Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his office for facilitating me in raising this matter. The N22, which travels from Cork city westwards through Macroom and onwards to Ballyvourney, Killarney and towards Tralee, is the major access artery for the economy of the south west. That economy is the quintessential mixed economy, being dependent on foreign direct investment but also the indigenous industries of tourism, agriculture, food processing, the fishing industry and forestry. In fact, along this stretch of road can be found very significant timber processing and food industry activity.
The case I am making is that it is good planning to make preparations now for the future. I really appreciate that the Minister for Transport is in the Chamber for this discussion. This stretch of the N22 may not be upgraded today or tomorrow but we need to do the planning for it today and tomorrow. This project represents the last clasp in the necklace of the N22. There is already significant investment being made in the road, including in the Macroom bypass. In fact, that project represents the single biggest investment in Cork by the State since its foundation, at a cost of more than €300 million if one takes into account the pre-construction costs. In addition, there was the previous investment in the Ballincollig bypass. The upgrade to which I refer today would link those two investments.
The project encompasses approximately 24 km of route. It includes 25 significant junctions, many of which have seen serious and sometimes fatal accidents.
Along the route are several businesses, the village of Lissarda and the smaller settlements of Srelane and Farran. It is also adjacent to Farnanes. It is a very busy artery. With regard to traffic, the traffic data site of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, has some interesting information. It says that, in 2019, there was an average of 13,614 vehicles on the stretch of road between Lissarda and Macroom every day. On the same route, the stretch between the Ballincollig bypass and Ovens, at the other extreme of the road, saw 22,016 vehicles per day. By comparison, over the same period in 2019, there was an average of 12,000 vehicles per day on the stretch of the M8 between junctions 3 and 4. There is less than half the level of traffic on an existing national motorway than on part of this route. All of those in the villages, businesses and individual residences on this roadway are living a nightmare. The level of traffic outside their doors daily is really challenging from the point of view of quality of life, not to mention the risk these people must take every day when entering and exiting their properties.
Given that the local authority, in conjunction with the National Roads Authority, ten years ago sterilised a preferred route corridor, which has now lain in splendid isolation for more than a decade, we should now begin more detailed preparatory work and invest in design, land acquisition and all other necessary preparatory works. As I have said, we will not build this today or tomorrow but, as inevitably as night follows day, when the Macroom bypass is finished, the €300 million investment in which is really welcome, there will be the same bottlenecks coming off it as we see coming off the Ballincollig bypass, which will continue. There are tailbacks of ten, 15 or 20 minutes most evenings of the week caused by traffic going home from the city. It is prudent to invest in preparatory work now so that when the lightbulb moment arrives and we decide we need to invest, we can press the go button and tender for construction.
First, I would like to explain that once funding arrangements have been put in place through the Department of Transport, under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for 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 was 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. 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 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 section of national route to which the Deputy refers is approximately 20 km in length and goes from the completed Ballincollig bypass to the works currently under construction on the N22 Ballyvourney to Macroom project. Some works were completed on a proposed new or upgraded route design between Macroom and Ballincollig in 2002 and 2003 and a number of possible route options were considered until the scheme was suspended during the economic downturn due to lack of funding. This new scheme is not listed for delivery in the NDP and therefore remains suspended. As a result, there are no current plans to reactivate the planning, design or appraisal of this project. However, it should be noted that the programme for Government commits to bringing forward the planned review of the NDP and to use the review to set out an updated NDP for the period out to 2030. The review of the NDP will be aligned with the national planning framework and Project Ireland 2040. Work is under way within my Department to contribute to this planned review.
I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the fact that all projects, including those listed in the NDP or any revision to it, require statutory approval and must be in compliance with the public spending code.
The Deputy will, of course, know about another national road project in the vicinity which is included in the NDP and on which there is good ongoing progress, namely the Ballyvourney to Macroom section of roadway, to which he has already referred. The previous Government approved the award of the contract in October 2019 and construction on the site commenced in December of last year. The estimated cost of the project is approximately €280 million. Good progress on construction is currently being made and it is expected that the dual carriageway will be operational in 2023. This new road development consists of the upgrade of 22 km of the N22 national primary route between Ballyvourney and Macroom to a dual carriageway standard. This will comprise a bypass of Macroom town and the villages of Ballyvourney and Ballymakeera in County Cork. This scheme is on the Trans-European Transport Network, TEN-T, comprehensive route and will strengthen the link between Cork and Kerry.
