Wednesday, 25 January 2017
Road Projects Status
The matter I raise is the western relief road to Carrigaline, a town whose population has grown by an astonishing amount in recent decades. Carrigaline, which sits on the southern side of Cork city, has been one of the five largest growth areas in the State in the past ten years, recording population growth of more than 20,000 in that period. Unfortunately, this growth has not been matched by infrastructure development. While recent investment in schools has been greatly appreciated, one of the key issues facing residents is core infrastructure, specifically the road network serving the town.
Carrigaline lacks a western relief road to take pressure off the town's main street which is used by up to 18,000 vehicles daily. The lack of a second main street or western relief road has a major impact on the quality of life of its residents. Plans for a relief road were drawn up as the town developed. More than 15 years ago, the relief road proposal was included in the county development plan and Part 8 planning permission was secured for the project some years ago. The design process has been completed and the project is now shovel-ready. All that is lacking is the money to ensure the project to proceeds. The cost of the project has been estimated at between €6 million and €8 million. I acknowledge that an infrastructure fund is in place in Cork and that Cork County Council has applied to it for funding. However, we need to secure support from the Minister and his Department to press ahead with this key project.
A new relief road would change how Carrigaline functions. In terms of spatial strategy, we have seen the overheating of Dublin and in many ways Carrigaline is overheating as a result of substantial population growth. We need to follow up on this growth by providing infrastructure. It is not feasible to have between 15,000 and 18,000 cars using one main street every day. All the traffic modelling has been done and we know what the solution is. The planning process has concluded and we now need cash to ensure this infrastructure can be provided to enable the town to develop.
The country development plan contains significant plans to develop Carrigaline. One development at Shannon Park could provide more than 1,200 houses. This is on a scale seen primarily in Dublin. Key road infrastructure is needed because the construction of another 1,200 houses in the next five or six years without the construction of the relief road would, unfortunately, result in chaos. We must avoid such a scenario. I hope we can get the ball rolling and press ahead with the relief road because Carrigaline needs infrastructure.
I thank the Senator for the opportunity to address this matter which is a priority for him and others in the region. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads, including the western relief road in Carrigaline, is a statutory function of the local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded from these moneys is a matter for each local authority.
Ireland has a particularly extensive road network, at approximately 99,000 km, and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer. Given the cutbacks in State funding for regional and local roads during the recession, it was necessary to curtail the grant programme for major new regional and local road schemes and major realignment schemes to protect the funding available for the maintenance of the existing network.Analysis undertaken by the Department of the strategic framework for investment in land transport published in 2015 estimated, on a conservative basis, that expenditure of €580 million per annum is needed to keep the regional and local road network in steady condition. To avoid deterioration in the condition of the regional and local road network each year, 5% of the network needs to be strengthened and 5% needs to be sealed by way of surface dressing works. For the past number of years, only half the required road pavement works have been undertaken on the regional and local road network. These are the difficulties we face in addressing this issue which I acknowledge is a cause of huge concern to the Senator. The background is very bad but I am sure the Senator will be aware that the situation is improving and will improve further in the years ahead, particularly in 2019 and 2020, and in the context of the mid-term review, which is due to commence soon.
Decisions on the transport elements of the capital plan 2016-21 were, therefore, framed by the conclusions reached in the strategic investment framework for land transport. Based on the findings of that report, it is envisaged that maintenance and renewal of the road network will continue to be the main priority in the medium term and the bulk of the roads capital budget, approximately €4.4 billion, is earmarked for essential work, with a further €600 million allocated for implementation of the PPP road network, which is already under way. My Department must work within the annual allocation set out in the plan. In this context, the capital plan provides for a gradual build up in capital funding from a relatively low base to the levels needed to support maintenance and improvement works. While there will be an almost 9% increase in overall funding in this area in 2017, it will take some years to restore steady State funding levels for land transport. The focus will have to continue to be on maintenance and renewal of infrastructure.
Under the strategic grants scheme programme, my Department provided grant assistance to Cork County Council for the acquisition of land for the Carrigaline western relief road. As already mentioned by Senator Lombard, there is no grant commitment in place for the construction of the road. In this context, it was not possible to include a range of road upgrade projects in the capital plan given the overall funding envelope available. As regards the possibility of additional funding within the plan period, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is commencing the capital plan review. While there is a strong case for additional funding for the transport sector, the parameters for the review and the final decisions on allocations are matters for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Government as a whole. I continue to emphasise to the local authorities the importance of prioritising expenditure on roads when allocating their resources.
I thank the Minister for his response and for his honesty in terms of what is set out therein. Realistically, funding for this road is not a priority issue under any plan. However, this project needs to be progressed. The mid-term review of the capital plan will be very important not only in relation to this key piece of infrastructure, but to other pieces of core infrastructure around the country. In terms of Brexit, taking into account that Dublin could over-heat, we need to ensure that the regions have proper infrastructure to allow them to develop. I hope this project will be re-examined in the context of the mid-term review of the capital plan. The knock-on effect to the regions of inclusion of this project and other core projects in the capital plan will be positive. I again thank the Minister for his response on this issue, which I propose to raise again with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
I thank Senator Lombard for his contribution. He has made a very strong case, which I will take into consideration. I will bear in mind the representations he has made this morning in the context of the capital review.