Seanad debates

Thursday, 14 June 2012

School Building Projects

Water and Sewerage Schemes

4:00 am

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to the House. I record my annoyance that this question is being answered by the Minister of State on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government rather than on behalf of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because the impetus for the question arises from a specific commitment given by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to this House. However, when I tabled this Adjournment matter through the Seanad Office this week that Department refused to accept it and insisted on it being transferred to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I am annoyed about that because while it is an environmental issue, it arises from a commitment given by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in his capacity as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It refers to a project that will spend up to €2.7 billion of taxpayers' money and therefore if any issue deserves the attention and the oversight of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I would have thought it was this one.

I want to put on the record comments made by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on 22 November 2011. My colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, who has been proactive on the issue of the proposed wastewater treatment plant for north Dublin, asked the Minister, in the public expenditure context, about the proposed plant for north Dublin. In his response the Minister stated:

The issue of the greater Dublin drainage scheme has been raised on a number of occasions by colleagues of the Senator representing the constituencies directly affected. I am giving an undertaking now to the Senator that I will have it investigated.

[..] There is a propensity for engineers to have big schemes. They much prefer to build reservoirs than fix leaks. There is nothing sexy about fixing a hole but construction of a multi million euro dam and piping water for miles is a big event. I prefer to fix the leaks. I have given the Senator an undertaking that I will have the matter investigated.

Members will agree that is a specific commitment to examine the issue given by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, last November. More than six months later I raise this matter to ask if that investigation has taken place and regret that the Department refused to answer it.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will be aware, the proposal is for a monster wastewater treatment plant in north Dublin. Three preferred sites have been selected - one in Cloghran, Clonshaugh, another in Newtowncorduff and one in Annesbrook, east of Ballyboughal and west of Lusk. The proposed plant, should it get the go-ahead from the Government, will produce 1,000 litres of sewage per second. Initially, it will be the same size as the plant in Ringsend but it will double in capacity over a 20-year period to cater for a population equivalent to 700,000 by 2040.

I objected to this plant as part of the consultation process, as did my colleagues and, I understand, colleagues of the Minister's party also, mainly for the reason that Clonshaugh in my constituency is an entirely inappropriate location for a plant of this scale but also because having one massive plant is misguided and does not make sense from a value for money point of view. It would make more sense, and is best practice environmentally as well as economically, to have smaller, localised plants which could be phased in over time.

From the point of view of Clonshaugh in Dublin north east, there is huge local opposition to this plant for a number of sensible and logical reasons. The proposed site is immediately adjacent to over 2,500 homes in the Clonshaugh, Priorswood and Darndale area, all of which are within a one mile radius of the site. It is also very close to other housing developments in Belmayne, Clongriffin and Clare Hall, and there is no doubt that building a massive wastewater treatment plant so close to housing will lead to an intolerable reduction in the residential amenity for those householders. Also, it does not make sense in that there are area plans for the redevelopment of the north fringe area in the coming years and these will compromise and undermine future plans for the area. It would also damage the economic potential of the locality which as I am sure the Minister is aware, with its close proximity to Dublin Airport, is an area of strategic importance not just to Fingal but to all of Dublin and should be planned in that context. It would most likely render redundant the proposals to develop the neighbouring IDA site as a high tech hub and, in doing so, would prevent the creation of thousands of badly needed jobs in north Dublin.

It is proposed that the outfall from the plant would flow into the sea at Portmarnock, Malahide and an area that is environmentally protected in Baldoyle and is of huge importance both in terms of the environment but also tourism in that it has great potential which could be tapped into and developed as a marine tourism area.

Having one monstrous plant does not make any sense. That is why my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, asked previously that the proposal be examined in terms of public expenditure. It is not too late for this to be checked out. The Minister committed to investigating the matter such that the taxpayer could be sure of a satisfactory cost-benefit analysis. It worries me that, six months later, this does not appear to have been done, despite the project having been valued at €2.7 billion. I am quite concerned about this.

