Thursday, 20 June 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister to the House. I ask the Minister to set in motion a process to prioritise a major road scheme for the N26-N58-N5. This is much-needed strategic infrastructure to provide north-south, east-west connectivity to towns such as Ballina, Crossmolina, Foxford, Swinford and to facilitate traffic from Erris and Belmullet in west Mayo that comes through Ballina.
This is a very busy road. The N26-N58-N5 joins Ballina to Castlebar, the two largest towns in the county. Traffic counts show that every morning this segment of road between the two towns in the busiest. Multinational employers are predominant and in total there are 12 foreign direct investment, FDI, companies in Mayo, employing 4,800 people. Over half of the companies are based in Ballina and north Mayo. This leads to significant traffic as people travel in each direction to go to work. Coca-Cola and Hollister are major companies based in Ballina.
The N26-N58-N5 is not up to standard. The N58, a considerable stretch of road from Foxford to Ballyvary, has now been reduced to a speed limit of 80 km/h because of road safety concerns. Equally there are problems on the N26 to Foxford and Swinford. There are plans for the N5, but I would like to have them linked into the N26-N58 road network.
In the past, the N26 had been a priority in the national road scheme of Mayo County Council. That was the case until 2010 when An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission for N26 stage 2 from Mount Falcon, just outside Ballina, to Bohola on environmental grounds. The road runs through a special area of conservation, the River Moy, where the Whooper swans spend the winter and it extends to the land either side of the river.
Ballina, Foxford and to an extent Swinford are located on or beside the River Moy, so one cannot get away from the River Moy special area of conservation.
Back in 2011 when I was a Deputy, I managed to secure a commitment from the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, that we should try to find a new route for the N26. Even though permission for the proposed road was declined by An Bord Pleanála, the significance of it has not disappeared. I am glad to say that in every budget from the Budget Statement of 2012 to date, moneys have been secured to try to find a solution. We now have a line on the map for the proposed road. We have gone through a process to allow for the upgrade of the N26. Thankfully we received planning permission for the upgrade of the worst stretch of the national primary route, from Cloongullane Bridge on the N26 just outside Swinford.
We are in a situation where we are being crippled by environmental designation. Thankfully, we overcame the difficulties because I went to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, under whose remit this comes and secured resources to sort out the issues on this small section of road, which was not the main road, to overcome the environmental concerns relating to alluvial woodlands and the freshwater pearl mussel.Those hurdles were overcome, which shows that it can be done. The significance of and need for this road are as clear as ever. A total of €5 million was spent up to 2010 before An Bord Pleanála refused stage 2 of the N26 road project. More than €5 million has been spent to date, but there is only planning permission for one section of the N26. It is clear that there is a problem, but the need for progress is greater than ever.
The project is a priority for multinational companies in the area. I have spoken to representatives of such companies and know that they would be happy to meet the Minister. They are trying to maintain their position and grow jobs, but they need infrastructure in order to so do. The project is also a priority for the chamber of commerce.
Government policy in the form of Project Ireland 2040 states an objective is growing the population outside the big urban centres by more than 500,000. As the area badly needs this road, I ask that the project be looked at with fresh eyes and impetus and that the Minister prioritise it and speak to Transport Infrastructure Ireland about the case I have set out in the limited time I have with the forbearance of the Acting Chairman. The Minister should meet the significant stakeholders who cannot understand why there is not more emphasis on and priority given to the construction of this road.
I thank the Senator for raising this very important matter which she has been pursuing with a great deal of energy and vigour for a long time. I wish to explain that, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and operation of individual roads are matters for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.
Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, to which the Senator referred, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF. It provides the strategic and financial framework for TIl’s national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027. In the ten year period covered by the plan, more than €11 billion will be invested in the road network.
The NDP identifies two categories of national road improvement projects. The first covers projects to advance to construction subject to the satisfactory outcome of the project appraisal and development consent approval processes. The second covers projects at pre-appraisal and early planning stage which are being assessed, with a view to developing a pipeline of suitable projects for development. Overall, TII considers that, taking steady State and public private partnership commitments into account, the indicative NDP budget will allow the projects in the first category to be progressed and a pipeline of projects to be taken through early planning, but it will not be possible to take all pipeline projects through the development consent approval process or to construction stage within the timeframe of the NDP. Advancing projects in the second pipeline category will, therefore, be subject to prioritisation within the overall national roads programme and funding.
