Thursday, 30 July 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I wish a good morning to the Acting Chairman, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the other Deputies who are present. It is worth reading into the record that it is now 2.20 a.m. I thank the Minister for being in the Chamber to speak about an extremely important issue to the constituents of Cork East, whom I am elected here to represent and to me as their local Deputy and a former councillor in the Midleton and east Cork municipal district. I refer to the issue of traffic congestion on the N25 at Castlemartyr in east Cork.
Castlemartyr is a beautiful village located in east Cork between the towns of Midleton and Youghal, and, of course, the N25 is the main economic artery on the southern side of my constituency, in the municipal district of Midleton. It connects Waterford city and Rosslare to Cork. It is an extremely well travelled route and is an incredibly important economic artery for the region. Unfortunately, there is a severe issue at Castlemartyr, where consistent issues have arisen for a long number of years as the traffic has reached a point where it is no longer at a sustainable capacity for the local area.
I have extreme concerns, which during my time as a county councillor I highlighted with previous Ministers, the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, to ensure that this issue is solved. From the research I have been doing into this issue for more than a year, it is quite clear that, unfortunately, the section of the constituency in east Cork that I call home, which is near Killeagh and Castlemartyr, has been left out of the existing national development plan. Something that excites me and which I am looking forward to is the opportunity for the national development plan to be reviewed, which will be completed in the last quarter of 2020. Will the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport give serious consideration to looking into this issue?
As a Fianna Fáil Deputy, I share enormous interest in public transport as I am sure does the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Before I ever became an elected representative of the people I made an enormous effort to ensure access to public transport was improved upon for rural communities and for young people throughout the country. My record speaks for itself with regard to that issue.
As for the issue of infrastructure that is required for heavy goods vehicles, private cars and public transport, it is absolutely crucial that this issue be solved. It is a detrimental situation in Youghal, which has suffered extraordinarily massive economic problems. I have been working alongside a very good friend of the Acting Chairman and mine, Sandra McLellan, at Youghal Chamber of Commerce and her colleagues, to try to push this issue up the political agenda. It is one of the main priorities I hope to achieve in my time here as a Dáil Deputy.
I cannot reiterate enough to the Minister how important this is to me, and it would be a societal game changer for people who are living beyond Midleton in east Cork and would change the way they live their lives so they do not spend an additional 20 minutes or half an hour stuck in traffic. Local residents in places such as Mogeely, Killeagh, Garryvoe and Ballycotton would not get caught up in severe traffic on their way home from work or their way to work, school and university.
It also would give people throughout west Waterford and east Cork the opportunity to live at home and commute to university and third level institutes, which at present is not an option for so many families. This is not just about a piece of road infrastructure or the economy. It is about the society which I have the honour of being here to represent as a Deputy. I strongly encourage the Minister to give this matter the utmost consideration.
First, I would like 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 information 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, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework for the national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. The focus of TII's activities over the coming years is, accordingly, being directed towards the development of the major national road improvement schemes that are included in the NDP, along with the maintenance of the existing national road network. The proposed N25 Castlemartyr bypass is not included among those projects which have been identified for development during the period of the NDP.
However, it should be noted that the programme for Government commits to bringing forward the planned review of the NDP from 2022 and to use the review to set out an updated NDP for the period out to 2031. The review of the NDP will be aligned with the NPF and Project Ireland 2040. Work is under way within the Department to contribute to this planned review. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight that all projects, including those listed in the NDP or any revision to the NDP, require statutory approval and compliance with the public spending code.
While I have stated that this scheme is not within the scope of the NDP, I understand that Cork County Council, which is the road authority for the area, is currently undertaking a feasibility study on the possibility of providing a short to medium-term relief road for the N25 through traffic around the village of Castlemartyr. The study will consider the constraints that will need to be examined in the planning of such a scheme and will consider whether a compulsory purchase order and an environmental impact assessment report are likely to be required.
Following a recent interim review of the ongoing feasibility study in quarter 1 of 2020, TII awaits the final report before deciding on the next steps. TII expects to have this by September 2020. Consequently, there is currently no definite project at this stage. The outcome of the final feasibility study on the N25 at Castlemartyr is awaited before a decision can be made on the best way to proceed. In any event, I understand from TII that extensive improvement works in Killeagh were recently completed to improve the streetscape and traffic issues in the village.
