Dáil Éireann - Volume 641 - 14 November, 2007

Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

  Deputy Seymour Crawford:While the Taoiseach claims this legislation is only technical, it is of major importance. Since I entered the House, the one issue I have had to deal with more often is our road network. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, County Cavan, I recall, was known as the pothole county.

I welcome the transfer of the two functions from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport. One must be concerned, however, if this is correct knowing the history of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, for messing matters up.

I welcome the statement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, that the implementation of this change will not involve a negative impact on funding for non-national roads. However, I question his claim that the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, system enables all vehicles and driving licence transactions processed to be updated in real time. When one drives down the M1, cars break the speed limit without any worry of being caught. Up to a quarter of those who should have received penalty points did not have them imposed because they are not on the NVDF. When one considers the number of accidents with such drivers, one must ask what efforts are being made to update the NVDF and ensure all drivers are brought into line.

With the transfer of functions between Departments, the funding implications for non-national roads are serious. While the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government claims the integrity of the funding will not be compromised by the transfer, the Minister for Transport will be in charge. I am concerned about comments made by him when he opened the Castleblayney bypass last week.

County Cavan has 2,476 km of road, 108 km of which are national primary and secondary, the remainder consisting of county and regional roads. It is also a county that has many drumlins, a topography that consists of heavy and wet underground soils which require much drainage and make road maintenance expensive. The Minister suggested county councils will have to provide 30% of the costs of funding from their [1073] rate base which will impose serious difficulties. The Border region has had serious problems over the years with lack of investment and a subsequent lack of a rate base. I urge the Minister to re-examine this suggestion for the Border region.

Recently I was in County Donegal attending a pleasant function to record Deputy McGinley’s 25 years in the Dáil. There is a major problem with the road network between counties Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal and Northern Ireland. While I agree tremendous progress has been made through the St. Andrews Agreement, it is important the Minister for Transport works with his Northern Ireland counterparts to ensure the N2-A5 is upgraded, along with other cross-Border routes.

Anyone travelling on the N3 from Dublin to Donegal will know the poor state of the road between Cavan and Enniskillen. Much of the debate about the upgrading of the N3 has centred on the court cases over Tara. There is nothing to prevent the Government from providing the funds to bypass Virginia and Belturbet. It is important that the Minister takes into account that little moneys have been spent by the National Roads Authority in the past several years in counties Cavan and Monaghan.

When the Minister opened the Castleblayney bypass, it was pointed out much damage was done to the surrounding local roads during construction. Engineers estimate it will cost up to €5 million to repair these roads. As the Minister will meet local groups on the matter shortly, I urge him to provide funding for these repairs. Up to €125 million was spent on the bypass. To leave the surrounding county and regional roads in a state of disrepair would be a failure to recognise the problems the local people went through while the bypass was being constructed. To finalise the bypass, a road between Keady and the old N2 needs to be completed. While the funding has gone to part 8, the funding must be put in place as soon as possible.

I have not covered one tenth of the issues I wished to raise. While I welcome the Bill, I am concerned by the failure of the Minister for Transport on the driving test and other issues. I wonder if he is capable of this job.

  Deputy Cyprian Brady:I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Kennedy.

  Deputy Kathleen Lynch:Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Deputy Cyprian Brady:Roads in general play a large role in people’s lives, not least in getting from one place to another in a safe and quick manner. After the 2002 general election, many of the functions for road traffic and safety were transferred from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport. It makes sense to con[1074] tinue this process through this Bill. The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the transfer of certain functions connected with non-national roads and the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Minister for Transport, as announced by the Taoiseach last June. The Bill also amends the Local Government Act 1998, to allow the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make payments from the local government fund to the Minister for Transport in respect of non-national roads and the expenses incurred by maintaining the NVDF records following the transfer of functions.

Section 2 enables the Minister to make regulations in respect of the NVDF funding being transferred to him through amendment of the Roads Act 1920. Section 3 allows for the vesting of all ministerial consent provisions in respect of railway orders where the works involved are likely to affect public roads. I have experienced the serious effect that railway orders can have on a locality. It is right that the Department of Transport should be the lead Department in administering these orders. Section 4 is a standard provision.

