Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on plans to abandon progress of the DART underground project for Dublin; the reason he favours the Luas connection to Dublin Airport over alternative rail projects; the details of the business case for this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32181/15]
Yesterday it appeared the Minister sought to get the bad news out ahead of the Government's capital plan which, we understand, is due to be announced next week. In doing so, he indicated the Government's proposes to postpone or abandon progress on the DART underground project for Dublin. In recent weeks, he also indicated he favoured the Luas connection to Dublin Airport over the alternative heavy rail project, better known as metro north. Will he outline his reasoning behind this?
This question appears to have been based on media commentary and conjecture in recent weeks which, I hope is apparent from yesterday, was not fully the case. As announced yesterday, the Government has agreed that the DART underground project should be redesigned to provide a lower cost technical solution. It is certainly not being cancelled. Indeed, the overall DART expansion project, of which the underground tunnel is a critical element, remains central to the Government's strategy to meet the growing transport needs of the greater Dublin area.
As originally designed, however, the underground tunnel element would have accounted for approximately €3 billion of what would have been an overall cost of €4 billion for the whole DART expansion programme. At the Government's request, the National Transport Authority, NTA, carried out an updated analysis of the business case and found the tunnel element of the programme could be redesigned to deliver a lower cost technical solution while maintaining the full connectivity of the original programme. The Government has now agreed that this redesign should proceed and this work will be funded under the new capital plan which will be announced shortly. The Government has also decided other elements of the DART expansion programme will be progressed under the new capital programme, including specifically the DART extension to Balbriggan and other works to increase frequency of existing services.
It is imperative we invest in our transport system to ensure we can meet growing demand and ensure congestion does not hinder economic growth. It is also important that in our investment strategy, we plan appropriately so that areas which will see major development and population growth in the future, such as north Dublin, will be properly served by public transport. I am confident the forthcoming capital plan will deliver on these objectives.
There is still some confusion, particularly regarding the DART underground project. Yesterday, the Minister indicated he remained unconvinced of the business case for the project. That is notwithstanding the fact that previous transport appraisals by the NTA indicated the project would provide exceptionally high value for money based on the traditional cost-benefit analysis. It gave a benefit-to-cost ratio, BCR, of 2.4, with an even higher value for money when the wider economic benefits of the project are taken into account. It gave an appraisal of 4 in that BCR.
In anybody's analysis this is a strong business case. What criteria did the Minister use to provide his own personal analysis which led him to a conclusion that he was unconvinced that it represented value for money? Did he use a different metric or was he just not happy with the NTA's metric? This morning he indicated that his intention, to some extent, is to look at a redesigned project. That is effectively pushing the project down the road. It is a delay and a loss to the development of Dublin city. This morning, the Web Summit chief executive, Mr. Paddy Cosgrave, announced it is being lost to Lisbon for the next three years. These are the kind of decisions that get taken on the back of poor infrastructure and a lack of commitment by the Government to invest in same. We can see the repercussions already from this delay in dealing with critical missing infrastructure which would have a significant benefit to our overall rail network.
If I may go back to one of the earlier questions the Deputy posed to me on the conjecture on the option for the northside of Dublin city that I did not fully answer, I have not given an indication to anybody regarding what that plan will be because I have not brought it to Cabinet. I will only make an announcement regarding what the plan will be when I have secured Cabinet approval. While I have been approached by many as to what the plan will be, I will make that announcement with the Government when the Cabinet has approved it. Then I will answer questions in this House, and elsewhere, about the plan.
On the Deputy's question on the business case, the NTA re-evaluated the business case in light of the new economy in which we find ourselves. It published this business case on its website yesterday afternoon. The consequence of its re-evaluation is that the positive cost-benefit appraisal that the Deputy quoted earlier has now changed. In light of what has happened in the economy, the tunnel itself - information which is in the public arena - has a cost-benefit ratio of 0.8 and the overall project has one of 1.4. That business case, which has been published and is available for all to see, formed the core of the decision I made.
We can move on then to the other part of the question, which the Minister talked about, regarding the connection between Swords and Dublin. It appears to me these are informed leaks. Maybe they are not. Maybe it is entirely conjecture, as the Minister claims, on the part of numerous media outlets. To those of us who have been around this House for a number of years, we understand how and why certain information ends up on the front page or between the covers of various media publications. It is usually an exercise in softening up.
It appears an effort has been made by the Minister and his Department to get the bad news out and then cushion it next week when he announces the capital plan with all the positives. We have seen this in other ways of how the Government does its business. It now appears the Minister has been minded to follow the same route.
While I accept there has been no announcement and that these decisions will have to be taken at Cabinet level, it is very clear to all of us that have some interest in this area that there appears to be a softening up of public opinion away from a serious investment in the heavy rail option, better known as metro north, and the provision of a comprehensive solution to the needs of commuters in the region.
I have not given any indication to anybody, public or private, beyond close Government colleagues regarding what the recommendation will be. When I have my recommendation to take to Cabinet, I will look for Government approval and at that point I will make an announcement and be subject to questioning by Deputy Timmy Dooley and other Members of the Dáil on it.
On two elements of the point the Deputy made earlier, the so-called bad news of yesterday, if this project were to happen in its current format it would involve €4 billion worth of taxpayers’ money. Not only would it be the largest transport project ever undertaken in the history of the State, by some order of magnitude it would be the largest project our country has ever undertaken. The reality is that the business case that informed the project and the assumptions underpinning it relate to a decade ago. I have a responsibility to look at the business case in the light of where we are now to make sure that we have a project that is affordable and of the right scale to meet what we now know the economy will look like in a decade’s time.
If I may, I will offer one point to the Deputy in relation to his description of metro projects. A key part of metro projects, as they are done elsewhere across the world, is that they are capable of being integrated with existing land transport networks. I have always made clear that would be crucial in terms of any project I would take to Cabinet.