Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
73. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the current status of the Ardee bypass; the funding spent to date on the project; the targeted timelines for commencement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43908/21]
Ardee town has been choked with traffic for decades. Fumes and heavy goods vehicles clog the town. It is critical that the bypass be built. Money has been allocated to it. How much funding has been spent to date, what are the timelines for commencement, and will the Minister make a statement on the matter?
I answered some of these questions earlier so I will not read out the full response. To answer a very specific question, however, €8.1 million has been spent to date. I recall the Deputy was Chair of the transport committee when we had a specific session to consider the road. As I recall, there were concerns from local residents around some of the traffic management implications of it. There were also some environmental concerns around the bogland to the west of the proposed route alignment. I hope we can overcome those.
My understanding is that we are still waiting, in a sense, for the planning issue in regard to that and for An Bord Pleanála to issue a direction. Subject to those planning and other assessments being put in place, it is hoped that we can get the road approved through both the planning system and the public spending code system.
It is the type of project that will really create opportunities, going back to what I was saying earlier about towns in west Cork. The same applies in Ardee, a town with huge amounts of traffic going through it and a very historic, beautiful town centre, which could be restored and brought back to life if we can get this project up and running.
The key issues, therefore, are around that planning and consenting system, subject to that being agreed. We would have to get funding, obviously, and there are difficult funding choices, but this project is very far advanced. It would be the end of a very long and extensive planning system. With the resolution of those local traffic management and environmental issues, I see no reason it should not proceed.
I thank the Minister. The point is that people like Councillor Dolores Minogue, who is a former chairman of Louth County Council, have fought very hard for improved quality of life in Ardee. There has been significant investment in Ardee Castle and in urban regeneration. Clearly, the town is ready now having suffered greatly as a result of the recession and so on.
For absolute clarity, is the Minister supporting the national development plan, NDP, inclusion of this road? It is in the plan. Will it be in the next plan? Will the Minister provide the funding for it? As I see it, there is some ambiguity in his response. The planning has been dealt with. It is before An Bord Pleanála now. Is the Minister saying there are other or new obstacles in his mind that may arise at this stage or can he say that there will not be such obstacles?
No, I do not see obstacles. There is a funding constraint more broadly. The existing NDP included a huge number of different roads. The reality is the funding of those would eat up the budget for the next 20, 30 or 40 years if they were all to be completed at one time. We will have to prioritise and it will be difficult. It is not a question of saying "No" to particular projects but we will have to prioritise certain projects in a very tight funding situation. I think there has been broad agreement in this House every time I have said that in a funding-constrained world, we should prioritise town bypasses that promote the Town Centre First strategy, and particularly, obviously, those that are right at the end of the planning system. The likes of the Ardee bypass should be first up, in my mind, but there is a real constraint. That €250 million on the Macroom bypass is not an insignificant chunk of funding. We are spending another €250 million in Westport on the Castlebar road. It does lead to a funding constraint. The priority, in my mind, for the funds we have should be on further town bypasses.
I welcome the Minister's commitment to towns but I do not hear his absolute commitment to Ardee. I still hear ambiguity in what he is saying. As far as I am concerned as a backbencher in this Government, it is in the national development plan. That, to me, is sacrosanct and it cannot and must not be changed. The people of Ardee will not accept that it should be changed, after waiting decades for this development. It is a wonderful location with an awful lot to offer but the quality of life has been affected by the fumes and heavy goods vehicles. I invite the Minister to come and visit. I do not accept that it may be excluded in the next round of funding when it is clearly and absolutely identified for funding in this round.
It has to get through planning. The Government has to make decisions on a sequential basis and that has to be the next key issue. Something being in the existing national development plan is not the best way of securing funding. In truth, if one said that all the projects being in the existing NDP means they will receive guaranteed funding, they would break the budget ten times over. As I said, what I believe gives the best guarantee and certainty around funding is a real commitment to support bypasses first. Ardee ticks exactly the right boxes for the sort of project we should be supporting. I am saying that here and I hope to say exactly that in the NDP review. We have to give Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, certain flexibility in that regard. We have to assess the planning stream and the work stream. I believe, however, that what limited resources we have should go to bypasses first before anything else. In my mind, that is the greatest security for the town of Ardee compared to anything written in the existing NDP.