Thursday, 16 November 2023
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise the issue. There are three parts to it. Charleville, County Cork, is one of the busiest towns in the Munster region and the N20, the main road between Cork and Limerick, goes through it. The Minister of State is very familiar with it and I thank her for the many times she has visited in a constructive way to help us, particularly with St. Joseph's Foundation in Charleville. It is a road about which there have been ongoing discussions. It was to be bypassed many times. The project was stopped in 2011 and is now back on track again. We have seen fatalities on the street in Charleville over the last while. It is a dangerous road in a busy, bustling regional market town, and all the traffic is coming through. There are a number of issues. There are short-term issues in relation to placing raised tables at either side of the town to slow the traffic going through, to ensure that traffic is not travelling at speed and that there is proper consideration for everybody on the main street in Charleville to ensure that it is safe. There is the medium-term solution which is to have a relief road within Charleville, which is of course at the heart of the Munster region. There is a hugely developing and developed engineering sector within Charleville, which goes way back, since the time of the Golden Vale factory. A huge number of people are employed there and it is a fantastic place to set up business. Many of the businesses that are set up there are advancing and developing further. We need a relief road in the medium term. The long-term solution is to ensure that the N20 is constructed. It is the most vital piece of infrastructure. It connects our second and third cities, Cork and Limerick, leading on to Galway and bringing connectivity right across that region. I ask for an update on what is happening with the bypass, which will be the great enabler for Charleville. Over the last number of months, there was a massive announcement of €5.2 million for the development of the main street and the provision of facilities there under the rural regeneration and development fund. That is a massive redevelopment of Charleville, which will get it ready for development down the line. I know that the Minister of State has a brief from the Department. Today, I seek updates on the short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions. The long-term solution needs to be brought back and prioritised.
There is concern in all of us that it might be long-fingered. We are led to believe there is progress being made on it. I would like to see if that briefing is available to the Minister of State for today's discussion. It is important from Charleville's point of view and for the safety of people who are doing their business on the main street, where there have been recent fatalities, that they can continue to grow and provide a service for the communities they serve across the region and that Charleville is prioritised within the budget of TII and the Department of Transport.
I thank the Deputy. The Minister for Transport has responsibility for overall policy and Exchequer funding in relation to the national roads programme. Once funding arrangements have been put in place with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, under the Roads Acts 1993-2015, and in line with the national development plan, NDP, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual national roads is a matter for TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. TII ultimately delivers the national roads programme in line with Project Ireland 2040, the National Planning Framework and the NDP.
Approximately €491 million of Exchequer capital funds has been provided for national roads through TII to local authorities in 2023. These allocations were announced by the Department of Transport and TII on 16 February 2023. Among the new national roads projects listed in the NDP is the proposed N20-M20 Cork to Limerick scheme, which would bypass Charleville. Some €5 million was allocated for this project in 2023. As with all national roads projects in the NDP, the delivery programme for the project will be kept under review for 2024 and considered in terms of the overall funding envelope available to TII. A major priority in the NDP, in line with the Department’s investment hierarchy, is to maintain the quality and safety of the existing national road network. The NDP foresees an Exchequer allocation of circa €2.9 billion for the protection and renewal of existing national roads over the ten-year period to 2030, allocated fairly evenly across the decade.
Each year, TII carries out a collision analysis of the entire national road network. The purpose of this exercise is to identify locations that have high concentrations of collisions. It does not however include the subsequent process to devise proposals to identify road safety interventions; this is the responsibility of the relevant local authority, as the road authority for the area in the first instance. With regards to safety issues in Charleville, a high collision location was identified through the network safety analysis in 2019. This was forwarded to Cork County Council for its consideration. TII has worked closely with Cork County Council through the N20 Charleville safety working group which commenced in June 2023. Through this group the council expedited the preparation of a design proposal and the delivery of a feasibility and options report. A safety scheme that addresses many of the safety issues was developed by a multidisciplinary design team within Cork County Council. TII currently awaits submission of the feasibility and options report from the council requesting the funding required to deliver the road safety improvement scheme. Submission of the feasibility and options report is necessary for the council to request funding for a road safety improvement scheme. TII is aware that Cork County Council is considering improvements at two other locations in Charleville, at the New Line junction and at the filling station at the southern end. TII is committed to working with the council to see what safety measures can be identified in the short term to improve safety in the town.
Going back to how the Deputy presented the question, it is very clear that there are three stages to this. The response I have from the Department indicates that it is vital that Cork County Council submits its feasibility and options report so that TII can assist it.
This was raised very forcibly by Councillor Ian Doyle in Charleville at Cork County Council level. He has been raising this issue constantly at meetings of both the northern committee and the county council. I understand there is co-operation between TII and the council on this matter. I would be grateful if the Minister of State could ask the Department of Transport and TII to respond to us. I believe the council has been liaising with TII over the last while. I want to ensure that whatever documents are needed at this stage by TII are clearly given to me so we can ensure there is no delay between what is being proposed, the submission by the council and the allocation of funding for it. It is crucially important. There are three stages to it. We have stage one and stage two. Could the Minister of State tell me in respect of the overall project where the issue is in terms of the bypass and what needs to be done? I believe we are to have a briefing next week. Is there an update on road design, structures and the advancing of the project? It is the Department's belief that further funding will be made available in 2024 through the TII budget to advance the overall project within the Charleville area, that is, the bypass.
I am going to read the response. Due to the outlined funding constraints for national roads in 2020 to 2023, a prioritisation exercise was necessary. In line with the NDP and Government policy, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has allocated national road funding for 2023 in a manner which seeks to achieve the following key outcomes: protection and renewal of the existing national road network, progressing major projects in or near construction, progressing major projects which are pre-construction but well advanced in the development pipeline and prioritising any remaining funds for major projects which provide for local bypasses and compact growth in Ireland's towns and villages. The allocations for national roads projects in 2024 are expected to be announced by the end of the year. I would take from this that the issue raised by the Deputy falls under the fourth category. However, at the same time it feels like a bit of a lottery system. When he meets with TII next week, that is one of the points the Deputy would need to make. In my opinion, it also answers that piece. It is a market town and a major point of connectivity between Cork and Limerick. I am glad the Deputy included Galway. It is that part of the critical infrastructure of the western seaboard that needs to be developed. People's safety is paramount.