It makes sense to transfer responsibility for non-national roads to the Department of Transport which is responsible for overall transport development. These measures will not affect the funding for non-national roads on which we will spend more than €600 million this year. That is the benchmark from which we will move forward. Anybody travelling around the country can see the benefits of investment over relatively few years. The national roads and motorways have made a significant difference to people’s lives. That investment is guaranteed to continue.

The NVDF plays a significant role in motorist and pedestrian safety and is vital to road safety campaigns, in regulating drivers and vehicles. It is suitable to transfer responsibility for the 2.4 million registered vehicles and 2.5 million licensed drivers to the Department of Transport. Only five to seven years ago people queued for hours to renew their licences or tax their cars. The investment in technology and staff in the licensing and registration offices has paid dividends, making it possible to access these services on the Internet. It was difficult for people to have to queue for four or five hours at the then Dublin Corporation office and it cost money through loss of working hours.

The roads maintained by Dublin City Council, previously Dublin Corporation, in some of the suburbs in my constituency are in bad condition, because of the major increase in the volume of traffic. Traffic continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week as major shopping malls on the outskirts of the city remain open all that time. Sunday is probably one of the biggest shopping [1075] days in the week. This results in constant use which did not exist previously.

While the introduction of bus and bicycle lanes is welcome because they make a difference to the lives of commuters, some of their surfaces, particularly on the bicycle lanes do not last long. This is also due to the increase in traffic volume. This can be dangerous for cyclists when there is confusion as to where a cycle lane starts and stops. The Department could deal with this problem.

Many foreign registered cars have been imported in recent years causing problems for the Garda and other motorists which the Department must examine. Significant strides have been made in registering vehicles and licensing motorists but problems arise among motorists from outside the jurisdiction. In some cases the imported vehicles are in bad condition and are abandoned around the city. That causes major problems for communities because the cars are vandalised and sometimes set on fire.

Many roads in the old areas of the city were not made to take today’s volume of traffic and have suffered greatly. There should be an audit of these secondary roads, some of which have become major roads because of development around the city. Improvements must be considered seriously, and be effected.

I congratulate Dublin City Council, which works closely with the Department of Transport, on developing roads in my constituency, particularly around Dorset and Parnell Streets. The Bill is welcome because it does not make sense for two different Departments to have responsibility for the road network.

  Deputy Michael Kennedy:I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill. There are many advantages to the proposal to transfer responsibility for non-national roads and for the national vehicle and driver file, from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to the Minister for Transport. There is no rationale for continuing to have two Departments and two Ministers dealing with issues involving the road network. The transfer of powers will bring greater efficiency, there will be a reduction in costs and our citizens and road users will receive an improved service from local authorities.

There are many advantages with regard to national roads and as the Minister for Transport is responsible for national roads this will benefit everyone. I welcome the fact that the Government will continue to provide sufficient funding and we know that more than €600 million is promised for next year. That is a significant amount and while we all have roads in our constituencies that need upgrading and maintenance substantial progress has been made throughout the country, not just in my constituency of Dublin [1076] North. The Minister has given an assurance that this funding will not be affected by the transfer of responsibility from one Department to another.

There are challenges such as new housing estates and this is particularly the case in my constituency of Dublin North where fine new roads exist on estates but roads can be more like boreens outside them. This issue must be addressed and the challenge facing the Department is to ensure we do not have brilliant roads for a couple of hundred metres in an estate and substandard roads outside the estate. I feel the Government is prepared for this challenge.

The extent to which the National Roads Authority can be held accountable is a problem and I know many Members have mentioned that it does not seem to respond to parliamentary questions and so on. This issue must be addressed because if we, as public representatives, are to do our jobs properly we must be able to get answers and find out what is being done and when it will be done. Other speakers also referred to long-term planning and, as someone with experience in local authorities who knows county councils are trying to formulate three and five year programmes, I feel we owe it to local authorities to let them know the funding they will receive over a five or ten year period. This would facilitate local authorities and the Department in co-operating on the delivery of roads of a high standard for everyone.

We should acknowledge that major work has been done in the past five or six years such as the M1 motorway that runs through my constituency to the Border. It is a fantastic road and the new N2 through Ashbourne to Derry is a major benefit to motorists. I feel that combining the functions of non-national roads with those of national roads will lead to greater efficiency and safety.