The Castlemartyr bypass scheme, if found to be viable and feasible, could remove a significant portion of national through traffic from the village and improve journey times and reliability. It could also lead to environmental benefits with an improvement in the air quality and noise in the village itself. The impact of the likely benefits will be informed by the feasibility study.
To date, I understand from TII that a small amount of funding has been allocated by TII to Cork County Council to carry out the feasibility study and this work is ongoing and is due to conclude shortly.
I thank the Minister for the information he has provided today to Dáil Éireann. As he stated, there is no definite project at this stage but that is something I am elected here to try to work upon and to resolve, as I have been doing in recent months. I recently met representatives of TII at its facility at the Jack Lynch tunnel to discuss this project. It is absolutely crucial that we recognise the major shortage of road infrastructure in east Cork. I will give the Minister an idea of the scale of the lack of investment on the eastern side of Midleton. There is a proposal for more than €200 million to be spent on improving the N25 near and around Cork city, on the eastern side, but once we go beyond Midleton, we cannot even secure a commitment to get between €20 million and €40 million that this project is expected to cost, depending on what type of project TII deems suitable. I know it has been working alongside Padraig Barrett, who is the director of roads on Cork County Council, to try to push this issue along. I am aware that €100,000 has been allocated to Cork County Council to carry out a feasibility study but I know for a fact that if we cannot get this on the national development plan later in the year, this project simply will not go ahead because of the costs involved, given that it is a major scheme.
We must acknowledge that the current situation is unacceptable and is causing massive damage to the economy in east Cork and to the residents of Youghal who have been through extraordinary hardship. When I was growing up, thousands of jobs were lost in the town at the turn of the millennium. We have been waiting ever since to rectify that. As the first Government Deputy the town has had since the 1960s, I am committed to ensuring this issue is solved once and for all by improving the competitiveness of our area by investing in our road infrastructure and by taking other necessary measures as well. I strongly encourage the Minister to give a commitment that he will look into the issue in his role as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. We are counting on him. I thank him for hearing what I have had to say.
The Deputy's concerns and his very appropriate representations of the concerns of his constituents are very much heard. I will add further detail to inform the discussion on the approval requirements associated with national roads generally, as set out in the public spending code, in the Department's capital appraisal framework for transport projects and programmes and in planning requirements. Two sets of approvals are typically required for projects such as the proposed N25 Castlemartyr bypass. The first would be the approval of a business case and cost-benefit analysis of the project and the second would be the approval by An Bord Pleanála of an application of development consent. The necessity to meet the requirements of the public spending code and planning consent from An Bord Pleanála, along with the need to have an adequate capital budget, are critical elements in the delivery of any such national road project.
I want to share with the Deputy the reality of this proposed scheme, as I have been informed by the Department. As the scheme is at a very early stage of development, it is difficult to set out the exact possible timeframe for its construction, if it is deemed feasible to proceed. Any timeframe depends on obtaining the necessary consents and completing the detailed design and tendering process. Typically, schemes of this size can take eight years or more. It is a drawn-out process.
As it happens, I had discussions with the county manager and local councillors in Youghal yesterday to discuss transport issues in the area. Deputy O'Connor is absolutely right when he says that the congestion and the difficulties are very acute and noticeable. We are going to have to address that by a variety of means. I said yesterday to the local representatives that Youghal is a town that we want to see rise, develop and become the really vibrant, attractive town that it always has been once again. I will certainly be committed to anything I can do to help in that regard.
I would like to conclude by thanking the officials here. This is probably our closing session of this term. At 2.30 a.m., it is time for us all to go to bed to rest and to start the holiday period which we all look forward to. Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your patience with us here tonight.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus leis an Teachta O'Connor. Before we finish, I would like to thank the Minister and all the Ministers. I thank Mr. Peter Finnegan and his diligent staff. I thank all the Deputies and their staff as well. Moving down here to the new surroundings of the Convention Centre has been a trying time. Having said that, I thank our ushers, our gardaí and indeed all the staff of the Convention Centre. I wish them all a well-deserved break. Tá sé an-déanach ar fad anocht, nó ar maidin. I advise those present to enjoy the bit of a break.
I join the Chair in extending good wishes to the staff here, the ushers, the gardaí, the Clerk of the Dáil and all who have been involved with ensuring the Dáil has been able to run smoothly in what has been a very challenging time for many people. I thank the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for staying here so late tonight to discuss this absolutely imperative issue. I wish everyone well in the recess ahead. It is much deserved. I look forward to seeing everyone back here in September.