Thursday, 9 May 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Urban Renewal Schemes
I thank the Minister of State for being here. I live in Newbridge, which is a fine town. I imagine the Minister of State has been there several times. It has a population of close to 29,000 and the figure is growing. There has been significant growth and development in recent years but unfortunately the town has been overlooked in respect of putting in place the necessary infrastructure and services. While the town has many challenges, this particular challenge of a second bridge is one that I wish to highlight.
At peak times the traffic delays and congestion are significant and impact negatively on the lives of people. I put it to the Minister of State that a second bridge is vital not only for the future development of our town but also for what is going on currently. The traffic into and leaving town is ever-increasing. We have only one main bridge, which was built in 1930, over the River Liffey. The bridge causes a major build-up throughout the day.
Newbridge is an excellent destination town for retail with local independent shopping and the Whitewater Shopping Centre and Newbridge Silverware. People come there from all over the country.
The part of Newbridge where this particular bridge is situated is the only way that Newbridge can be accessed. There are almost 6,000 people living there. There are five schools with 3,000 pupils and teachers. There is a church and crèches as well as a doctor's office etc. One can only begin to imagine what it is like with five schools congested in an area and only one bridge. The other 22,000 people do not live on the Dublin side of the bridge and they are trying to get through the town and over the bridge to get to the schools. Equally, we have the 6,000 people trying to come in to the town. We have people trying to leave Newbridge to get onto the M50 motorway or the Dublin dual-carriageway. Others want to get to Naas, where our council offices are located and where many people can access employment.
Lidl has its head office in Newbridge and is currently building its main distribution centre on the outskirts of the town. Pfizer is continuing to grow, with staff numbers growing year after year. All of this is beneficial and the associated employment is welcome and important. However, I fear that the lack of a second bridge will catch up on development and obstruct future growth.
Kildare County Council has prioritised this as the main infrastructure project for south Kildare, together with another bridge in Celbridge. These are the two main focuses for Kildare County Council.
Funding was applied for under the urban regeneration and development scheme to construct a 1 km long road, including a new bridge over the River Liffey that would link the Great Connell Road and Athgarvan Road. This would be a significant benefit and bonus. Unfortunately, the application was turned down. I hope the Minister of State has good news with regard to a new bridge. It is estimated that building such a bridge would cost approximately €15 million. I accept that the latter is not an insignificant amount, but a new bridge would be very important and would greatly benefit all of those who need to cross into and out of Newbridge daily, often more than once.
I thank Deputy O'Loughlin for raising this issue. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the support available under the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, which is one of the funds that might be open to fund a scheme such as that to which she refers. I am conscious that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport just left but the Deputy might want to raise this issue with him too because it is important that it should be dealt with on a cross-departmental basis. A project such as this is not just for one Department. We have a fund which is suitable for projects of this nature and Kildare has already availed of the opportunity to make an application to that it.
The URDF is a flagship element of Project Ireland 2040, comprising an allocation of €2 billion in the National Development Plan 2018-2027, with €58 million available in 2019 and an overall Exchequer allocation of €550 million earmarked for the fund up to the end of 2022. The URDF was established to support more compact and sustainable development, through the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland's five cities and the many other large towns in line with the objectives of the national planning framework and the national development plan. This is about sustainable development, encouraging sustainable development of town centres and making them more pleasant places to live. Exactly as the Deputy described, Newbridge is probably similar to the town in which I live, Navan, with congestion at crossings and development over a number of years giving rise to pressure on existing crossings, meaning that infrastructure needs to be upgraded.
The work we are trying to fund through the URDF is to enable a greater proportion of residential and mixed use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of our cities and towns and to ensure that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people can choose to live, work, invest in and visit. If somewhere is a nice place to live in, one will be able to create more jobs with investment to service the needs of the people who are already living there. Many people in Kildare and Meath have to leave their homes and travel long distances to work. We are trying to encourage more jobs to be created beside them and to make the towns more attractive too.
Bids were invited from public bodies for further funding under the URDF and 189 applications were received by my Department under the first call for proposals. On 26 November 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced initial URDF support of €100 million for 88 projects around the country. The applications received contained a wide variety of themes and sectoral areas from urban regeneration and public realm works to enabling strategic infrastructure such as bridges to leverage further development, as well as cultural and amenity development. Applications received fall into two categories, namely, projects that are ready to go and funding to support the initial development of projects, including master planning and feasibility, to ensure a pipeline of projects for the future that may be funded by our Department or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. As part of this first call, Kildare County Council submitted seven proposals and was awarded initial URDF support for four. Four of the proposals submitted by Kildare County Council related to a link road from Great Connell Road to Athgarvan Road in Newbridge. However, this proposal was not awarded URDF support as part of the first call.