There are many advantages to having the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, under the auspices of the Department of Transport. There are 2.4 million registered vehicles in the country and 2.5 million drivers on a computerised system for which the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government had responsibility. This system is useful because it allows updates on a real time basis. The issue of unregistered drivers and vehicles, as mentioned by my colleague Deputy Cyprian Brady, is serious and affects every town and village in the country. Comments from other citizens suggest that these vehicles are not insured and that the drivers do not have licences and this is something the Department must tackle quickly. Sooner or later there will be a serious accident and ordinary, law-abiding motorists will pay through higher insurance premiums. The NVDF is important in the management of our national motor tax and driving licence systems and it has played a key role in bringing about proper driver regulation [1077] and in supporting critical road safety standards. I feel that it is a step forward for the Department of Transport to be responsible for all matters relating to road vehicles.

There are challenges and I feel that the data on penalty points on national vehicle and driver file is one such. One hears stories of points not being recorded and it is incumbent on us to ensure that all who incur penalty points have them endorsed on their licences. This applies equally to non-nationals who are currently not penalised.

Dublin North has benefited significantly from investment in roads and it is the fastest growing constituency in the country, if not Europe. The county council is planning to confer city status on our county town of Swords in the next 15 to 20 years as its population grows to 100,000. Having two Departments deal with transport-related issues is not the way forward and I think combining functions under the Department of Transport is a progressive step.

Reference has been made to railway orders and the metro will come to Swords via Dublin Airport in 2013. The Department of Transport is responsible for delivery of the metro service so I feel it is essential that all issues involving railway orders be addressed by that Department. The DART is to be extended from Malahide to Balbriggan and the same problems will arise in that case.

Yesterday I read an English report on rural roads and they have similar problems with boy racers making rural roads unsafe for law-abiding citizens to walk or cycle on. It is critical that we deal with the standard of rural roads here because if we want proper safety we need proper surfacing and signage. I believe that it is far more satisfactory that a single agency deals with this.

Nobody seems to take responsibility for the provision of park and ride services and, with regard to traffic congestion in the city, it is vital the Department of Transport takes responsibility for the provision of such facilities. The Department could work with local authorities on this because at the moment I do not believe the issue is being addressed by any Department. If one Department is to be responsible for all aspects of transportation it is essential that responsibility for the provision of park and ride services be brought under the umbrella of the Department of Transport.

I commend this Bill to the House.

  Acting Chairman:Deputy Martin Ferris has ten minutes to speak. I believe the Deputy seeks to share time with Deputy Sherlock but we will see how we proceed.

  Deputy Martin Ferris:I thank the Labour Party for affording me time to contribute to this debate. While this Bill deals with a relatively minor matter, there are significant issues to be resolved in regard to roads and transport in general. For [1078] example, the strike by some Dublin Bus workers has contributed to even worse traffic congestion than normal in the city. Hopefully, this dispute will be resolved now that it has been referred to the Labour Court.

While an improved public transport system is clearly required to discourage commuters from using cars, the generally accepted solution to traffic problems is to build new and better roads and, where possible, to bypass major centres of population. In conjunction with an improved railway transport system, this is the ideal for the future. The development of new roads has been successful in many instances. However, several projects are behind schedule.

In my county, work has yet to begin on several projects in respect of which commitments were made. For instance, work was supposed to commence on the Castleisland bypass this year but has now been put back to 2008. For several years, Oireachtas Members and other public representatives in the area have been campaigning for the construction of this bypass. We encountered ongoing difficulties in our dealings with both the Government and the NRA. The NRA did not consider it a priority, it claimed, unless directed so by the Government. I spoke to people in Castleisland whose lives and businesses are impacted greatly by the traffic congestion. Motorists frequently find that it takes half an hour to get through the town.

Thankfully, in the lead in to the election in May and following our representations, a political commitment to proceed with the bypass was given and agreed to by the NRA. In August, however, Deputy Deenihan, Deputy Tom McEllistrim and I met representatives of the NRA who told us they were awaiting funding from the Government. The former Minister, meanwhile, referred all queries back to the NRA. The commitment is there but it must be delivered upon. It is of great importance to people in Castleisland.

