Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Questions (2)

Imelda Munster


2. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason the port access northern cross route is not included in Project Ireland 2040 or the National Development Plan 2018-2027 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37889/18]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Why is the port access northern cross route not included in Project Ireland 2040 or, indeed, in the national development plan? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

I thank Deputy Munster for this question, which is very important in her area. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant county or city council, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the council's own resources, supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the council.

Prior to the financial crisis, applications for funding for road improvement projects would have been considered as part of the specific improvement, strategic, regional and local road grant schemes. However, the extent of the cutbacks in grant funding during the crisis meant that these grant schemes had to be curtailed after 2013 because expenditure on maintenance and renewal was falling well short of what was required to adequately maintain the regional and local road network.

The national development plan provides for the gradual build up in funding for the road network but it will take some years yet to reach the level required for the adequate maintenance and renewal of the network. For this reason, there is limited scope at present for funding projects under the specific and strategic grant programmes.

Any projects proposed by local authorities for consideration under the specific and strategic grant programmes are assessed by the Department on a case-by-case basis. All projects put forward by local authorities for consideration must comply with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework, and it is important for local authorities to prioritise projects within their overall area of responsibility with these requirements in mind.

Under the capital project appraisal process a preliminary appraisal has to be submitted in relation to each proposed project. Once an appraisal is received, it is assessed taking into account other competing projects, and the overall roads budget. To date, no application has been received by my Department from Louth County Council in relation to the port access northern cross road. It is of course open to the local authority to bring forward a proposal subject to the public spending code and capital appraisal framework. It would then be considered in conjunction with other proposals, taking account of limited resources.

I have raised this issue with the Minister on several occasions, as he is aware, and each time the response has been the same. The previous responses the Minister has given were that given the cutbacks in State funding for regional and local roads since the financial crisis it has been necessary to curtail the grant programme for major new, regional and local road schemes and for major realignment schemes in order to protect the funding available for the maintenance of the existing network. The Minister has regurgitated that reply each time I have submitted a question to him. The Minister stated "curtail" but that is a little bit of an understatement. The opportunities to apply for grants have been literally non-existent.

As I stated, I have raised this with the Minister before and I want to explain what the northern environs programme is. It is a plan to build three neighbourhoods consisting of more than 7,000 houses. This will mean an increase in population of more than 20,000 people in the town of Drogheda. To say that the port access northern cross route is a vital piece of infrastructure is an understatement. It was a dismal failure of the Minister and the Government, although no surprise, that this route was not included in the Project Ireland 2040 plan. There is not even a reference to it. Drogheda receives just third tier status.

The CEO of Louth County Council has also stated that due to the reduction in funding from the Minister's Department there were few, or no, real opportunities to apply for this grant.

Go raibh maith agat. I call on the Minister. He has one minute.

I understand Deputy Munster's need for this road and she has in fact made a very good case for it. It does seem strange to me that no application was received by my Department from Louth County Council with regard to port access on the northern cross road. It is odd as it would have been logical for this to have been one of their priorities and it should have come to my desk at the earliest opportunity. The council has, no doubt, more important roads but I would have thought that the first port of call for Deputy Munster would have been to go to the local authority and ask it to put in an application for this. It is very difficult for me to respond to this if the local authority has not itself put forward a case for this road. Deputy Munster has herself put forward a very good case for it.

As I said, the CEO of Louth County Council said there were no real opportunities to apply for funding, given all of the cutbacks in the Department. I have some good news for the Minister, however. Louth County Council is working on a project submission for urban renewal and regeneration funding under the Project Ireland 2040 plan and the northern cross route will be part of that. Will the Minister give a commitment to grant the application the necessary funding for this vital piece of infrastructure? Given the magnitude of the development and the necessity for this port access crossroad, and given that Drogheda is in gridlock as it stands, without trying to accommodate 20,000 people - planning permission has already been granted for 5,000 of these houses - will the Minister give a commitment here and now that he will release the funding once he receives the application, and that this will also be included in the Project Ireland 2040 plan? He mentioned that he has not received an application but I hope he will do so when he does.

A final response from the Minister.

I do not think that this application will come to me so I am afraid that I cannot give this commitment. The urban regeneration and redevelopment fund is under the aegis of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. This fund was launched as part of Project Ireland 2040 to support the regeneration of five cities and large towns and will operate on a competitive bid and Exchequer grant basis, with matching 25% funding from other public and private sector sources. The closing date for applications is next week, 28 September, and a further call is anticipated for mid-2019. I am very glad that Louth County Council has now made this application but as far as I know it will not be coming to my desk-----

It should be coming to the Minister's desk.

It will not come to my desk. It will be going to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government-----

Should there be funds in the Minister's Department?

-----so perhaps then, it should make that application to him. My Department understands that Louth County Council submitted an application under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, and that the estimated cost of the project was of the order of €7 million with proposed funding of €5.4 million. We understand that the northern cross route was not among the projects selected for that application either.