Tuesday, 14 May 2013
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue on the need to address the serious condition of road surfaces in cities, particularly in my native Cork city. Recently, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, announced the provision of emergency funding for local and regional roads, although not in city areas. He wrote to 29 local authorities stating that €42 million from the restoration improvement grant could be diverted for emergency repair works on local and regional roads. I support that decision. All the roads in the country are in a bad state. A litany of weather incidents has taken its toll and road surfaces need to be repaired.
I accept there is little money available and the Minister has always been clear in stating that. We are aware of the situation. I am aware from my engagement with local councillors and the city manager in Cork city that funding is not available to address the problems, so the initiative whereby funding can be reallocated from other areas is important and welcome. My point is that there should be something similar for city areas. While I accept that cities do not have roads of the same length, those roads carry high intensity traffic which is taking a toll. It is dangerous for both motorists and cyclists and must be addressed. The situation cannot continue. This issue is constantly being raised with me by members of the public and by Cork city councillors who are concerned about it. Would it be possible to divert a portion of the funding that is currently allocated for worthwhile cycle ways, footpaths, mobility improvement and green routes? There has been much investment in these facilities in our cities. This infrastructure is important in urban areas to encourage pedestrians and cyclists and to improve mobility, while taking the emphasis off car transport.
However, in many cases we have what could be described as white elephants in wonderful developments yet the roads on which people and cyclists are travelling are in very bad repair. There are large potholes. The Minister is very well aware of this issue as the photographs go to his Department. I am anxious to make a strong case for the Cork city area. I am not asking the Minister to provide new funding but that the local authority be allowed to redirect funding it is spending on new projects to improving the serious condition of road surfaces. If we do not invest now, we will create further problems for the future. Unless we address it, what is a substantial pothole filling problem today could require major restoration work in the years to come.
I am replying on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar. The Minister has responsibility for overall policy and funding relating to the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.
Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter in the first instance for the NRA in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act. The NRA has a budget of €318 million for improvement and maintenance works on the national roads network in 2013. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities' own resources supplemented by State road grants paid by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the local authority.
The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, announced the 2013 regional and local road grant allocations on 25 January last. A total of €350 million is being provided under the regional and local roads investment programme this year. From that allocation, Cork County Council is being provided with an allocation of over €40 million and Cork City Council is being provided with over €4.4 million.
The level of grants allocated to individual local authorities is determined having regard to a number of factors. These factors include: the total funds available in a particular year; eligibility criteria for the different road grant schemes; road pavement conditions; length of road network; the need to prioritise projects; and competing demands from other local authorities.
In determining the annual grant allocations, the overall objective remains to supplement the resources provided by each local authority in a fair and appropriate manner. Ireland has a uniquely extensive road network. There are approximately 98,000 km of road in the network, which represents two and a half times the EU average in terms of kilometres per head of population. The maintenance and improvement of this extensive network of roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer.
With the vast network of roads serving very disparate needs from small farmers to large multinationals, a one-size-fits-all based regional and local roads maintenance regime would not be appropriate. Decisions should be made locally by local public representatives. Given the current financial position, the main focus has to be on the maintenance and repair of roads and this will remain the position in the coming years. There have been very large reductions in roads expenditure over the past number of years and there will be further reductions in the future. In 2007, there were grants of €2.375 billion available towards national, regional and local roads. These grants have fallen to €665 million in 2013 and will fall further to €629 million in 2014. The grants programme is structured to allow councils reasonable flexibility in using grants while also ensuring that there are clear outputs for the moneys allocated in terms of length of road maintained or rehabilitated.
County councils were provided with additional flexibility this year, enabling them to transfer funding from their restoration improvement grant to their discretionary grant. In Cork County Council's case, its restoration improvement grant is over €18 million while its discretionary grant is just over €7 million, or 17.9% of it total allocation. When one compares this to Cork City Council, whose discretionary block grant of €2.8 million accounts for 63% of its total allocation, one can see that the city council already has a greater degree of flexibility in deciding where to spend this grant funding. It is also important to reiterate that the role of Exchequer grants for regional and local roads is to supplement councils such as Cork county and city councils in their spending in this area. The reality is that the available funds do not match the amount of work required. My Department and local authorities are working closely to develop new, more efficient ways of delivering the best outputs possible with the funding available to them. Given the likely continued squeeze on Exchequer funding this concentration on efficiency is essential to achieve the best outturns for the limited money available.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I agree that the main focus must be on the maintenance and repair of roads. I urge him to ensure local authorities enforce this priority because, unfortunately, from what I am hearing from members of the public, it is not yet happening. A failure to invest now in maintenance and repairs will mean greater costs in the future.