My constituency colleagues and I meet the manager of Kerry County Council on a regular basis, with his senior executive officials. There is major concern on their part about the lack of an adequate infrastructure to facilitate investment in the area. I appreciate that north Kerry is not alone in this. In areas that have suffered because of a lack of investment, a decline in farming and the virtual wiping out of the fishing industry, it is vital to attract investment. The importance of this cannot be overstated, especially in peripheral seaboard counties. The infrastructure must be in place to facilitate that investment. However, there is great concern on the part of the manager of Kerry County Council and his executive that the funding required to develop road infrastructure may not be available.

I acknowledge that much has been done in recent years. The upgrade of the Killarney-Tralee road from Ballycarty Cross to Tralee is welcome, [1079] as is the ongoing work on the Tralee-Listowel road. However, access to the region must be improved. Investment must be secured that will complement local industries, particularly in rural farming communities where farming is now only a part-time occupation. Such communities require means of diversifying that allow people to remain living and working in their areas. Infrastructure is vital in this regard.

Every Member has experience of putting questions about roads to the Minister for Transport only for those questions to be referred to the NRA. However, ultimate responsibility for funding such projects rests with the Government. We are elected representatives and all of us do our best for our respective areas. We must have more of an input into these vital projects and we must hold the Government to account in providing the necessary funding. It must not continue to hide behind the NRA. The Government is ultimately responsible for failings in this area.

There is a pressing need for the Tralee ring road project to be completed. Austin Stack Park is on course to be relocated to the former Ballybeggan racecourse, where the GAA hopes to construct an all-seater stadium with a capacity of 15,000. The road infrastructure must be in place to accommodate that level of people movement and the associated traffic congestion. Although it is included in the Government’s road programme, there is no certainty as to when the ring road will be completed. It is of enormous importance to Tralee. From Monday to Friday, morning and evening, the traffic is absolutely congested. It has to be seen to be believed. The town centre has suffered as a result of this as retail units increasingly move out of town, thus eroding the heart of the locality.

The proposal to bring large retail units to the centre of Tralee by purchasing what is now Austin Stack Park and the John Mitchels GAA pitch is welcome. The plans are in place and I understand the planning application will be submitted in coming days. There is great potential for the town in this development. I cannot stress enough the necessity of completing the ring road to facilitate that. There is a Government Member in the area and the Ceann Comhairle is also from north Kerry. Areas such as north Kerry, south Kerry, Clare and so on are crying out for this type of investment. It is of great importance to local economies in keeping people employed locally and in preventing any escalation of emigration.

The most recent issue to cause problems for the Minister for Transport was the announcement about the regulations governing drivers with provisional licences. If the original proposal had been followed through, 400,000 drivers would have been effectively put off the road within days, with devastating effects on the economy. Thankfully, however, common sense prevailed. While [1080] we all support the principle and implementation of a road safety plan, we must ensure that motorists with provisional licences are able to undertake a test in time for next May. It is incumbent upon the Government to ensure this is the case.

There is a great need for funding for the maintenance of what are variously called boreens, back roads, non-national roads or local roads. A recent survey showed that most fatal road accidents occur on these types of roads. It is mind-boggling that roads only suitable for travelling on at 20 km/h or 30 km/h have speed limits of 100 km/h. This is absolutely ridiculous. The system must be overhauled without delay. The worst tragedies contributing to the carnage on our roads have taken place in such circumstances.

1 o’clock

As a councillor, I argued for years that road safety and driver education should be included in the school curriculum. Most drivers develop bad habits at a young age. Provision should be made to educate young people about good driving habits. That is very important and I advocate that this speedily be made part of the school curriculum.

Another aspect I would raise are the community involvement and local improvement schemes. These bring about tremendous work in the more rural and less noticed parts of our counties. They should be continued and, if possible, given 100% funding or something of a similar nature. Ordinary people can contribute to such schemes.

I am concerned that if one person objects to a community involvement scheme on a road where eight people are living, the process can be held up. Something must be done about this and legislation should be introduced to deal with such a problem. Neighbours may not like each other, may fall out or have grievances going back 20, 30 or 40 years. Such people can stop a process that would benefit an entire area. Any required legislation should be introduced so that when a majority of people on a road want work to be carried out, it will be done without one person holding up the process.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock:The transfer of functions to the Department of Transport seems logical and laudable in some respects. It can only be effective if it deals with a certain range of issues. I can only speak for my constituency of Cork East and for the general Cork area, where funding for non-national roads has been absolutely derisory. If this Bill is to mean anything, it must ensure funding is effective and will trickle down through the various divisions within Cork County Council and its engineering areas.

