Tuesday, 30 June 2015
Harbours and Piers
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, to the House. As he is aware, last week the Committee of Public Accounts published a report into the six fishery harbour centres. On reading the report, I share the committee's concern that the harbours are managed properly and that the employment potential of our fishing, seafood processing, boat repair and other industries are maximised. The report gives a good account of the issues and challenges present and what the Department needs to do to address them.
I also support the recommendation that the Department improve its relationship with harbour users to ensure they genuinely engage with them, listen to their concerns, support people and work with them to maximise the potential of their businesses and ensure vacant properties are put to best use from commercial and community points of view.
I was very concerned about one of the report's recommendations, which is that the Department consider introducing paid parking in Howth. This is an issue about which I have written to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on several occasions in the past since January 2013. I also tabled a Seanad debate on this two and a half years ago to highlight the very damaging impact that paid parking would have on Howth. I had hoped that as this has not been implemented in the intervening two and a half years, the Department had listened to the issues I had raised and the feedback from various stakeholders in Howth, looked at the fact that one in three local authority paid parking schemes loses money and had seen sense on this issue and was not going to proceed with it. I was very concerned to see the Committee of Public Accounts make this suggestion again last week.
I am also concerned the committee looked at it from a very narrow approach. It only considered the issue of paid parking from the perspective of the Department, and Howth as a fishery harbour. Howth is not just a fishery harbour. It is unique in that fishing is just one of the activities which takes place there. It is also a major tourism, sport, leisure and community resource. As a representative from the area, it has always frustrated me to see the harbour in the broader sense not utilised as well as it could be. One visits places on the Continent with half the natural resources and beauty of Howth which are used to full advantage where State authorities work with all stakeholders to ensure this happens, but in Howth there always seems to be a difficulty and a lack of ambition and support for local initiatives.
My concern about paid parking is activities such as tourism, local restaurants, marine leisure and walking are very dependent on the availability of free parking. Howth is not somewhere one pops into for an hour or two. It is difficult enough to reach. Unfortunately, our public transport connections are not great, and particularly at weekends there can be a 30 or 40 minute gap between DARTs. Unfortunately, if people want to get there, they need to be able to drive. People going for a walk do not know whether they will walk for two or four hours. When they get to the top of Howth Head, they do not want to be in a rush to go back to feed the meter. When they get to the top of the hill, they want to sit down and enjoy the view. It is the same when people go out on the water. If they are sailing, they are highly dependent on weather and do not know how long they will be. When they are out on the water, they cannot have the anxiety of being clamped.
Paid parking does not make sense in Howth. I appreciate it makes sense in areas where there is a shortage of parking, such as in Dublin city centre, and the only way to control it is to have a system which discourages people from constantly driving and taking up the limited number of spaces. In Malahide, local businesses sought paid parking because they had a concern about people parking all day from first thing in the morning, and anybody who wanted to go in and out of a local business during the day could not get a space. This is not the case in Howth, which has plenty of parking spaces. We do not have a shortage unless a major event is taking place, and we have one or two major events during the summer. This is the only time there is a shortage of spaces.
I have tabled this debate to highlight yet again the negative impact paid parking would have on Howth and I ask the Minister of State, who is representing the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to bring this message back to him.The issue needs to be considered in the round not just having regard to the narrow fisheries perspective from which the PAC viewed it. The Department must consider the fact that paid parking would put people off travelling out to the area to shop, eat in restaurants, go walking and take part in sports activities. Any economic analysis must take account of the loss to the broader local economy and the impact on jobs and not just the fisheries aspect.
I reiterate the call I have made previously in the House for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Fingal County Council and tourism and other major Government agencies with an interest in Howth to work together to maximise its potential from a fishing and employment point of view, but also from a tourism and community resource perspective. That is badly needed and I urge the Minister of State to bring that message back to the Minister.
I am standing in for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney. I thank Senator Power for raising this important issue and acknowledge her interest in Howth and the contribution she has made there. Howth fishery harbour centre, or FHC, is one of the six designated fishery harbour centres which are owned, managed and maintained by my Department under statute. All six fishery centres are first and foremost working fishery harbours. However, each centre has unique features which facilitate a broad range of other diverse activities which are important from both an economic and social perspective. The Department is conscious of the importance of both fishing and non-fishing activities at the harbours and endeavours to facilitate and develop both. This involves day-to-day operational support by harbour staff and management and development and repair of infrastructure subject to available financial resources.
