(Wexford): While negotiations on possible toll-based investment in the Newbridge and Kilcullen by-passes did not reach a satisfactory conclusion, mainly because the likely level of private funding available was small compared to the total cost and the likely diversion of traffic onto secondary roads.
Regarding loan finance, the major concern is the cost of borrowing. Private money is, of course, available, but should we borrow it at a cost greater than direct Exchequer borrowing? Our investment programme is also influenced by the availability of funding to match EC finance. The National Roads Authority will have both tolling and borrowing powers and will be able to look afresh at the question of funding. I hope when the Authority considers the possibility of tolling it will have full consultation with the local authorities involved and that the Minister can also intercede if he so wishes.
Senators Quinn, Daly and others commented on the role of the executive chairman. We might be in a position to return to that on Committee Stage when they can outline their views more clearly. Annual reports were also referred to and I would point out that the National Roads Authority will be duty bound to present its annual report not later than 30 June each year. That answers Senator Quinn's question. Senator Finneran expressed a concern that the west and midlands would not be ignored in developing the national road network. I can assure him this is not the case, and that when the next road programme is published he will find substantial investment proposed in those areas. I want to assure Senator McGowan that I share his call for a balanced approach to road development. We do, of course, have to start somewhere and that means concentrating first on the roads with the worst traffic capacity problems and bottlenecks. Generally, one would expect the National Roads Authority to develop the road network on a fair and equitable basis and to ensure that all sectors of the country are suitably serviced.
As regards representation on the National Roads Authority, the Bill provides that members must have had wide experience of roads, transport, industrial, commercial, financial, or environmental matters, local government, the organisation of workers, or administration. Members will be chosen for their personal skills and not as representatives of particular organisations or interests or indeed political parties. It is very important that we have a range of expertise and experience on the Authority, and that it will not be made up of political hacks. When the board is set up Senators will see that the National Roads Authority will comprise people suitably qualified to perform the duties involved.
There were many calls during the debate for increased assistance for regional and county roads, including pleas from Senator Gallagher about the roads in Cavan, Senator Cotter in relation to roads in Monaghan and Senator McGowan in relation to roads in Donegal. In addition to increased funding for national roads and notwithstanding the constraints on Government since 1987 in our efforts to restore balance to the public finances, substantial extra funding has been provided for non-national roads. Total grants to local authorities for the maintenance and improvement of regional and county roads were increased from £40.5 million in 1986 to over £75.3 million in 1993, an increase of over 85 per cent and well ahead of the rate of price increases. The discretionary grant allocation to local authorities of £182.4 million provided for non-national roads in the three years 1989-91 was significantly ahead of the target of £150 million which the Government had initially promised for that period. In 1993 funding is again being provided for non-national roads which is a clear demonstration of the Government's commitment to the improvement of the road network considering the Exchequer constraints.
I would like to make a particular point in relation to Cavan/Monaghan. Some £5 million is being provided this year in the form of a supplementary grant for improvement works on non-national roads of which over 20 per cent is being allocated to Cavan and Monaghan county councils, so they are obviously getting priority. Other politicians around the country may not be happy about that but, because of the serious road situation in those countries it was important to provide an increased allocation to help bring local road standards up to those of the rest of the country. There is also a special provision for pilot projects in this year's allocation. The provision, which is over and above the normal rate of grants for non-national roads, is intended for pilot projects in counties Cavan, Leitrim and Monaghan which will evaluate and implement new mechanisms and work practices designed to enhance the output from funds available for regional and county roads.
There has been a lot of comment about EC Structural Funds. This is an area in which both the Minister and the Taoiseach have taken a keen interest. Much has been said about the former EC Commissioner Mr. MacSharry's comments that 10 per cent of European funding should be made available for county roads. The Minister has been involved in discussions in Brussels in relation to this proposal. There is a tendency in Brussels to provide moneys directly for primary roads and not county roads. The Senator can rest assured that the Minister is doing his utmost to secure funding for county roads to ensure that their current standard is improved. This is important when there is so much emphasis on the development of tourism as part of our economic development.
