Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 25 September 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Julianstown Bypass: Discussion
I remind members, delegates and those in the Visitors Gallery to turn off their mobile phones completely as they may interfere with the recording and broadcasting equipment, even when left in silent mode.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
From the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport I welcome Mr. Dominic Mullaney and Mr. Cormac McNally, roads division. From Meath County Council I welcome Mr. Des Foley, director of services, with whom I worked for many years when he was town clerk in Drogheda. We miss him greatly. I am sorry that he is in County Meath, but on this occasion that is useful. From Meath County Council I also welcome Mr. Nicholas Whyatt, senior engineer. From Julianstown and District Community Association I welcome Niamh Bean Uí Loinsigh and Mr. Brendan Logue.
I invite Mr. Mullaney to make his opening statement.
Mr. Dominic Mullaney:
I thank the Chairman for giving us the opportunity to attend to discuss the Julianstown bypass project. Under the provisions of the relevant roads and road traffic legislation, the maintenance and improvement of regional and local roads, together with traffic management measures, are the statutory responsibilities of each local council. The Department for Transport, Tourism and Sport is responsible for overall roads policy, the provision of technical guidance and, within the budget available to it, grant funding to assist local authorities with their road programmes.
As a result of the cutbacks in funding for roads during the recession, grant funding for road improvement projects under the specific improvement and strategic regional and local road grant schemes had to be curtailed after 2013. This was necessary because expenditure on maintenance and renewal was falling well short of what was required to maintain the regional and local road network adequately.
Under Project Ireland 2040, there have been increases in grant funding for the regional and local road programme particularly in 2018 and 2019. This has allowed the Department to provide local authorities with additional grant support for maintenance and renewal of the network. However, in order to avoid deterioration in the existing condition of the regional and local road network, 4,700 km of regional and local road pavement needs to be maintained and 4,700 km needs to be strengthened every year. This target is not being met at present. The maintenance target this year is 2,400 km and the rehabilitation target is 2,150 km.
Overall, it is estimated on a conservative basis that expenditure of €630 million is needed per annum to keep the regional and local road network in a steady state condition. For this reason, the main focus of grant expenditure on regional and local roads continues to be on maintenance of the network. Project Ireland 2040 makes provision for the implementation of 12 regional and local road improvement projects, subject to necessary approvals, in the period to 2023. Outside of that, some limited provision is being made in the regional and local road capital budget for the appraisal of a pipeline of upgrade projects. This is intended to cover the appraisal of projects for development, if possible, in the later years of the national development plan. The scope for carrying pipeline projects through to development stage is dependent on the future availability of funding.
If a local authority wishes to put forward a future project for consideration, it must comply with the requirements of the public spending code and the Department's capital appraisal framework. The Department issued detailed guidance to local authorities in April 2018 setting out project appraisal requirements.
Under the appraisal process, a preliminary appraisal has to be submitted on each proposed project. Projects costing over €5 million also need a detailed appraisal report if they progress beyond the preliminary appraisal stage. At preliminary appraisal, the local authority application needs to demonstrate sufficient analysis to underpin an assessment of the merits or otherwise of the scheme. Local authorities are required to outline what consideration has been given to investment options, including different transport modes and traffic management options. The preliminary appraisal also encompasses a preliminary multicriteria analysis which is used for comparing options.
Meath County Council has prepared a draft preliminary business case for a bypass of Julianstown. Further liaison is required with the council with a view finalising the council’s preliminary appraisal submission.
Mr. Des Foley:
Meath County Council welcomes the opportunity to discuss traffic issues in Julianstown with the committee.
Our vision for Julianstown, as set out in our county development plan, is to consolidate and strengthen the village through the provision of a well-defined village centre area, as well as to support a range of land uses which will benefit the residential population. The council is committed to playing its part to improve the quality of the built and natural environment of the village, while catering for the needs of the local community, as well as ensuring the village develops in a sustainable manner.
