Response to the Consultation on the Draft Programme for Government 2011-15,the Draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2011-21 and the Draft Economic Strategy
Committee: Committee for Regional Development
Date: Wednesday, 25 January 2012
Reference: NIA 33/11-15
Mandate Report Number: 2011/15
Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report, Minutes of Evidence, and Written Submissions
The Committee for Regional Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of strand one of the Belfast Agreement, section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Regional Development and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has the power to:
- Consider and advise on departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
- Consider relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee Stage of relevant primary legislation;
- Call for persons and papers;
- Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
- Consider and advise on matters brought to the committee by the Minister for Regional Development.
The Committee is appointed at the start of every Assembly, and has power to send for persons, papers and records that are relevant to its inquiries.
Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report and the Minutes of Evidence
1. The First and deputy First Ministers announced formal consultation on the draft Programme for Government (PfG), Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI) and Economic Strategy (EA) on 17 November 2011. The consultation is scheduled to close on 22 February 2012. The First and deputy First Minister have signalled that the Executive hopes to agree the PfG at its meeting on Thursday 8th March, with a plenary debate on Monday 12th March 2012.
2. The PfG contains 76 commitments, of which six fall to the Department for Regional Development (the Department). These are as follows:
- Progress the upgrade of key road projects and improve the overall road network to ensure that by March 2015 journey times on key transport corridors reduce by 2.5% against the 2003 baseline;
- Ensure no additional water charges during this Programme for Government;
- Upgrade the Coleraine to Derry/Londonderry railway line;
- Invest over £500m to promote more sustainable modes of travel;
- By 2015 create the conditions to facilitate at least 36% of primary school pupils and 22% of secondary school pupils to walk or cycle to school as their main mode of transport; and
- Maintain a high quality of drinking water and improve compliance with waste water standards by investing £600m in water and sewerage infrastructure.
3. The Committee for Regional Development (the Committee) considered the draft strategies at the meeting of 23 November 2011 and agreed that they would invite the submission of oral and/or written evidence from the Department for Regional Development and a select list of stakeholders. A seminar was held in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings on 12 December 2011 for a selection of invited stakeholders to provide oral evidence, with letters inviting written submissions issued to a wider group of stakeholders.
The Committee Approach
4. In order to provide a structured approach to the consultation, the Committee identified four key areas contained within the Pfg, ISNI and EA documents:
- Public Transport;
- Road and Rail Infrastructure and Investment;
- Sustainable Transport; and
- Water and Wastewater.
5. The Committee sought focused views in respect of the above categories on the following three points:
- Gaps in the Programme for Government;
- Comments on the Milestones and Outputs; and
- What is the best way to monitor progress?
6. The Department and nine other invited stakeholder organisations were each invited to attend the seminar on 12 December 2011 and to speak specifically to one of the above categories. Each presentation was 8 – 10 minutes in length, followed by up to five minutes of questions from Members of the Committee. Invited stakeholders could also provide written submissions to support their presentations. A full list of stakeholders who provided oral evidence is contained at Appendix 1 of this document.
7. Letters were issued to a further 47 stakeholders asking for written submissions. 23 responses were received. A number of local councils sought extensions to the deadline for response to allow for consideration at full councils and these requests were accommodated. The written submissions received are contained at Appendix 2.
Summary of Consultation Responses
8. Overall, there was a sense of disappointment in the draft strategies. Whilst there was recognition of the progress made since the last PfG, there was a consensus that an opportunity to address the many challenges facing Northern Ireland had been missed. A number of responses suggested that the commitments were based on existing targets and budgets, that these were generic and lacked overall detail and that they did not take into account the current economic climate facing Northern Ireland and the global economy. In addition, it was suggested that the generality of the outputs made measurement of progress extremely difficult.
9. Copies of all written submissions are contained in Appendix 2 to this document.
10. The key departmental commitments with regards to public transport are:
- Invest over £500m to promote more sustainable modes of transport (£174m capital and over £318m revenue funding in respect of on-going commitments for delivery of public transport services); and
- Upgrade of the Coleraine to Derry/Londonderry railway line.
11. Whilst these commitments were welcomed by the majority of respondents, it was felt that there were a number of gaps that required clarification. There appeared to be a conflict between sustainable transport objectives in the PfG and those contained in major, existing policy documents, such as the Regional Transportation Strategy (RTS), in particular with regard to the fact that the budget appears to be moving away from the 65:35 funding split between roads and public transport. It was suggested that approximately 14% - 17% of the budget would only be available now for investment in public transport.
12. Further evidence offered to support the opinion that the PfG did not deliver in respect of sustainable transport included:
- The investment of £500m would be used to maintain passenger numbers at 77m per annum. This target has been in place since 2008 and was said to be indicative that the PfG merely sought to maintain the status quo and would not create (rather than promote, as stated in the commitment) the environment and circumstances that would bring about significant modal shift away from cars to public transport;
- The target to reduce journey times was deficient in two ways. Firstly, targets exist for the reduction of journey times through the upgrading of key roads, whilst no targets were in place to improve public transport times, where, it was claimed, journey time trends were increasing. Secondly, the reduction of 2.5% was against a 2003 baseline, rather than a more recent starting point. This was not seen as significantly challenging the Department.
