Thursday, 23 July 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Road Improvement Schemes
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to raise this important issue which relates to traffic management in north Kildare, in particular in the towns of Naas, Celbridge, Maynooth and Leixlip. The populations of these towns have grown tremendously over the past several years and are still growing. In all the towns concerned, there are large industrial estates which generate a significant amount of traffic. The net result of all of this is that it is necessary to plan ahead.
The previous Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, initiated the plan for Maynooth, which has been advanced considerably and is ready to go to contract. It is important that progress should not only continue apace, it should accelerate in order that the circle be completed. The ring road must be completed in order to siphon the traffic off onto the bypass and leave more space for people to walk, cycle and, where necessary, drive within the circle.
There is a problem in the Celbridge case. The local authority has already tabled and put on display proposals. A video simulation of the proposed plans was also shown. I do not agree with them and they need to be examined as a matter of urgency. During the course of the video, the simulation showed a truck crossing over a car, which was not a great advertisement for the proposal. This issue needs to be looked at in a different light with a view to a different proposal, which is readily available and for which there is space. There would be a road and bridge realignment, an extra bridge would be required and an upstream bridge would be required. Let the traffic from the town centre move out without being impeded, thereby siphoning off the through traffic.
Regarding Naas, one part of the ring road to the north and west has been provided successfully. The remaining section is needed. The local authority made a proposal in that regard in the past 12 months, but it was not agreed by the council members, leaving a considerable amount of confusion and dissatisfaction among some residents. Obviously, they will be the ones affected. The inner relief road was to be provided first, but local people feel that the outer relief road is required first. I am of the view that whatever is the right thing to do should be done and that the outer relief road is the right proposal and should be proceeded with. This situation should be examined as a matter of urgency by the relevant Department with a view to ensuring that whatever is done will be in the best interests of the people who live and work there and who will be affected by these traffic volumes.
It is a tribute to all of the towns concerned, the public representatives and the local authorities that the towns have progressed so well that they have become victims of their own success. Long may that continue, but it means that we must design plans so that the current generation can enjoy amenities that are rightly available in many other places and are especially needed in these towns.
I thank the Deputy for his question. I wish to explain that, once funding arrangements have been put in place through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Overall, TII is responsible for the delivery of the national roads programme in accordance with Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, NDP. In that context, TII provides the Department with regular updates on its delivery of the national roads programme.
Within the timeframe given in the lead up to this debate, the following is the most up-to-date information available to me. Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the NDP was developed to underpin the successful implementation of the national planning framework, which provides the strategic and financial framework for the national roads programme for the period 2018 to 2027. The focus of TII's activities in the coming years is accordingly being directed towards the development of the major national road improvement schemes included in the NDP along with the maintenance of the existing national road network.
While it is not clear what specific road project the Deputy is referring to - I will refer to Celbridge at the end - the inner and outer relief roads for Maynooth, Leixlip and Naas in County Kildare are not included among those projects that have been identified for development in the area during the period of the NDP. The M4 and M7 roads already bypass the Maynooth, Leixlip and Naas urban areas. It should be noted that, consistent with the programme for Government, a review of the NDP is proposed, taking account of the Government's priorities set out in the programme. I also wish to take this opportunity to highlight that all projects, including those listed in the NDP or any proposed revision to the plan, require statutory approval and compliance with the public spending code.
I will highlight the following projects that are being progressed and completed for the Kildare region. I understand from TII that work is under way on the M4 Maynooth to Leixlip transportation corridor. Technical advisers were appointed in December 2019 and are working on early stage appraisal and option considerations for the scheme. In parallel, Kildare County Council is progressing a feasibility study on the possibility of advancing a bus corridor on this section of the national route, which will be considered as part of the overall solution. I understand from TII that €1 million has been allocated to the Kildare national roads office, which is working on behalf of Kildare and South Dublin county councils, to progress and complete this study.
Once funding has been assigned to TII, individual payments to local authorities are a matter for TII. It may be contacted directly for further details on this matter. In addition, a brief was developed by Kildare County Council to examine the feasibility of short-term bus priority measures on this route. I understand that there is ongoing co-ordination with the National Transport Authority, NTA, on the public transportation initiatives associated with the delivery of this project.
The M7 Naas-Newbridge bypass upgrade scheme is substantially complete. It involves the widening of the M7 motorway from a two-lane into a three-lane carriageway in each direction. It also includes the removal of the existing on-off access ramps at junction 10 at Naas south and the construction of a new interchange immediately south of the existing junction 10. Some final finishing works and snagging of defects arising from the road safety audit are ongoing. The road was opened to traffic in August 2019.
Regarding Celbridge, my understanding is that there is no national road planned there and that it is probably a local or regional roads issue. I will revert to my officials and provide the Deputy with an update on the matter. I will work with him on it.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. In the Maynooth case, funding came from the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. In the other cases, an overall traffic assessment needs to be done again to ensure that the necessity that was identified some years ago is addressed in the shortest possible time. The traffic in Celbridge in particular is serious. It is because there are not enough ingress and egress points in the town. Even if there were no through traffic, roads relief would be needed in any event.
The case of Naas is simple. Work is already in hand. The same situation applies in most towns in north Kildare, including Kilcock and so forth. For example, work is already in hand on the Sallins bypass. These towns are in the pressure area in terms of industrial development and housing. There are more than 20,000 people in each of the main towns. Maynooth is a growing university town and, with the number of students included, its population is heading towards 17,000.
The situation requires an update and an assurance that the proposals are progressed as soon as possible and corrected where necessary. It is important that we try to ensure that this vital infrastructure is put in place at the earliest possible date as opposed to waiting until half a generation has passed, which used to be the situation previously. I am not suggesting that it is currently, but it is necessary that we keep a watchful eye on progress to ensure that it is done and this issue is taken up as a matter of urgency.
I will explain how national roads projects are identified for development. The NDP identifies two categories of national road improvements. The first includes projects to advance to construction, subject to satisfactory outcomes of the project appraisal and development consent approval processes. The second includes projects at pre-appraisal and early planning stages that are being assessed with a view to developing a pipeline of suitable projects for development. Specific inner and outer relief roads in Maynooth, Leixlip and Naas are not currently within the scope of the NDP.
I would also like to explain the approvals requirement associated with national roads projects generally. In line with the requirement of the public spending code and the Department's capital appraisal framework for transport projects and programmes and also planning approvals, two sets of approvals are required in regard to any proposed schemes: approval of the business case and cost benefit analysis for the project and approval by An Bord Pleanála of an application for development consent. The necessity to meet the requirements of the public spending code and planning consent from An Bord Pleanála, along with an adequate capital budget, are critical to delivering any national road project. All projects under the national development plan or any proposed projects outside of the scope of the national development plan will require all of the approvals that I have outlined. This will also include Government approval in cases where projects are estimated to be above €100 million. The M4 Maynooth to Leixlip transportation corridor is at a very early stage of development and it is not, therefore, possible at this time to indicate the timeframe for the construction of the project, if it is deemed feasible to proceed. However, as I have just outlined any timeframe is dependent on obtaining the necessary consents at various critical stages, including at the route selection, detailed design and tender stages. Typically, schemes of this size can take of the order of eight to 13 years to advance from the initial proposal to completion of construction.