On an average day more than 20,000 vehicles pass through the village on the R132. This is despite the opening of the Drogheda bypass section of the M1 motorway in 2003. The high traffic volumes create a situation which is incompatible with the council’s long-term vision for Julianstown and which is likely to worsen as Drogheda and east Meath develop further. We, therefore, believe the provision of a traffic solution for the village is central to realising the aspirations for Julianstown.
The council raised the matter of the traffic situation in Julianstown directly with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport at a meeting in January 2017. Subsequently in March 2017, the director of services for transportation communicated with both the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Transport Infrastructure Ireland requesting them to engage in discussions about advancing a solution to the transport situation. In December 2018, the council also submitted a draft preliminary business case to the Department which concluded that there is a prima faciecase for doing something to address the traffic volumes in Julianstown. The initial analysis also showed that a bypass of Julianstown emerged as the preferred option in both the multicriteria analysis and preliminary cost benefit analysis that were undertaken.
The committee will appreciate that it is beyond the resources of Meath County Council to deliver the scale of intervention that is potentially required in Julianstown without capital grant support from central government. If this is forthcoming, the council would prioritise the process to identify and progress the optimum solution.
In the meantime, the council has made provision of €800,000 in its capital investment programme 2019-2021 for traffic management measures for the village. Environmental studies are currently being undertaken on the proposed interim traffic management measures in preparation for an application to An Bord Pleanála for approval.
Ms Niamh Uí Loinsigh:
I thank the Chairman for inviting representatives of Julianstown and District Community Association to give evidence about the heavy traffic and its effect on the village of Julianstown in County Meath.
Julianstown is a village of 600 people situated on the R132 road between Drogheda and junction No. 7 of the M1 motorway. The R132 used to be the old N1 Dublin-Belfast road. In 2003, the M1 motorway opened taking through traffic around Drogheda. However, the traffic volumes remained high and continue to be grossly excessive for a small village.
While it might have been expected to alleviate traffic congestion in Julianstown, the M1 has had little effect since it remains the primary access route for traffic to south Drogheda and east Meath. The area has seen high population growth in the past decade with more planned. Even now, there is enough zoned land in the southern environs of Drogheda to accommodate a population of more than 18,000 which is just short of the size of Sligo.
While there have been some suggestions the heavy traffic is caused by toll avoidance, this has not been borne out by technical studies on the traffic in the area. According to a briefing prepared by the National Roads Authority, NRA, in 2016, it has always been recognised by the authority, as well as borne out in traffic studies undertaken, that the old N1 – the existing R132 - route would continue to attract significant traffic volumes due to the commercial and residential traffic movements in and around Drogheda town, the movements to and from Drogheda, and the movements to and from Drogheda Port. The decision of the NRA board to adopt the toll scheme noted that the existing R132 route would continue to operate as a toll-free public road. A study carried out by the authority in 2012 demonstrated this toll strategy has been effective as the overall volume of toll avoidance rates on the M1 is relatively low at less than 3% through the length of the scheme.
Current average annual daily traffic, as measured by TII, is in excess of 20,000, with weekday levels exceeding 22,000. According to the TII design manual for roads and bridges, a type-2 dual carriageway, not a village street, is recommended for this level of traffic. Julianstown has the 16th busiest road in the country based on an analysis of the TII network of traffic counters on a total of 86 roads, including all motorways and national roads. It is busier than the M6, M8, M9, M17 and M18 and all national roads apart from the N1, N6, N7, N8, N18 and N40.
Under EU law, traffic noise in the village has been modelled as being 15 to 20 dB in excess of the World Health Organization threshold for human health. It is suspected that the traffic is causing significant air pollution, particularly NO2. If one breathes in NO2 for more than ten minutes, one will die. In a letter sent to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on 14 March, Mr. Des Foley, director of services for Meath County Council, noted that the expected volume of traffic has grown significantly faster than was anticipated when the M1 was approved. He noted that the future growth of Drogheda, Laytown and Bettystown areas will further increase pressure on the roads through the village and that the council considers it imperative that work begin on finding a solution in order to significantly ease traffic volumes to a level that befits a village street. He forwarded a 2015 study by Aecom which shows that a local bypass of Julianstown is the most effective solution, rather than a proposed distributor road in Bryanstown and a new link to the M1.