13. There was a further belief that public transport was too "Belfast-centred" and that an opportunity had been missed to create priority corridors for public transport in other towns and cities. Additionally, there were calls for the creation of a public transport agency to access the needs of all public transport providers and to ensure accessibility and integration of public transport options.
14. The Department and other executive departments were criticised for not adopting a strategic approach to all facets public transport, including education and health transport arrangements. It was believed that significant economies could be achieved through the efficient operation of the entire public sector transport fleets. This might also include opening the procurement process up to all, in particular to Community Transport Associations (CTA's). The Department was congratulated on its continued support of CTA's, although it was noted that funding beyond 2015 could not be guaranteed.
Road and Rail Infrastructure and investment
15. Investment allocations to the Department have been spread across two pillars in the draft ISNI, Networks and the Environment. Roads and public transport are categorised under the Networks pillar, whilst water and wastewater fall to the Environment pillar.
16. The Network investment allocation for the period 2011 – 2015 totals £1.386b, whilst 2015 – 2021 is £1.561b. This latter figure includes £118m, representing the deferred balance from the £400m allocated by the Irish Government towards the A5/A8 capital roads project.
17. The Environment investment allocation for 2011 – 2015 is £668m and £600m for the period 2015 – 2021.
18. The Department has pointed out that the vast majority of the £1.2b earmarked for roads is designated towards the A5/A8 project. There are varying forms of opinion in respect of this proposal, from full dualling to commencement of stages to major upgrading of the route. The Department indicated that a new implementation was being developed for consideration at the next North South Ministerial Council (NSMC). The Irish Government has, in the meantime, indicated that it will provide a total of £50m toward this project, spread equally across the 2015 – 2016 and 2016 – 2017 financial years. It was noted that the Departments contribution to the project is spread across the current CSR period, scheduled to complete in 2015.
19. Whilst there is no clarity with regards to the future of the project, there is a concern that the departmental allocations will not be achieved within the relevant financial years and, without End Year Flexibility (EYF), will be lost to the project. Some respondents, therefore, have asked that the Department progress "shovel-ready" projects to allow for reallocation of these monies, arguing that the delay cannot be afforded in respect of damage to the economy and employment.
20. With regards to rail, there is concern that the proposed budgets for 2015 and beyond are significantly less than investments in other regions and jurisdictions. There is a belief that greater investment in roads and integrating rail and the other public transport modes will bring about a re-energising of the local economy and the construction industry.
21. Finally, there was some disappointment that alternative forms of funding and revenue generation had not been explored to fund roads maintenance and infrastructural development.
22. The key commitments and issues in respect of this category have already been recounted in paragraphs 10 – 14 above. Broadly speaking, the Executive were commended on the targets in respect of walking/cycling to school, although some did suggest that there should be a similar commitment and relevant targets in respect of commuting to work.
23. The ISNI contained some deliverables in respect of sustainable travel:
- Potential investment in sustainable transport initiatives and ICT investment in transport services;
- 3 – 6 Active Demonstration projects;
- A number of park and ride projects;
- Belfast on the Move sustainable transport enabling measures;
- Rapid Transport enabling measures; and
- Over 100 charge posts for electric cars.
24. Further gaps were identified as:
- Insufficient focus on local travel;
- No specific targets for reduction in greenhouse gases, including transport-based emissions; and
- No targets aimed at climate change and reducing dependency on fossil fuels.
Water and Wastewater
25. There are two main commitments in respect of this area:
- No additional charges during this PfG; and
- Maintain high quality drinking water and improve compliance with wastewater standards by investing over £600m in water and waste infrastructure (with a further £600m for the six years beyond 2015).
26. Concerns were raised with regards to the governance issues within Northern Ireland Water (NIW), with a general view that these hindered strategic planning and hindered the efficient delivery of services.
27. The levels of funding identified in the PfG and ISNI caused grave concern, as they will drop significantly up to and beyond 2015 (currently at £188m p/a, dropping to £167 p/a by 2015 and down to £100m p/a for the period up to 2021). It was estimated that it costs up to £80m p/a just to maintain the asset base, which left very little to invest in the infrastructure, particularly with lack of opportunity to carry capital funding over the financial years.
Milestones and Outcomes
28. A number of respondents stated that the milestones and outcomes were not SMART targets, were vague and unambitious which would therefore lead to difficulty in assessing their progress. Again, it was felt that an opportunity had been lost to use appropriate milestones to drive the PfG commitments that would result in a "tick-box" exercise, rather than a meaningful analysis of progress. It was seen as a priority that clear, measureable, ambitious targets were needed for each commitment.
29. It was also seen as important that delegation of Executive commitments to individual departmental corporate plans should also result in meaningful, measureable and ambitious targets and outcomes.
30. Again, there was some consternation that a clear monitoring mechanism was not evident and, therefore, it would not be possible to ascertain whether these targets had been achieved. There was a general consensus that progress should be reported on at least on an annual basis to both the Executive and the Assembly, and that this process should not be recording progress as being "on target" but with meaningful data showing progress against appropriate baselines.
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