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Transport

pqThe 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.
 

Details:

(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.

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mwAccording to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar the National Roads Authority are open to suggestions for cheaper alternatives to the New Ross bypass. Minister Varadkar made the comments in the Dáil on Thursday November 24th following a question put to him by Deputy Wallace seeking to clarify the situation. It is clear that the funding is not available and the Ross Bridge Engineering Company Ltd. has been set up in the town to offer a cheaper solution. You can watch the exchange here.

Mick Wallace The Minister stated: “The problem I face is that a large number of interest groups, including local authorities, county managers, Deputies, Senators and councillors, all want me to continue to spend lots of money on planning for projects that we cannot afford to build for perhaps ten or 20 years.” The Minister noted a good suggestion from a Deputy that towns in need of bypasses that we can no longer afford should try to develop interim plans for traffic management through those towns. For future reference, I refer to the case of Ross, where under no circumstances can we afford to build a bypass. A relief bridge in the town would be a cheaper option and would suffice, given that the bypass is unlikely to be built in the next ten or 20 years. Leo Varadkar  I take it that by Ross, Deputy Wallace means New Ross.
Mick Wallace
Yes.
 Leo Varadkar
The Enniscorthy to New Ross bypass is a public private partnership and I hope we will get it started in the next ten years, although maybe not in the next five years. The Department and the NRA are open to proposals on how things could be done more cheaply. Even where interim and cheaper options are presented, they tend to cost a few million euro. We do not even have this.

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[caption id="attachment_936" align="alignright" width="277"]var Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar answering Mick's parliamentary question[/caption]

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.

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