In December 2018, Meath County Council submitted a draft preliminary appraisal for a Julianstown bypass to the Department It considered a cost-benefit analysis of various proposed solutions. This document recognises lengthy journey times due to congestion and unsafe conditions for all road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists. There is approximately 1 mile between the two pedestrian crossings in Julianstown. Trying to cross the road in the morning is like running a gauntlet. The appraisal further notes the unhealthy environment due to air pollution, vibration and noise, as well as the lack of resilience of the transport network in north-east Meath given increased future demands. It concludes that a bypass of Julianstown is the preferred option based on multiple criteria, including a cost-benefit analysis. In fact, the benefit-to-cost ratio based on reduction of congestion alone is 4:1, with an anticipated saving of €80 million.
Although the Julianstown and District Community Association acknowledges that public transport has a role to play in transport policy overall, Julianstown is a special case because the health and safety of residents are of paramount concern. No public transport strategy can solve the problems in Julianstown because a major portion of traffic travelling to Drogheda and east Meath, including HGV traffic to the port, passes through the village. It clear that the R132 should be designated as a national route in light of the traffic volume and the fact that it is a strategic access route to Drogheda, Laytown and Bettystown, which have a population in the region of 50,000. It can be upgraded to a national road by ministerial order under section 10 of the Roads Act 1993. This would be a purely administrative act.
The Julianstown and District Community Association asks that the R132 be upgraded to a national road; that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport include Julianstown on the capital plan and expedite it; and that Meath County Council adopt meaningful policies in the new county development plan in order to monitor the traffic levels and the environment in Julianstown and to rapidly advance plans for the Julianstown bypass. For example, it could progress corridor selection in order to avoid granting planning permission, etc.
Residents of Julianstown hope that public authorities at local and national levels meet their responsibilities to accommodate the population of Drogheda and east Meath with appropriate infrastructure. Julianstown is being crushed by extreme levels of traffic. We are fully committed to driving a solution and are prepared to go down the path of litigation if necessary. We are confident that there have been breaches of EU environmental law and of our fundamental right to a healthy environment. If the administrative authorities fail to take action, they will be forced to so do by the courts.
I thank the committee for this opportunity to put evidence before it. We look forward to answering members' questions.
Mr. Brendan Logue:
I wish to reflect on some of the human consequences of the chaos in Julianstown. As my colleague, Ms Uí Loinsigh, stated, it is the 16th busiest road in the country. It is busier than many motorways, main arteries and so on. However, Julianstown is not an artery like other major roads such as the M50. Rather, it is a blocked artery that will lead to heart attacks for many people, as well as in the political system. Two years ago, Mr. Foley stated that it was imperative that work begin on finding a solution so as to significantly ease traffic volumes to a level that, as Ms Uí Loinsigh noted, befits a village street. Apart from the Duleek road which was realigned, roads generally in the east Meath area are the same as they were 200 years ago. That is not a big issue as far as east Meath is concerned. We are back to the era of the horse and cart. Anyone who has attempted to go through Julianstown into Laytown knows that at some narrow points, such as the bridge under the railway line or beside the Church of Ireland church, the road is not wide enough to accommodate two cars. These roads are hardly adequate for a horse and cart, let alone the traffic volume coming from the east Meath and south Drogheda areas which have an estimated population of 40,000 with a planned increase to 65,00, taking account of zoned land in the area.
It is of note that the traffic count is increasing by 2% per annum which, when calculated on a compound basis, gives a far greater figure than one may expect. To the best of our knowledge, the traffic counter in Julianstown is located at the school at Whitecross and, as such, does not take account of traffic travelling to or from Drogheda on the R150 Duleek road. An Aldi supermarket is under construction and will open shortly. It will bring a far greater volume of traffic from the hinterland and along the R150 Laytown road through Julianstown to Aldi.
