Thursday, 10 October 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Road Projects Status
I welcome the Minister. This is an old hobbyhorse of mine because the problem has not gone away. The Minister may recall that in May 2017, I and some of my colleagues, including Deputies Moynihan and Niall Collins from Limerick, raised the need for the M20 to be put in place via Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville and Patrickswell past Croom. The issue is being debated. Consideration is being given to rerouting the M20 via the N7 to Cahir and connectivity to the N24, namely, the Waterville to Limerick road. The local authorities concerned have their own priorities.
In October 2017, the Taoiseach confirmed in the House that he would ensure the M20 route selection process would involve a corridor from Cork to Limerick via Mallow, Buttevant and Charleville. We thought that the project had been agreed. The Minister and his Department have provided money for a study to be carried out. The issue has raised its ugly head again in the past couple of months. I am concerned that the lead authority is Limerick County Council, which seems to be in agreement with the Tipperary and Waterford local authorities in terms of giving priority to the N24 and using it as a route to add to the N7 to get to Cork.
The Southern Regional Assembly compiled the regional spatial and economic strategy for the southern region for the next ten or 20 years. It stated that the options available include the M20 route to Cahir and connecting to the N24, which is a major concern. I thought everything had been buried, but when I met regional statutory bodies like the IBEC section for the southern region and CIT, they raised their concerns with Oireachtas Members that the M20 route selection encompasses many alternatives.
I want some confirmation that the Minister, under the guidance of the Taoiseach, will give solace and comfort to the people of Mallow, Buttevant and Charleville that they will have a motorway. I know the Minister will tell us we have to change our strategy because of climate and green energy initiatives and so on, but there is no point comparing us with other countries which may be more advanced in terms of infrastructure and development. As we know from the document on regional planning guidelines from the South Western Regional Authority, an important aspect of mobility within the region is the upgrading of principal routes. This is a principal route. Mallow is totally congested. I will put my hand up and admit that when my party was in government in the 1990s and 2000s we got distracted in terms of Mallow and the bypass. We went for major projects such as the M20. The project went as far as consultation and route selection, and submissions were received in 2008 but because of the recession it was, understandably, pulled.
The economic positives, including access and so on, for the south-west region must be taken into account. The Minister is forgetting about the people of west and north-west Cork and Kerry in terms of connectivity. He must remember that the route is made longer by going via Cahir. I ask that the Department and Minister provide an update. He is able to have his say with other Departments. I ask that he be responsible for his Department and ask Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and all of the local authorities in the Munster area to acknowledge that the preferred route has to be via Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville and Limerick.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue, which is close to his heart and location. I will try to reply in a way which he finds gives him some reassurance.
I need to explain that as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and operation of individual national roads is a matter for TII in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, in this case Cork and Limerick county councils.
Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework. This provides the strategic and financial framework for TII's national roads programme for 2018 to 2027. In the ten years covered by the plan, over €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network. The M20 Cork to Limerick proposed project is in the national development plan as a project to be advanced through planning, design and on to construction.
The scheme could include the provision of over 82 km of motorway between the existing N20 in Blarney, County Cork, and the existing M20 in Patrickswell, County Limerick, with an online motorway service area, depending on what is required by the public spending code. Planning and design work for the proposed scheme is under way and technical advisors were appointed in March 2019 by Limerick City and County Council to progress this work. A revised project appraisal plan was prepared and approved by my Department on 12 August 2019.
Early works, including traffic modelling and constraints studies, are under way. I understand that the project team is currently appraising the alternative corridors within the study area that might be considered as feasible options required by the public spending code and statutory process. These include other road based options as well as public transport based alternatives. This work will continue for the next 18 months approximately.
The expected benefits of the project are: improved connectivity for the Atlantic economic corridor; safety improvements; bypasses of Charleville, Mallow and Buttevant; and wider economic benefits for the region. I also understand that TII has provided an allocation of €2.15 million to Limerick City and County Council for the project this year. This scheme is at an early stage of development and, therefore, it is not possible to indicate the timeframe in terms of construction proceeding. The latter will, of course, be dependent upon the satisfactory conclusion of the statutory planning approval process.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He hit the nail on the head at the beginning of his contribution. He has responsibility for overall policy. Policy means that he can dictate economic growth in the areas concerned, along with priorities. In other words, he can say that the policy is that we need to ensure the route is from Cork to Limerick via Mallow, Buttevant and Charleville. In case there is any confusion, I keep reiterating this. The Minister went off course when he stated that those involved, be it TII or , possibly, the national roads design office teams of the various local authorities, are looking at alternative corridors. How far east of the M20 will these alternative corridors be because the M7 is east of the M20? That is my concern. When can we expect this issue to be put to bed? Regarding consultations, one could have people in Mitchelstown looking at a proposal for M20 and asking what they have to do with the latter.
The economic benefit has been set out. We need a purpose-built western corridor that does not just run from Cork to Limerick but goes all the way to Galway. The Minister acknowledges that he got the Gort motorway completed, which is welcome news. I hope we can eventually bring that motorway all the way from the west to Donegal. I know about the emphasis on green energy transport models but we cannot lose sight of the fact that the south west is lagging behind when it comes to infrastructure. The last major built infrastructure project in the south west involved the flyovers in Kinsale and Wilton in Cork city. With the exception of these, we have been left at a disadvantage. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the section on transport in the Budget Statement mentions the progress involving the M20 even without mentioning the Dunkettle interchange, which also has a major impact on the development of Cork city and county and the southern region with regard to accessibility and mobility of transport.
I ask the Minister to tell his cohorts. As he said, he is responsible for policy while they are responsible for planning. Being responsible for policy means that he can tell them it is a policy issue and to initiate the progress of the design from Cork to Mallow to Buttevant to Charleville.
I would not like to in any way suggest that the Deputy was making inappropriate proposals but he must be clear about this. The Government is committed to this project. That is not in doubt and I do not think he is questioning it. To raise this issue in the context of the south not being adequately funded in terms of major projects is rather contradictory. I would have preferred it if the Deputy had got up and said that the south feels that it is not getting the necessary funding or attention for roads. This is a major project. We are talking about €11 billion over a number of years. It is a significant commitment to Cork and Limerick regarding the necessity for speedier contact between those two cities and bringing them closer to each other. That commitment is there. That is Government policy and that is what I outlined earlier.
What I will not and cannot do is interfere in any way with the planning process. I will not direct them regarding the findings to make when they come up with their case and decide what the best route to take is and any other planning issues involved. Two sets of approvals are required in respect of projects such as this one. The Deputy is well aware that one is approval of the business case and a cost-benefit analysis of the project while the other is approval by An Bord Pleanála of an application for development consent. The project is at a very early stage. I stress that any timeframe for the successful and timely delivery of any project depends on obtaining the necessary consents at various critical stages, including at the route selection, detailed design and tender stages. I know the Deputy is concerned, as he should be, about the detail but he should also welcome the major project that is at hand. We are moving it forward as quickly as we can. Consents are given by those bodies without any interference from us.