What we have seen to date is that roads prioritised under Transport 21 receive funding, which is welcome, but non-national roads or secondary roads receive no funding whatsoever. The N72 and N73 are particular examples. If we are to take Mallow, Mitchelstown and Fermoy, which are on [1081] those routes, one will serve the main tourist route between Waterford and Killarney and the other will serve the main route from Kanturk, west of Mallow and through to Dublin.

Mallow currently has hub-town status but we are not getting the trickle-down effect of financial incentives to create the northern relief road, which is vital to a town like Mallow and its surrounding areas in terms of its attractiveness for inward investment and the creation of infrastructure around the town.

We need a change in policy and funding for roads such as these. They are vital arteries for towns such as Mallow, Mitchelstown and Fermoy, but they have become dangerous roads because of a lack of proper funding. To travel the road from Mallow to Mitchelstown on a day such as today, in some instances one is taking one’s life in one’s hands. Two lorries cannot pass each other comfortably on some parts of the road without stopping or slowing down to speeds of 5 km/h or 10 km/h. That speaks volumes about the Government not investing properly in such infrastructure.

Deputy Ferris spoke of community involvement and local improvement schemes. There is almost a begging-bowl mentality in this regard for public representatives such as myself. I have to go cap in hand to local area engineers to seek funding or to have certain roads prioritised within divisional engineering areas, which is completely ludicrous in this day and age. If people pay road tax and a development contribution for the building of a house in a rural part of the county, I do not see why they should have to pay extra to have a road included in a local improvement or community involvement scheme. These people should have the same rights and entitlements as any other citizen of this State to have the road outside their houses in an acceptable condition.

The Cork to Limerick road also speaks volumes about Government policy, as we in Mallow and north Cork have been waiting for this northern relief road but are almost at the mercy of Transport 21 and the funding streams of the NRA. There is also the question of whether the NRA will get the requisite funding to be able to create the Atlantic corridor between Cork and Limerick, and whether a spur will be created for the northern relief road.

These are policy issues as to how funding is implemented at the local level but they have a great effect on people’s lives. That is what we are speaking to in debating this legislation. Will a change in legislation bring about a marked increase in the quality of people’s lives, as we must ensure it does?

I spoke about development contributions and the current funding of local government is completely inequitable. If a young couple applies for planning permission today, they will be levied at exorbitant rates for contributions on the building [1082] of their house. It adds to the cost of building and they do not see a return in terms of increased lighting or improvements in the road surface outside the house. The money is centralised within the county council and then divvied out through the division. The northern division of a county council would compete with the southern division for funding into specific areas.

The entire area of Government policy as it pertains to roads must be looked at. If we are to enhance the quality of people’s lives, any effect or change in the legislation must ensure this happens.

  Deputy Mary O’Rourke:I am very glad to speak on this legislation. It is clear it is a technical measure, as we have been told by many speakers, including the Taoiseach, this morning. Be that as it may, it affords us an opportunity to relate experiences about roads and deal with such matters through the Minister.

The Bill is sensible but I have several issues to air. We know the NRA is responsible for major roads and, by and large, it does a very good job with the highways. I speak in particular about the ongoing work from Dublin to Athlone. That road has been completed up to Kilbeggan and we now await completion of the Kilbeggan to Athlone section and onwards to the west. I hope this will happen quickly.

The opening of the Kinnegad to Kilbeggan section of the route has brought about a significant difference in journeys from Dublin to Athlone. This does not necessarily relate to the time taken, as I find when travelling it still takes the same amount of time for the journey no matter how many roads are built, but there is a great sense of safety and security. It is much easier to drive on a major national road, although there are toll booths. Travelling at the required speed, it takes 35 minutes to get to Kilbeggan from the toll booths. The Moate to Athlone stretch remains the same.

Everybody in the land knows about the difficulties of going through Moate. I hope such difficulties will be eliminated from our travel arrangements within six months. Listening to traffic reports on the radio any evening, we are told there are 30 minutes or 35 minutes delays on the eastern side of Moate and 40 minutes or 45 minutes delays on the western side. It was never intended that the town of Moate would be highlighted in that respect but that has happened nonetheless. Traffic has built up on each side so the quicker Moate is bypassed, the better.

