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Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. In compliance with section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I wish to make the following report on the sixth North/South Ministerial Council transport sectoral format meeting at the Curran Court Hotel in Larne on Friday 3 April 2009.
The Executive were represented by the Minister of the Environment, Sammy Wilson MP MLA, and me. The Irish Government were represented by the Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey TD. The Council noted progress made since the last meeting, in May 2008, and welcomed the opportunity to meet to discuss opportunities for cross-border co-operation on strategic transport planning.
The Council discussed the latest position on the A5 north-west gateway to Aughnacloy and the A8 Belfast to Larne road projects and noted progress made to date. I advised the Council that development work was progressing well on both projects. In respect of the A5 project, I was pleased to report that I had announced the completion of the first significant milestone — the preliminary route corridor assessment — ahead of target on 7 November 2008. Public exhibitions that illustrated several potential routes within the preferred corridor were held during February 2009, with more than 3,000 people attending, including elected representatives and council officials.
Roads Service anticipates that the selection of the preferred route will be completed on target in mid-2009. I welcome the ongoing co-operation at the cross-border interfaces, particularly the Aughnacloy to Clontibret route. The Council also noted that the procurement process has commenced on the project, with a view to the appointment of contractors and designers in the autumn.
The next significant milestone will be the publication of the draft statutory orders, which are due to be published by late 2010. In the current economic climate, the Council noted the recent reassurance in relation to the £400 million contribution from the Irish Government and looked forward to seeing further advancement of this unprecedented scheme in the coming months.
I reported to the Council a similar position in relation to the A8 project. The scheme will provide 14 kilometres of dual carriageway between Belfast and Larne. I advised that delivery is anticipated on a similar time frame to that of the A5 and confirmed that the project has also achieved its first significant milestone — the preliminary route corridor assessment — ahead of target. The second key milestone — the preferred route — is also anticipated to be on target for mid-summer 2009. In addition, the procurement process is due to commence shortly.
The Council noted the report commissioned by Fermanagh District Council and Sligo County Council which analysed the need for upgrading the N16/A4 Belfast to Sligo route. I was pleased to report that extensive works are in progress to upgrade the A4 between Dungannon and Augher.
More than 20 kilometres of dual carriageway are being constructed between Dungannon and Ballygawley. A further four kilometres of widened two-plus-one single carriageway are being built between Ballygawley and Augher. My Department’s investment delivery plan for roads also includes proposals for bypasses of Enniskillen and Fivemiletown, which will further relieve congestion and bottlenecks on that route and enhance regional journey times. Consultants have been appointed to start development work on the Enniskillen bypass.
The North/South Ministerial Council also noted the publication of the Irish Department of Transport’s smarter travel policy. My Department is already progressing initiatives on sustainable transport and travel. I advised the Council that officials are proactively engaged on a sustainable transport and travel agenda and are progressing initiatives that underline the all-Ireland dimension. The Council also agreed to the ongoing work on a jointly-supported car-sharing website for the north-west region, with a tentative commencement date in autumn 2009.
Ministers reviewed progress on proposals for improving the Dublin-Belfast rail service and noted the findings from the work carried out by Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways since the Council’s previous meeting. Ministers agreed that identifying the capital and revenue funding required to improve on the frequency of the Enterprise service remains an objective but in the knowledge that the financial position is likely to be difficult in the years ahead. They also agreed that in the meantime operating companies should examine the case for reconfiguring Enterprise trains to increase their reliability.
Ministers discussed the intention of the Irish Department of Transport to deal with freight issues in a more integrated way through, inter alia, preparing a specific strategy for the freight sector. The Council also noted that the Department for Regional Development will consider issues relating to freight in the review of the regional transportation strategy. It was agreed that the Department for Regional Development and the Department of Transport should work together to organise a freight forum in the latter part of 2009 involving North and South interests.
The Council noted and welcomed the continuing progress on the Irish Government’s proposals for restoring the cross-border bridges at Annaghroe and Knockaginney. It also acknowledged the excellent cross-border co-operation to date that has led to formal planning approval in both jurisdictions. Construction work will commence soon. Replacement of the bridges will enhance cross-border links and the social and economic well-being of the immediate areas. In relation to Narrow Water bridge, the Council noted that Louth County Council has completed significant work and is to undertake further appraisal of the proposed project prior to progression through the statutory processes.
