Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Topical Issue Debate
First, I must apologise. As I was at a meeting for most of the morning, I was not aware of the arrangements and I apologise for being late.
I welcome the opportunity to raise this important issue for my constituency. I also welcome the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and thank him for his attendance. The Minister is both aware of the position and is supportive of what I am about to say but I acknowledge there are difficulties in arriving at the desired outcome. This issue concerns the road coming into Adare, the N20 from Limerick to Kerry. The road into Adare has been named by AA Roadwatch as one of the country's worst in terms of traffic tailbacks. It appears in the list of seven of the country's slowest roads compiled by the Automobile Association, AA, based on its own experience and information from the Garda Síochána and bus companies. That is no surprise to the people of Adare, because tailbacks have been experienced for a number of years, which has caused delays for traffic coming into and leaving Adare. During bank holidays, two-mile tailbacks build up on the approach into Adare from the Kerry side as a result of people returning from holiday periods after the weekend. It happens both ways, but the problem is very serious at weekends, especially on Friday nights. It is no surprise to the people of Adare that it is on the list of the seven slowest areas compiled by the AA. I believe the Minister has some personal experience in this regard from his journeys to the south west.
I wish to highlight a number of issues. Obviously, commuters going west experience great frustration. Many commuters who travel through Adare morning and evening are from the west of County Limerick but work in Limerick city and its environs. There is also a serious problem on the small country roads because of what are often referred to as rat-runs. Some time ago, a total of 133 people signed a petition calling for a speed limit on those roads but the council is not prepared to concede this because it is not a 24-hour issue. There are serious concerns about the safety of children and at certain periods, people cannot walk those county roads because of the traffic going west avoiding Adare. This has been a problem for more than 30 years. Several routes for a bypass have been identified over that period but we were extremely disappointed that An Bord Pleanála turned down the last route the council proposed, using the excuse that the motorway from Limerick to Cork is being delayed and it was to be part of the programme to establish that motorway.
I make the case for a bypass for Adare because many other towns have been bypassed. Deputy Griffin will know that the bypass of Castleisland was done as a single project. In my opinion the bypass of Adare should be regarded as a stand-alone project and should not be connected with any future motorway to Cork. I was informed recently that the project has cost more than €5 million to date in providing plans and identifying various routes.
Adare is a premier tourist project in the mid west which has been described as one of the prettiest villages in Ireland. There is great potential for the development of the tourism business in Adare and in the mid-west in general if the bypass is constructed.
I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to address this issue. Members will know that as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, in this case, Limerick County Council. Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter in the first instance for the NRA in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act. Because of the national financial position, public funding for Ireland's national roads has fallen radically since reaching a peak of €1.75 billion in 2007. The allocation to the NRA for improvement and maintenance works in 2014 is €371 million, including recent stimulus funding of €23 million, which is comparable to that available for national roads in 1998. This is where we are in terms of funding. The reality is that the available funds no longer match the amount of work required. For this reason it is not possible to progress a range of worthwhile projects, including Adare. The main focus has to be on the maintenance and repair of roads and this will remain the position in the coming years. Only a small number of new public private partnership projects can be taken to the construction stage for now.
Turning to the issue of the Adare bypass in particular, the N21 Adare bypass route was intended to run to the south of Adare. The compulsory purchase order and environmental impact statement documentation was submitted to An Bord Pleanála for approval on 4 March 2010, but on 18 October 2012, An Bord Pleanála made a decision to refuse the proposed road scheme to bypass Adare. Principally, although not exclusively, the An Bord Pleanála decision was based on the fact that the Adare bypass route:
[would] if permitted and constructed, constitute isolated infrastructure, would not represent a coherent approach to the provision of major roads infrastructure and, furthermore, would not have the potential to fulfil the functions envisaged for the scheme. The proposed development would, therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.While I do not think anyone would argue that traffic is not an issue for the residents and businesses in Adare, given the rejection by An Bord Pleanála of the preferred route, the NRA and the local authority must now assess options on the basis of that decision. The scheme will have to revert to route selection stage and I understand that Limerick County Council has removed any planning restrictions on the southern route. Limerick County Council has recently appointed engineers to examine the various options for better connecting Foynes Port to the wider road network. This route selection report is expected to be completed before the end of the year and its impact on Adare can then be assessed.
As the Deputy knows I am concerned about the situation in Adare. I have visited the town many times and I have met the Deputy and Deputies Patrick O'Donovan and Niall Collins, the National Roads Authority and Limerick County Council to see if a way forward can be charted, bearing in mind the decision of An Bord Pleanála.
One issue raised at that meeting was the need for preplanning application consultation with An Bord Pleanála for major road projects so that major issues can be flagged before plans are submitted. At present there is no provision in either the Roads Acts or the Planning Acts for the NRA or roads authorities to enter into preplanning application consultations with An Bord Pleanála in relation to proposed road developments. However, the Planning Acts make provision for preplanning consultation with An Bord Pleanála for various other strategic infrastructure developments, including transport related projects such as railways, prior to the submission of a planning application.
I am considering the inclusion of a Committee Stage amendment to the Roads Bill 2014 which will enable the NRA and road authorities to engage in preplanning consultations with An Bord Pleanála in respect of proposed road developments. This will provide the NRA or the road authority, as the case may be, with a formal mechanism to obtain the preliminary views and attitude of An Bord Pleanála with regard to a proposed road development before submitting an application to the board for approval under section 51 of the Roads Act 1993, as amended.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The Minister has informed us of the difficulties associated with the preplanning discussions with An Bord Pleanála, and I welcome his decision to amend the Roads Bill 2014 as he promised. I wish to underline the urgent need for the project to be carried out independently of any other project, just as has been the case for many other projects. There is a serious situation with regard to commuter traffic in the village. I know that many Members on their way to Kerry, including Deputy Griffin, have experienced serious delays in Adare. It is very frustrating for those who want to develop the tourist projects in Adare and for the people who live in Adare because the enjoyment of their village is inhibited by the presence of the level of traffic passing through Adare. It is very difficult to understand that one of the most serious bottlenecks in planning is one of the prettiest villages in Ireland and that the tourist product and the businesses of Adare are inhibited from developing because of a situation that has continued for 30 years. We look forward to the Bill being amended and to engaging in preplanning discussions. As the Minister stated previously, we met the various authorities and my constituency colleagues to find a solution to what is a serious traffic management problem in my constituency.
I neglected to reply to the Deputy's question in his introductory remarks. I do not know the exact cost of the project to date but I will ask my office to contact the Deputy with the information.
I share Deputy Neville's sense of urgency with regard to this project. Adare is a beautiful tourist village. It is a lovely place to stay and to stop and it would be even nicer if not for all the traffic going through it. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Deputy. It would also be of significant benefit to people travelling to and from County Kerry if this bottleneck could be addressed. However, in my opinion it is right to carry out the study rather than looking at Adare in isolation because one of the reasons given by An Bord Pleanála for its refusal was that the bypass was considered as an isolated development. Therefore, to satisfy An Bord Pleanála we should not consider it in isolation but rather consider it in the context of other road projects in the area, including Foynes. Once that work is completed by the end of the year, we should be able to come up with a solution for Adare and at that point I will strongly encourage the NRA to proceed with planning so that if and when the money becomes available for construction, we will be ready to commence. That is my plan of action in that regard.