I ask members to picture a commuter travelling to work from south Drogheda or east Meath and sitting in a traffic jam which probably extends 1.2 km to 2 km along the road in the direction of Drogheda. Traffic may be creeping along or at a standstill. The driver may be under pressure to get to an appointment or be utterly frustrated with the way things are happening. The situation is even worse in the evenings as traffic becomes backed up on the R132 as far back as the Gormanston interchange or even the slip road onto the M1, which is a safety hazard. As Ms Uí Loinsigh indicated, it is not just about the financial cost as there is a very significant human cost to this issue.
Ms Uí Loinsigh also referred to the risks to pedestrians. There is no safe place to cross the R132 between Whitecross school and the village community garden, a distance of 1.2 km.
Mr. Brendan Logue:
If one wants to cross, one has to watch the traffic for an opportunity where there is a gap and dash across. As one can imagine that opportunity is not available to elderly people.
There are also two aspects to the problem that are not dealt with in any of the material we have seen. First, there are the traffic jams in the morning and evening. In between, that is at the non-commuting times and at night, there is very fast-moving traffic which is averaging 70 km per hour in a 50 km per hour zone. Some of these are heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, carrying petrol and gas and I will leave to the committee to imagine the consequences of an accident in these circumstances.
We cannot see much progress happening at the moment and believe that eventually this blocked artery will lead to a political issue.
As Ms Uí Loinsigh has stated, air monitoring is a major issue and we have installed such a device at our own cost. If the air pollution is indicated to exceed EU levels, the local residents will take legal action against the county council and the Department, should that be necessary. I thank the Chairman and the committee members for listening to us.
Before I open the meeting to the members, I wish to clarify some facts with the Department. In its submission, it was invited to speak about the Julianstown bypass and would have been notified about this. In the Department's opening statement given to the committee, Julianstown was mentioned twice: once in the headline, and then in the last line. I am unhappy - and this is not a personal criticism of the witness - with the Department's response where it comes into an Oireachtas committee to talk about the 16th busiest road in the whole of Ireland. This is totally and woefully inadequate. The statement makes no reference to the North-South economic corridor, to the development of Drogheda, to the huge developments in east Meath, or the traffic counts. All of these issues are absent from the Department's contribution. I note this with regret. We want to do something today to inform the Department of the real issues involved as it will be its decision, having done due and proper analysis of the facts and figures, to put this road on the national primary road list.
As I understand it - perhaps the county councils can assist me in this - approximately 20,000 cars on average use this road daily. That is equivalent to the traffic that is using the Port Tunnel travelling in and out of that village. It is more than that because there are thousands of new homes on their way both in east Meath and in north Drogheda. The equivalent of the population of the city of Waterford - 60,000 to 70,000 to 80,000 people - will be in this area in ten years time, all funnelling through this road which was built 200 years ago. This is totally unacceptable.
The importance of this nationally is for the Department to recognise the pressure that development is putting on places like Julianstown, but also on the commuters who are delayed. I am delayed, on average, a half an hour a day by going through Julianstown, with the attendant costs to me and other drivers. The question raised in the report which the council has done, which requires further examination, concerns public transport alternatives to using the motorway. I welcome the DART development, which is of great importance and will significantly increase capacity. This is only part of the solution.
I will bring my committee colleagues in now to contribute to the meeting but I ask Meath County Council to address that issue in terms of the four options they have looked at for the future. The weakness in its case - which is not a personal one - is that it needs to examine further the public transport options.
The Department needs to consider how it ought to respond now. I point out to the Department that as Chairman I sought a briefing note and I got it from the Department two months ago. It is far more comprehensive, with respect, than its opening statement here today. Whoever was talking to the Department did not tell it anything about the story of Julianstown. None of the problems or issues was iterated.
