Thursday, 16 December 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the amount that has been spent in 2021 on active travel projects; the value of the 2021 underspend; the number of kilometres of cycle lanes, segregated and unsegregated, that were constructed in 2021; if he has considered designating one agency to spearhead the delivery of cycling and walking infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62648/21]
I ask the Minister of State the amount that has been spent in 2021 on active travel projects, the value of the 2021 underspend, the number of kilometres of cycle lanes, segregated and unsegregated, that were constructed in 2021, and if she has considered designating one agency to spearhead the delivery of cycling and walking infrastructure.
The programme for Government committed that €360 million in cross-Government funding will be spent on walking and cycling per annum over the lifetime of the Government. This investment will help support the delivery of almost 1,000 kilometres of improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025, as well as additional investment in greenways.
The total expenditure delivered on active travel through my Department in 2020 was €108 million, with €8.3 million also spent on greenways. This year, we have seen a significant increase in delivery and expenditure on active travel infrastructure, with the provisional spend for 2021 at €185 million. This is in addition to approximately €27 million spent on greenways in 2021.
Focusing on active travel, this year €281 million was available for active travel projects in the greater Dublin area, regional cities and rural areas. This provided for approximately 1,200 active travel projects to be developed across the country, in cities, towns and rural areas. Therefore, overall, there has been a large increase in the delivery and expenditure on active travel between 2020 and 2021, although it is also true there has been a significant underspend compared with available funds. The NTA is the main agency spearheading the delivery of cycling and walking infrastructure, with the local authorities. Factors constraining delivery of active travel infrastructure this year included the impact of Covid restrictions, planning issues and staffing constraints. However, the larger budgets and projects are now bedding in, new staff are being recruited by the local authorities, and the situation is improving. We expect a much higher drawdown on available funds next year and increased delivery.
The NTA is working with local authorities to ensure effective and efficient delivery of active travel funding. Details of the active travel projects to be funded and delivered next year are being developed by the NTA and can be made available to the Deputy when this is finalised in January. It is anticipated that approximately €290 million will be available next year to help roll out walking and cycling infrastructure throughout the country.
I am happy that 2021 has been a year of very significant delivery on cycling and walking infrastructure despite Covid and other challenges. It is apparent all around the country that progress is being made.
The Minister of State outlined many figures, but I did not hear a figure for the underspend. How many millions of euro were involved? She indicated that €290 million will be available next year. Why does that fall short of the commitment of €360 million?
I am conscious that last week's annual report by the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, stated there is a significant discrepancy between the ambition and policy and the implementation.
That is what I see in regard to cycling and walking infrastructure. It is very concerning because communities want to see this infrastructure delivered.
What is the position in terms of staffing, given the Minister of State mentioned that staffing was an issue? How many of those active travel teams have been recruited?
The reason for the underspend is that it was the first year and staffing was an issue. I will give the statistics. As per the quarter 3 report from the NTA supplied to my Department, 92 new positions have been filled across local authorities out of a total of about 250 allowed. This includes staff in local authorities outside of the greater Dublin area and regional cities, where, until this year, there were no NTA-funded active travel staff in place. In the coming weeks, the NTA will provide its quarter 4 report on the resourcing plan where we expect a significant increase in the number of positions filled. There will be a lot of pressure on local authorities next year. Now that they have increased resources in-house, we expect them to be able to roll out these active travel projects across the country. I will get the Deputy the exact figures in regard to his earlier question and I will provide them to him separately.
I want to raise the point of the lead agency. The Minister of State referred to the NTA. To go back to the CCAC’s annual report and that implementation gap, the policy and ambition are not translating into action. One of the pieces that came through very strongly in that regard was the fractured nature of existing service delivery and project implementation. I see the annex of actions for the climate plan as they relate to transport, and I see the Department of Transport, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the County and City Management Association, CCMA, local authorities and other relevant stakeholders. To me, that seems a business as usual approach and there is no lead agency focused on the delivery of these projects. I know the greenways have been given to TII. Will the Government specifically task the NTA to give it absolute authority in terms of delivering these and to give it oversight of the implementation?
It is important to bear in mind the challenges this year in regard to Covid. The level 5 restrictions had an impact on the roll-out of greenways because those projects were not seen as essential projects during the level 5 restrictions, which meant any non-essential construction could not occur during those months. That has impacted on the roll-out of a number of those projects.
All local authorities spent much of this year recruiting new staff after that formal authorisation was given to them in March to recruit NTA-funded staff. The NTA will be driving that. Obviously, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and I have allocated a lot of funding for active travel throughout the country. It is imperative that agencies working with local authorities and the local authorities, which will be over the roll-out of many of these projects, prioritise these projects over the next 12 months. Now that the allocation of resources is there, the excuses are not there for any kind of slowdown or delays for many of these projects to be rolled out.