Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 3 Apr 2003

Vol. 172 No. 8

Local Government (No. 2) Bill 2003: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the Seanad for facilitating the introduction of this Bill, particularly the Leader for changing the Order of Business. I appreciate the co-operation of the House.

This is a short technical Bill to provide for the continued application of Part IV of the Local Government Act 1946 in relation to certain applications for bridge orders which authorise the construction of bridges. The Bill provides that Part IV should continue to apply and be deemed always to have applied to an application for a bridge order made to and being processed by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government prior to the repeal of that Part and to a bridge order made subsequently on foot of such application. Transitional provisions to deal with such cases were not included in the Local Government Act 2001.

On the basis of the advice available, it was considered that an application already made and processed, in respect of which a public inquiry had been held, could be brought to completion and final determination under Part IV. On this basis, a bridge order was made earlier this year in respect of the proposed new Waterford city bridge, to be constructed upstream from the existing city bridge as part of the N25 city bypass. However, subsequent legal advice, obtained in the course of the preparation of the State's defence in a court action concerning navigation rights on the river, raised concerns about the soundness of an order in these circumstances. The aim of the Bill, therefore, is to remedy any deficiency that may apply by providing for the continued application of Part IV in any such transitional case.

The bridge in question will be the fourth to be built over the River Suir at Waterford. Senators may not know that the first bridge, known as Old Timber Toes, was built more than 300 years ago in 1793 by Lemuel Cox. This was replaced in 1913 by Redmond Bridge. The third bridge at the same location, known as Rice Bridge, was opened to traffic in October 1984. The need for a second crossing of the River Suir at Waterford was first recognised in the 1960s and included in the city council's development plan almost 30 years ago in 1974.

The national primary route, N25, connects Cork to the port of Rosslare via Waterford city. The existing route through Waterford city passes along the congested city quays and crosses the River Suir over an opening span bridge, the only bridge crossing for motor traffic in the city. The average daily traffic flow across Rice Bridge is 36,500 vehicles, with weekday flows of more than 40,000 vehicles a regular occurrence. The need for a Waterford city bypass and second river crossing has been identified in the development plans of the three relevant local authorities, Waterford City Council, Waterford County Council and Kilkenny County Council.

The objective of the N25 Waterford city bypass is to provide a bypass of the city for through traffic while also catering for the needs of the city. The planned scheme extends from west of Kilmeaden in County Waterford to east of Slieverue in County Kilkenny. The route crosses the River Suir at Granny, close to the location of the existing N24-N9 junction to the north-west of Waterford city, thus providing Waterford with a second major bridge over the Suir and allowing traffic on the N25 Cork to Rosslare route to bypass the city. Overall, the scheme comprises approximately 23 km of all-purpose dual carriageway and approximately 4 km of single carriageway construction. There is an additional 11 km of side roads and tie-ins. The Suir bridge element, to which the Bill relates, is approximately 475 m in length.

The N25 Waterford city bypass scheme has been developed by Waterford City Council as lead authority. The project management of the scheme has been carried out by the Tramore House regional design office, which carries out design and project management for national road projects in counties in the south-east. The N25 scheme is also consistent with the national spatial strategy published in December 2002. As Senators know, Waterford is one of nine gateways identified in the strategy. Provision of a second River Suir crossing will be an important factor in delivering on a number of the key aims of the strategy for the south-east region.

It should be noted that the N25 Waterford city bypass scheme was also the subject of an environmental impact statement prepared pursuant to the Roads Act 1993, as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000. The EIS was approved by An Bord Pleanála, subject to modifications, last October. The proposed new bridge and the N25 bypass, of which it is a crucial part, are significant not only to Waterford city and county but also to Kilkenny, the south-east region as a whole and far beyond. It is an essential part of our national infrastructure. Senators will, therefore, appreciate the importance that attaches to safeguarding the bridge order by the passage of this Bill.

I welcome the Minister back to the House. He has given us a history of bridges in Waterford going back to Old Timber Toes. As the other two or three bridges were called after famous Waterford people, perhaps this bridge will be known as Cullen Bridge in future.

I thank the Senator. I will accept that.

While I agree totally with the proposal for a second bridge for Waterford over the River Suir, I must question the appalling delay in bringing this project to completion. Improved infrastructure is imperative for the south-east region and it is our duty to facilitate its construction without further delay. Six weeks ago the Minister jumped the gun by announcing this project with the usual press fanfare. I understand it is six years in the offing, hence the urgency of this legislation.

The Waterford area's present and future development depends on accelerated access routes being put in place. Competitiveness and jobs are on the line in the south-east due to a total lack of a viable infrastructure in the region. Improved air, rail and road access is vital to the area's economic survival but Government mismanagement has resulted in a deficit in funding for such essential projects. This is evident in my area in the midlands as well as other parts of the country. Leaving that aside, it is essential that the construction of this bridge commences without further delay.

