Tuesday, 15 November 2005
I raise this issue as it is hard to over-estimate its importance to the town of Tullamore and County Offaly in general. The issue concerns the Tullamore bypass and the fact that after the much-heralded launch of Transport 21, the bypass was not included in the list of works to commence. Of equal concern is that projects to be carried out after 2010 must be subject to NRA approval. Effectively, the Government, in its remit of deciding policy, decided that the routes out of Dublin were a priority but did not deem a bypass for Tullamore important enough to merit a mention or a commencement date.
A bypass for Tullamore was first mooted 25 years ago. In 2001 detailed plans were drawn up in this regard. I was a member of Offaly County Council in that year and noted that hard decisions were taken on route selection. A route was chosen and the matter progressed to oral hearings and confirmation. At a recent meeting, Tullamore Town Council was informed that work might not start until 2009. The announcement of Transport 21 has lead to fears that the date might be delayed even further. The NRA has since said that no decision has been taken on a starting date for the bypass. It is prioritising the national primary routes and has said it will examine the rest of the network afterwards. I can only question the Minister on the reason for this unacceptable delay.
Tullamore is in a relatively central position and is but a few kilometres from the N6. It is vital to have a proper dual carriageway connection from the new M6 to the bypass. It will link the new M6 to the M7 and M8 when they are completed and will serve as a connecting route for various national secondary roads.
Tullamore is a designated national hub under the national spatial strategy, in addition to Athlone and Mullingar. It is the capital of County Offaly and is literally choking with the traffic passing through. At 5.15 p.m. last Friday, AA Roadwatch announced that traffic was crawling in Tullamore. That is only the beginning of the supposed rush hour, yet traffic was crawling. Even larger urban areas in the country were not in such a state so early on Friday evening.
Tullamore is a vibrant town and is anxious to attract new industry, grow and prosper, but Government inaction is standing in the way. The Minister will be aware of the importance of having proper routes to a town if industry is to be attracted. A bypass is the most vital infrastructure required by Tullamore. Edenderry and Birr are also awaiting bypasses. What hope have they if the Minister does not move on this one?
Complaints about the delay are coming not only from local people who are desperately frustrated at the delays and the havoc they wreak in their daily lives, unnecessary delays also occur on the school journey, travelling into town for groceries or business and transporting and delivering goods. Complaints are also coming from people who travel through the town from other counties, which is a particular concern for the future of the hub under the national spatial strategy. It is now 25 years since the first mention of a bypass, yet we are told about topographical, geographical and archaeological surveys and the preparation of contract documents. I accept that the process must be undertaken properly but members of Tullamore Town Council have repeatedly highlighted this issue. I join them in recommending that the road, when it is built, should be upgraded to a dual carriageway.
It is a design and build project, with the design being undertaken by contractors. Surely this can begin and the entire process, including the surveys, can be undertaken by the team that will undertake the design and build. I do not know why this cannot be done. Offaly County Council claims that the bypass could begin in 2007, if there are no delays. "Could" is not good enough. The people of Tullamore and Offaly deserve better. They need a definite date and want to know when real funding, not the pittance given so far, will become available.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment will reply on behalf of the Minister for Transport. I ask him to ask the Minister for Transport to meet Offaly County Council, Tullamore Town Council and Tullamore Chamber of Commerce. There is no more important issue facing the county at this time. The fear that Tullamore will be left behind is a genuine concern of mine as a public representative but also of the people of the town and county. If we do not move on this matter without delay, Tullamore will be left behind.
I am pleased to have the opportunity on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, to respond to Deputy Enright on this matter. The Minister for Finance keeps a watching brief on matters pertaining to Tullamore and the midlands generally.
He is very active in the context of developing the country and ensuring a central role for the midlands in that overall national development. There is no prospect of Tullamore being left behind given the presence of the Minister, Deputy Cowen, at the Cabinet table in such a pivotal position as Minister for Finance.
In the past 11 months the Department of Transport has developed the most detailed national transport plan ever devised in this country. Transport 21 will give Ireland a first class transport system that, on a national level, connects all regions to each other and to our main seaports and airports and, in the cities, will provide greatly enhanced public transport alternatives to the private car.
Transport 21 has been specifically developed with a view to supporting the Government's national spatial strategy 2002-20, the purpose of which is to promote more balanced regional development. In this regard the Deputy will be aware that the strategic approach of the national spatial strategy is to improve access to the wide range of attractions in the midlands so that, through the integrated network of towns, it will possess the advantages of a dynamic region containing a large city. This is being achieved by the development of Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore as a linked gateway, using their complementary capabilities.
With regard to roads, the midlands generally and the linked gateway of Tullamore, Athlone and Mullingar have already benefited from the major investment in the upgrade of the national roads programme in recent years. The upgrade of the N7 through the bypassing of Kildare, Monasterevin and Portlaoise has improved access to and from the midlands. Access will be further improved when the Kilcock-Kinnegad project on the N4 opens to traffic shortly and phase one of the upgrade of the Kinnegad-Athlone section of the N6 is completed in 2007.
Transport 21 also makes provision for the targeted improvement of a number of national secondary routes that are particularly important for regional development. These include the N52 from Dundalk to Nenagh via Tullamore and the N80 from Moate to Enniscorthy via Tullamore, both key cross-country routes linking corridors identified by the national spatial strategy. These improvement works will include the construction of a bypass of Tullamore. I understand from the National Roads Authority that An Bord Pleanála approved this scheme in June 2005 and that work has commenced on the preparation of contract documents. The further development of this project is a matter for the NRA having regard to the funding available for the national roads programme and other priorities on the programme.
With regard to rail, Tullamore has benefited from investment in the railway network under the national development plan by virtue of its location on both the Dublin-Galway and Dublin-Westport intercity rail lines. Combined with the fixed infrastructure renewal work already completed or under way, Transport 21 will provide for 120 intercity rail cars to be deployed on the mainline rail network between now and 2008. This will deliver significant benefits to Tullamore passengers in terms of an increased service frequency and a reduction in journey times on the Galway and Westport routes. Dublin-Galway services will move to an hourly frequency during peak hours and a two-hourly frequency off-peak, while the Westport route will also see frequency improvements in each direction.
Under Transport 21 Tullamore will also benefit from the improved rail connectivity with the west that will result from the development of the western rail corridor under Transport 21. Tullamore to Ennis and Limerick by rail will be possible from the end of 2008 when the Athenry to Ennis section of the western rail corridor is due to be completed under Transport 21.
Transport 21 also includes significant funding for the development of provincial bus services, including the upgrading of regional and local bus services. In addition rural areas of the country can expect to benefit from the decision to put the rural transport initiative on a permanent footing from 2007 and to increase significantly the cash funding for this successful and innovative programme.