In areas where bypasses and relief roads assume such dominance, non-national and rural roads are overlooked but these are the roads most people travel on: they never see the major highways. All of us at our branch general meetings are asked about the conditions of these roads. We hear horrific stories about the run-[1083] down state of the roads and the potholes in them. We should be able to proceed with the road programme for the national and major roads in tandem with county and non-national road improvements that will enable people in rural areas to go about their daily lives, bringing children to school, shopping and visiting elderly relatives. Many of those things are done on roads of this nature. It is vital they are kept up to scratch and I am not satisfied sufficient funding is being provided for them, if the stories we are told and the experiences we gain are any proof.

When I was first elected to Westmeath County Council many years ago, the local improvement schemes were given out to councillors in the area and they could claim some of them — I claimed two schemes. Deputy Ferris mentioned that a local improvement scheme can be held up if one person refuses to co-operate. There might be seven dwellings on a road and six occupants are enthusiastic about the scheme but the seventh, while he is enthusiastic, is in a row with someone competing for the local improvement scheme and they cannot reach agreement. When it happens it causes major disappointment. They are marvellous schemes and were a great mainstay for local authorities, although there is not as much concentration on them now. Environmental improvement schemes are similar but the local improvement schemes were specific to particular roads and householders. I hope sufficient money is available in every local authority budget for the maintenance of rural and local roads. Once they are done they are taken over with a programme of work laid out to deal with them in the years ahead.

Investment by overseas companies depends on the road network. We had a salutary experience 18 months ago in Athlone. At the time the bypass had not reached Kinnegad, and only the toll plaza was in place. By the time the industrialist had navigated Enfield, Kinnegad, Milltownpass, Rochfortbridge, Tyrrellspass and Kilbeggan, he was weary and he decided to go somewhere with much better access. In an economic and industrial sense, it is important to use our road network to good economic advantage. I notice the IDA in its literature mentions that Athlone is on the major road from Dublin to Galway, which will soon be complete.

There was a time when terror would grip the community in a town that was about to be bypassed because people felt no one would stop in the town. When we embarked on the Athlone bypass, we went to Naas to see how it had coped with its bypass. The traders were delighted with it and business had increased. In Athlone, despite the bypass that most major trucks take, there is always traffic in the streets and it is still difficult to do business.

Deputy Ferris mentioned town centres. We recently opened a magnificent inner-town shop[1084] ping centre. It is based on 5.5 acres of back gardens in the main streets in Athlone. It is amazing to stand in the shopping centre when it was once someone’s back garden. It is in the middle of the town, which is what shopping should be about. The British went daft for out of town shopping centres at one time, with people flocking to them. I never saw the sense of those. Shopping should be integral to the life of a town and inner-town shopping centres are more exciting and attractive to townspeople and visitors. People have stopped going to out of town shopping centres.

Road safety and driving lessons should be on the curriculum at second level. There is no better environment in which to learn about road safety theory than school. Road safety could be part of the CPSE course at junior certificate level and at senior level driver theory could be studied. Rosemary Smith, the well known rally driver, is an advocate of this idea. Driving should be a subject the same as learning about banking, loans and other areas. I have seen young women with high marks in the leaving certificate who would not know how to get a home loan, a mortgage or planning permission. There is a need, therefore, for practicality at leaving certificate level.

Developmental levies were mentioned. County managers and executives have gone mad for these levies. Young couples who after much effort secure planning permission usually find it is conditional on the dreaded developmental levy.

I refer to the significant amounts being charged sometimes in rural Ireland. County managers and their colleagues are using this far too handy system of levies for their counties. I know they are not misusing the money, but my point is illustrated for example, by a case I came across recently where a development levy of €1,718.50 was charged to a man who lives on a rural road to which nothing much will be done. He is required to pay this amount in what is euphemistically entitled a developmental levy. This will come on top of whatever costs he has incurred on the plans, making a planning application, and going about getting his mortgage and starting his business.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and his deputy, the Minister of State, who is present today, should pay heed and speak to the county managers when they have their annual get-together or whenever they meet. They should tell them to ease off on development levies that were never meant to be of such a punitive nature that they would inhibit a man from building his house. I saw this happening recently.

