Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Topical Issue Debate
Road Projects Status
I note that were the north ring road and the M20 to be built, the Minister and I could meet a lot quicker to address other concerns.
At the outset, I raise this issue because it is a national priority and more importantly, in the context of the development of Cork, progress must be seen in respect of the north ring road itself, which will link the M8 to the proposed M20. When one considers Cork, its layout and its traffic infrastructure on the eastern side of the city, it is completely dependent on the tunnel in respect of traffic going from north to south. Were anything to happen to that tunnel, there would be no access across the River Lee for the volumes of traffic currently passing through the tunnel on a daily basis. It is proposed to spend sums of money in upgrading the Dunkettle roundabout to make it into a cloverleaf type of junction system, which is welcome. However, the north ring road itself also should be prioritised as that would address Cork's current absolute dependence on the tunnel for its infrastructure and traffic movement. This project should not be shelved when the north side of the city is both underdeveloped and poorly developed in respect of infrastructure and what it supports in attracting further industry and opening up areas for development.
As the Minister is aware, Apple is located on the north side of the city. It is a huge employer and an international flagship company. We want to be able to capitalise on that type of company locating in the heart of the north side of the city but the only way we can advance industry and commerce in the area is by developing a proper traffic route. This requires the building of the north ring road from Killydonoghue on the eastern side to Poulavone in Ballincollig. Anything short of that undermines the capacity of the city to develop on the north side. There is an unequal balance between the two sides of the city in terms of investment. This is patently obvious any day of the week; one needs only drive across the city. There is an awful lot more development on the southern side than there is on the northern side in terms of both local authority investment and, as important, private investment. The obligation on the Government is to ensure this road is constructed and developed.
Linking our two great cities is the next piece of the jigsaw. We must put the M20 back firmly on the map. The north ring road in Cork and the M20 between Cork and Limerick are critical infrastructural developments. These two great cities could create a counter-weight. They would be two great cities coming together. We do it regularly in rugby and we could also do it in many other areas. We would have a corridor from Galway, south to Limerick and on to Cork. These are three university cities which have an exceptional quality of life and are linked by rail and road. There are deep water ports in Cork and Foynes and international airports in Shannon and Cork. There is a huge opportunity for counter-balance and to develop the west and south west, which is important. I do not want to be too parochial about it but we believe that there will be a retarding effect on growth and investment in the region if this infrastructure is not developed in the next number of years.
This infrastructure would open up the whole of the south west and west to investment opportunity in areas such as pharmaceuticals, as in Cork. As one moves up along that length of the country towards Galway, where the medical device industry is to be found, there is huge potential for symbiotic development and cross-fertilisation of capacities in the various cities.
The immediate step to be taken is the construction and development of the north ring road in order to ensure we are not dependent on the tunnel alone. Then the M20 needs to be put firmly back on track.
While I share an interest in the Cork-Limerick road, I will confine my answer to the north ring road. As I said, I am taking this Topical Issue on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, who has responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, formerly known as the NRA, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.
Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects such as the Cork north ring road is a matter in the first instance for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act. Ireland has just under 100,000 kilometres of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer. Given the national financial position, there have been large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure over the past number of years. For this reason the focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal rather than major new improvement schemes. The northern ring road was one of a range of proposed road development projects which had to be deferred.
Thankfully, the economy is now recovering and the pressures we are now facing relate to renewed economic growth. The Government's capital plan reflects the need to maintain a prudent approach to expenditure, the balancing of investment needs and the long-term sustainability of the national finances. The transport element of the plan was framed by the conclusions reached in the Department's Strategic Investment Framework for Land Transport. This report highlighted the importance of maintenance and renewal of transport infrastructure together with targeted investments to address, in particular, bottlenecks and critical safety issues. The capital plan provides €6 billion for investment in the roads network in the period to 2022, with €4.4 billion earmarked for the maintenance and strengthening of the existing extensive network throughout the country and €1.6 billion for new projects.
While it will not be possible to address all the demands for improvement schemes over the next plan period, the plan does provide for the gradual build-up in capital funding for the road network towards the levels needed to support maintenance and improvement works. In this context a number of important projects in Cork are included in the plan, including the upgrade of the Dunkettle roundabout and the N22 road between Ballyvourney and Macroom. In addition, the plan also provides that the N28 upgrade scheme will also commence subject to planning permission.
The Minister's honesty in the reply disappoints the object of my raising this particular issue. We have to emphasise that this is not a regional or local issue. It is a strategic issue in terms of the development of the second city. We talk about access to the port, which it is proposed to move further down the harbour in Ringaskiddy, the opening up of the north side of the city for investment and development and ensuring that the city and the critical infrastructure around it is not fully dependent on the tunnel. I can instance a few cases. For example, we have a massive pharmaceutical base in the lower harbour and the intermediary harbour area. We also have an airport in the south side of the city but most of its hinterland would be from the northern and eastern parts of the country. The dependence on the tunnel, in the event of anything happening, would mean the economic life of the Cork region could come to a standstill for a period of time were the tunnel closed for whatever reason, be it an accident, damage to the tunnel or some other event taking place.
If we had the north ring road linking the south link on the eastern side and moving across the north ridge to Killydonoghue on the M8, all these problems would be alleviated. It would also alleviate the difficulty we will have in the next couple of years in the context of the Dunkettle interchange upgrade. We will be piling more and more traffic into a system that simply cannot take it. Our south ring road is like a parking lot at certain times. If we had the north ring road, it would address all the challenges facing the city in terms of traffic movement and attracting investment and other commercial life and tourism into the city. I urge the Minister to reflect on and convey to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, my deep concerns about the fact that this has fallen off the priority list. The land is there. All we need is the will and the commitment.
As a former Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher will well know that governments have to plan their expenditure on the basis of the money available. We had a collapsed economy following the last Government's tenure. We have had to be prudent in terms of the economic recovery which has only just begun thanks to the efforts we have made in recent years. We cannot spend what we have not got. We have a capital budget which is prudent and will gradually improve as the economy recovers. We have done what we can. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and other Ministers have done what we can with the capital available to us. I will convey the Deputy's concerns but he has to accept the economic reality in which we find ourselves, the need to be prudent and the need to ensure we maintain the recovery and do not place it in jeopardy.