The postponement of the Rosslare-Oilgate bypass due to a lack of funding has came as no suprise to the people of Wexford. A number of months ago, the NRA admitted that money was not available to begin the project yet they were happy to start the planning process. In effect, this means that land owners on the preferred route are the subject of a land freeze and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Regular planning permission lasts five years where as permission granted to the NRA lasts indefinitely, tying the hands of land owners on the route. In the Dáil on January 12th Mick once again put questions to Minister Varadkar on the land freeze. You can watch the exchange here.Mick Wallace: To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if he is concerned that there are a number of serious inaccuracies (details supplied) in the Route Selection Report for the proposed Oilgate to Rosslare Harbour, County Wexford road upgrade project; the action he proposes to correct these inaccuracies in a report which fails to justify the proposed project, which has so far cost the taxpayer in excess of €2 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
(1) The project will benefit traffic congestion in the UK Midlands.
(2) The existing road is unsafe and in support of this claim, the report quotes road safety statistics which include locations outside the study area.
(3) The development is required due to increased traffic volumes, a claim which is completely refuted in other sections of the very same report.(4) The traffic projections in the report are based on a desktop study done in 2007 and no adjustments have been made for the current recession. Leo Varadkar: This question relates to the route selection report for the Oilgate to Rosslare roads scheme. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Therefore, this not a matter in which I have a role. Rather it is a matter for the NRA and I will ask the NRA to write directly to the Deputy in regard to the route selection report. If he does not receive a reply within ten days he should contact my office on the matter. As I have indicated previously to the Deputy, the Oilgate to Rosslare scheme is one of a range of projects which have reached the route corridor selection phase but cannot proceed to construction for some time given the current difficult economic environment. When the project can be progressed it will be subject to approval by An Bord Pleanála. Mick Wallace: I am not much the wiser having heard that reply. As Minister with responsibility for transport, it would great if the Minister had a little more control over the NRA than the previous Minister had. I do not understand the position if it is the case that the legislation does not allow Minister to have more impact in these decisions. Many of the decisions made by the NRA indicate that it seems keen to spend money a good deal of the time but we cannot afford it any more. We have been talking about the impact of severe cuts on people who need our help in this House during the past few months and the notion that roads would be built is a little over the top given the state of our finances. The Minister with responsibility for transport needs to have an impact in this respect and the decision should not be left with the NRA. We pointed out to the Minister that it is claimed in the report that the project will benefit traffic congestion in the UK midlands - that is off the wall. It is claimed that the existing road is unsafe, which is completely true. It is a good road to travel on. I have travelled on it a good deal, probably as much as anyone. The traffic volumes on it are not bad. The road is fine. Wexford town is already bypassed and it does not need to be bypassed again. We do not need a bypass on the bypass. The traffic volumes that were assessed for the project do not bear up to scrutiny. Leo Varadkar: The Minister does have a certain role in this regard in the sense that it is the Minister’s role to set policy, allocate budgets and oversee corporate governance. In this regard, the decision is not to spend additional moneys on this road for the time being because the money is not available to complete the project. Therefore, it does not make sense to spend further millions just to bring it from one stage of planning to the next. I have changed the policy of the previous Government which was to spend hundreds of millions of euro planning and designing projects without knowing whether it could afford to build them. I am only proceeding with planning and design where we know that we can afford to build the project, and that is not the case at present. However, it is also my policy position that we should not stop planning for the future. Rosslare is a very large port with great potential. It makes sense that at some point in the future, and it may be the distant future, Rosslare should be connected by a high quality road to the motorway network, which is not the case at present. The road is adequate at present for the port that is there. I visited the port in recent months to see for myself. However, if Rosslare Port were to be expanded as a major port on the east coast in the future, it would require a better road connection. That is why it is important to plan for the future in this regard. The route selection report, to which the Deputy referred, is available on Wexford County Council’s website. I believe the Deputy is mischaracterising it to the extent that what it argues is that Rosslare could be used as a port in the future to access the east coast of Ireland as an alternative to Dublin Port, thus allowing heavy vehicles to avoid the congestion that already exists in the UK midlands, it is not that the road would be built so that people could avoid that. It recognises the fact that there is a good deal of congestion in the UK midlands and it might make sense to develop another port on the east coast of Ireland so that heavy goods vehicles could come that way rather than having to go through the middle of England. Mick Wallace: There is potential to develop the existing road to meet the requirements of Rosslare Harbour, if it were developed into a serious port at some point in the future, but in the meantime the notion of freezing the 300 m corridor along it and affecting all the people who have businesses there does not make sense. These people are affected by this decision. For example, a vegetable farmer has lost a grant of €150,000 to build more sheds - his enterprise is labour intensive. Jobs will be lost by freezing the land where that farmer is working. If Rosslare becomes a big port, this corridor may be needed eventually and the Minister has said that this is planning for the future. He might be planning for what will happen in 50 years time but in the meantime he is freezing land on people who are living in the present. Leo Varadkar: I am conscious of the planning issue the Deputy raised, “planning blight” as it is described in other jurisdictions. The NRA has issued new guidelines to local authorities in the past few weeks giving them the criteria under which they could allow development to occur in these corridors, as in the case of developments such as agricultural sheds. Development in these route corridors is a decision of the planning authority, not the NRA. I would ask local authorities to take a pragmatic view when it comes to development in route corridors. There is a big difference between potting sheds or greenhouses and building a supermarket. Local authorities need to be pragmatic about that. It is important to plan for the future. The Harcourt Street train line was closed for 30 or 40 years. I am glad it was not developed because if it had been we would not have had the Luas. The Dunboyne reservation and the reservation out to Navan was retained for the best part of 50 years and it is now coming back into use. One could say the same in regard to Midleton. It makes sense sometimes to maintain corridors. Mick Wallace: Something like that is fine but this is a different scenario.