This is equally true for industrial development. A small, good business in Athlone, which employs 140 people, wished to construct a silo on its factory premises. There was nothing wrong with the silo and the planning permission was coming. However, as an addition to the develop[1085] mental levy, the applicant was informed in the planning permission that he would be obliged to install public lighting and footpaths on the entire road. The applicant has told me that he will be unable to comply. The company in question is a subsidiary of a German firm, the budget meetings of which are coming up. While he had no idea how much all this would cost, it would certainly be a hefty amount. I believe the county planner simply said to himself that these rich Germans could afford this easily and could be milked for as much as he wished. However, it is an Irish subsidiary that gives useful employment.

This is a heinous development in the wrong direction and will kill the cow that has been delivering some much-needed finance. If this continues, it certainly will put off people from applying for permission or from putting themselves forward as being eligible for various developments. When I protested to the town clerk and the county planner, I was brushed off to an extent by a response asking whether the person in question wanted the permission. The planning system was never meant to operate in that manner and I am dismayed by such a development and the manner in which this is taking place.

I revert to the Bill before the House and thank the Acting Chairman for her generosity in allowing me to continue in this vein. However one does not often get the chance to speak about roads in a general sense. My main point today is that this measure is logical and clearcut. However, I note with some trepidation that the financial arrangements for the transfer are to be completed by the end of November at which point the budgets will be reallocated, added to and taken from. Throughout my career in various Departments, I have often found that when this is done, a transfer does not mean that one achieves a full transfer or that one gets the full intended value. Often it is a chance to get a “schkelp” at the budget by suggesting that some money can be taken from one area that no one will notice in a transfer. I am sure the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, his staff and colleagues will look out for such a move and will ensure they are not diminished in any way and that half way between Merrion Street and Kildare Street there will not be a not a drop-off of a few million euro that would enable the budget to be cut and the value not to be maintained.

The local government fund is the most important mechanism we have to fund local life in villages, towns and rural districts. It is necessary to keep this in focus always. I refer to the massive road-building programme that is now under way and which is being implemented as the current mantra would say, on time and in budget. It is equally necessary to ensure it does not lead to a lack of emphasis on non-national roads and regional roads. They should be complementary [1086] because this is a small country. Everyone is pleased the land will be criss-crossed with a significant number of wonderful roads. I wish well all those who will drive on them. However this will be no good if the ideals of life at rural, local village or townland level are not equally nurtured and brought forward.

I wish to raise a point regarding the NRA as it performs its work. In my locality, Ascon are the main contractors for doing such work and I am sure it is a reputable firm. It bypassed Rochfortbridge, which was fine and the people there were very pleased because it is a small village that needed a bypass because the large trucks passing through were having a bad effect. However, while so doing, many smaller jobs arose that it was obliged to perform to get the bypass through. I refer to felling trees, attending to drains, dealing with a man who made his backyard available to the company and similar matters. Those concerned were assured that once clearance was given, such matters would be attended to. The people gave clearance and thereafter Ascon moved on to the next village in which there were more things to be done. The people of Rochfordbridge were left waiting and wondering what had happened to the various points of view they had put forward and that Ascon had promised to accommodate in its overall plan.

I wish this Bill well. The Minister for Transport should watch out to prevent the money being dropped half way over and attention should be paid to rural and county roads.

  Deputy Terence Flanagan:I wish to share time with Deputies Feighan, English and Kehoe.

  Acting Chairman:Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Deputy Terence Flanagan:I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Like my colleagues on this side of the House, I believe there should be a strong business case for transferring powers from one Department to another before changes take place. In most cases, the change should be for the better. However, given recent developments within the Department, in particular those pertaining to Aer Lingus and the Shannon debacle, as well as the mess made regarding drivers with provisional licences and the road safety programme, I am worried.

The proposed changes do not make me confident in respect of the implementation of the roads programme. The Minister of State should reassure the House that there will not be a negative impact as a result of these arrangements. The proposed changes will transfer a considerable degree of financial autonomy from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Minister for Transport. In view of the magnitude of the responsibilities pertaining to the local government fund and the national vehicle and driver file, effectively the [1087] Minister is giving them away under an agreement made in the programme for Government that the non-national roads budget, consisting of the local government fund and the Exchequer grants would be transferred.

The Department of Transport is growing by the day. Given all that is taking place within that Department at present, including Transport 21 and all the additional work it entails, I question whether the Department will be capable of delivering all new projects on time and within budget.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.