Dáil Éireann - Volume 466 - 13 June, 1996

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Increased Car Numbers.

5. Mr. Dempsey asked the Minister for the Environment the impact, if any, on sustainable development of an increase in cars on the roads in the order of 5 per cent in the last year and 20 per cent in the last five years. [12440/96]

18. Mr. Briscoe asked the Minister for the Environment the percentage increase in the number of cars in Ireland in 1996 over 1995; and the evaluation, if any, his Department has made on the cost of such cars in terms of emissions, health and transport problems. [12365/96]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Allen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 18 together.

Increased car numbers of the order indicated, with significant reductions in air pollution from stationary sources, make road traffic a relatively greater contributor to air pollution in Ireland than in the past. The recent Environmental Protection Agency report on the state of the environment in Ireland identifies road traffic as potentially the most serious source of air pollution, especially in urban areas. The agency predicts that vehicle emissions will continue to increase over the next five years before corrective measures, such as the compulsory fitting of catalytic converters to new cars, begin to bring about significant reductions.

As stated in reply to Question No. 109 of 28 May 1996, national policy in relation to CO 2 abatement recognises the likelihood of continued increases in CO 2 emissions from transport in the medium term and that measures in this [2160] area will play a key role in containing overall emissions. Important measures in this context include: implementation of the Dublin Transportation Initiative; improvement of public transport infrastructure; extension of vehicle testing requirements; and support by Ireland for EU measures to reduce CO 2 emissions from vehicles.

Under the Operational Programme for Transport, 25 per cent of total investment will be directed at the improvement of public transport infrastructure. Particular emphasis is being placed on the improvement of public transport in the greater Dublin area as the largest urban centre and the area offering the greatest potential for alternatives to road-based transport. Compared with a “do minimum” approach, implementation of the DTI recommended strategy is projected to secure a 5 per cent reduction in CO 2 emissions by 2001 and an 11 per cent reduction by 2011.

The forthcoming national sustainable development strategy will address sustainable transport in the context of providing a framework of objectives and policies for achieving sustainability in Ireland.

Mr. Dempsey: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will he indicate the plans in place or in preparation to evaluate the impact of an increase in the volume of traffic of 5 per cent per year and 20 per cent during the past five years? Are plans in place to evaluate that impact other than those indicated by the Minister of State? Will he agree that the significance of the statement in the Environmental Protection Agency report on the state of the environment supports the urgent introduction of MOT testing which appears to have been postponed until after the next general election?

Mr. Allen: Before we can introduce measures to solve the problem, we must quantify it and I will outline the extent of the problem. The transport sector is [2161] the largest consumer of energy, accounting for 31 per cent of total consumption. The increased demand for transport infrastructure to cater for the larger number of vehicles has had a major impact on other land uses, including landscapes, habitats and biodiversity. Traffic congestion in urban areas will result not only in increased air pollution in terms of CO 2 emissions and other pollutants, but in a higher level of noise pollution. The disposal of an increased number of old cars will give rise to problems concerning batteries, tyres and metal. Another problem is the risk to human life posed by more congested roads.

Those problems may be tackled by complying with the European Union directives. Ireland supported the development of a future strategy. The Commission is expected to propose new directives shortly. If they are introduced in the lifetime of our Presidency, in line with our commitment, we will implement as quickly as possible.

A directive providing for car testing has been in place since 1991 and if it must be complied with by 1998, some 700,000 cars over four years old will require emission checks. That is the scale of the problem and the Government is considering this issue.

Mr. Dempsey: I thank the Minister of State for that information. The acceptable limit of CO 2 emissions was nearly exceeded on two occasions in College Street in the city centre. The lower guideline values were exceeded every year for the past number of years in College Street. I accept that the Minister of State may not have information on that area, but will he indicate if plans are in place or under preparation to tackle specific problems, like that one, while the bigger plan is under consideration?

Mr. Allen: In recent years work in the laboratories operating under the local authorities has increased and I am sure Dublin is no exception. Dublin Corporation, the local authority responsible for [2162] Dublin city, monitors air quality daily. Identifying the levels of pollutants is one issue, but tackling air pollution is more important and difficult. I outlined the proposals Ireland intends to implement in the years ahead to deal with the level of pollutants.

Mr. N. Ahern: The Minister referred to the DTI recommendations. He will be aware of local residents' concerns relating to the level of emissions at the exit of the proposed Dublin Port tunnel which will extend for three miles? I presume that the new consultation procedures proposed for major industrial developments, such as those promised during the week for the Dublin light rail system, will also apply to other important recommendations of the DTI, such as Dublin Port tunnel? Can I presume that the plans announced to the groups concerned will change in line with the recommendation announced by the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Lowry during the week?

Mr. Allen: The Deputy's question is separate and relates to another ministry.

Mr. N. Ahern: Vehicle emissions from the proposed tunnel will impact on the local environment.

Mr. Allen: Any major infrastructural works are subject to environmental impact studies.

Mr. N. Ahern: They are not enough.

Mr. Allen: Environmental impact studies accurately pinpoint the problems that arise from major infrastructural works. The other part of the Deputy's question should be referred to the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Lowry.

Miss Quill: Will the Minister of State accept that frequently vehicles with the highest levels of toxic and poisonous emissions are those in the public transport system, particularly the older [2163] buses? Does the Government have any plan to curtail emissions from buses? The least the State could do is to set a good example in terms of its transport fleet. If it set a good one, it might be in a stronger moral position to require higher standards from the owners of private vehicles.

Mr. Allen: I agree with the Deputy that one often sees pollution emitting from vehicles owned by public authorities. The law has to be applied equally to public and private vehicles and I assure the Deputy that this is the case. Of course the obligation to fit catalytic converters in motor vehicles will be implemented in the foreseeable future.

Miss Quill: In buses also?

Mr. Sargent: The Minister said it is difficult to deal with the problem but it can be measured. Given the evidence of a continued increase in the level of traffic, if there is not a change, will the Minister agree it is time to consider the introduction of strict measures banning cars from certain areas, particularly in the city centre, and provide alternatives such as public transport, pedestrianisation and cycleways? Will he give an assurance that he is moving away from the voluntary code which the Minister for the Environment is so fond of mentioning in press statements? Is it not time for the introduction of strict measures given that the voluntary code does not seem to encourage people to use public transport?

Mr. Allen: We should await the publication of the European strategy, assess its proposals and apply them as quickly and effectively as possible.

Mr. Sargent: A multilateral approach?

Mr. Allen: Yes.