Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Water and Sewerage Schemes
While I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, to the House to debate this matter, the proposed massive sewage treatment plant in north County Dublin comes within the purview of the Department of the Public Expenditure and Reform. This matter was tabled to the Minister at that Department, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who gave a commitment to the Seanad in November 2011 that he would ensure this project was evaluated from a cost-benefit perspective. As the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure, cost-benefit analyses come within his brief.
My colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, raised this issue with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the context of a number of financial projects which come within his brief. He responded by stating Senator O'Brien, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, had made a number of constructive points about the proposal and gave an express undertaking to have the matter investigated. He stated:
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.The Minister's statement shows a healthy and welcome degree of scepticism about the proposal to build a massive sewage treatment plant in north Dublin. He also gave an explicit undertaking to have the proposal investigated to ensure, as we would all expect, that the sums add up and the project is appropriate. A half-page chart published yesterday indicates the sums involved. The project will cost, at a minimum, almost €500 million because the chart lists the costs associated with the construction of a pipeline, utilities and land acquisition but does not take account of factors such as traffic disruption and the broader economic costs that are supposed to be taken into consideration.
The Government's own guidelines for cost-benefit analyses make it very clear that broader social costs must be taken into account and that every proposal should be evaluated from the perspective of society replacing all of the costs and benefits on a comparative monetary scale. Instead, we had this fiasco yesterday where a multi-million euro project, worth at least €500 million, has been decided on and a location has been chosen, but the distinctions were made between alternative sites on the basis of half a page of data.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is here and I am happy to debate the issue with him. I raised this matter in a previous debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, some months ago. It is an absolute disgrace that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform - who was sitting in the same chair as the Minister, Deputy Hogan, up until ten minutes ago and who was in this House for an hour - instead of staying here and responding with regard to specific commitments he gave to this House last year, chose to leave the Chamber. All I can take from that is that he does not stand over this project and is not comfortable with answering any questions on it. It does not stand up. That is the very clear message I have taken today from the fact that the Minister, Deputy Hogan's Cabinet colleague just walked out the door instead of staying here and accounting for the decision that was made yesterday.
I am taking the matter raised by Senator Power because I am the relevant line Minister in the context of water and wastewater treatment facilities. The subject raised in the House today is the greater Dublin drainage project, a critical wastewater project that will facilitate employment and economic growth in the wider Dublin region. It is essential for that purpose into the future. I can understand the frustration of local people but no matter where we put one of these treatment facilities, concerns will be voiced. I assure Senator Power that there will be an opportunity for further public consultation when the matter is referred to An Bord Pleanála. That is the next stage of the process.
It is anticipated that there will be insufficient drainage and wastewater treatment facilities in the region by 2020 if a project is not progressed at this stage. I understand from Fingal County Council that the greater Dublin strategic drainage study identified eight different strategy scenarios. Each of these options was subject to detailed technical, social, economic and environmental analysis and, on foot of this, six of these scenarios were considered unfeasible. Following a detailed evaluation of the final two scenarios, including assessment of the capital and whole-of-life costs, the development of a single regional wastewater treatment plant in the north Dublin area, with an orbital sewer connecting this to the existing network, was deemed to provide the required solution.
The strategic environmental assessment of the study concluded that the location for the new regional wastewater treatment plant should be identified following a rigorous alternative site assessment process. In October 2011, 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. 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 desk-top research and detailed site surveys, as well as 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 located at Annsbrook, Clonshaugh and Newtowncorduff were then identified by the council as emerging preferred-site options. Following further analysis, consultation and consideration of all submissions, Fingal County Council announced on Monday last that Clonshaugh had been identified as the preferred site option for the development. The assessment notes that in addition to the many technical and environmental benefits, the estimated overall cost during the lifetime of the project for this preferred site option is over €80 million less than other options studied.
A further detailed appraisal of the project to be located at the preferred site will be undertaken by Fingal County Council over the next six months and the local authority will carry out a full economic appraisal as part of this process.
In response to the Minister's comment, unlike his Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, I accept that there is a need for increased sewerage treatment facilities in north Dublin. Neither myself nor other members of my party have ever argued that capacity should not be increased. However, we have questioned the logic behind having only one plant. We have argued that it would make much more sense to have a number of small, local plants. We have not taken the NIMBY approach to this issue, unlike the Minister, Deputy Hogan's colleague, who issued a statement yesterday to the effect that the plant was not good enough for his part of north Dublin but was fine for the people of Clonshaugh.
That is the kind of small-minded nonsense that one might expect from the Minister, Deputy Reilly, but we have not actually taken that approach. The Minister referred in his response to the fact that, on the basis of the figures published yesterday, the preferred site option will cost €80 million less than the other options. That is as much as he has said on the costings. Has the Minister seen any more data than that? Has he seen more than half a page of costings? I ask that he give the details of what that figure of €80 million is based on because it is not evident from the report that was published. Can the Minister assure me that it is in line with the Government's own cost-benefit criteria? Does it take into account the broader social costs? The only elements mentioned in the report are pipe lines and land. Does the decision take into account the fact that this site is off the N32, just beside the interchange of the M50 and the M1? Its development will necessitate digging up major roads, leading to enormous traffic disruption and economic costs to the area.
These are all important issues which must be taken into account and which, by the Government's own criteria, have to be taken into account. I ask the Minister to assure me that these elements have been costed and that he, as the line Minister who will be signing the cheque for this project and putting his own imprimatur to it, has seen those details. Will he further ensure that those details are published?
Of course, Fianna Fáil could not be against this project because it started the process in 2008. It set in train the detailed analysis that was required which led to the consultant's decision yesterday.
I know that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the time was a member of a different party but Fianna Fáil was in Government with that party.
The provision of water and wastewater treatment facilities is a devolved function for local government. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government does not interfere in that. That may have been the way things happened in the past but it is not going to happen now. I will not interfere in matters pertaining to the detailed analysis that consultants carry out, in an independent fashion, in site evaluation for any project.
There are processes set out. Either the Senator wants the project for the greater Dublin area or she does not. I am interested in investing in water and wastewater facilities so that jobs for the people of the Dublin region can be created in the future. If we do not plan for projects like this one, we will not have the facilities and infrastructure in place to attract foreign direct investment and create employment for the Senator's constituents and all of the people on the east coast. There are a number of projects in my Department that are fast-tracked for the purposes of ensuring that this will happen, including a major investment programme to upgrade the Leixlip wastewater treatment system to facilitate enormous investment projects that are being lined up by the IDA in County Kildare and west County Dublin. This is part of an overall infrastructural plan for the Dublin region. It is never going to be easy, no matter where one sites these facilities. I accept that fully. However, there will be an opportunity for the Senator and other interested parties from the area to make submissions when the formal planning process starts and it goes to An Bord Pleanála.