Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).


12:00 pm

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)

I wish to address the broader issue of the provision of infrastructure and the failure of this Government and the Taoiseach to grasp an opportunity when the new Government was formed in 2002. We are going through a period of economic growth which the economic forecasters suggest will last for another ten to 15 years at in or around 4% to 5%. At one level, it is a fantastic opportunity for this country. It is a prospect previous Administrations did not face and it provides opportunities none of us could have dreamed of 15 years ago. However, the opportunities it presents are not being capitalised upon. The emerging sustainability argument which confronts not only this island but the whole of the European Union, if not the entire globe, seems to be ignored in the lack of joined-up thinking in Government.

I am firmly of the view that, when this Government was formed, it should have established a Department of infrastructure instead of a Department of Transport. We should have had a Minister with responsibility for infrastructure and a spatial plan for the whole of the country and not the spatial strategy which has been published and subsequently ignored, as we saw in the disastrous decentralisation argument. The national spatial strategy is a woolly document lacking in coherence for developers trying to anticipate where the major infrastructure would go. Instead, we are presented with this compromise Bill which, despite three or four years' gestation, does not deal with one of the key problems that arises when a community feels its wishes have been ignored, namely, redress to the courts.

The courts will not necessarily deal any more quickly with disputes arising from this than they have in the past. This is an area where the delay in the delivery of infrastructure has occurred. It is wrong to suggest this Bill will deal with some of the issues we need to address or speed up the decision-making process. It will trample on local democracy and increase the cynicism and suspicion that already exist at local level.

A department of infrastructure would prevent the problems that emerge when planning permission is granted for housing estates, for example, in the constituencies of Deputies O'Dowd and Burton. The educational authorities are mystified when, four years after the houses have been built, the patter of little feet is heard as children arrive to enrol as junior infants in the local school. There is no coherent linkage between the provision of housing estates, primary schools, secondary schools and local health care facilities to enable a general practitioner to establish him or herself in the area and provide cover.

That did not matter in the past because we were growing so slowly. As public representatives, we know that the process of moving from the first to the last stages in providing a primary school was a bureaucratic procedure designed to conceal the fact that resources were scarce and to ration out those resources over a period with a veneer of proper management. Now there is a crisis because parents cannot enrol their children in school, yet the procedure for the provision of primary schools has not been radically transformed when it needs to be. We are facing population growth on a scale with which no previous independent Administration ever had to cope.

We need a department of infrastructure to ensure that we get the joined-up thinking that does not exist in the Department of Health and Children which, for example, provides a facility in Mullingar Hospital that has stood empty for between five and seven years because of a lack of staff. Something is wrong with the way we govern ourselves, politically and administratively, when it produces this type of contradiction. It is not peculiar to one Administration because three Governments were responsible for the examples I have cited.

We need a department of infrastructure to remove the capital spend in respect of education, health services, housing, transport and energy from the various Departments now responsible for those areas and consider the implications of creating a national plan for the whole island, not just the 26 counties. Deputy Cowley is Acting Chairman, but I will address him in his representative capacity for a moment, and his colleague from Mayo, Deputy Cooper-Flynn. The country needs an infrastructural plan that will link Derry to Killarney and, through that, connect Sligo and Castlebar, Galway and Limerick, and Killarney and Rosslare.

We need a box grid of infrastructure on this island, not the radial spokes that shove the traffic jams out in the morning from the estates into Dublin city and back in the evening. This is a most inefficient design of infrastructure. It is also one-dimensional. When the ESB contacted the National Roads Authority to ask if it could use the median on roadways to roll out broadband, the NRA said it was in the business of roads, not communications.

This Bill does not begin to address strategic infrastructure. There is no picture, for example, to show an investor coming here for the first time wanting to know what the country would look like 25 years hence. If one were to join the development plans for each of the local authorities together like a jigsaw, they would not fit because they are not linked up. Producing this legislation before a strategic plan puts the cart before the horse. A proper structural spatial plan also needs to be rigorously stress-tested for increases in the cost of energy, given the present crisis.

I welcome the fact that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in the Chamber. This Bill proposes to enhance the role of local democracy, giving councillors ten weeks in which to respond to a strategic infrastructural project that would qualify under this legislation. The role of city councillors in Dublin has been trampled on by the provisions emanating from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Yesterday, several people in my constituency asked me about the incinerator. Dublin City Council has formally and democratically rejected the incinerator but the city manager is proceeding with it under the instructions of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Minister may shake his head but that is the reality. The direction for the waste disposal plan for the Dublin region resulted in an incinerator being located on the most populated bay on the entire island. The local people do not want it and local representatives have voted against it, yet it is being imposed upon them by managerial diktat through the process of legislation that was deliberately brought in by the Minister's predecessors. We bemoan the fact that many do not bother to vote in local elections but, if they do, the people they elect cannot articulate their concerns or carry through their wishes and interests.

This incinerator will service the Dublin region. Waste will be baled on sites along the M50, transported through the tunnel and across the toll bridge to Ringsend to be burnt, notwithstanding the under-capacity of the M50 and the difficulty for trucks going through the tunnel. There is no joined-up thinking in this plan.

The previous speaker, from Laoighis-Offaly, spoke about the lack of incinerators in his constituency. The country needs one major incinerator, or at least two or three, not the plethora of incinerators it is getting. Deputy O'Dowd will correct me if I am wrong in saying that the successful applicants to build one in County Meath have applied to increase its capacity. They applied originally, however, on the basis of an assessment of the quantity of disposable waste in the waste management plan.


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