Thursday, 21 November 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

Marc MacSharry


1. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on whether there is sufficient funding provided for maintenance and improvement of local and regional roads in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48417/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

Does the Minister believe there is sufficient funding provided for maintenance and improvement of local and regional roads and will he make a statement on the matter? As he is aware, successive years of under-investment have left Ireland's regional and local roads at crisis point. Average spending in the last six years shows a deficit of nearly 40% in terms of the Department's own estimate of what is required, which is close to €600 million per year just to stand still. This figure does not take account of the many years of under-investment which have built up and left our roads in such a poor state.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of each local authority under the Roads Act 1993, as amended, with works funded by local authorities’ own resources supplemented by State road grants. The current arrangements in place regarding retention of local property tax receipts mean that the four Dublin councils are largely self-funding for works on regional and local roads since 2015. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport provides supplementary grant assistance to road authorities and in recent years has supported local authorities in developing a road pavement management system, MapRoad, with a view to promoting effective asset management. My Department also continues to emphasise to local authorities the importance of prioritising investment in the road network when allocating their own resources.

Analysis undertaken by my Department for the strategic framework for investment in land transport, published in 2015, estimated on a conservative basis that expenditure of €580 million per annum was needed to keep the regional and local road network in a steady-state condition. Updated analysis puts this figure at €630 million, the figure to which Deputy MacSharry referred. There were major cutbacks in funding for the road network in general during the recession. Project Ireland 2040 provides for a gradual increase in funding for regional and local roads and there has been a significant increase in Exchequer funding, particularly in the last two years. The €483 million allocated this year represents an increase of nearly 50% compared to 2017. However, the amount available is not sufficient to achieve steady-state levels of investment. For this reason funding continues to be directed primarily at the maintenance and renewal of the regional and local road network.

Within the budget available to my Department, the main regional and local road grant programmes are focused on specific policy objectives, such as surface sealing to protect the road surface from water damage, road strengthening based on pavement condition rating to lengthen the life of roads and a discretionary grant scheme which allows for a specified range of activities including winter maintenance. These three grant programmes account for most of the grant funding and are allocated taking into account the length of the road network and traffic factors in a particular local authority area.

That really does not answer the question at all. We are currently spending €483 million per annum. By the Minister's own admission the updated figure for what we need to spend is €630 million. I do not like the air of passing the buck yet again, as if this was a matter for somebody else and the Minister was just a non-executive director for transport and really it was the local authorities' problem. We must manage this process, take responsibility for it and ensure that whether it is from the Minister's home of Enniskerry or my home of Strandhill, or whether it is Dún Laoghaire or Dunquin, local and regional roads form the very backbone of our economy. Some 94% of the road networks and around 54% of all road traffic are on local and regional roads. They are in a disastrous state. What is the Government doing about it? The Taoiseach in his manifesto, the programme for Government, said that Ireland's infrastructure lags behind other European countries. What has the Government realistically done?

I thought I had specified a fair amount of this already to the Deputy. I will continue. Limited funding is also being made available for road improvement schemes. The national development plan provides specifically for the implementation of 12 road improvement schemes over the next number of years, subject to necessary planning and business case approvals. I am pleased to note that to date construction of three of these schemes has already been completed, namely the Dingle relief road, the Adamstown and Nangor road upgrades and the Portlaoise southern distributor road. Any additional improvement projects proposed by local authorities for grant funding will be assessed by my Department on a case by case basis. Projects submitted for consideration need to comply with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework.

Progress is being made in terms of restoring funding, which has come from a low of just over €300 million to what the Deputy cited, €480 million, today. That is a 50% increase in the last two years. It will take more time to reach the levels needed for adequate maintenance and renewal of the network and this underlines the importance of the statutory road authorities' funding contribution.

We had a motion down last February calling on the Government to take urgent action to respond to the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, report. Has the Minister identified any change in the data that is collated by the road asset management system his Department uses to track the condition of the roads?

We need to come up with a strategic plan that will increase this work to a level where we stand still. By the Minister's own admission, that will require €630 million. We cannot spend more years building to that level because the legacy position continues to worsen. What is the Government's strategic plan to get us up to speed, make the roads safe and reduce commuting times?

The Deputy has asked the same question three times in a row.

One answer will do.

He wants a different answer to each question which is somewhat demanding and a little unrealistic. He referred to the National Oversight and Audit Commission, which each year publishes a local authority performance indicator report. The report for 2018 was published two months ago, in September. The data in the report are sourced from the map road asset management system for regional and local roads, the development of which the Department has supported for some years. The data include an up-to-date road schedule of public roads, a record of all payment-related works and information on road surface types and road pavement conditions. The 2018 report indicates a 5% increase in the percentage of regional roads with the poorest condition rating between 2015 and 2018, but also increases of 8% and 19% in the top two condition rating categories, respectively. In the case of local primary roads, there was a significant increase in the percentage of regional roads in the top two categories in the 2015 to 2018 period. NOAC, an independent body, did not arrive at the same conclusions as the Deputy. It found that the trend indicated an improvement in the condition of regional and local primary roads.