Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 27 Jun 1979

Weights of Goods Vehicles.

We can be very brief in considering these draft reports. The first is quite an important report on the question of the weights of goods vehicles. We discussed it at the last meeting. The report was framed in rather strong terms in respect of its implications for Ireland. The proposal is a draft Council directive on the weights and other characteristics of road vehicles used for the carriage of goods here. It would allow still larger juggernaut lorries and vehicles for the carriage of goods to have access to all Irish roads. We had a number of submissions from the haulier companies which are basically in favour of this Council directive because it would allow economies of scale; If one can have larger road vehicles, then one can have greater economies in the loads.

Paragraphs 1 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.


We also had submissions from the Dodder Residents' Association pointing out the acute environmental problem they are already suffering in having juggernaut lorries going through their residential area. They spoke on behalf of the Southern Cross group representing 36 residents' associations who at the moment feel there is an intolerable situation as far as they are concerned because of this very heavy traffic through these residential areas, sometimes late at night or in the early hours of the morning.

At the end of the report under the heading " Views of the Joint Committee ", I drew the attention of the members of the Committee to the fact that we took a rather strong line; I did not want the Committee taken by surprise on it. In those circumstances there was a suggestion that we might put off consideration of this report until today when there would be more members of the Committee present. That paragraph states :

The Joint Committee is fully convinced of the need to keep transport costs as low as possible particularly in view of the rising cost of energy. It believes that Ireland has a particular and vital interest in furthering this objective in view of the large proportion of our trade with the rest of the Community that is carried on roll-on/roll-off services. The object of the draft Directive, which is to permit the carrying capacity of vehicles to be increased, is in line with this objective. However, until such time as the necessary improvements to our inadequate road system are implemented the Committee cannot see how Ireland can support a proposal to permit even heavier goods vehicles from other Member States using our roads and adding to the environmental problems already being caused by this type of traffic.

Senator Conroy expressed a rather strong view on the last occasion. The paragraph as drafted might be going a little far in providing that under no circumstances could there be any support for a Community proposal until these environmental problems are brought under control. I have prepared an amendment which highlights the problem but does not do so in quite the same terms. In the circumstances, could that amendment be circulated to members? The amendment reads:

" On page 5 to delete the last sentence in paragraph 12 and substitute the following:—

‘ However, the main difficulty for Ireland arises from the inadequacy of the road system in this country and it must be recognised that to permit even heavier goods vehicles from other Member States to use our roads will add to the environment problems already being caused by this type of traffic.'"

What we are concerned about here is a draft Council directive to allow heavier and therefore more substantial juggernaut vehicles to come on to Irish roads. The real problem arises from our own infra-structural problems. We do not have the link roads. For example, we do not have the Southern Cross link road to carry this traffic away from residential areas so it is going straight through residential areas; it is causing great damage to roads in residential areas and extreme environmental hazards to the families there. People cannot cross the road; they cannot speak outside their front doors; there is noise and atmospheric pollution. The Committee should draw attention to this. I am prepared to submit a modified version which still highlights the problem but does not do it in terms of the fact that we could not support a proposal for heavier goods vehicles. In my view it achieves more or less the same objective but with language that might be more acceptable to members of the Committee.

Have the members had an opportunity of reading the amendment proposed by Senator Robinson? It was I who raised the doubt as to whether we had gone too far in our opposition to this at the time. It was also supported by other members who felt more or less similarly that we were putting back the clock and that one has to allow a problem to arise before seriously looking for solutions. It is likely that if we left it a bit more open we might get assistance to overcome the inadequacy of the roads here.

I do not know whether Senator Robinson's amendment goes far enough in the direction that we had in mind. It still does not support the proposals that are before us. It does not suggest that perhaps we could get assistance and if we got it, certainly our objections would be withdrawn. I do not know how we could word it to give that impression rather than the impression that our roads are simply inadequate and that we are very concerned about that. We are not saying whether we support the proposals or not.

We are not saying, as we are in the original text, that we definitely would not support it. We are highlighting the very grave environmental problems. In view of the kind of representations made to this Committee by the Dodder Residents' Association, speaking on behalf of a large number of residents' associations which are in the frontline of this problem, I would not be in favour of the committee positively recommending that heavier and larger juggernaut vehicles be allowed to roam freely on Irish roads. The dilemma is that we do not have a road system that they can travel on at the moment which would take them out of residential areas around Dublin. I would submit that we are more likely to get this problem treated very seriously and to get the kind of infrastructure that we want and to get EEC assistance for it if they see in a report of the Committee the highlighting of the very grave situation as it is at the moment and the protests of residents' associations.

If we attempt to curtail foreign traffic here, we are going to run into difficulties. After all, if we are in a free trading situation we are encouraging traffic from Europe to use our roads in the same way as Irish exporters hope that they can use the roads in Europe. So it seems very hard to curtail traffic from other countries and even traffic within our country because as costs mount we are going to have bigger vehicles on the roads that will carry more goods at the one time and to the one place.

With regard to the environmental hazards, I am not convinced that these vehicles are more hazardous than vehicles using petrol. I have experience of diesel engines and I would be hard to convince. With regard to the noise, all our modern trucks are being fitted with new types of equipment which eliminate a great deal of engine noise.

I would go along with that amendment. This is a very serious problem. Perhaps heavy traffic going through residential areas would appear to be a problem. The problem is that, certainly in the secondary roads, the culverts and the bridges are not able to stand a heavier axle weight than what we have. There is tremendous pressure in central Europe for heavier axle weights which, I am convinced, from speaking to our county engineer, the roads in the midlands would not be able to cater for especially during the winter months and that could be from October to April. It is unreasonable to think that trade is going to stop during those wet months.