The question of reclassifying roads to national status was raised by Senator McGowan. Before formally establishing the National Roads Authority, there will be a complete review of national roads classification. Roads serving the State airports and the designated key commercial seaports will be classified as national if they are not classified as such already. The review will also look at what other changes are required to take account of new road construction, changed traffic management arrangements and changed traffic patterns. Requests for reclassification are regularly received and are carefully examined. However, there is already an extensive network of national primary and secondary roads, so reclassifications will be made on a selective basis only to carry out works. Urban authorities have powers to control the activities of the ESB, Telecom Éireann and An Bord Gáis. I would like to see them implementing the powers they have on a more regular basis to ensure that roads are kept up to standard, and to avoid wastage of funds on road openings three or four times a year by different State bodies. There should be co-ordination in this area.
Senator Farrell made a number of valuable points in relation to using the valuable expertise of the local authorities, the VAT treatment of local authority work, the importance of increased investment in non-national roads and the problem associated with getting planning permission on certain roads. The 1982 guidelines from the Department suggest a very restrictive approach to development along national roads, especially national primary roads. This restrictive approach does not apply to regional or local roads.
Most county councils allow for certain exceptions to the departmental guidelines in accordance with criteria which they have built into the county development plan. It is important that where major roads are leading to ports and airports this will be seriously considered. Adding roads willy nilly would also dilute the available funding for the network and would not be in the long term interests of the country.
Senator McGowan raised a number of issues in relation to the contracting of work. Many county councils have begun to contract out road improvement works on national roads. In many cases some of the work is contracted out and the local authority also carries out some of the work because they already have the manpower and the machinery, and it is important that a balance be struck in that area.
Road openings were mentioned by a number of Senators. This area becomes very contenious when Telecom Éireann, the ESB and An Bord Gáis all open the roads at different times. This should continue because people want to live in their own area and build on their own land. It is important to define situations in the county development plans to ensure that this can continue.
The problem of temporary dwellings was mentioned. All the powers in sections 69 to 71 in the National Roads Authority Bill can be exercised by local authorities and by the gardaí to remove people from temporary dwellings. Unauthorised trading and dangerous trees are also a major cause of concern. I assure Senator Sherlock that the National Safety Council dealing with roads, fire and water safety is very active in this area.
It was suggested that each county should keep its own motor tax collection. That would not be in the best interests of local authorities in the long term because local authorities get substantially more in State road grants than they collect in road tax. This year less than £2 million will be collected in motor tax while State road grants amount to £340 million.
Questions in regard to speed limits, land acquisition and sign posting have been raised and we will take the points made back to the Department which will communicate directly with the Senators who raised them. Iarnród Éireann was mentioned. I have a lot of problems with Iarnród Éireann in my own county. Iarnród Éireann seems to think that the Government is loaded with money while they maintain that they do not have any. The area of level crossings and warning signs needs to be examined. I will discuss this issue and the question of speed limits with my officials.
A number of Senators have expressed concern about the role local authorities will play when the National Road Authority is set up. I assure Senators that the local authorities will continue to play a major role in the development of the national roads. They have the expertise and the experience, and the National Roads Authority will continue to call on their staff to design roads, prepare contract documents, supervise construction and carry out maintenance. The mandate of the National Roads Authority will extend to the ongoing maintenance of national networks. There is no point spending money on new roads if we fail to maintain those already built.
Senator Kelly raised the questions of lay-bys, picnic facilities and landscaping. Picnic sites might be used for temporary dwellings and roadside trading. Around the country designated picnic sites or caravan sites seem to be taken over by roadside traders and this is not in the best interests of the local areas. That is the only reservation I have on this issue.
