Thursday, 15 February 2007
National Development Plan: Statements.
Ruairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
The Minister for Finance must be disappointed so little attention is being paid by the House to the national development plan. I would like more time, before and after the election, to debate the plan.
I am saddened we have learned nothing from the first national development plan. The new plan fits into the straitjacket of the expenditure profiles that Brussels demands. It has even adopted a seven year timeframe, which is an arbitrary timeframe related to the EU budgetary process and not to Ireland's needs. This is not a plan but a series of programmes of expenditure. The plan contains three maps of a loose and non-indicative kind. Is it possible to examine an overall map of the integration of all local authority development plans in the Department of Finance? Is there a collective picture of what Ireland might look like if those plans were implemented in the next five years? If the Minister cannot answer these questions, then it cannot be called a plan.
As Deputy Burton has pointed out it seems no one is in charge. Is it listed in the IPA yearbook or any other directory? The Department of the Taoiseach is supposed to have nominal responsibility for the plan. Deputy Martin, when Minister for Health and Children, indicated that the real project manager of the implementation of the plan is the Taoiseach. However, he is a busy man and project implementation at this scale is a full-time job.
The main reason Members on this side of the House are critical about this massive amount of expenditure is the failure to properly implement the last plan. The main reason for that lay in the lack of project management. The Minister claimed the NRA had got its act together and improved its project management. It will, however, not get its act together until it communicates with the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science and the energy sector. Some 42% of the plan is capital expenditure. The synergy required for such large scale projects will not be created unless the planning of the expenditure is connected between the various agencies involved. There is no connection between the plans of the Department of Education and Science and population forecasting sections in local authorities. There is no connection between the Department of Health and Children and the provision of health facilities ahead of demand.
The key revealing phrase that has bedevilled successive Administrations is contained in the report. It states:
. . . removing the remaining infrastructure bottlenecks that constrain our economic development and inhibit balanced regional development and environmental sustainability.
It is the bottleneck culture that has created the monster referred to by the Urban Forum. We are following the traffic jams. As Dublin expands further, more land is released for development. The plan must be fundamentally reviewed. The Department of Finance must recognise that its method of integrated physical planning has failed. There is no synergy and it must be reconnected. Is the Department of Finance the right body to act as the financial controller and the innovator of the plan? That is an inherent contradiction and it does not work.
The global climate conditions in which the plan was formulated have dramatically changed. The plan does not refer to the Stern report or the UN scientists' report on global warming. It does not refer to the unsustainability of current development trends. The plan represents an unsustainable economic and physical model unless it is radically altered. I do not know whether the Minister intends to review this or how that might be done.
The document comprises a series of programme spending proposals but there is no accountability or methodology for assessing results. There is no indication, for example, that the Department of Education and Science will be informed in advance when new roads are being constructed. There is no mechanism whereby that Department could be informed of planning permissions for new housing so that it will not be surprised, four or five years later, that 300 or 400 young children need places in local schools. There is no initiative to link such issues. That lesson was clearly not learned from the last plan.
I hope my party, Fine Gael and the Green Party will be in government after the next election so that we can completely rewrite this plan in a manner that makes sense in the context of present needs and the wonderful background of limitless resources the current Government enjoys. Managing those resources in the wrong way introduces unlimited costs that will be unsustainable into the future.