Our big problem is we do not have the infrastructures here to take the standards to which other countries have advanced. There is also the fact that in a town like Naas, a mile and a half in length, it takes 40 minutes to get through even in the middle of the day. Those are the problems we should be thinking about. I accept that it is undesirable to be forcing so much traffic through residential areas but the problem is much deeper than that. Being a peripheral area of the Community we are depending on a dynamic transport policy. The Commission are presently in the process of drawing up new transport regulations and policies. We should look to them to recognise our situation and be pressing for some form of subsidisation to give our exporters a fair crack of the whip vis-�-vis the cost of getting our produce to the profitable markets in central Europe. While one may say that the original draft is too strong my view is that it is not strong enough. However, it could be misread and, therefore, if Senator Robinson wishes to press her amendment I will support it.

I hoped we would get to the point of expressing the view that we are extremely anxious to go with the Community solution to this problem but that we found ourselves in this almost impossible position of underdevelopment of our roads here and that we would require substantial assistance before we could accommodate something that we are extremely anxious to accommodate. I would rather see the proposal put in that form rather than being left slightly up in the air, even with Senator Robinson's amendment. In Europe I have always found that one should be seen to be anxious to solve problems the European way. We can get assistance to meet difficulties by agreeing to such arrangements.

Is it not the situation that generally we take the view that it is in the interests of the Irish hauliers to have the increased axle weights and so on but that we are fearful of the damage that would be caused to our road structures by heavier weights and the problem of noise in built-up areas? We are in the situation that what we want is a substantial investment in our road structures to improve them so that they can take these extra weights. Could we add to the amendment something on the lines suggested by the Chairman that the Joint Committee is of the view that substantial investment is necessary to improve our road structure to enable us to implement this directive and we would be very anxious for assistance from any source to enable us to do so.

This matter could be raised by the group who will be visiting Brussels. We should try to get it into a form of words to get the message over that we are anxious to comply with what they are thinking of but that we have this very serious difficulty to overcome which will require substantial money, which we do not have.

I agree with the views expressed that we should make clear the nature and extent of the problem and that the Joint Committee cannot agree to expose our residential communities any further to this kind of environmental hazard or expose roads that will not take the extra axle weight to the pressures. I suggest that we add to the original text, which is a stronger text, a promise that, if substantial money is provided and support forthcoming from the EEC for the infrastructure, this would remove the environmental problem. That would enable us to overcome these objections.

I would not like to see the wording more temperate.

Did the subcommittee ascertain the degree to which the ten-year road development plan of the Department of the Environment would meet the requirements we are talking about? When that ten-year plan is implemented would it be sufficient to accept the axle weights outlined?

We were not happy about the fact that it was not possible to give us the kind of detailed costings of the effect on our roads. We did not get this information and the subcommittee were rather alarmed at the prospect of this Council Directive being agreed to without having a detailed assessment of the cost to the infrastructure, the cost to our roads and the environmental costs that would arise. A number of members of the subcommittee questioned the Department's official and he said he would try to provide us with further documentary evidence. I do not think that we got the kind of breakdown we were looking for of the actual implications for Ireland of acceding to this Directive under present circumstances.

I understand that some additional information was circulated the last day.

A lot of steam is being generated about something about which we do not have the facts. When the Minister for the Environment announced what seemed to be a fairly exciting plan for roads—the ten-year plan—I felt it would help to cater for this situtaion. However, I hear now that we do not know whether it will or not.

I was a member of a local authority for 18 years before I became a Minister and I am aware that road plans that were made with time limits on them were never implemented. It is too dangerous to depend on a forecast as to what might be done. The main thing we want to emphasise is that there is a serious problem here, that we are anxious to solve it the Community way and that, if we get the sort of assistance that is necessary, we will immediately fall in.

Does that mean that we need an adjustment to the ten-year plan? Does it mean that in the first three years of that plan an extra £50 million or an extra £100 million is required and we should be going to the EEC for it?

Any Government here would very readily comply with the acceptance of money to overcome infrastructural problems that must be overcome if we are to have the development and the industrial investment that will make the place attractive. If we do not have the road system adequate for this type of traffic we will not get industry.

We seem to be very general. It appears that we are saying that the bigger lorries will come in, ruin our roads and destroy our environment and therefore we must make some noise about it. It does not seem to be based on a factual evaluation.

We failed to get this and that is our problem. If Senator Robinson would withdraw her amendment, I will now circulate an alternative amendment which might meet the wishes of the Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move :

" To delete the last sentence of the paragraph and substitute the following :

‘ Moreover the proposal is in line with the aims of the common transport policy which the Committee fully supports. The difficulty, however, as far as Ireland is concerned is that the existing road system is not adequate for heavy vehicular traffic and allowing even heavier goods vehicles from other Member States to use our roads would undoubtedly aggravate existing environmental problems. While accepting that the proposal must be supported in the interests of the common transport policy the Committee believes that it does highlight the strength of Ireland's case for Community assistance for infrastructural development without which it will be physically impossible to accommodate the axle weights proposed in many areas of our country'."

Amendment agreed to.
Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.
Paragraphs 13 to 16, inclusive, agreed to.
Appendices I and II agreed to.
Draft Report, as amended, agreed to.
Ordered : To report accordingly.