Wednesday 30 April 2008

Who calls the shots the mayor, the minister or the transport authority

THE PROPOSAL in this week's Green Paper on local government that the Dublin Transport Authority (DTA) is to be chaired by whoever becomes the capital's first directly-elected mayor will compensate only partly for a significant democratic deficit in the authority's composition.

The Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, said he had got the agreement of his colleague, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, that the mayor would chair the DTA - in 2011; as currently framed, this powerful new body would be headed by a ministerial appointee.

The Dublin Transport Authority Bill, published last week, provides that none of the 10 members of the authority would be elected representatives, and that only four of the 12 on its advisory council would be members of the Dublin and Mid-East regional authorities. The rest would all be appointees of the Minister for Transport - chosen, the Bill says, on the basis of their expertise in "relevant disciplines", such as finance, transport or planning - as well as ex-officio members such as Dublin city manager John Tierney.

Lest there be any impression that the DTA is not a creature of central government, there are no less than 230 direct references to the Minister in its 78 pages - mainly dealing with his powers to order the affairs of the authority; in this respect, it is par for the course. Establishment of the DTA, according to the explanatory memorandum, "will ensure, for the first time, that there is a single, properly accountable body with overall responsibility for surface transport in the Greater Dublin Area" (GDA), which includes Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.

Its general functions will include strategic transport planning, provision of public transport services and infrastructure and traffic management. It will also take over responsibility from the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) for the thorny issue of introducing integrated ticketing. But the RPA will stay in business, with continuing responsibility for the delivery of Luas and metro projects. Indeed, the agency fought an evidently successful bureaucratic battle against an earlier, apparently firm proposal that it would simply be subsumed into the DTA.

The only body that is to be dissolved under the Legislation is the Dublin Transportation Office, which has performed a co-ordinating role for transport in the region and was also the originator of the metro plan - now causing "wigs on the Green" as details of its design emerge.

The DTA's first duty will be to prepare a six-year transport strategy for the GDA - in consultation with the local authorities as well as the wider community - covering investment in infrastructure, and the procurement and integration of public transport services. In preparing its integrated implementation plan, the DTA will get written guidance from the Minister on "multi-annual funding arrangements", though it will be obliged to have "due regard" for "the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of Exchequer resources". Where possible, the DTA is required to secure the provision of public transport infrastructure through existing agencies, such as the National Roads Authority, the local authorities, Iarnrod Eireann and the RPA - though it will have "step-in" powers, if any of these fail. However, the Bill does nothing to liberalise or open up the Dublin bus market. The "exclusive rights" of Bus Eireann, Dublin Bus and Iarnrod Eireann to operate the services they currently provide are reaffirmed, and the DTA is obliged to award them direct contracts.

One of the most significant provisions of the Bill is the land use planning powers it gives the new agency. In future, there will be an onus on the GDA's seven local authorities to ensure that their development plans are consistent with the DTA's transport strategy. The Dublin and Mid-East regional authorities, though largely powerless, will also be required to include a statement in their regional planning guidelines "explaining how there will be effective integration of transport and land use planning", the memorandum says.

Furthermore, the 2000 Planning Act is being amended to give the Minister for the Environment power to direct any of the GDA's local authorities to review or vary their draft development plan to ensure that its objectives are consistent with the DTA's transport strategy.

Another amendment to the Planning Act will make it easier for the local authorities to refuse planning permission for any development that would be inconsistent with the transport strategy, because they wouldn't risk having to pay compensation to disappointed developers.

Irish Times

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