In 1997 the rainbow Government under Deputy John Bruton gave the go-ahead for the consultants' report for this essential project. His Government subsequently passed the report following continued representations by my colleague, Senator Maurice Cummins. My party is extremely pleased that despite the six year delay, the project, which it supported so vigorously, is now coming to fruition. Regrettably, transitional provisions to deal with such cases were not included in the Local Government Act 2001, which strikes me as a major oversight. I wonder whether there are any other cases left hanging in such a manner. If so, they should be dealt with now under this Bill. Dealing with such issues in piecemeal fashion is a waste of the time of this House.

The fact that a bridge in one area of the country has taken six years to reach the light of day makes a mockery of the grand aspirations of the national spatial strategy. The lack of easy access to Waterford is a total contradiction of the Government's stated aims. However, I welcome the proposal and hope when I seek a bridge for the midlands or some other part of the country, the Minister will act with such efficiency and urgency.

Senator Bannon is nothing if not consistent. He has to have a go at everything, even a small technical amendment such as this. I compliment the Minister on introducing it in such a short period of time. If we had some other Minister for the Environment and Local Government who was not from the area, I wonder whether it would have been introduced so promptly. We know how important it is for the region.

I thank Members of the Opposition for allowing the Bill to be taken so quickly. For them it may appear to have been produced very quickly but as the Minister and I and everybody from the south-east know, we have been waiting more than 30 years for this to come about. There was a small technicality preventing it proceeding. I am glad it is being dealt with today.

There is complete agreement on this project in the south-east region. Because there are so many large towns in the south-east there is huge competition in the area. We recently introduced legislation to allow local authorities to have a mayor rather than a cathaoirleach. Prior to that, apart from the five large cities, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick, there were only five other areas in the country that had the designation of mayor, three of which were in the south-east – Clonmel, Wexford and Kilkenny. This gives an idea of the competition in the region. Waterford, as capital of the south-east, has always had a difficulty with this. Having said that, there has been complete support throughout the region for this project which will benefit not only Waterford and Kilkenny through which the new road structure will pass but also the entire south-east region. It is vital for its development.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, was in Waterford last Monday and met the chamber of commerce and the South-East Regional Authority. I attended the meetings with him. He told both bodies that two tenders had been submitted for the 27 kilometre project. The bridge is only a small part that links it together in the middle. It is hoped work will commence later this year to which we all look forward. The road will link with the roads to Cork, Limerick, Dublin and New Ross and bypass the city, which as the Minister rightly said has become totally clogged up. It will also lead into the port at Bellview, which is developing very rapidly.

As an aside, I was very disappointed at the low emphasis given to rail freight in the strategic rail review, published today. That is a big mistake. I hope the Government will not act on it and will see the benefits in taking as many large trucks off our roads as possible and putting them onto rail where they should rightly be.

This road will be a major boost to the regional airport which has had difficulties in the past, some of which have come about because many of the recent carriers using the South-East Regional Airport, as it is now known, had no experience in the aviation industry. Negotiations are ongoing with Aer Arran which has a very sound structure. I hope it will operate from there in the near future. This new infrastructural development will also link with the airport road. This shows how important the project is to Waterford. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to pass this Bill through the Seanad and commend it to the House.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for introducing this legislation. Having spoken to my Labour Party colleagues who represent the area and listened to the Minister I realise the importance of this infrastructure. The Labour Party realises the importance and urgency of this legislation and will facilitate its timely passage through the Oireachtas.

I welcome the Waterford Minister for the Environment and Local Government and his staff. I fully support previous speakers and thank Members of the Opposition for allowing this technical Bill to be taken in the House today.

I am a member of the Southern and Eastern Regional Assembly. This was one of the vital parts of infrastructure that body proposed in its submission for the south-east region. It will be great to have a second bridge, which will bypass Waterford city. I wish the Minister every success in implementing this and the roads project, which are vital in terms of infrastructure in the south-east region. I fully support the Bill.

I thank all Members of the Seanad for their great assistance in passing this Bill. It is ironic that I should be in the Department of Environment and Local Government at this time given that the only bridge order left was the Waterford bridge order. The process had largely taken place under Part IV of the 1946 Act. One thought that the Interpretation Act 2001 had covered it sufficiently but there was a doubt and we wanted to be absolutely certain. The Senators who spoke recognise the project is ready to commence and that it is extremely important infrastructure, both nationally and for the south-east.

There were no other orders remaining. This was discovered in the preparation of separate work. I thank my officials for their assistance in pointing this out and working so quickly to rectify the matter and remove any doubts. If Senator Bannon has any new bridge orders, I am sure we will be able to look at them under the new legislation and try to be as helpful to him as Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been to the Government today.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.