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1 February 2007
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to your Annual Dinner. It is no exaggeration to say that this Dinner is now a premier event for transport professionals across the country. It provides a unique opportunity for the transport community to meet in an informal setting, get to know each other, share ideas and identify business opportunities.

Last week the Government published a visionary National Development Plan, which will have a far-reaching positive impact right across the economy and society. Tonight is not the occasion for a recital of the content and self-evident merits of that Plan. However I do want to draw your attention to two aspects of particular relevance to transport.

The NDP includes a specific commitment to underpinning the balanced regional planning objective of the National Spatial Strategy and places a particular focus on supporting the development of the NSS gateways. This is entirely consistent with the approach taken by my Department when developing Transport 21.

In the National Development Plan, the Government explicitly reaffirms its commitment to the delivery of the Transport 21 investment programme. The only significant change proposed is to bring forward from later in the programme into 2008,2009 and 2010 a total expenditure of €400 million, which will be used primarily to accelerate work on the Ennis to Galway section of the Atlantic Road Corridor, linking the Gateways from Letterkenny to Waterford. This is concrete evidence of the Government's support for the NSS and also reflects the progress on advance planning being made by the National Roads Authority.

The NDP provides for over €26 billion in Exchequer and PPP funding for Transport 21 projects over its seven-year life. In the transport sector, the NDP also makes provision for a further €4.3 billion to be spent on non-national roads, €1.8 billion for State airports and just under €500 million for ports. The ports and State airports expenditure will be funded from the resources of the companies concerned. This is a huge investment by any standards and clearly reflects the importance, which we in Government attach to the development of our transport system.

I now want to spend a few minutes talking to you in more detail about Transport 21.

Transport 21 is a statement of the financial and strategic decisions taken by Government after a sustained period of careful consideration. Transport 21 is about delivery; it is not a discussion document, which we can mull over for a while before we finally decide what to do. What we all now need to focus on is delivery.

The period up to end 2015 provides us in the transport community with a unique delivery opportunity. We have a 10-year commitment of the necessary financial resources. We have been given a clear strategic direction by Government and this has been reaffirmed in the NDP. We have a clear and evident need to invest in transport, to address both past backlogs and continuing economic growth. We are unlikely ever again to have such a favourable set of circumstances. The Government has found itself able to give particular priority to transport in the period up to 2015. That is unlikely to be repeated. The international and national economic context may not remain as benign as it has been in recent years. There will in future be many other competing priorities for investment across the economy and society.

The Transport 21 investment decisions are underpinned by a wealth of strong analytical and policy work.

  • I  already mentioned that Transport 21 is designed to underpin the policy objectives of the National Spatial Strategy.  The detailed analysis which underlay the NSS was invaluable in shaping the Transport 21 programme.  It also takes account of the Regional Planning Guidelines. 
  • The investment strategy for the Greater Dublin Area is based explicitly on the ground breaking work of the Dublin Transportation Office in its long term strategy A Platform for Change and on work which the DTO did for my Department during the development of Transport 21.
  • The Transport 21 national road investment is grounded in the National Road Needs Study and in the strategic decision which the Government took in the 2000 to 2006 NDP to build inter-urban motorways linking Dublin and our principal cities.
  • The rail strategy is built upon the twin pillars of safety and service. The safety dimension draws on the Review of Railway Safety and the two subsequent five year Railway Safety Programmes, while the service dimension draws principally on the Strategic Rail Review.
  • We had the benefit of a number of regional land use and transportation studies for our provincial cities. For example the Cork Area Strategic Study, coupled with the proactive engagement of the Cork local authorities, was pivotal to the inclusion in Transport 21 of provision for the development of the Midleton-Cork-Mallow rail service and the introduction of Green Route bus priorities.
  • We also availed of the professional input of our various agencies. An example of this was the Greater Dublin Integrated Rail Network proposals prepared by Iarnród Éireann which are fully reflected in the Transport 21 strategy for the Greater Dublin Area.
  • We also had no shortage of advice from a wide range of interests-from the social partners particularly through the Public Transport Partnership Forum, from professional bodies and interest groups, from academics and media commentators and from various consultancy studies on the NDP, Economic and Social Infrastructure Operational Programme, Rural Transport Initiative and so on.

It was the job of Government to sift through all that information and advice and to make decisions. We discharged that obligation in Transport 21 and reaffirmed it in the NDP. We are accountable to the electorate for those decisions and I for one am happy to stand before the voters on that basis. The challenge for you, the transport professionals, is to deliver on Transport 21. I understand the scale of the challenge, but I believe we have the capability to deliver. Certainly what the taxpayers, commuters, business people and tourism interests want is delivery, not more debate.

We do not have the luxury of continuing to discuss whether we should do A instead of B. Choices have to be made and if we endlessly seek to revisit those choices time will slip by, the opportunity will be lost and we will end up worse off rather than better off as a society.  I recognise that people want some things done faster.  However, the phasing of the programme is determined among other things by a combination of investment priorities, the state of preparedness of the individual project and the financial envelope agreed for each of the ten years with the Department of Finance. 

While we should not do anything to compromise the delivery of the urgently needed improvements in our essential transport infrastructure, there is room for a constructive discussion of the longer-term development of our transport system beyond Transport 21. There is no doubt that there are many important issues that we can consider, including what we should do in a perhaps more constrained investment climate, how best to met the challenges of sustainability and how to most effectively manage demand for transport.

