similar power in legislation relating to a tunnel for light rail development; to regulate procedures for judicial review of ministerial decisions on motorway schemes and roads-related environmental impact statements and to confirm the legal status as motorways of a number of proposed public roads.
This is the first Bill to amend roads legislation for five years. The Roads Act, 1993, is the basic legislation which governs how we construct and maintain our road network. It provides a comprehensive and modern legislative framework for road development. Preparation of that legislation involved considerable research and drafting work and there was extensive scrutiny of the Bill in both Houses of the Oireachtas. For these reasons the Roads Act, 1993, will stand the test of time as the legislative basis for the development of Ireland's road network.
However, it was inevitable that in the course of experience of the legislation some matters would come to attention which, if added, could benefit the legislation or on which clarification of the law would be desirable. Three such matters have arisen which are the subject of this Bill.
Senators will be aware that the proposed Dublin port tunnel is one element of the Dublin Transportation Initiative's strategy for the city. In the course of the planning of the project by Dublin Corporation legal doubt has arisen over the powers of the corporation, as road authority, to compulsorily acquire the land required for the tunnel. The corporation proposes that the land to be acquired for the project should consist of the underground section — or substratum — necessary for the tunnel and should not involve the compulsory acquisition of all of the land above or below it or of any buildings located on the land. The essence of the legal issue was whether the land acquisition powers contained in the Roads Act, 1993, allowed the corporation to acquire only the necessary substratum of land as it proposes. Differing views were expressed on this issue.
Having considered the matter, the Government came to the conclusion that it was desirable to ensure that there was no legal uncertainty over the powers of local authorities generally to compulsorily acquire substrata of land necessary for road tunnels. Accordingly, section 3 of the Bill amends section 47 of the Roads Act, 1993, in a number of places to provide that a motorway scheme made by a road authority may specify any substratum of land which it is proposed to compulsorily acquire for the purposes of the scheme.
Section 4 of the Bill amends section 52 of the 1993 Act to provide that when the Minister approves a motorway scheme, the road authority will thereupon be authorised, under section 52(1), to compulsorily acquire any substratum of land specified in the scheme and that the general law in relation to compulsory purchase will also apply to the acquisition of a substratum of land. Similarly, the new subsection (7) to be inserted in section 52 confirms that any reference to land in the compulsory purchase code includes a reference to a substratum of land.
At this point I should emphasise that the purpose of this part of the Bill is to provide a legal basis for the acquisition of land for road tunnels generally. It is not the intention, nor will it be the effect, of this new legislation to take away from the statutory procedures which must be followed before any road tunnel project can proceed. In particular, the Bill does not authorise the construction of the Dublin Port Tunnel. Whether the Dublin Port Tunnel project goes ahead, and in what form, will be decided, inter alia, through the statutory motorway scheme and environmental impact assessment procedures set out in the Roads Act, 1993. A full motorway scheme and a comprehensive environmental impact statement will have to be prepared by the corporation and submitted to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. The public will have to be given an adequate opportunity to make submissions on the project and on its environmental impact. A public inquiry will have to be held at which all views can be heard and a report will have to be prepared on the inquiry and submitted for decision. A final decision on the port tunnel will, therefore, be made another day and as part of a different process. For that reason this debate should not be a forum for discussion of the merits and demerits of the port tunnel project. It will not be possible for me to enter into any such discussion in the course of the debate or elsewhere in view of the quasi-judicial functions which the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is likely to be called upon to exercise in relation to the project at a later stage.
I now turn to the second purpose of the Bill, which is the proposed amendment to the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, which is contained in section 6 of the Bill. The 1996 Act is similar to, and based to a large extent on, the Roads Act, 1993. Amendment of the 1996 Act is also required in so far as it relates to compulsory acquisition of a substratum of land and this is being done in the current Bill.
During the passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas of the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, concern was expressed by many Deputies and Senators that the underground option was being excluded because the legislation as drafted did not refer to it explicitly. In order to allay these concerns the then Minister of State agreed to amend the Bill to make it explicit that the underground option was not being ruled out. It now appears, however, in light of the position as it has emerged with regard to the roads legislation, that these amendments may not have been sufficient to achieve their intended purpose.
