Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Priority Questions

Light Rail Project

1:00 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 97: To ask the Minister for Transport the full cost of the Metro North Project and if he will commit to publishing the full detail of the feasibility study and cost benefit analysis of Metro North before making the decision to go ahead with the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35402/10]

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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Since 1 December 2009, the implementation of metro north has been a matter for the National Transport Authority. However, as the business case will inform the final Government approval for the project, it is appropriate to address this issue. My Department's policy on the release of cost and economic information on transport projects is designed to protect the taxpayers' interest but a balance must be struck between transparency and value for money in this regard. The project cost estimates in a business case provide an indication of what the State is prepared to pay. Bidders involved in the project may then focus their final bids at that level, instead of at the lowest price at which they can deliver the project. It is, therefore, best procurement practice not to reveal what one is prepared to pay in advance of or during a procurement process or during construction prior to the settlement of final accounts. Metro North is currently at a critical stage in the procurement process. Best and final offers will be sought by the RPA from the two short-listed public private partnership bidders once An Bord Pleanála has made a decision on the project. That decision is expected at the end of this month.

Given the reasons I have outlined, it is clear that it would not be in the public interest to release any information which has the potential to increase the cost of delivering this project. However, I should advise that an updated Metro North business case was submitted by the RPA to the National Transport Authority in July last. The NTA has reviewed this business case and has confirmed that the cost-benefit analysis for this project remains strong.

With regard to the feasibility study referred to by the Deputy, the Dublin metro alignment feasibility report, city centre to airport, prepared by Parsons Brinckerhoff Limited in 2004, is freely available and accessible on the RPA website, www.rpa.ie.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. I had to fight to ensure that this question was answered because up to now in this House the Minister has simply been saying it is not a matter for him but is a matter for the National Transport Authority. However, to approve public expenditure of somewhere between €2 billion and €5 billion is a Cabinet decision and therefore, it is the Minister's responsibility, in my view. I accept what he says with regard to the procurement process and the difficulty in giving an exact cost estimate at this stage to the House. I understand that despite claims by various people in recent days, the figure is closer to €2.5 billion than €5 billion.

My question is whether the Minister and the Government are willing to publish the business case for Metro North. This will be the biggest capital expenditure project we are likely to see approved over the next two to three years by any Government, whether this Government or another Government. For that reason we need to ensure that we calculate the opportunity cost, in other words, how else could the money be spent and whether we could get a bigger bang for our buck if we were to spend €2.5 billion elsewhere. It is Fine Gael's view that Metro North is justified, that it is value for money and will create many thousands of jobs. We are not willing to give a green light to a project until we see a clear, up-to-date business case which is on the Minister's desk and which he has not published. Will the Minister publish the business case or at least make it available to Opposition parties so that we can make an accurate assessment of the Metro North project?

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for his support for the project as it is important. A number of cost benefit analyses have been carried out on this project. The latest analysis gives an indication that the benefit to cost ratio of the project is approximately 2 to 1, when the wider economic benefits are taken into account and to which the Deputy referred, rather than just the provision of the metro alone. The ratio is in excess of 1.5 to 1, using the traditional economic appraisal methods. It stands up from the point of view of a cost benefit analysis. As the Deputy correctly said it also stands up from the point of view that it would generate much needed employment during the construction phase, amounting to approximately 4,000 direct jobs and 2,000 indirect jobs. Fingal County Council produced a separate independent report on the project which showed that it will support up to 37,000 jobs in the Fingal-north Dublin city area. This is an extremely important project. As the Deputy said, it will probably be the biggest public infrastructure project. We will make as much of the business case available as is possible so that people can make their own judgments on it. The Deputy will understand there will be some commercially sensitive information which cannot be released.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I will allow a brief supplementary question from Deputy Coveney.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is sometimes necessary for Opposition to be positive during Question Time. As an Opposition party, Fine Gael wants to be involved in this decision. This is a massive project which will be serving tens of thousands of people living in north Dublin. This is not just a link between the airport and the city centre, as some people would have one believe. It is much more than that. Fine Gael cannot support anything on this scale, considering the costs involved, unless we are given access to full information. We will be insisting on getting all that information so that we can make a responsible decision about Metro North.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Deputy's statement. The Government will be as forthcoming as possible, subject to information being commercially sensitive.