At the recent Transport Ireland conference Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar TD, strongly intimated that a root and branch overhaul of our existing transport policy is due to take place in September 2011. The first key question is whether he is referring to our actual transport policy or our transport investment program, which are not one and the same thing, or both.
Our actual official transport policy is contained in “Smarter Travel – a sustainable transport future 2009-2020”. It is the first time we have had a transport policy proper and it was broadly welcome, containing many progressive actions and a far more enlightened approach than practice hitherto.
A failing of the policy, however, was to wholeheartedly adopt “Transport 21”. Transport 21, is what the previous two governments adopted as our national transport investment program. This policy was a quickly cobbled together amalgam of infrastructure proposals from many agencies dumped into a single highly publicised announcement during 2005. Accompanying the press release was an implementation timetable. This timetable was an extremely ambitious program to invest €56bn in hard transport infrastructure. The program is now pretty much blown to bits, as much by unrealistic timeframes as by the ever deteriorating exchequer revenue position.
The Minister didn’t definitively state if he is referring to replacing Transport 21 or fully throwing out Smarter Travel. The latter would, given its attention to environmental and social concerns, require more vigilance from those with an interest in sustainable transport. However, tallying with the Minister’s statement is the following interesting remark on www.transport21.ie which suggests a new infrastructure plan is on the way:
“Transport 21, a capital investment framework under the National Development Plan, was launched at the end of 2005 and ran until 2010. It will be superseded by the new National Development Plan from 2012.”
So there you have it. Transport 21 has been quietly, quickly and officially laid to rest. So what will be in the “new National Development Plan” about to replace it?
As most people well know, there isn’t much money in the pot for any infrastructure so it will be quite a piece of gymnastics to produce such a Plan unless it incorporates a radical move to more cost effective strategies such as BRT Networks, carbon fuel tax increases and deepening the already positive emphasis on cycling contained in “Ireland’s First National Cycle Policy Framework”.
To make matters even more interesting, the National Transport Agency, established to plan, procure and deliver transport services for the entire State, has to deliver a Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area imminently. The draft of this Strategy has been through public consultation (www.2030vision.ie) and contains more or less all of the megaprojects programmed in Transport 21, including Metro North, Metro West, DART Underground, etc.
The NTA Strategy is a Strategy for Dublin which must be completed by the NTA. The DTA Act requires that the Authority “shall endeavour to ensure that the first transport strategy shall be published not later than one year following the review of the regional planning guidelines for the GDA” which presumably is legalese for “we’d like it if they do but it doesn’t matter if they don’t”. Their deadline in that regard is 15th June 2011 for the record.
The question is what influence or role will the National Transport Authority (NTA) Strategy play in the national development plan? The Minister has the sole responsibility to sign off on the Strategy for Dublin and it becomes binding on all other development plans once he does so. How that would dovetail with a new National Development Plan is anyone’s guess. Whether it includes the Transport 21 megaprojects is another.
As an adjunct to this discussion, it is most interesting that the NTA has no brief to prepare a National Transport Strategy giving the Minister and his office relative freehand in this regard. It is a huge anomaly in the various bits of legislation that the NTA’s primary function is a Strategy for Dublin. The NTA also has an advisory body which is Dublin-centric albeit powerless. The NTA is governed by a board of 9 members appointed by the national Minister. This is not necessarily an accountable corporate governance setup, to be determining decisions of such magnitude and importance to the future of the city and her dwellers.
David O’Connor is lecturer in Transport Planning and Urban Design at the DIT School of Spatial Planning, Chair of the M.Sc. Spatial Planning programme and is Chairperson of the Spatial Planning Graduate Network