Wednesday, 12 July 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Fahey: I thank the Minister for attending to address a very important matter for the people of County Galway and Galway city, the urgent necessity to provide finance for a new road — the Kingston road from the Knocknacarragh area — from the west of County Galway and for the expanding west part of the city into the city centre. This has become probably the fastest urban growth area in the country over the past number of years as a total of 2,200 houses have been built in the relatively short space of a few years.
Unfortunately, because of bad planning, proper provision for infrastructural services in this area has not been made. Residents in Knocknacarragh and along the coast road in Connemara leading to Spiddal and Carraroe are now delayed at peak times for up to one  hour because of the major traffic using the road.
Repeated efforts have been made over the past number of years to have money provided by the Department of the Environment and many politicians made repeated requests to the previous Minister for the Environment in this respect, unfortunately to no avail. I ask the Minister to consider providing money on a phased basis over the next few years for the construction of this road, which, it is estimated, will cost approximately £4 million. To date, the Department refused to recognise the urgency of the project. While significant money is being invested in national primary roads, this is the busiest road outside the Pale. Will the Minister ensure it gets the priority it deserves within the Department of the Environment?
I realise that money is in short supply and that this is the reason it has not been provided to date, but we cannot put this project on the long finger. The only advice given to Galway Corporation by the Department of the Environment is to provide funding for the road from its block grants. The block grant is not significant and if Galway Corporation were to follow this advice nothing would be done over the next few years apart from the construction of this road. Extra financial resources must, therefore, be made available to Galway Corporation to enable it to get on with the job. The only other alternative is for developers to build the road as development takes place. This is not acceptable because if this approach were to be taken, the road would take ten to 12 years to build.
Will the Minister give an indication of the volumes of traffic, the nature of the delays on this road and her plans to provide funding? People in Galway would be happy if it was provided over a number of years. They do not expect it to be provided all at once. We need an indication that money will be provided over the next few years to do this urgent job. A great deal of frustration is caused to residents who find themselves in a new  area with no access because of the lack of proper roads.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): The overall road project which is the subject of this motion and is generally referred to as the Galway western relief road, is a distributor road, the purpose of which is to relieve the existing narrow road system which has substantial housing developments along it. It is estimated the new road will cost in excess of £4 million to construct.
As the proposed road would be a non national road, the responsibility for its construction is a matter for Galway Corporation, and it will be a matter for the corporation to fund the road from its own resources supplemented by annual State grants. This is an important point as some people seem to be under the mistaken impression that responsibility lies with my Department.
It may assist the House if I outline the types of grants available for road developments such as the one under discussion. To begin with, there are the annual discretionary block grants to local authorities, which give them a very wide degree of discretion as to how the moneys should be used. Urban authorities can decide not only on which road schemes the moneys should be spent, but how the grant moneys should be divided between maintenance and improvement works. Under this heading Galway Corporation received a grant of £300,000 in 1995.
The second source of State funding for non national roads is under the EU co-financed scheme of specific grants for road improvements which promote employment and economic activity. Under this scheme co-financed projects must have a significant and quantifiable economic impact, particularly as regards employment and development. It is for local authorities to prepare and submit annually to my Department proposals in respect of improvement works which can be considered for funding under this heading.
 Under this scheme Galway Corporation will receive grants of £247,000 in 1995. This compares favourably with 1994 when the grants amounted to £150,000. The road under discussion was not the subject of a formal application for an EU co-financed improvement grant, either in 1994 or 1995.
Overall, grants of almost £103 million will be paid to local authorities in 1995 for non national roads. Total State grants for non national roads to Galway Corporation amount to £547,000 in 1995, as compared with £520,000 in 1994. This represents an increase of over 5 per cent in a year in which many local authorities experienced reductions in their grants.
It is a matter for Galway Corporation to decide how to proceed with this matter. It is open to it to finance the proposed road over a number of years out of its own resources, supplemented by the block grant from my Department. Equally, the corporation, if it is satisfied the scheme would qualify under the criteria applying to the EU co-financed scheme of grants, may wish to consider submitting an application to the Department for funding in 1996. If it decides to do so the application will be considered on its merits in conjunction with other applications received from other areas.
Mr. Fahey: What are the qualifying criteria for the co-financed scheme? I realise the Minister is not responsible but I am disappointed several aspects of my question have not been answered — the extent of the traffic delays, for example.
Ms McManus: I indicated the requirements under the scheme whereby co-financed projects must have a significant and quantifiable economic impact, particularly as regards employment and development. The factors related to that are specified in the circular the corporation will have received. This road may well qualify and it will be up to Galway Corporation to decide that.
It is also for the corporation to be aware of the delays being experienced and their extent. It would not be appropriate for the Department to assess a localised problem of this nature. The problem the Senator raises is genuine, but it is a matter for the local authority to be aware of the extent of the delays and to look closely at the EU co-financed regulations to see if it is possible to apply under that scheme.
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