I reminded the Council that my Department’s Roads Service has employed consultants who have undertaken a feasibility study for a Newry southern relief road to link the A2 Warrenpoint Road to the A1 just south of Newry. I was recently made aware of the findings of that study, and I welcome the continuing co-operation on the project between officials from Roads Service and Louth County Council.
The Council noted the studies carried out to date on the Ballynacarry bridge by Monaghan County Council. The ongoing appraisal for that bridge is expected to be completed in mid-2009, after which the authorities in the South will further consider the level of priority to attach to the project. Go raibh maith agat.
I received that report recently, but more work will be done on developing the findings. I hope to be able to share the information with the Regional Development Committee, elected representatives and the public in that part of the world in the near future.
The project is important. Roads Service and the consultants it has engaged have undertaken significant assessment work. The project is particularly important to Warrenpoint port’s ability to continue to grow and to serve as an economic driver in the east coast region. As I said, I have received some preliminary findings, which will be developed, and I will have further discussion with officials on the matter tomorrow. We hope to be in a position to present the report’s findings soon.
I am happy to do so. Any time that we have raised that issue with the Minister for Transport, we have been very forcefully assured by the Minister, his officials and the National Roads Authority in the South that that funding will be forthcoming. As the Member has said, it is a very important component of not just the A5 but the A8 Belfast to Larne route.
I refer the Member to the comments of the Taoiseach during a dinner he attended a number of weeks ago with the CBI, in which he again reaffirmed the Dublin Government’s financial commitment to that project. We have been given very firm assurances at every stage at which we have enquired about funding, and I am happy to repeat those assurances to the Member.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh ráiteas an Aire. I welcome the Minister’s statement and draw his attention to the Ballynacarry bridge. He is well aware of the lobbying that local councillors have done through the East Border Region Committee (EBRC) on that matter. Arising from the NSMC meeting, can the Minister tell us whether he feels that dealing with the issue is a major priority? Go raibh maith agat.
I met the East Border Region Committee, and I know that the group of councils that is represented on it is very supportive of the INTERREG money available for the area going to the Ballynacarry bridge project. It is on a very dangerous stretch of the route between Cullaville and Castleblayney and has been the scene of quite a lot of accidents, so there is strong local feeling that it is a very important project. Monaghan County Council is conducting an assessment for the project. The council has not yet assessed its priority status, but it intends to do that in the near future. We will have more information at that stage.
I also welcome the Minister’s statement. I note that the Minister of the Environment, Sammy Wilson, who has overall responsibility for road safety, also attended the NSMC meeting, at which, it is my understanding, road safety was discussed. Given the number of people who have lost their lives North and South of the border, I understand why he was in attendance. Will the Minister therefore explain why that issue was not included in his statement? Will he tell me what exactly was discussed about road safety?
A broad range of issues that fall under the DOE headline was discussed at the meeting. Road safety is always discussed at those meetings, and I think that all Members have an interest in the matter. The Minister of the Environment had some issues with parts of my statement. If he wishes to make a statement about the issues that were discussed at the meeting that are specific to his Department, that is a matter for him. I am sure that he will sort that out with you, Mr Speaker.
A range of other matters was discussed, including the sharing of information on car registrations and other issues that have been developed. As a member of the Committee for Regional Development, the Member will know that ongoing work has been a regular feature of North/South Ministerial Council transport sectoral meetings.
I thank the Minister for his statement and particularly for mentioning public transport issues. The statement referred to progressing initiatives that underline the all-Ireland dimension of public transport. However, after that, the focus on public transport seemed to come down to the Dublin to Belfast rail link. Will the Minister outline some of the other public transport initiatives that were discussed?
On the Dublin to Belfast rail link, the statement also revealed that it was agreed that operating companies should examine the case for reconfiguring the Enterprise trains to improve their reliability. Can we have some clarification about what that reconfiguration may mean?
