Thursday, 28 November 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister for coming into the House and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for selecting this important topic for the Topical Issue debate. I want to speak to the Minister about the public consultation currently under way on the route corridor options for the N2 Clontibret to the Border and the N2 Ardee to Castleblayney road schemes. Before I make my argument to the Minister, and I do not want that to sound negative, it is important that I say that I am speaking on behalf of the residents of Donaghmoyne. The residents, along with everybody else living along this route, are acutely aware of the importance of saving lives. There is no adversity in terms of that ideology. Saving lives is of utmost importance. By the same token, however, we must take into consideration people who will be most affected by such a project.
This particular project is being rolled out by Monaghan County Council in partnership with Louth County Council, in association with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, to develop a scheme to upgrade a 32 km section of the N2-A5 Dublin to Derry road. We all acknowledge that this scheme is long overdue and much desired but I am speaking on behalf of the residents of Donaghmoyne who are very concerned about the scheme, particularly the Ardee to Castleblayney section, which involves changes to the existing road. It is bums on seats, so to speak, that make us acutely aware of the concern and frustration among these residents. Donaghmoyne is a rural part of south County Monaghan but hundreds of people turned out for the public meetings on this issue. I understand more than 800 submissions have been made in the public consultations that were invited by the local authority. People are not just talking about this issue; they are writing about it in submissions. That hundreds of people turned out for two public meetings is a way to gauge the importance of this issue to them. The concerns of the residents are well-founded in terms of the environmental impact of any new route. It is important to reiterate that road safety trumps everything but we also must take into consideration how the residents will be affected; some believe they will be adversely affected.
There is a groundswell of support in terms of wanting transparency from the TII on the issue. Derek Maguire has been active in chairing these public meetings where he brought clarity to the issues for the local community. That is why I am delighted that the Minister came into the House to hear about those concerns. The residents believe there are questions to be answered by the TII. Residents need transparency on each of the route options. A number of options have been proposed and they want transparency on how options are being selected. They want to know the process through which submissions are being received by the local authority and how it will select a final option.
Monaghan County Council has appointed a consultancy firm in advance of this project to put it through the planning and design stage. Residents want to know who will be in control of the compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, that will affect a new route. In the event of a new road being established, will the Government and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport provide the funds necessary to Monaghan County Council to maintain the original road, which is the N2, as well as the new road, or will it be allowed fall into disrepair? The residents have a real concern about speeding traffic and fatalities on that road. They want to know that there will still be an acute Garda presence and speed cameras on that route. I will conclude and allow the Minister to address some of those concerns.
I thank Deputy Smyth for raising this very important question, which I know is of concern to her and residents in her constituency. I would point out to her that one or two aspects are not under my area but I will convey them to the right area. The Deputy spoke about a Garda presence in certain areas. I know the residents have concerns but that is not something over which I or any of the agencies under my Department's aegis would have control.
It is appropriate that she should raise them and I can refer them to the appropriate quarters.
I would like to explain that, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and operation of individual roads is a matter for the relevant road authority in respect of local and regional roads or for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, in respect of national roads.
Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework for Tll's national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. In the years covered by the plan, over €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network.
The NDP identifies two categories of national road improvement project. The first category covers projects to advance to construction, subject to the satisfactory outcome of the project appraisal and development consent approval processes. The second category relates to projects at pre-appraisal and early planning stage, which are being assessed with a view to developing a pipeline of suitable projects for development.
Both the N2 Ardee to Castleblayney and N2 Clontibret to the Border schemes fall into the second category of projects at pre-appraisal. Both schemes are located on a Trans-European Network, TEN-T, route. The schemes will improve the regional connectivity to the north west, which is a strategic priority of the national planning framework as part of Project Ireland 2040.
Both projects have had project appraisal plans submitted by TII and approved by my Department. I understand from Tll that technical advisers have been appointed to provide the engineering and consultancy services to develop the proposed schemes from inception to the preparation of compulsory purchase orders, an environmental impact assessment report and a business case in order to seek approval to proceed with making a planning application. The conclusion of this work will allow project requirements to be established and the financial commitment required to develop these major projects to be identified.
The study area identification for both projects has been completed and the non-statutory public consultation on constraints mapping was carried out in June 2019.
Route corridor options were published in October 2019 and, as the Deputy knows, public consultation is under way for both schemes. Feedback received through the public consultation process in the next stage of the planning and design process will be taken into consideration for each scheme. An emerging preferred route corridor will be identified in late 2020 and a further round of public consultation will take place before the preferred route corridor is finalised.
I am informed that TIl has provided an allocation of €1 million to Monaghan County Council this year for the progression of the N2 Ardee to Castleblayney scheme and a further €1 million to Monaghan County Council for the Clontibret to the Border scheme.
To revert to the residents of Donaghmoyne who have raised these concerns with my office, they would like to know what research will be taken on by TII on foot of the submissions that were made to upgrade the existing N2 and make it safer for residents. They also have stated that to move the N2 away from Carrickmacross and the surrounding areas obviously will have a detrimental impact on local businesses and employment. What will be the economic impact on Carrickmacross or does that come into consideration when TII is nailing down what the route will be? These residents are reasonable people. We talk about climate action and climate change and they are concerned about the environmental impact it would have to build a new route through their fields, farms and homes. What will the environmental impact be? What will the impact be on the hedgerows? What will the impact be on the biodiversity? What will the impact be on the natural heritage of Donaghmoyne that will adversely affect the residents living in that area? What consideration does TII give to those possible negative outcomes? There is a concern a new route will negatively affect the quality of the drinking water in the area in both public schemes and private wells. There is a concern for the wildlife. The residents want to know how with what importance TII is taking that. Does it take those kind of things into consideration? We hear a lot from the Government about climate action and healthy living but the residents of Donaghmoyne feel they have more to lose than to gain if the proposed route was to cut through their farms, lands and homes. How is constructing a new road in line with Ireland's sustainable development goals, such as climate control and the reduction of CO2 emissions? I want to make it clear to the Minister the residents are concerned, and rightly so, given the points I have raised today. They seek assurances from the Minister today that all the matters I have mentioned, such as the environmental impact, the drinking water and the natural heritage of the land and landscape are matters TII will take into consideration when it is trying to nail down its final option.
I could not disagree with anything the Deputy had to say but obviously she does not expect me to interfere in a specific case of this sort and I would not do so. I am responsible for overall Government policy and if there are infringements on Government policy in what is happening. The residents have great concerns about that and they can convey them to me through Deputy Smyth. I am happy to listen to them. The Deputy spoke about the quality of the drinking water, the detrimental impact on local businesses, the research and upgrade done by TII. What she said was fair and she correctly referred to TII and the local authorities in that regard. These are all matters that could usefully be addressed to TII and the local authorities but they are not something in which I would get directly involved and I prefaced my remarks by pointing that out.
The Deputy is lucky in one sense. I know people are impatient about the development of roads of this sort but this particular project is at an early stage of development and therefore, it is not possible for me to indicate the timeframe for the construction of the projects, which will be dependent on the satisfactory conclusion of the statutory planning approval process. The schemes will need to obtain both business case approval and planning consent and will be subject to the availability of funding in the future. All the concerns the Deputy addressed have been raised in a timely fashion and it is not too late to raise concerns. Those concerns should be addressed to TII, however, and not to myself or other authorities, although it is appropriate the Deputy should raise the matter in this House. I will make sure those concerns are conveyed to the appropriate authorities, even though I am unable to give a direct response to the lengthy detail the Deputy has given but I will make sure those details go to the right places.