I welcome local councillors Paddy Meade and Annie Hoey, who are very concerned about this issue. I hope these proceedings will inform the council's debate also. I call Deputy Breathnach and then Deputy Munster.
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to attend this meeting as I am not a committee member. The constituency of Louth stretches from Omeath to Julianstown. I particularly welcome Mr. Des Foley, alluded to by the Chairman, with whom I have soldiered on Louth County Council and Drogheda for a long time and, equally, welcome the representatives of the Department and the residents association. I commend the latter on the difficulties it is experiencing in the presentation of Julianstown because of the traffic issue. Every time I go through the village I find huge improvements through the efforts of the Tidy Towns and their association.
Without being repetitive, it is important to stress the area of Drogheda south, of Bettystown, Laytown and Julianstown, has exploded exponentially, from the time I was a young man who went on summer holidays to Bettystown. To try to find one's way around this town is exasperating, to say the least, compared with the way it was many years ago.
We can blame planning and all sorts of issues around the growth of transport, but the reality is that the Border corridor, as it has often been described - with an equidistance between Dublin and Belfast - has created the huge growth in the area. I am here today to support the residents' view that the village is being "crushed" by traffic. As a public representative, I testify to this congestion that I experience on a daily basis. There is a safety issue not just in relation to the village but whether one is coming on the motorway or having to traverse the traffic flows. With a 2% growth in traffic, there will be a problem on the motorway very shortly, as has been alluded to, unless the Department sits up and takes note. Congestion, pollution, and health and safety are all huge issues. I would certainly not like to see a legal approach to this matter with it going into the courts.
The designation of road as a national route, with the provision of a bypass, needs to be ramped up. We are all aware that the road network is the lifeline for all communities but no community should suffer to the degree that Julianstown is suffering. This issue needs to be prioritised and expedited in the next number of years. I commend the residents for their presentation and assure them that whatever efforts we, as members of the Oireachtas, particularly from the Louth and East Meath constituency, can make, we will, to try to impress upon the Department and the Minister the need to prioritise this route. I am delighted that the residents group has come here today to highlight the fact that this is one of the busiest road networks and to seek the help from the Department to prioritise this project and alleviate that congestion.
I started by describing this area as an economic corridor. The people at the centre of that economic corridor are living almost equidistant from Dublin and Dundalk, and also at the centre of development between Dublin and Belfast. It is a great place to live. People who use it as a suburb from which to travel to work in Dublin or Belfast are frustrated and need to be supported, particularly those travelling to and from Dublin every day.
I support Mr. Logue's comments on the R132 road into Laytown. It is beyond me how cars can pass each other on portions of that road. Something must be done with regard to the railway bridge in Laytown to prevent a serious accident, although I am sure there have been accidents.
I commend the presentation and hope it will highlight the need to ramp up the priority given to this important road project for our region.
I ask the officials to picture a small, picturesque village with a population of 600 through which in excess of 20,000 vehicles, including heavy goods vehicles, thunder every week. People have to see it to believe it. Trying to cross the road in the middle of the village of Julianstown involves taking one's life in one's hands. It is like trying to cross an extremely busy dual carriageway. It is almost impossible.
Meath County Council has submitted the business case for the project. Mr. Mullaney stated: "At preliminary appraisal, the local authority application needs to demonstrate sufficient analysis to underpin an assessment of the merits or otherwise of the scheme." The Department received the business case in December last. Based on that business case, has the local authority demonstrated exactly what the Department would call for in a preliminary appraisal? Has it demonstrated the merits of the case for a bypass?
