CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this Conference.
This morning I want to speak to you about the proposed Metro North project which will have substantial positive implications, not just for the Fingal area, but for the Greater Dublin region.
We are undoubtedly facing into some very difficult times and some very tough choices need to be made in the new economic reality. However, while we must deal with current realities, we must also plan for a more prosperous future.
It is clear we must develop a more sustainable framework for transport if Ireland is to participate to its full potential in the future recovery of the global economy. At the heart of a future vibrant and sustainable society and economy is the more effective integration of land use and transportation. We cannot continue with ever expanding urban sprawl which will make it difficult to attract jobs and result in longer and longer commutes to work.
Despite efforts by national and local government to achieve sustainable patterns of urban development and transport flows, the actual pattern of settlement and trip-making has continued to be highly dependent on private cars. The high level of congestion on routes into and out of Dublin is an inevitable consequence of these trends.
Average journey times by car in the morning peak on the main radial routes into the city are still very high. For example, Swords to the city centre currently averages 81 minutes, from Malahide 79 minutes and from Ballymun, 56 minutes. Our over reliance on car-based transport in urban centres such as Dublin is already unsustainable socially, economically and environmentally.
We have focussed in the recent past on the much needed upgrade of our main inter-urban road network. €7 billion will have been invested in upgrading the major inter-urban routes on their completion in 2010.
However, we must now begin to look to complementing that investment with investment in other forms of transport in major urban centres such as high capacity, high quality, public transport.
Luas and Quality Bus Corridors have demonstrated that the public is willing to use public transport when they are assured that sufficient capacity and a reliable, frequent service will be provided.
Dublin local authorities can now plan more consolidated urban areas in the confidence that people will embrace a less car-dependent approach to commuting for work, recreation and shopping, if transport providers commit with corresponding capacity and a high quality service.
Metro North has been designed and planned incorporating the features of high accessibility and service quality that have been already embraced by the public in the neighbourhoods served by the Luas Red and Green Lines.
Metro North is expected to influence future urban growth, particularly in the areas identified by Fingal County Council as designated for employment and higher density housing.
However, the case for Metro North does not depend on that future growth but is in large part a response to development that has already taken place.
The trips generated by the colleges, hospitals, the Airport, businesses and residential areas already in existence justify a high capacity rail-based transport solution to the problems of traffic congestion on the north side of Dublin.
It is important to point out that when RPA was developing the project concept for Metro, alternative transport solutions were considered including, for example, a surface light rail system that could later be increased in capacity to a metro system. The analysis demonstrated that such an approach would barely meet short-term needs and that the financial cost and negative impact on third parties of building a medium capacity, surface-running, scheme and later investing in a tunnel would be considerably higher than the current project.
Listening to some commentators over recent weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking that the major public transport projects contained in Transport 21 were dreamed up in the past few months merely to stimulate the economy in these difficult times. This is not true.
Major public capital projects DO have a role to play in recessionary times but that's not, and never has been, their primary role. Metro North has, and continues to be, the subject of rigorous economic and financial appraisal.
Transport 21, which was announced in November 2005, provided for an integrated solution to Ireland's evolving transport needs which was designed to underpin our competitiveness, promote balanced regional growth and enhance the quality of life for future generations.
From all these points of view, nothing has changed.
On the contrary, I would argue that the achievement of all these goals is more important than ever in these changed economic circumstances and to help steer the country beyond the current period of extraordinary difficulty.
The basic problem we now face is one of affordability.
As a first priority, we must obviously ensure that the major transport projects, both roads and public transport, that are already underway are completed. After that, we must look critically at what are the priorities in terms of new projects during the current difficult economic climate.
In relation to public transport the provision of increased capacity will be a key priority in determining public transport investment priorities in the period ahead. In that context, Metro North and the DART Underground are particularly important rail investments as they form a core part of the planned integrated public transport network for the Greater Dublin Area envisaged by Transport 21.
As you may know, the Oral Hearing before An Bord Pleanála into Metro North begins today in the Conference Centre in Croke Park. In addition, the Railway Procurement Agency is currently evaluating the first round of tenders for the PPP contract for Metro North which were submitted at the end of February.
While the timing and pace of economic recovery is impossible to predict, it is clear that Metro North is needed for when that recovery will take place.
The Government will have the final decision on whether Metro North proceeds or not.
I can assure you, and anybody else with an interest in this project, that I will only be recommending the 'go ahead' for Metro North if I am satisfied that it represents good value for taxpayers' money which, based on analysis carried out thus far, it does.
There are also certain additional advantages associated with building Metro North in the short term. On a large civil works project such as Metro North, much of the work will involve local contractors, professional service firms and workers. Civil works projects also source materials locally and we expect this to be the case for Metro. It is estimated that up to 7000 jobs will be created on the construction of Metro North, both directly and indirectly.
In conclusion, we must face up to the challenges of today and in meeting those challenges set in place the groundwork for a sustainable, vibrant and successful future. I welcome the work being done by Fingal and others in this regard.