Last Thursday, Mick questioned the Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar about the proposed Oilgate/Rosslare Harbour motorway highlighting the fact that the NRA has confirmed no funding is available for this project for the forseeable future and asking the Minister to remove the land freeze in operation in the area. Mick believes throwing money at this project in the current economic climate makes no sense and is a waste of taxpayers' money, particularly given the fact that wards are closed in Wexford Hospital and patients are waiting on trolleys. You can watch the response to the question here along with Mick's supplementary questions.
Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will remove the land freeze operating in Wexford in relation to the proposed Oilgate to Rosslare Harbour motorway, County Wexford, in view of the fact the National Roads Authority has confirmed there is no available funding for the project for the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Deputy Leo Varadkar: As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Within its capital budget, therefore, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter for the NRA.
It is the case, in the context of the capital review, that there will be limited scope to progress new road development projects in the short to medium term and the Oilgate to Rosslare scheme is one of a number of projects which have reached route corridor selection phase but which will not progress to construction for some time. As I indicated previously, I am reluctant to cancel such projects given that they are designed for their long-term benefit to the State although I am conscious of the potential implications for development in the area.
For now, I think it has to be a matter for the relevant local authorities in their capacity as planning authorities to assess how best to balance development needs in the area with protecting route corridors for future road upgrades.
Deputy Mick Wallace: When I challenged the county manager on this issue, he was very quick to state it was being driven by the NRA, that it had nothing to do with him and that he merely takes instruction. I do not know how familiar the Minister is with the project, but very few people of sane mind in the county believe it should go ahead. It is difficult to understand from where the thinking is coming given that hospital beds in Wexford hospital are closed.
The project is to build a motorway to bypass the one already bypassing Wexford town, although there are no hold-ups worth speaking about on the roundabouts, and this is pure nonsense. There was a fanciful notion that some day Rosslare might become a port to rival Rotterdam, but given that the five berths there are not deep enough and that it would cost €200 million to make them a sensible option for large boats I do not see it happening in the near or long-term future. Does the Minister think this would be a complete waste of money? If this is the case, why does the Government not make the sensible decision to abandon it now? The notion that it might be done in 20 years has been mentioned but God knows what route might be taken then. More than likely, at most the existing route would be expanded.
Deputy Leo Varadkar: I will travel to Wexford this evening to attend a dinner and I will speak at a conference in Rosslare in the morning so I will have two opportunities to travel the road tomorrow and have a good look at it and see what condition it is in. There is a good case for maintaining long-term reservations. The Harcourt Street line was maintained for 40 or 50 years and we are glad it was because we were able to build the Luas. The same can be said about the Dunboyne and Navan line. I would be very reluctant to cancel reservations where motorways may be built, even if it were in 30 or 50 years time.
However, we do need planning authorities to be pragmatic, and the NRA needs to be pragmatic about planning along these routes. Certainly, I do not believe that construction such as farm buildings, temporary structures, sheds and greenhouses should be barred along these roads if the road will not be built in a reasonable period of time. I will have to do some work on this in the next while.
Deputy Mick Wallace: Is the Minister stating there should not be a freeze on building along the 300 m corridor? Depending on the NRA to have a sensible approach to this might be stretching it and asking a bit much, given that it is a self-sustaining body which is probably a little out of control at this stage. It would cover the island in concrete if it had its way without there necessarily being any sense behind it.
Deputy Leo Varadkar: There is no such thing as a freeze in planning law. Local authorities and the NRA should be pragmatic in how they deal with these reservations. They should not allow a shopping centre to be built but there may be forms of low-scale development that could be permitted on these routes.