Mr. Dominic Mullaney:
We have had the appraisal. There is one particular aspect of the appraisal on which we are seeking more information. It relates to the public transport analysis. We believe that an origin and destination survey is required to identify where people are coming from and where they are going to. The reason I say that is that before we rule out a public transport option - I am not saying what the correct option is at this stage - we need to see what the possibilities are for people being able to use buses or trains. TII estimates that it takes between eight and 13 years to bring a road from start to finish. In a case such as this, it could take between eight and ten years, which is a long time. By that time, it is hoped the NDP will have delivered major public transport improvements on the rail corridor to Drogheda and Dundalk. That is the analysis that needs to be done before we decide that the road option is the appropriate one.
The analysis the Department needs to do is of planning policy in Louth County Council and Meath County Council, the permissions that are extant and the land that has been zoned. Many people using east Meath routes are from the area. The ongoing congestion is the result of significant developments in the area.
An enormous amount of land in south Louth and east Meath has been zoned for residential housing development in the next few years. That will compound the problem.
Mr. Mullaney referred to the public transport option. Drogheda railway station is at capacity and passengers can barely get on a train at Laytown some mornings. I understand the DART expansion to Drogheda may not be delivered until 2027. Is that correct?
While I accept that the Department needs to take on board public transport options, there are no realistic public transport plans to alleviate the daily congestion through Julianstown in the near future. If there were, Mr. Mullaney would have been able to tell us about them. Are they not all long-term plans?
To be helpful, I understand the DART will be extended to Drogheda once the new carriages have been constructed. The tender has issued. It will be much quicker than 2027 because it will not be necessary to wait for the electrification of the line. Maybe we could ask the clerk of the committee whether it is in order to write to the National Transport Authority to get clarity on that. The DART will run to Drogheda before electrification and each DART train will be capable of carrying upwards of 1,000 passengers. It is an important analysis that has to be done.
Mr. Brendan Logue:
With regard to the question of public transport, Meath County Council's preliminary appraisal of this matter has concluded that public transport will not achieve the local authority's own traffic objectives and found a 4:1 cost-benefit analysis for a bypass of the village. If the Department is backing public transport, it needs to demonstrate to us what the plans are. Are there any specifics involved or is it a case of wishful thinking?
That is my point. There are no foreseeable public transport options being put forward or Mr. Mullaney would have been able to give us that information. These plans are all long term. We have not had confirmation of a date for the expansion of the DART to Drogheda but 2027 has been mentioned.
The date has not been confirmed. We all hope it will be sooner rather than later. However, there is no evidence to show this will alleviate the serious congestion in Julianstown. There are no short-term public transport options being put forward or plans that would alleviate the concerns of the residents of the village. Does Mr. Mullaney agree that the road is not fit for purpose given the volume of traffic?
The residents of Julianstown had marked down that the first step was to upgrade the R132 to a national road. Given the business case submitted by Meath County Council and its director of services, would Mr. Mullaney propose that the road be upgraded to a national road?
Mr. Dominic Mullaney:
All I would say about that is that it would not get around the problem that two things would need to happen first. First, the analysis would have to be done so even if it were a national road, TII would still have to do the analysis. In addition, the funding would still have to be found. Regardless of whether it is a regional or national road, those two hurdles still have to be overcome.
Mr. Dominic Mullaney:
My point was that even if the Minister made an order designating it a national road, TII would still have to go through the same process of undertaking the analysis and justification in conjunction with the local authority. Money would also still have to be found for the project. Those are the two issues to be addressed.
As it stands, if the Minister were to put it on his priority list, it would, de facto, also be on the TII list. If it is not, it will never be done, so we have to get the project on that list. I need an answer to one question and then I will call Deputy Breathnach. I accept that all options must be examined and option No. 4 been identified as needing more work. We have all the facts. How quickly could that survey be done?
Mr. Nicholas Whyatt:
It depends on the extent of the origin and destination survey. It will take time to procure it. I know many people appear here and state that procurement is an issue; it is the same for us. It typically takes two months for us to procure someone to undertake such a survey. Some companies, however, have information available now that we might be able to tap into. It is expensive, but Google and Bluetooth have information we might be able to use. The process could take about six to nine months. Generally, I underestimate the time needed because of my optimism bias, but I estimate that it could be done in six months.