Section 6 of the Bill, therefore, provides that under section 10(2) of the 1996 Act a light railway order may specify any substratum of land the acquisition of which is necessary for giving effect to the order. Section 6 goes on to provide for the compulsory acquisition of substrata of land under section 13(1) and (2) of the 1996 Act. The new subsection (3) in section 13 of the 1996 Act confirms that any reference to land in the compulsory purchase code which is to be used for light rail land acquisition includes a reference to a substratum of land. The amendments to the light rail legislation now proposed in this Bill will, therefore, copperfasten the intent of the light rail legislation. This is all the more important now since the Government in its recent decision on the light rail project decided to proceed with a network which includes an underground section in the city centre.
The W.S. Atkins report convinced the Government of the merit of proceeding with a substantially surface-based light rail system. Of the 25 kilometres already designed by the CIE team on the Tallaght and Sandyford lines, only a small section will need to be revised to accommodate the 2.5 kilometer long underground section which is proposed to run from St. Stephen's Green to Broadstone. The underground section will address two issues raised in the Atkins report — disruption during construction and potential longer term capacity constraints in the central area as the network is extended.
On roads matters and the third purpose of the Bill which concerns judicial review, the 1993 Act contains no specific provisions relating to judicial review of ministerial decisions on motorway schemes or on roads-related environmental impact statements. This is in marked contrast to other legislative codes. For example, the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1992, and the Waste Management Act, 1996, contain specific provisions governing judicial review of decisions under those codes. It is desirable there be clear provisions applying to judicial review of ministerial decisions on motorway schemes and roads-related environmental impact statements. These should be framed in a way which is broadly similar to other comparable legislation. Accordingly, section 5 of the Bill introduces three new provisions. First, an action challenging the validity of a decision of the Minister on a motorway scheme or on a roads-related environmental impact statement will have to be by way of an application for judicial review. Proceedings will have to be instituted within two months by motion on notice to interested persons. Second, the High Court will not grant leave to apply for review unless it is satisfied there are substantial grounds for contending the decision challenged is invalid or ought to be quashed. Third, the High Court's decision will be final unless it certifies that its decision involves a point of law of exceptional public importance, in which case appeal may be made to the Supreme Court. It is important to emphasise that these new provisions will not restrict the right to institute proceedings challenging these decisions. They are intended merely to ensure that any such proceedings can be brought to finality as expeditiously as possible, bearing in mind the importance of having final and conclusive decisions on major road development proposals within a reasonable timescale.
Section 5 was amended in the Dáil to confirm that it will only apply to legal proceedings initiated after the passing of the Bill.
The fourth and final provision of the Bill is intended to put beyond doubt the legal status as motorways of a limited number of proposed public roads. The Roads Act, 1993, substituted new motorway scheme procedures for those in the Local Government (Roads and Motorways) Act, 1974, the repeal of which was provided for in the 1993 Act. The procedures under the 1974 Act had two elements. Firstly, a motorway scheme was prepared by a local authority, then a public inquiry was held and a ministerial decision was made on the scheme. Secondly, where a motorway scheme was approved by the Minister, another separate ministerial order was required declaring the road the subject of the approved scheme to be a motorway. By contrast, the 1993 Act provides for a single motorway scheme procedure which involves only one formal decision by the Minister. That Act also contained transitional provisions aimed at catering for situations where motorway schemes had been made by local authorities under the 1974 Act but the procedures under that Act had not been completed at the point when the Act was repealed.
Subsequent experience with these transitional provisions suggests that they may not be sufficient to make good the absence from the 1993 Act of the previous power of formally declaring to be a motorway a road which had been the subject of an approved motorway scheme made under the 1974 Act. Three approved motorway schemes are involved — the Southern Cross route, Dunleer-Dundalk and the Kildare town by-pass. Section 7 of the Bill, therefore, provides for the making of orders by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in these specified circumstances to declare these roads to be motorway.
The House will appreciate from this short overview that this is an important Bill. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and I commend the Bill to the House.