Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
6. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to Parliamentary Question No. 299 of 26 July 2022, the composition of the promised specialist team which will assist the National Transport Authority in conjunction with Galway City and County Councils, in undertaking the work to update the Galway Transport Strategy; the details of the process for the appointment of members of the specialist team; the status of the appointment process for the members of the specialist team; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46314/22]
I am following up on the Galway transport strategy and seeking an update on it. I am specifically asking about the composition of the promised specialist team. There are many aspects to the updating of the strategy, including everything from BusConnects, corridors, park and ride to light rail. I ask the Minister to update me on that.
I understand that the NTA expects to commence the review of the 2016 Galway transport strategy and the development of a new Galway metropolitan area transport strategy by the end of this year. The NTA will appoint a specialist team through an open tender process to assist it, in conjunction with Galway city and county councils, in undertaking work on developing the strategy. The tendering process for the specialist team has yet to commence formally but will be advertised through the appropriate channels. The ambition is that the team will be appointed and work will commence before the end of this year. The programme of works will contain a comprehensive review of all transport options. This will look at walking, cycling, bus, rail, park and ride and traffic management, including the management of goods movement. It will specifically include a feasibility assessment for light rail in Galway city. The NTA will undertake a comprehensive public consultation exercise on a draft strategy as part of the development process. This is likely to be in the summer of next year with an expected publication of a final strategy in quarter three of next year. The development of the new Galway transport strategy will not impede the current investment in transport infrastructure in Galway. A significant amount of planning and design has already taken place which will enable construction activity in the coming years across active travel and bus and rail-related projects, including BusConnects. I am sure the Deputy joins me in welcoming Galway City Council's application this month to An Bord Pleanála for the BusConnects cross-city link. I look forward to the development of the new Galway metropolitan area transport strategy and will continue to provide support in delivering key elements of the existing strategy, pending its development.
I thank the Minister for the update. I have a copy of the Minister's reply, which is one of the perks of sitting in the Chair. The reply states that the programme of works: "will look at walking, cycling, bus, rail, park and ride" but light rail is not mentioned. The Minister has mentioned light rail and I welcome that but it is not printed in the answer that he is reading out; only rail is mentioned. I would like the Minister to clarify that because light rail is a different concept to rail. It is important that rail is included but the same is true for light rail, which is what the Gluas committee in Galway has repeatedly asked for. While I welcome any progress, I am frustrated because it is being done in a vacuum. There is no updated strategy; the strategy that was there in 2016 was already dated and three years later we declared a climate emergency. At that point we needed an updated strategy and park and ride was to be unveiled in September. The NTA went ahead looking at one side of the city. I put most of the blame for this on the city council because before it went to the NTA it only looked at one side of the city. City councillors objected and asked for stronger wording to go in the plan but the manager said the wording was strong enough.
However, we still have no park and ride in Galway since 2005.
The strategy will include a feasibility study on light rail in Galway. I mentioned that specifically in my response. I would not read anything into the lines where it was not mentioned. The process in Galway will be similar to Cork. I would like Galway City and County Council to put in high-quality bus corridors, the likes of this cross-city routes such as the Dublin Road, which will go into planning next year. As the Deputy said, the disconnect in the city is because people live on one side of it and often travel to work on the other side. If we can show, which I am sure we can with high quality bus transport systems, that there is a demand for such public sector routes, they will be upgraded with light rail. This is how I see it being developed, but it is important to first get those BusConnects routes right. There are many controversies as I understand regarding the specific routes in the city centre. We need to bring the public with us on that. We need the council to be clear on where it is going on transport in Galway city. As it is doing that, it will undergo a tendering process for this specialist team that will look over the strategy.
I realise that the Minister is trying to do his best. However, the officials are operating in a vacuum. There is no updated strategy. We declared a climate emergency in 2019 and we still have no updated strategy. Light rail was not mentioned in the Minister’s reply. If he is putting on the record now that a light rail feasibility study is part of the review, I welcome that, but I do not see it.
The lack of a park and ride is inexplicable and scandalous. The councillors did their job in 2005. They continue to do their job and they demand a park and ride for both sides of the city. The NTA did not follow that, having taken on the mantle from Galway City Council, but the council should have done its job in the first place. The NTA is now delaying the matter. In fact, it was even delaying in replying to a parliamentary question I tabled in July. I am not here to personalise; I am here to say the people of Galway are way ahead of us. The Minister knows that they signed a petition many years ago, which I had the privilege of leading. A total of 24,000 people were simply looking for a feasibility study for light rail. Finally, the composition of the review is essential to give confidence to us that that the number of experts there will examine these different aspects. The NTA has already said "No" to light rail.
Yes, and the work on the whole new strategy that we have to start straightaway. Specifically and very pointedly in my response, I said that that must include a feasibility study for light rail in Galway city. There are other elements such as park and ride, active travel, where we have had such difficulty in Galway and BusConnects. There are also ongoing upgrades to the rail system around Oranmore and a number of other projects. The work cannot await the conclusion of the strategy. We have to start building and providing better services in Galway straightaway. The strategy has to continue, but the things that we know that we need to do - there is a whole list as long as your arm - need to proceed straight away.