Tuesday, 17 February 2009
I want to discuss the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's adopted Policy Statement on Development Management and Access to National Roads, which concerns both national primary and national secondary routes. I raise this issue due to the fact the planning guidelines as adopted by the Department do not differentiate between national primary and national secondary routes with regard to planning permission approvals or objections.
For example, in County Donegal at present, when an individual obtains approval from Donegal County Council to build a house on his or her own land along a national secondary route, in at least nine cases out of every ten the National Roads Authority objects under legislation to that approval. I am dealing with a number of such cases at present and it is very difficult to make representations on these cases given the NRA is backed up by national legislation.
The differentiation between national primary and national secondary routes must be made. The national primary routes are faster, better roads in comparison to the national secondary routes, which are lesser roads and do not have the same traffic volumes.
The Development Control Advice and Guidelines 1982 and the Policy and Planning Framework for Roads 1985 are the currently adopted position of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I was on a delegation from Donegal County Council some time ago to the National Roads Authority on this issue. The authority told us that its hands were effectively tied, that it was only implementing the legislation as it currently exists and that in order for any differentiation to be made between national primary and national secondary routes for the purpose of planning approvals or with regard to planning objections, a differentiation would have to be made by the Department.
I understand there has been consultation between the Department of Transport, the National Roads Authority and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. While I welcome this, I understand it has been going on for the past two years and it is now time for a conclusion. The current economic climate makes it particularly difficult for young couples living in rural areas to afford to apply for planning permissions, which is one aspect. However, when they apply for planning permission, it gets shot down because of conditions going back to 1982 and 1985, which suggests we must reconsider the issue.
I accept the position that we must improve our national routes and I very much welcome the funding which has been available, particularly over the past ten years or so, for national secondary and primary routes. However, it is not fair to categorise national secondary routes, particularly roads like the N56 in Donegal, in the same categorisation as national primary routes, which is where the vast majority of the funding has been focused. Those routes are wider, faster roads which have increased traffic volumes whereas the national secondary routes are the equivalent of regional roads.
I raise this issue on behalf of many individuals in County Donegal who have been refused planning permission due to objections made by the National Roads Authority. These effectively end up with An Bord Pleanála where there is at least a six months waiting list at present. This issue also affects other counties with national secondary routes such as Kerry and Galway. I hope the Minister of State can give me an update as to the current position and the timeframe that is expected from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in terms of reaching a conclusion.
I understand from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who I have been lobbying on this issue, that the working group which has been established will report back some time in the first half of 2009 with its findings. While I am not sure whether the Minister of State will have any further information on that matter, I urge the Department to change the guidelines to create the differentiation while taking road safety into consideration but also allowing young people in particular build the houses they want on their own land, which may be along national secondary routes. It is not the fault of the families or individuals if the site available to them is located beside a national secondary route.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. There have been various Government statements in regard to planning policy and national roads over the past number of years, going back to the Development Control Advice and Guidelines issued in 1982 and the more comprehensive statement in 1985, Policy and Planning Framework for Roads, by the then Department of the Environment. Policy statements made since then have been broadly based on the 1985 document, the most recent being the National Roads Authority's Policy Statement on Development Management and Access to National Roads in May 2006.
While specific responsibility for roads policy now rests with the Minister for Transport and his Department, responsibility for planning policy rests with my Department and it is important there is continued and consistent alignment between these closely linked policies. In this collaborative context, my Department and the Department of Transport have agreed to review the relationship between transport and planning policies and, in particular, the need for both sets of policies to be consistent and complementary.
We are currently working on developing planning guidelines on planning policy and roads which will have statutory effect under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Led by the two Departments and the NRA, a working group was established to co-ordinate the process, comprising key stakeholders with an urban and rural planning perspective, including representative senior officials from local authorities. The preparation of these guidelines is designed to encourage, in line with international best practice, efficient transport planning which will underpin a shift towards more sustainable forms of travel and transport. They will seek to guide development to the most appropriate locations by ensuring transport and land use planning considerations are taken into account at the development plan stage. Such appropriate and effective alignment plays an important part in protecting the State's investment in national roads and facilitating reasonable development proposals that meet road design and safety criteria and that otherwise accord with proper planning and sustainable development.
The Roads Act 1993 sets out how public roads are classified into national, regional and local roads. National roads are generally arterial routes that cater for strategic and through traffic and carry high traffic volumes at appropriate speeds. National roads are classified as either national primary or national secondary and this classification system operates as an aid to the management of roads consistent with the particular functions appropriate to roads of different classes. The guidelines will have due regard to these classifications.
We expect to publish the guidelines as a public consultation draft in the coming months. I encourage all stakeholders, including Senator Ó Domhnaill who raised the matter and other Members of the Seanad, to examine the draft guidelines when they issue and we would welcome any comments before the two Departments finalise the guidelines later in the year.