Thursday, 28 June 2007
Question 12: To ask the Minister for Transport and the Marine the action he is taking on the failure of the Railway Procurement Agency to consult and inform residents on the change in the route of the metro north tunnel, causing great concern to residents in the Drumcondra area; if he will instruct the RPA to revert to the original agreed route [17997/07]
Question 71: To ask the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he will report on all lands which will be acquired at Dublin Airport by the Railway Procurement Agency for the purpose of building metro north; if he will report on the current ownership of this land and the estimated cost involved. [17910/07]
Question 82: To ask the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he has approved funding for independent expertise for residents most directly affected by the metro north tunnel route; his views on a tunnel route that maximises the use of open space and minimises the impact on residential homes [17996/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 71, 78 and 82 together.
The Railway Procurement Agency is responsible for this project. Work is under way on the preparation of an environmental impact statement and the documentation required to support an application to An Bord Pleanála for a railway order, the legal permission needed to build and operate metro north. The actual construction timescale for the project will be dependent on the outcome of this statutory approval process.
Geotechnical work has also commenced along the planned route. This work will provide the RPA with detailed information on underground conditions and will feed into the detailed designed of the project. The public private partnership procurement process has formally begun, with the publication in the EU Journal of a series of notices inviting contractors to express their interest in building metro north by taking part in an initial pre-qualification short-listing round. Results of this stage of the tendering process are expected this summer.
The design of the project, including the detailed alignment, station locations and land to be acquired, are matters for the RPA in the first instance, and ultimately a matter for An Bord Pleanála when considering the application for a railway order. This statutory planning process also allows considerable opportunity for the public to comment on and challenge the detailed plans for the project.
I understand from the RPA that the detailed alignment of metro north will be influenced both by the outcome of ongoing consultation with residents, businesses and institutions in the area and by detailed engineering design considerations. The RPA has engaged in detailed consultations with the representatives of residents in the Drumcondra area and has written to householders whose properties are located close to the proposed tunnel alignment as part of the ongoing consultation. Furthermore, I am informed that the RPA has agreed to provide funding for independent technical advice for representations of residents who may be affected by tunnelling works along the route, subject to agreement on the detailed arrangements for this. The RPA will continue to consult with residents on these issues. Whichever route is chosen, however, it will pass beneath houses, businesses and other buildings.
When the detailed design options have been further developed, the RPA will write to all affected residents again enclosing details of the option and seeking comments from them. These comments will feed into the overall environmental assessment of the options so that the detailed tunnel alignment for this portion of metro north can be finalised.
Has the Minister approved the making available of funding for independent expertise for the residents concerned? His predecessor agreed this at a meeting between himself, the Taoiseach and local residents but the funding was not signed off and that is holding up the process, adding to the concerns in Drumcondra.
The crux of the issue is that the RPA published a route that maximised the use of open space in the Drumcondra area, gaining the support and trust of residents based on that route while, behind the scenes, it worked on a different route that minimised the use of open space and maximised the use of local residential areas for a different route, telling no one about its own preferred route and leaving the residents to believe the route was under open space, as was widely publicised.
The RPA has agreed in writing to the residents that it will review the matter with a view to maximising use of open space but continues with the preparatory drilling on its preferred route. It is rapidly losing the confidence of a largely elderly community in the Drumcondra area. Will the Minister talk to the RPA about this? Everyone wants metro north to proceed as quickly as possible but it must have the confidence of those directly concerned.
Is the Minister aware of the widespread concern about the manner in which the RPA is conducting its business? Deputy Gregory has outlined the deception it engaged in when it did not tell people what it proposed to do. There are major implications for residents of Drumcondra and the RPA did not see fit to tell people what it had in mind. The RPA must go back to the drawing board to examine its interaction with the public. I experienced this in Ballymun last year. The agency must speak to people and provide information that is clear and based on a logical decision-making process. So far it has utterly failed to do so.
When will the final decision be taken on the route through Drumcondra? Is the Minister aware that residents will be protesting about this outside St. Luke's in Drumcondra in an hour because they were given guarantees that funding would be available for independent advice but the funding has not been made available?
I understand that, in common with all of these projects, a number of routes were laid out for consultation and such consultations continue. The RPA has indicated clearly, subject to normal procurement rules and regulations, that it will make funding available for residents to get their own technical advice. There have been difficulties in recent weeks in making contact with a member of the residents' group to set up a meeting and I hope by the end of the day to have some information on a meeting between the RPA and the residents.
I have received an assurance that the RPA wants to facilitate residents to the greatest possible extent. No matter what it does, not everyone will be satisfied and whatever route is chosen, it will pass beneath some houses, businesses and other buildings. Residents wish to minimise that and I have no problem with that. As the Deputy said, there has been a breakdown in trust between the two groups and the quicker it can be restored, the better for everyone. As both Deputies point out, this project is needed because people on the north side of Dublin wish to see it secured. I will do all I can to advance that.