I am most familiar with the Clonshaugh area, and Senator O'Brien has raised difficulties associated with the other proposed locations in north Dublin. Clonshaugh is an entirely inappropriate location for the plant. I ask the Minister of State, whom I know will give the stock reply from the Department, to ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to follow up on the commitment he gave to the House in November and ensure the matter is investigated in terms of public expenditure.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I would not describe my reply as a stock reply. There is a significant amount of information in it, much more than I was used to when I was a Member of this House.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to clarify the position about Fingal County Council's proposal to build a new wastewater treatment plant to facilitate development within Fingal and the greater Dublin area in general.

When my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, was addressing a debate on infrastructure and capital investment in this House on 22 November 2011, Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the issue of the new wastewater treatment plant being constructed in north County Dublin as part of the greater Dublin strategic drainage project and cited a price of €2.3 billion to €2.7 billion for the plant. He urged the Minister to re-evaluate the project as it "did not stack up in terms of value for money". On that basis, the Minister agreed to investigate the matter and his Department subsequently raised it with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

The price tag that has been attributed to the project in some quarters, and referred to by Senator O'Brien in his statement, is well wide of the mark. In fact, the cost he cited refers to the cost of all the wastewater projects in the greater Dublin area identified by the greater Dublin strategic drainage study in 2005. The expected capital costs of the north Dublin treatment plant, outfall and orbital sewer are not expected to exceed €500 million.

I wish to apprise this House of developments on the project. In March 2011, Fingal County Council appointed consultants to prepare a preliminary report and environmental impact assessment for the north Dublin treatment plant and orbital sewer. The identification of potential locations for the regional wastewater treatment plant is an important step in this process.

In October 2011, as part of phase 1, based on the alternative sites assessment and route selection report, Fingal County Council identified nine potential land parcels in the northern part of the greater Dublin area within which a proposed regional wastewater treatment plant could potentially be located, along with a marine outfall and an orbital drainage system. The council carried out an eight-week non-statutory public consultation seeking views on the proposals and the land parcels. These nine land parcels were then assessed as potential locations in which to site the regional wastewater treatment plant. The routes for the orbital drainage system and the marine outfall pipe locations were also assessed. Site-specific information, more in-depth desktop research, consultations and detailed site surveys, in addition to feedback from the public, were used to assist in identifying the locations with the least impact under 15 criteria. Of these nine land parcels, three sites have now been identified by the council as emerging preferred site options in phase 2 according to the alternative sites assessment and route selection report. A further eight-week, non-statutory public consultation period commenced on Monday, 14 May 2012, and it is to run until 6 July 2012. As part of this process, four open days are being arranged by the council on which the public can meet the project team and discuss the report.

When the preferred site is identified, the council will prepare detailed plans and complete an environmental impact statement. This environmental impact statement, together with a planning application under the Planning and Development Strategic Infrastructure Act 2006, will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála will carry out its own statutory public consultation on the project. I urge the north Dublin communities to engage in the current non-statutory public consultation process and in the important statutory consultation processes that will be available as the project proceeds.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Minister of State. He said the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, stated the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, agreed to investigate the matter with the former Department, and that the latter Department subsequently raised the issue with the former. It does not outline the nature of the response, evaluation or investigation or whether the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is actually satisfied. The report just states the issue was raised. I ask the Minister of State to seek clarification from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that he is satisfied with the value-for-money review of the plant on foot of the investigation. A significant amount of taxpayers' money is to be spent and the project deserves oversight by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Senator O'Brien's concerns were first raised in the context of a belief that the project would cost in the region of €2.3 billion to €2.7 billion. We now know the cost is in the region of €500 million, which is significantly lower. I agree with the Senator that we must scrutinise every cent of public money spent. Having worked in local government for 14 years, I believe that sort of assessment would be part of the overall planning process for the provision of such significant infrastructure to serve north Dublin. I will undertake to seek the information Senator Power requires.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.05 p.m. until 4.45 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 June 2012.