The possibility of advertising in local papers was also raised. This was discussed in great detail in the Dáil and it is something I will consider when framing regulations to implement the Bill. The suggestion was also made that a non-driver should be appointed to the National Roads Authority. It is now Government policy that 40 per cent of the board members of State bodies should be women. We hope the National Roads Authority will adhere to this policy.
Senator O'Sullivan made a number of comments on the importance of by-passes and signposting in highlighting special features of by-passed towns which would encourage visitors to come to these towns. Senator Wall spoke about Kildare becoming a by-passed county. The Department will have to seriously consider this issue when by-passes are being built. There are a number of these by-passes in Wexford and some of the towns seem to suffer as a result.
The question of overlap of functions was also raised. I hope there will be no overlap of functions. The National Roads Authority will take over the management functions currently exercised by the Department of the Environment. It will also have the power to ensure that road planning and other policy areas are properly co-ordinated.
Senator Daly mentioned travellers camping on the new Bunratty by-pass. The encampment of travellers on our main high speed roads has long been recognised as a problem. Section 69 of this Bill gives local authorities and the Garda effective powers to remove temporary dwellings from motorways, protected roads and national roads, and I think this provision should go a long way towards eliminating the problem from the high speed roads. I speak from personal experience when I say that it may take a little more than a section of the Bill to deal with this problem.
The Senator also raised the subject of the Limerick by-pass and said that this road had been constructed on extremely poor, boggy ground. It is expected that some sections of the road will deteriorate after a number of years. Works are to be carried out this year on the sections of the Ennis dual carriageway which should eliminate the problems which Senator Daly raised. I do not understand why a recently constructed by-pass should have to be resurfaced so soon after construction, even allowing for the extremely boggy ground. This should have been taken into account at the time of construction.
Facilities for cyclists and effective action on roadside vegetation were discussed. Section 68 of the Bill gives local authorities powers to provide cycleways while section 70 gives them improved powers to deal with roadside trees and vegetation. A number of Senators, including Senator McGennis, raised the issue of cyclists and I would like to see this area improved because we have not done enough to make our roads safe for cyclists.
I have responded as best I can to the issues raised by Senators. I hope that on Committee Stage Senators will introduce amendments and we can discuss them fully to see how we can improve the Bill.
Many of the points raised by Senator McGennis about improved public transport, better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, concerns about personal security and so on are being dealt with by the Dublin Transport Initiative.
I would like to assure Senator Neville that the condition of the N69 road will not be allowed become an impediment to the future development of the Shannon Estuary. The local issues raised by Senators will be considered by the Department and I hope they will get a response. The points raised by Senator Wall about Athy and the location of the Naas Road interchanges and the comments made by other speakers will also be considered by the Department.
Senator Mooney referred to Border roads and trans-European routes and, with other Senators, he made a strong case for county road investment. He particularly referred to the Border roads and, as he said, funding is available under the EC Interreg initiative. I expect that this initiative will continue in the next round of Structural Funds. As I mentioned earlier, general funding for county roads has increased substantially in the Border counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim.
Senator Mooney also argued for the improvement of the Belfast-Dublin-Rosslare route and I have to support that as the route ends in Rosslare. It is one of our highest priorities for investment and the Minister for the Environment recently announced approval for the Balbriggan section of the route. He also referred to the inclusion of the N16 in the trans-European network proposals. This route will be part of the finally approved trans-European network and thereby eligible for Cohesion Fund assistance. The N16 will be upgraded in due course but probably not to motorway standard.
I wish to repeat that Senators put much thought, effort and work into the Bill. The Department of the Environment would incur a large expenditure bill if we were to spend all the money requested by the Senators, especially in relation to rural Ireland. It is important that the National Roads Authority and the Department strike a balance to ensure that the roads not only in Dublin but in rural areas are upgraded and developed, giving easier access to this country and allowing people in industry to transport their goods to the European market of 320 million people as quickly as possible. I hope we can continue to work on this Bill and get Committee Stage through the Seanad as quickly as possible.