One of the items under discussion was a policy paper on sustainable transport initiatives that the Department of Transport in the South developed. Although my Department is doing quite a lot of work on developing its own sustainable transport initiatives, that policy paper is a fairly comprehensive document from which there is much to be learned. Minister Dempsey shared with us some of the sustainable transport initiatives that are being developed in the South.
The Belfast to Dublin railway line is obviously one very important issue, not only from a public transport perspective but economically. It is a very important route on the island. Although the objective remains to improve the service and its frequency, in these difficult financial times that we face, both North and South, there is recognition that some of the initial ideas that we had will have to sit for some time, until the finances — capital investment and ongoing revenue investment — are available to develop them.
The ongoing work is of a technical nature. I presume that the Member, being an engineer, may understand it a bit better than I do. However, I know that one of the causes of engine failure is the fact that engines are also responsible for air conditioning and heating on trains. A separate system will make the trains more reliable, because engines are less likely to break down if they do not have to perform dual functions.
I will endeavour to get more information on that and share it with the Member. However, that is my understanding, as a person who is not well versed in those matters, of what they intend to do.
Yes. The preferred route option will be launched in mid-2009 — I think that it may be in July — and that will be accompanied by public exhibitions, at least in a number of areas along the way. As I said in my statement, there was a very high level of public interest in the announcement of the potential routes within the corridor, and 3,000 people attended at locations such as Strabane, Omagh and Ballygawley along the way. I anticipate that the same exercise will take place when we select the preferred route shortly. The route will go on display in public settings where the general public, elected representatives from the area and others who have an interest can come along and view it. The decision will be of particular interest to landowners whose lands and properties will be affected by the route selected. They will have an opportunity to discuss the issue with Roads Service and with the consultants. Therefore, there will be ongoing public consultations on the final route for the new A5.
Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Minister for the statement. During the talks on transport and travel, was there any discussion about free travel in the transport system North and South for the over-60s and for those who accompany or who help people with a disability. Furthermore, as regards the Belfast-Dublin rail link, is there any guarantee at this stage that people who buy a ticket — in particular, people with a disability — will get a seat?
There was specific discussion on companion travelling and concessionary fares for those with disabilities. The Member will know that there is a differential between what we provide in the North, which is free travel for people aged 60 and over, and what is provided in the South, where the age is certainly 65 and may be 66.
I know that an argument has been made for companion travelling, but there are still disabilities for which we have not been able to provide concessionary fares. Although we bid for some money at the start of the budgetary period for concessionary fares, we did get resources for the over-60s. However, there is another range of disabilities that might attract half fares but not full concessionary fares, and should more money become available to us we will want to ensure that all who have disabilities are covered by concessionary fares. People will continue to make the argument for companion travel as well.
In relation to the people’s ability to get seats, if there is a particular problem arising about that, I will be very happy to raise that service matter with Translink.
Who said that all politics are local? That is certainly not the intention. Last week I was in Dungiven, and we launched the preferred route for the Dungiven bypass, which is long awaited and long overdue, as I am sure that most people in the north-west will agree. People have been working for some time to identify that route. More work is being done as a result of the public consultation; there will be a more detailed design, and then we will move into the statutory processes. As far as I am concerned, that will not be impinged upon by any other road project.
I thank the Minister for bringing this matter forward. As regards the N16 and A4 Belfast to Sligo route and the report commissioned by the two councils there, a corridor identification process was to commence. Will the Minister update us on when that will take place and when we can get the report? Secondly, as regards the Annaghroe and Knockaginney bridges on the Monaghan/Tyrone border, did the Minister recognise the wave of public opposition to that work in the immediate area?
With respect to the Member’s second question, I know that concerns on the issue were raised when Mrs Foster was Minister of the Environment; indeed, those matters were discussed at the North/South Ministerial Council meeting. Nevertheless, I am aware that there was fairly substantial consultation in that area and a recognition that re-opening the bridges would be a good thing. Perhaps not everyone shared that view, but that was the general feeling. Every effort was made to ensure that the public were consulted fully. Indeed, there was further consultation with people who had not felt comfortable about engaging in some of the official exercises.