The preferred route for the proposed N5-N26-N58, Turlough to Bohola and Swinford to Mount Falcon, road improvement scheme was adopted by Mayo County Council in July 2015. However, TII informed the council that the scheme could not proceed to the next phase, phase 3 design, at the time owing to funding constraints and the requirement for TII to focus on progression of the schemes identified for development during the period of the capital investment plan 2016 to 2021 and, subsequently, the NDP. TII continues to focus on these key objectives. In the interim, TII agreed that the N26, Cloongullane bridge realignment, project should progress as a separate minor improvement scheme in order to improve the safety of this substandard section of the route. The scheme involves the realignment of a 1.8 km section of the N26 at Cloongullane bridge and the construction of a new bridge over the River Moy. Mayo County Council submitted the scheme and the associated compulsory purchase order to An Bord Pleanála in November 2016. An oral hearing on the proposed road development was convened in March 2017 and An Bord Pleanála confirmed approval for the scheme in December 2018. Technical consultants procured by the council are undertaking detailed design of the scheme and preparing the tender documents. It is anticipated that the tender process for the main construction contract will commence before the end of 2019.
On east-west roads in County Mayo, I am pleased to advise that Mayo County Council has received tenders for the N5, Westport to Turlough, scheme. It is expected that the contract will be awarded later in 2019. The project involves the construction of 20.3 km of type 2 dual carriageway from Westport to the east of Castlebar and a 2.5 km single carriageway link to the N59, Westport to Mulranny, national secondary road. It also includes a 2.5 km upgrade of the existing N59 at Barleyhill, two compact grade separated junctions, including overbridges, two bridges over the Westport to Dublin railway line, 13 road under-over bridges and six roundabouts. The project will have many benefits for County Mayo, including increased transport efficiency through a reduction in journey times over the length of the scheme, separating local and strategic traffic, improved road safety and a reduction in the number of accidents, as well as enhancing the environmental quality of the towns of Westport and Castlebar by removing through traffic.
I am well aware of much of the information the Minister has provided, although I thank him for providing it. This is about providing for proper connectivity for north and east Mayo. The Minister did not address the issue of grossly inadequate connectivity between Ballina and Castlebar or the reason there is a need for better connectivity east-west from north Mayo. One would not drive from Westport to Castlebar and on to Ballina or from Ballina to Castlebar in order to leave County Mayo; rather, one would go through Swinford in east Mayo. With respect, parts of the answer provided by the Minister are not relevant to the question I asked.
This project is critical, as I hope the Minister recognises. I appreciate his statutory position, but that is not an acceptable excuse because the answer he has provided fails the people of north and east Mayo, as well as his Independent colleagues on Mayo County Council who are located in the area. He is failing the people in the Mayo association who live in Dublin, many of them in his constituency, and who see the project as a priority for this vast area of County Mayo.
County Mayo is not compact; it is a big county with massive potential. We want to play our part, but this road project needs to be sorted. Where there is the political will, there is a way. I am intimately familiar with this and all other roads in County Mayo. TII has told me that it must receive some political guidance on how it should proceed. People in County Mayo have been crucified by environmental designation. I hope the Minister is seriously concerned that more than €10 million has been spent since 2010 and not one sod has been turned to improve any part of a national primary road in the area. This is crucifying social and economic growth. Is this not of concern to him? I am dismayed that he gave me a standard issue answer when I set out an authentic case.
This road project has been a priority since before 2010. It is now as important, if not more important, than it was then. We are trying to hold onto our young people. What if the companies to which I referred were to uproot to a location where there are better roads, as is the case in many pats of the country? I ask the Minister to revisit this issue and listen to the parties concerned. It is not good enough to pass the buck to TII because I can show him correspondence in which I was told where the power lay. I implore him to take a second look at this issue and not to brush me off.
I thank the Senator for her impassioned plea on behalf of her constituents. I remind her that while she has stated she respects my statutory position in this matter, which is fair enough, she must also accept it. The fact is that under the Roads Acts, the planning and design of individual roads, the matters raised by the Senator, are ones for TII in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.