Mr. Nicholas Whyatt:
That is the certainty we are looking for at this stage. I agree with Mr. Mullaney regarding the process. The Department and TII are bound by the same process of the public spending code and the capital appraisal framework. Regarding accelerating the scheme, if there is to be a bypass, there is no advantage to be gained by going to the TII to accelerate it. We must be careful about jumping to that as the conclusion. There is a process to be gone through. Listening to the debate, it is important to note that this is not the beginning and end of all the project appraisal that will be done during the scheme. It is an iterative process that will get progressively more detailed as we go through it.
The Department is telling us this today. If in six months we and the Department have much more data, that will push the case. I agree the process has to be incremental, strategic and equitable in all regards. If we do not start the process, however, we will never get anywhere. I accept that this is not the end of the process. It is, however, the beginning of moving the process on from where it is stuck now. I call Deputy Breathnach.
Regarding prioritising the project, the word used by Mr. Whyatt was "accelerating". I favour a combination of acceleration and prioritisation of the project. If we could get a commitment to create a roadmap and a timescale-----
If it is in order for a non-member of the committee to do so, I propose that should be requested today. Then, at least, the residents would see an outcome aligned with a timescale rather than being in a situation of live horse and get grass.
That is reasonable. If Meath County Council and the Department agree to proceed, I ask them to communicate with us after those discussions. That would commence the process.
I also want to raise another issue. Part of the problem with massive construction is that it is almost a builders' paradise. There is almost a concrete jungle in east Meath at this stage. Quality of life is being seriously and adversely impacted by the lack of proper public transport, although there have been improvements recently regarding Bus Éireann services. The question of green space remains, however. Is every green field going to be built on? Is there going to be a zone where there will not be untrammelled and unfettered development by builders and speculators? What is the future for east Meath?
Mr. Des Foley:
I will deal with that question. Regarding the first point, we will have further discussions with the Department on the draft pre-appraisal report. We will follow through on the aspects mentioned previously, including the origin and destination survey that needs to be done and the public transport elements of the report that need further analysis. We can certainly do that. We will get into early discussions, following this meeting, with our colleagues in the Department to try to finalise those elements of the report. Turning to the further development of Drogheda and east Meath, Meath County Council has started working on a review of the county development plan for the next six years. The councillors will be getting briefings on this process soon.
I will give some details of our population projections, starting with Drogheda. It is recognised as a regional growth centre in the national planning framework. Our current population figures indicate that Drogheda has a population of 41,000 people. That is set to increase to 50,000 people by 2031. The current population of east Meath is 11,800 people. The county development plan sets out a policy of consolidation there. By 2026, the lifetime of this new county development plan, the population projection for east Meath is 13,300 people. There will, therefore, be some growth. The main emphasis, however, will be on consolidation.
That is a key aspect. People are fed up of long daily commutes. According to the CSO, residents in east Meath have the longest commuting times in the country. The average commute is one hour and 30 minutes. I appreciate, however, that Mr. Foley might not be aware of that. Major issues exist in Drogheda and east Meath. A new focus on the overall development of both communities is necessary. Closer alignment of the two councils is suggested within proposed legislation. Joined-up thinking and incisive and decisive actions is needed. I appreciate the departmental officials listening to us, and we understand their theoretical position.
We need to really put a bomb under the Department on this issue because east Meath and Drogheda are a timebomb as the area is developing without adequate infrastructure. That is certainly the case for Julianstown.
I welcome what Mr. Foley said about Meath County Council accelerating the public transport analysis and everything that we need to bring it up a notch for the preliminary appraisal. If that could be done in the next 12 months, is it his opinion that Government would approve the funding for the bypass of Julianstown to include this if everything is tightened up and good to go?
That will not be necessary. I was making FOI requests on TII last night. There is a lack of transparency in lots of places.
We have had a good outcome and debate today. I thank everybody who attended. We will suspend until noon when our next guests will come in.