Howth fishery harbour centre is no exception to this diversity. In addition to fishing, there is a wide range of recreational users of the harbour, including the yacht club, sport fishermen, walkers, tourists and other social users. There is a significant number of businesses, particularly restaurants, operating in the harbour centre. Notwithstanding the prevailing economic environment in which we operate, I am happy to advise that in excess of €5.3 million has been invested in maintenance, development and upgrading works at Howth FHC as part of the Department's fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure development programme from 2006 to 2014. However, the volume of capital investment in Howth has increased significantly in recent years with the bulk of this capital investment, or €3.78 million, being made in the 2012 to 2014 period. This investment will result in a significant improvement in the traffic management system, access for persons of reduced mobility and the electrical infrastructure. In addition, it will act as a catalyst for the enhancement of facilities available to the marine leisure and tourism sector, boat repair facilities and, indeed, business generally in the harbour.
The increased level of capital expenditure in Howth in recent years is being maintained. In March 2015, the Minister approved further funding of €1.584 million for the maintenance and development of Howth FHC. Major works for 2015 include the provision of a small craft pontoon and the continued upgrading of the electrical system. The development and upkeep of Howth as a state-of-the-art fishery harbour centre supporting a broad range of marine related and other activity will remain an ongoing process. The property portfolio in Howth includes a diverse range of properties. My Department reviews the portfolio on an ongoing basis to maximise returns for the Exchequer. The two properties at issue were made available by competitive public tender on 15 June 2015.
The Senator referred to the question of the introduction of paid car parking at Howth Harbour.I can inform her that this matter remains under consideration as part of an overall review of traffic management arrangements.
In a special report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the related report of the Committee of Public Accounts of 24 June 2015, the Department is asked to review the position regarding paid parking in Howth, in conjunction with other fishery harbour centres, with a view to increasing income generation possibilities.
However, income generation is not the only factor to be considered in deciding whether paid parking should be introduced in Howth. There is a broad range of other factors to be taken into account before a final decision will be made on the matter. Most importantly, the safe operation of the harbour is of paramount concern. In this context, traffic management and parking is recognised as an issue, particularly, though not exclusively, during the busy holiday periods.
As I said, while Howth Fishery Harbour Centre is first and foremost a working fishery harbour, the Department is conscious that it is also a very important tourist destination, as well as a major venue for leisure activities. With that in mind, the Department is anxious to increase the profile of the harbour for the betterment of the wider community. To this end, the harbour regularly approves applications for events, yacht races, local celebrations and various functions within the harbour precincts. For example, in April 2015, the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival was held at Howth Harbour over three days. It is estimated that this event alone attracted more than 25,000 visitors to the harbour. In July 2014, a similar number of visitors attended the Asgard centennial celebrations, which were held at Howth Harbour, with the keynote address delivered by President Higgins. Various marine leisure events, such as national and international races and regattas, also attract thousands of visitors each year. In addition, the Howth tourist information office opened within the confines of Howth Fishery Harbour Centre in July 2014.
I want to assure the Senator that my Department will continue, where appropriate, to facilitate initiatives to promote Howth and to liaise with key stakeholders on an ongoing basis as required. Balancing the needs of the fishing industry with those of the wider range of harbour users, while delivering on a public service remit, will be foremost when considering future developments in the harbour. Any new developments will be done on the basis of available Exchequer funding and competing national priorities.
I welcome the Minister of State's acknowledgement that Howth is more than just a fishing harbour, and he listed some of the major events held there that help to attract people to the area, including the prawn festival, the Asgard celebrations and major leisure events, but I cannot stress strongly enough how central the availability of free parking is to the success of such events. Howth Yacht Club has made that very clear in its submissions to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine about this issue. Parking availability is essential if Howth is to win bids for major sporting events, because people heading out to sea are hugely dependent on the weather and cannot determine whether they will return in an hour, two hours or three hours. It is important to stress that the reason we have had those successes is that we have sufficient availability of free parking. The implementation of paid parking in other areas such as Dún Laoghaire has been a disaster from the point of view of holding marine leisure events.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has recognised that there are broader issues involved, but I am disappointed that the issue is still under consideration. I had hoped, as it has not been implemented over the past two and a half years, that the Department had considered it in the round and was backing away from the disastrous impact this would have on Howth. The Minister of State mentioned the reports of the Committee of Public Accounts-----
-----and the Comptroller and Auditor General. I ask him to reiterate to the Minister that the issue needs to be considered from a broader perspective and not just from a fishing point of view, which was the approach taken by the Committee of Public Accounts. That approach is deeply flawed. We need a proper cost-benefit analysis to show that the proposal stands up, and I am fully confident that if such an analysis were done, the Minister would change his mind.
I will be brief and respond on the paid parking issue. The Senator is correct in that paid parking is a concern in many areas, and she is not alone in her views about it. Right across the country there are other projects dealing with the issue. I will relay the Senator's points about paid parking to the Minister as I know how passionate she is about it and how strongly she feels about the topic. I understand her concerns and there is a place in my constituency where we have to deal with the paid parking issue as well. However, if resources are required, one must get money in and, in the overall context, anything that is done will be in the best interests of the harbour. I will make those points to the Minister.