Through the provision of reliable transport infrastructure, this project will improve connectivity between Cork and Kerry ensuring enhanced regional accessibility, which is a national strategic objective under Project Ireland 2040. The project will significantly improve journey times and allow for safer and more reliable journeys for road users. In diverting daily traffic away from Macroom, the project will improve the urban environment of the town by reducing air and noise pollution. In addition to this, and with traffic redirected to the Macroom bypass, existing roads will be developed to facilitate safer cycling and walking routes. In addition, some pavement improvement works have been completed in Lissarda village, which is located on the N22 between Ballincollig and Macroom. These works were completed in 2017 at a cost of €1.67 million over a length of 1.3 km.
I thank the Minister for his response. It is in the context of the review of the NDP that it is appropriate to consider this matter. A very significant commitment of funding for construction is not sought at this stage but it is critical that the preparatory work is done now. In the context of that review and the projects that will then find their way into planning, I ask the Minister to have an open mind in respect of this project. We are bedevilled by numerous examples of failing to plan and failing to see what is imminent and ahead of us. With the completion of the Ballincollig bypass on one end and the Macroom and Ballymakeera bypass on the other, this is the last link of the N22 requiring investment. The extraordinarily positive cost-benefit analysis carried out for the Macroom-Ballyvourney route would be replicated if an analysis of this route was carried out because it represents the completion of the investment on the N22. Its completion would enable more sustainable living and commuting patterns to develop. I anticipate, for example, that Macroom will grow substantially following the investment already made but it will not grow to its full extent without ultimate investment in this stretch of roadway. There are numerous calls on TII to invest significant funding in major junctions along the existing stretch of road but, to be honest, that approach would only be a sticking plaster. We need the new road and, above all else, we now need the preparatory work so that at a point in the not-too-distant future we will be ready to go to construction. I ask that the Minister keep an open mind about that and enable us to move at the appropriate time by doing the preparatory work now. The route corridor has been identified. It is now merely a question of committing resources within TII. It has the expertise and it is very good at what it does. We must commit the resources now to plan for the construction of this road.
I always keep an open mind but I should also speak my mind, although I will do so in a very respectful way because this is a useful debate. Under the national planning framework, it is clear that we want to restore life to the centre of villages, towns and cities. I will be honest. If the section from Ballincollig to Macroom costs the same as the section from Macroom to Ballyvourney, and there is no reason to expect it would not, we would be talking about at least €250 million and up to €300 million, as the Deputy himself has said. Some €250 million could help us to build a really high-quality public transport infrastructure in Cork city, which is needed. This would start to bring life back into the centre of Cork and to ensure that it can be a counterweight to our over-reliance on the growth of Dublin. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan tabled a very interesting parliamentary question in recent weeks which pointed out that places like Macroom and Ballyvourney do not have proper bus connections to Cork city. If we were to invest in the public transport alternatives, we could potentially have lower volumes in the traffic jams coming out the EMC factory and Cork city in the evenings. We could start to provide sustainable transport to ensure the whole system works for everyone.
We have to start moving away from roads-led development, which is leading to further sprawl and which is undermining the strength and development in the centre of our towns, villages and cities. We need to move towards investment in sustainable transport modes that bring life back into towns.
I agree with the Deputy that Macroom will grow. With the bypass, we have the potential to invest that €750 million in the centre of Macroom town. We should do the same thing that has been done in Clonakilty and improve the public realm by improving the walking and other facilities there so that it is a strong town in its own development and is not just a commuter town for Cork city. That is the way the national planning framework is set to work and that is where we should be investing our money, rather than constantly going back to building bigger and bigger roads. The Deputy is right about that section of the N8 that has about 12,000 vehicles per day. It has the capacity for about 80,000 vehicles per day. Therefore, we are massively overproviding. Similarly, on a lot of our national road network, we are providing capacity that will never be needed. The problem is that at the same time, we do not have the public transport capacity or infrastructure. We need that infrastructure to direct where our housing goes.