I do not have any further information about the route corridor assessment. We discussed briefly the fact that Fermanagh District Council and Sligo County Council had submitted a report on it. Obviously, we were able to update people about our ongoing work programme, including the Dungannon to Ballygawley and the Ballygawley to Augher road improvement schemes and the identification of the Fivemiletown and Enniskillen bypasses. With respect to the particular report to which the Member referred, I will endeavour to find out what work has been carried out and get back to him.
Mr Speaker, before I ask the Minister a question about his statement, for which I thank him, I believe that a procedural point has arisen for you and the House authorities to consider. The Minister indicated that a matter on which he wanted to report was discussed at the meeting; however, he did not make that report. Accountability and transparency are supposed to mean that, when matters are discussed at such meetings, they should be duly reported on. It seems bizarre that a party that very much insists on that has prevented the Minister, through no fault of his own, reporting on the matter in question. Therefore, the matter must be addressed, because an awkward precedent will be created if it is allowed to stand.
I thank the Minister for what he said about the A5 north-west gateway, and I welcome his further comments about money coming from the Irish Government. We received those commitments from the Taoiseach privately, and I believe that they will be repeated publicly this week. However, is the Minister concerned to ensure that every effort will be made to expedite the delivery of that project? Although the project may not be under financial pressure, does the Minister accept that, in the coming years, there will be significant pressure on the transport investment strategies in the North and the South? Is there perhaps a need for a more integrated strategy, and will the sectors North and South begin working to that end?
One of the objectives of the North/South Ministerial Council meetings is to ensure a high degree of integration between the transport sectors, and that is what we are striving towards. The A5 road improvement scheme is a good example of that sort of approach, as is the Newry to Dundalk link.
Over the years — not just since 2007 — excellent working relationships have been developed between the Roads Service and the National Roads Authority, and, out of the public spotlight, formalised working groups have done quite a bit of careful work to ensure that there is a degree of co-ordination and integration on cross-border transport matters. Work involving not just roads but public transport will go on.
If the downturn continues, I have no doubt that pressure will build on the Budget; however, we are operating and planning on the basis that moneys that have been identified will be available to us. In the interim, that is all that we can do.
I am sure that the Member will be pleased to hear that the first target of the A5 improvement scheme — the announcement of the route corridor options — was achieved ahead of schedule. I think that in July we will be in a position to announce the preferred route for the corridor, and we will then be able to get down to more detailed work. A significant amount of work has been ongoing and is ahead of schedule.
As I said about the A6 project, people assume that roadworks have started only when they see plant and people in high-visibility jackets at the side of the road. However, a significant amount of work has been carried out on design and on undertaking the statutory processes for both the A5 and A6 routes, as is the case for projects on many other major road networks. The work is ongoing and is ahead of schedule, and I anticipate that that good work will bear fruit in that the project will be completed within its agreed timescale.
On two occasions, points have been raised about the requirements of ministerial statements and whether another Minister should be present. The role of the Speaker is to ensure that ministerial statements conform to the requirements of Standing Order 18A.
It is not the job of the Speaker to examine and agree the terminology of ministerial statements. That is an issue for the Executive and individual Ministers. It is important that I say that. The Speaker has a role to play, and I am content that Mr Murphy’s statement meets the requirements.
The terms of reference will be shared with the Committee for Regional Development, as will all such matters. It is intended that the forum will explore areas such as economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability issues that relate to freight transport, including the realistic potential for rail freight; the rationale for priority freight routes catering for vehicles with greater loads; the scope for the promotion and development of key logistic centres in the interests of sustainable urban mobility; the opportunities for optimising existing network capacity with desirable competitiveness and sustainability outcomes through the rescheduling of deliveries in urban areas; the incentives needed for greater uptake of fuel-efficient vehicles; and the potential of intelligent transport systems and services to improve efficiency and, ultimately, competitiveness. It is intended that representation on the forum will be drawn from industrial development agencies, industry representative bodies and the Departments. All that is at an exploratory stage, but I will be happy to update the Committee and the Assembly as the work progresses.
The A5 project has started. As I said already, most people assume that road building has not commenced until workers are visible on site. A huge amount of work has been undertaken on the development of the A5 project. The first milestone was completed ahead of schedule, and we will be able to announce the preferred route in July, which is also ahead of schedule.