The past year has been all about creating a momentum behind the delivery of Transport 21 and I am pleased to say that significant and very encouraging progress has been made.

  • €2.1 billion was invested in 2006.
  • Progress on the national roads programme was outstanding. The total investment in our roads was €1.7 billion, some €90 million ahead of target. A record total of 14 projects were completed, mostly ahead of or on time and on budget. Construction work commenced on 12 projects and continued on 10 other projects. We can now say with confidence that the five inter-urban motorways will be completed by end 2010. Over two thirds of this motorway network is either open to traffic or under construction while all of the remaining projects are now successfully through their statutory approval process. 
  • 2006 saw the completion of two major projects in Dublin: the Dublin Port Tunnel and the Naas Road widening scheme.  Work also started on the upgrading of the M50 and on two important NSS Gateway projects: the Limerick Tunnel and the Waterford City Bypass.
  • Significant progress was also made on public transport projects, particularly in planning and gearing up to deliver this investment under Transport 21.
  • Railway Orders have been made for the Cherrywood and Docklands Luas extensions and for the Kildare rail line upgrade and I expect these projects to go to construction this year.
  • The public inquiry into the Midleton rail project was completed in November and the inspector's report was received recently. Subject to an enforceable Railway Order, work on the project should also get underway this year.
  • Preparatory work got underway on the Western Rail Corridor and construction of the first phase is expected to begin in 2007.
  • Work on the Docklands Station here in Dublin is nearing completion and will open this Spring, bringing much needed additional capacity to commuter services on the western line.
  • The preferred route for Metro North was chosen and the Railway Order application process is expected to commence later this year. Public consultation on route options for Metro West is also underway.
  • Preparatory work on Phase 1 of the Navan rail line also got underway and the Railway Order application process will begin this year.
  • There was also significant progress on increasing public transport capacity and quality. Iarnrod Eireann took delivery of its 67 carriages which are now being used to provide an hourly Dublin to Cork service. Manufacture of 150 Intercity railcars continued with the first deliveries expected this year. Approval was given to Dublin Bus to purchase 100 additional buses and to Bus Eireann to purchase 160 buses. Ten metre extensions for the Tallaght trams are being manufactured. The extended trams will start to enter service in 2007 and will provide a 40% increase on passenger capacity.

The key now is to maintain and build on this momentum during 2007 and subsequent years.

In conclusion, I want to turn to the question of value for money. This is a key concern for Government and particularly for the Minister for Finance and myself. There is increasingly strong evidence that national road projects are being delivered on time and on budget. In 2006, 11 of the fourteen projects completed were under budget. Six of the 14 were delivered ahead of time and 6 on time. CIE projects are also being brought in on budget and on time.

We also took great care in selecting projects for inclusion in Transport 21, drawing them in large measure from the recommendations of a range of strategic studies and plans which I have already referred to.  Many of these strategies were in turn the subject of their own economic evaluations.  For example, the strategy in DTO's A Platform for Change was the subject of an independent economic evaluation, reported in Chapter 7 of that document.  Iarnrod Éireann prepared a detailed business case for its Greater Dublin Integrated Rail Network proposals which was the subject of an independent review.  The consultancy study on the Strategic Rail Review also included significant economic evaluation work which underpinned its recommendations.  

Each project within Transport 21 is subject to the requirements of the Department of Finance.  Guidelines for the Appraisal and Management of Capital Expenditure and Value for Money Indicators.  This means that a cost benefit analysis and multicriteria analysis is required for every project costing over €30million.  Public transport projects also require a financial analysis in addition to the economic analysis.  For a number of years my Department has had a practice of seeking an independent review of the business case prepared by the implementing agencies for selected public transport projects.  This is now being put on a more structured basis under the Transport 21 monitoring arrangements.  A tender competition is currently underway to select consultants to undertake an annual audit programme.  These audits will examine a selection of projects for their compliance with the Department of Finance Guidelines, particularly reviewing their capital appraisals or business cases, and also reviewing physical and financial progress.  The projects to be audited will be selected by the Transport 21 Monitoring Group which includes representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach, Finance, Environment Heritage and Local Government and Transport and the National Development Finance Agency.  That Group will also oversee the audit process.

The Minister for Finance has also established a Central Expenditure Evaluation Unit whose job will be to inculcate best practice in respect of the appraisal and management of projects and programmes under the NDP.  It will also carry out spot checks to verify compliance with the value for money guidelines.

Robust monitoring arrangements have been put in place within my Department to ensure the cost effective and timely delivery of the Transport 21 programme.  This includes a separate Division within my Department dedicated to oversight and monitoring of the programme and sectoral monitoring committees to monitor the work of each principal delivery agency.  The National Monitoring Group reviews progress quarterly with the chief executives of the agencies and submits an annual progress report to Government. 

Most road and rail projects also require a statutory consent from An Bórd Pleanala before they proceed.  This process usually involves a public hearing at which the case for the project has to be convincingly made by the promoting agency and at which objectors can challenge the granting of that consent.

These arrangements are designed to ensure that projects are robustly evaluated and implemented on time and on budget.  In summary, I repeat that Transport 21 presents a unique opportunity to develop a first class transport infrastructure that is essential to maintaining the country's competitiveness. Our rate of economic and population growth demands that a modern, effective transport system is in place. I look forward to your support in ensuring the completion of the projects in Transport 21 in the shortest possible timeframe.

Thank You,