The Deputy mentioned Celbridge. It was awarded funding. The proposal is progressing through part B, which is to develop feasibility and bring different stakeholders and players together. My Department is continuing to engage with successful applicants, in the case of Celbridge and others in Kildare, from the first call on the advancement of their proposals. Once that process is complete, my Department will complete its review of the first call, after which a second call for proposals will be announced later in the year. The Deputy asked if I brought good news with me. I certainly cannot say I brought the chequebook, so I will have to check on the position. There will be a second chance to apply for funding. Every applicant that did not succeed had engagement with our Department. The local authority in Kildare had engagement with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government about its application, where it went wrong and what it needs to do to make a new application. Kildare County Council can consider further projects and applications. That will be open for it in the near future.
I guarantee that Kildare County Council will submit another proposal for funding with the full support of all the councillors. Not having a second bridge is a significant hindrance to the growth and future development of the town. The Minister of State talks about the plans that are there. We have to obtain national funding to build this bridge. Kildare County Council has sought funding for it. The Minister of State must acknowledge the negative impacts that this will have on future plans for Newbridge. There is a proposed traffic management plan from the National Transport Authority in respect of which submissions have been received. I am concerned because I am of the view that far more radical changes than those which have been proposed are needed in order to improve matters regarding the build up of traffic. What is proposed will not work without a second bridge. We could have investment in respect of the traffic flow within Newbridge. The traffic is chaotic at the best of times. We need a strategic, long-term plan to deal with possible increases in housing and attractions to our town. That cannot be done without a second bridge. Another smaller bridge in the area, Sexes Bridge, is a prime example of the need for adjustment. The area has been developed significantly, yet the only changes to this bridge were to add traffic lights and a footpath.
The regional spatial and economic strategy for the eastern and midland regional plan is close to the Minister of State's heart. The report on submissions was released earlier this month and it was felt that Newbridge should not be listed as a key town. Newbridge is the fifth largest town in the mid-eastern strategic planning area and it is the only large town of the ten largest towns in the mid-east area that is excluded as a key town. We are a dynamic town. We are on a main rail line with good connectivity to the wider hinterland. I cannot help but feel that the lack of a second bridge is impacting on decisions such as this. While Newbridge is thriving now, it needs a lot of extra support. Future population and economic growth will not continue without a second bridge.
It is open to the Kildare local authority to make another application in the future. We have had engagement about why it did not succeed in the first instance. Four out of seven projects did. The Deputy stated that it got four out of seven priorities, which is quite good compared to other counties. I am trying to match good quality planning with infrastructure under this fund. The whole-of-Government approach in the context of Project Ireland 2040 is that we should invest in infrastructure because this will encourage greater investment and quality of life in many areas. It will also make up for a lack of infrastructure in the past due to bad planning, where we had thousands of houses built in many counties, but no infrastructure provided to service them. As we roll out the next round of development and recognise that there will probably be an additional 500,000 houses built over the next 20 to 25 years, we want to do that in a planned and co-ordinated way. We have asked all the regions that use the national development plan to put in place three regional plans and to bring that down to county level too.
There were concerns about the different population growth targets in the regions which I think have been addressed since the draft. People are very happy in Kildare, Meath and Wicklow that the right population targets in place. They will encourage more housing construction along with job creation and such. It will not be as it was in the past, with houses with no jobs. That will change and that will mean there will have to be investment in infrastructure in towns in a timely manner. We asked that we would focus on the county town concept in every local authority. Newbridge is not the county town of Kildare. My understanding is that is probably why it was not named the county town. The Deputy makes a good argument that all towns should be considered. As the regional plans are taken down to a county town level, there will naturally be a plan for each town that will set out its strategy for the years ahead. We recognise Kildare as a county that will grow. It will need more houses. That needs to happen in a planned, co-ordinated way.
The Deputy and I have both seen many cases where places have been allowed to grow without the proper infrastructure, whether services, investment in education, hospitals, roads or whatever it takes. Very often, transport infrastructure is a key part of that too. We are determined that, if we work with local authorities properly, the right resources will be allocated to the areas that need it to deal with development for the past and also for the future, which we are trying to do with the long-term thinking in Project Ireland 2040. There will be plenty of opportunity to deal with this in the context of the applications. If everyone does their homework right, I have no doubt that there is every reason there could be a successful application in the future. We do not judge them. It is not me or the Minister, there is an independent body with all the expertise to make the call on whether applications are successful.