We have a strong commitment to this important project. The Irish Government’s financial commitment adds to the importance of the project, and it places an imperative on the Executive to ensure that they uphold their side of the bargain, as well as the imperative that is on them to ensure that the work continues.
I am satisfied with developments to date. Work is ongoing, and the preferred route corridor will be announced. After that, we will get into the statutory processes, which will take some time, and further design work will be done on the route.
Given that the Member represents a rural constituency, he will know that the A5 scheme will run through some 80 km of countryside. That means that there will be many instances in which landowners and properties will be affected. In such cases, people are entitled to proper compensation, and issues such as access to and from farms must be sorted out. There is much work to be undertaken, but I am satisfied with the progress to date and that we will continue to make good progress on the scheme.
I am grateful to the Minister for his statement. He will know that I am not an enthusiastic supporter of the Narrow Water bridge project. His statement referred to the role and attitude of Louth County Council. Will the Minister inform the House of the role and attitude of the Irish Government and the National Roads Authority and their level of commitment to the proposed scheme? Given the current economic climate, particularly in the Irish Republic, is the proposed scheme viable? Will the Minister also clarify his Department’s involvement, if any, in the Narrow Water bridge project?
I welcome the study that is being undertaken into the more sensible proposal of providing a relief road linking the A2 Warrenpoint Road and the A1 at Newry. Does the Minister agree that that is more likely to make a substantial contribution to easing the problems of Newry, particularly the freight problems that drivers experience leaving Warrenpoint harbour and also by Warrenpoint Harbour Authority?
For someone who considers the Narrow Water bridge project to be pie in the sky and not viable, the Member spends an awful lot of time talking about it. The position on both schemes remains the same. The Irish Government funded Louth County Council to appoint consultants to carry out a study on the bridge project, and that study is ongoing. Some public presentations have been made, and further work is under way. I am not aware of what the Irish Government will do beyond that point. They will take a decision when the work that Louth County Council has been tasked to carry out is completed, and I will await that decision.
The Narrow Water bridge project is not designed to address the issue of freight, transport or connectivity between Warrenpoint port and the Belfast to Dublin road. The southern relief road scheme, however, is designed to address those issues and will have a greater impact on improving traffic congestion and freight transport from the port. Therefore, it is unfair to compare the two schemes in that respect. Nonetheless, I have received a preliminary report on the southern relief road scheme. More work on it is being considered, and I hope to be able to launch that work at some stage in the future.
The Minister gave a positive report on the various schemes under his control. What are the budgetary pressures for this financial year and the next? What impact are those pressures having on those schemes, and are they leading to delay in the published timetable for the schemes?
Following Lord Morrow’s line of questioning, can the Minister comment on the implications of the Chancellor’s UK Budget statement, which makes clear that significant budgetary cuts will take place from 2011 onwards? Can he confirm that those cuts will inevitably lead to those schemes being significantly delayed?
The Member tends to favour the school of thought that the glass is half empty rather than half full. The Budget that has been agreed for the three-year period is the Budget under which we must operate — we have not been told any different. If financial pressures are being experienced, the Executive will do what they continually do: reassess constantly the Budget and try to prioritise the schemes as best as we can. To hear the Member’s party, one would think that that was not the case.
In the investment strategy, we set out the schemes that we would like to take forward and the time frame for them. As far as design and the statutory process are concerned, we have started to make significant progress on practically all the schemes, and many schemes are ahead of schedule. Therefore, a significant investment has already been made in all those schemes — perhaps not on the ground but in undertaking preparatory work — and we intend to press ahead with them. If the Budget scenario in 2011 is different, we will do what any good Executive would do and reassess our position at that stage.
I also welcome the Minister’s statement, although I must make a procedural point. Some of us understand that Ministers come to the House to make statements on behalf of the Executive, and it is less than satisfactory when matters discussed at an NSMC meeting are not subject to proper discussion.
However, on matters for which Mr Murphy does accept responsibility, I note that he talked about a sustainable transport strategy. Given the Minister’s recent success in announcing investment in new rolling stock for local services for Northern Ireland Railways, does he not accept that if we are to maintain the gains made over the past decade through the increased usage of the Belfast to Dublin Enterprise rail service, there is now a significant need for further investment in track and rolling stock as an urgent priority?
There is an acceptance that there is a significant need for investment in the Enterprise service, but that comes up against the hard reality of the resources available to us. Therefore, the intention is to improve the service, and the objective remains the same. We asked the two companies, Iarnród Éireann and NIR, to carry out a piece of work to show how they would improve the service, including its frequency, comfort, reliability and speed. That involved not just work on the stock but on the track. It is intended to press ahead with that when the resources become available. In the interim, we will have to try to do what work we can to improve the reliability of the train sets.
It is still the intention, the desire and the objective to improve the service, as it is the key service on the island for connectivity between the two cities, and we want to ensure that it stays that way. The Member is right: the growth in the number of rail passengers is probably due to improvements in the comfort and reliability of the service, and investing in the service is the way in which we will continue to grow passenger numbers. There has been significant investment in new trains, and we would like to make the same investment in the Enterprise service. However, we may have to wait a little longer to get the resources for that. It is not simply a matter of capital investment; revenue investment is also required if the frequency of the service is to be increased.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Fáiltím roimh an ráiteas seo ón Aire. Ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh do a dó nó a trí de na tionscnaimh a luaitear i gcomhthéacs an droichid ag an Chaoluisce agus an droichid ag Baile na Caradh agus an bóthar faoisimh taobh ó dheas de Iúr Cinn Trá. I welcome the Minister’s statement. I will refer to some of the projects mentioned by the Minister, particularly the Narrow Water bridge and the Ballynacarry bridge. A further appraisal is to be undertaken of the Narrow Water bridge, and there is still an ongoing appraisal of the Ballynacarry bridge. Does the Minister agree that, at the end of the appraisals, we would like to see some action taking place and some work beginning on the ground on both those schemes? What is the Minister’s initial assessment of the findings of the feasibility study for a Newry southern relief road? Go raibh maith agat.
The responsibility for assessing, designing and taking forward the Ballynacarry scheme lies with Monaghan County Council, and the responsibility for the Narrow Water scheme lies with Louth County Council. I omitted that fact in my reply to Danny Kennedy. The lead agency is on the southern side of the border and, if Members are asking for updates on those works, they should be referred to the people who are dealing with them. That was misinterpreted for genuine or mischievous reasons — I am not quite sure which. However, it was misinterpreted anyway. The two county councils are the lead agencies for both projects, and they are carrying out those assessments.
Monaghan County Council, in conjunction with the National Roads Authority, will decide what priority the Ballynacarry bridge project will have. We have been very supportive of that project. The Member will know from his constituency interests that the people in that part of south Armagh and Monaghan would like to see that project addressed quickly. The east border region has supported the project, and we have ensured that the authorities in the South are aware of that and that they support the INTERREG money available for that area being spent on that project. We are giving it every encouragement.
The position on the Narrow Water bridge is as it was. Roads Service and Louth County Council have been conducting their studies and sharing information. When Roads Service has been asked for any information or support, it has provided it and will continue to do so gladly. I am encouraged by my preliminary assessment of the southern relief road study.
Just over a year ago, the North/South group CAWT produced a detailed report on road safety that involved a wide range of interests. When the report was published, it was expected that it would be taken up at North/South level. As my colleagues said, it is a matter of regret that, although road safety was discussed at the meeting, we do not have a report about it.
I expressed my disappointment at the omission of a discussion on the Belfast to Sligo road at earlier meetings, and I welcome the Minister’s commitment that the matter will be raised. I welcome the Minister’s detailing of what is happening on the northern side. Did he gain any information from authorities on the southern side of the border about steps that they have taken or are soon to take to take the joint venture forward?
The Member will know that work is ongoing in the Manorhamilton area on the southern side of the border; that was discussed at the time that the report was launched by both councils. The Southern Government did not give me any more update on or commitment to further roadworks to be undertaken between the border and Sligo. However, I assume that both councils and those who support the Sligo to Belfast project will continue to press the case for that work.
In the early stages, we outlined some of the work that we have planned, such as the Dungannon to Ballygawley project and the bypasses of Fivemiletown and Enniskillen. I know that roadworks are planned for the Manorhamilton area on the Southern side, but I was not given further information on any other planned works.