Thursday, 12 December 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
The Minister of State is very welcome to the Chamber. I ask that funding be provided for the construction of a new bridge at Cloongullane, just outside Swinford on the N26, and that work commence on the planning of an orbital route for Ballina, County Mayo. If one looks at north and east County Mayo, one will see there is a serious road infrastructure deficit in the area, and there is a reason for that. The roads to which I refer are the N26, a national primary road, which connects with the N59, a national secondary road. The reason for this road infrastructure deficit, as history will show, is that we could not get planning permission for the N26, stage 2, over the line, and this goes back in 2010. It would have gone from Mount Falcon, just outside Ballina, to Bohola. If we had got permission, I would not be asking the Minister of State for funds for the bridge and to begin the orbital route.
I refer to the environmental designation. The River Moy is a special area of conservation and in 2010 An Bord Pleanála deemed the road to be over-designed and it wanted to protect whooper swans. Since then, I am glad to say that TII and the council went back to the drawing board and decided that they would try to do it in segments, and not on the same scale. I was not in agreement with that because a proper road into the area is required, but we now have planning permission for Cloongullane, again after much delay over environmental designation. Since 2010, approximately €10 million has been spent on planning on a road and not a sod has been turned. That is pretty serious, and it is because of environmental designation.
Wearing his other hat, the Minister of State will know that north Mayo is quite a hub for foreign direct investment, FDI. We have Coca-Cola, Hollister, Lionbridge and a number of other multinational companies which are very much part of the community. Not only do they provide local employment, but they source whatever they require locally. They are very established in the community.
The N26 was the number one priority road in the whole of County Mayo but because of the refusal by An Bord Pleanála, it went into the waste paper basket. That does not take from the case that we need it, and that case still stands. The issue is environmental designation.
I refer to the gravity of the situation and the serious deficit in infrastructure. Cloongullane Bridge was not built in the last century but the century before. It is absolutely shocking. Two vehicles cannot pass on it. The bridge has been clipped by the HGVs that travel this road to and from the multinationals, including from Swinford. Something has to be done. This road should not be part of the national primary network. Traffic on the N58, which feeds into Foxford, would have been alleviated by the 2010 plan. Speed limits on the road have been reduced because it is such a winding road. There is a road safety issue here.
In terms of this area thriving economically and socially going forward, there is a lot of wherewithal there. There is a very good chamber of commerce in Ballina and there are traders' groups in Foxford and Swinford. There is can-do attitude there, but the road cannot be built without funding.
I hope the traffic bedlam at Cloongullane Bridge and going into Ballina every day of the week will be addressed and that we will see construction at Cloongullane this year and the beginning of the orbital route for Ballina.
I thank Senator Mulherin. She has been an advocate for infrastructure during her time here in the Seanad because she has raised so many issues in relation to industry and small businesses with my Department. I can see her point that having critical infrastructure in place is really important.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. In his role, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has responsibility for overall policy and securing capital funding in relation to national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and construction of individual roads is a matter for TII in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.
Project Ireland 2040 is the long-term overarching strategy to make Ireland a better place for all its people. Within that context, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national strategy framework. This provides the strategic and financial framework for TII's national road programme for the period of 2018-2027. In the ten years covered by the plan, more than €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network. The NDP identifies two categories of national road improvement projects. The first category covers projects to advance to construction subject to the satisfactory outcome of the project appraisal and development consent approval process. The second category relates to projects at pre-appraisal and early planning stage which have been assessed with a view to developing a pipeline of suitable projects for development.
Overall, TII considers that taking steady-state of PPP commitments into account, the indicative NDP budget will allow the projects in the first category to be progressed, and a pipeline of projects taken through early planning.However, it would not be possible to take all the pipeline projects through the development consent process or to construction stage within the timeframe of the NDP. The advancing of projects in the second pipeline category will therefore be subject to prioritisation within the overall national roads programme and funding.
I refer to the new bridge on the N26 at Cloongullane, Swinford. 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, the Minister understands that TII informed Mayo County Council that the scheme could not proceed to phase 3 design at the time due to funding constraints and the requirement, as I have just mentioned, for TII to focus on the progression of those schemes that have been 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 Cloongullaune Bridge realignment should progress as a separate minor improvement scheme 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 a new bridge crossing over the River Moy. Mayo County Council submitted the scheme and the associated compulsory purchase order to An Bord Pleanála in November 2016. The oral hearing into 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 Mayo County Council are currently undertaking the detailed design of the scheme and preparing the tender documents. Mayo County Council has commenced the pre-qualification process in respect of the tender process and expects that construction will start on this project in quarter two of 2020.
The preferred route for the Ballina road project, which is the N26 and N59, was identified in 2006 and adopted by Mayo County Council in 2007. The project was then suspended and remains so. Mayo County Council has proposed a minor improvement scheme, the N26-N59 Ballina bypass phase 1, which comprises carriageway works of 2.1 km, with 1 km of new road construction and 1.1 km of road widening. That would link the N26 with the N59 and in doing so bypass the town of Ballina to the south west. The scheme is being considered as one of a number of minor projects that may commence appraisal, planning and design next year. Regarding major new road projects in County Mayo, the Minister is pleased to advise that the Government approved the awarding of the construction contract for the N5 Westport to Turlough scheme on 15 October. A letter of acceptance issued the following day. Mayo County Council and the contractor formally signed the contract on 29 October 2019. This project involves the construction of 20.3 km of dual carriageway from Westport to east of Castlebar and a 2.5 km single carriageway link to the N59 secondary road.
I thank the Minister of State and welcome the investment in the major scheme, which is the N5 Westport to Turlough route outside Castlebar. The reality is that it means nothing to north and east Mayo, although it is welcome. I am asking for modest investment. The Minister of State will agree that the N26 is both a vital artery and the orbital route around Ballina. If it is not done, there will be further tailbacks on the way into the town. These projects should be prioritised, especially since we have HGVs that cannot get in or out of the town, coming and going from our multinationals. This should be a concern. These multinationals have formed a Mayo industries group. They have pointed out the severe deficit in the road. We should be listening. They are serious employers in the area and there would be knock-on benefits for our own indigenous businesses too. This infrastructure is beyond overdue. With his business and enterprise cap on, I ask that the Minister of State make the case to the Minister that he see the significance of and the obvious prioritisation required in respect of these schemes.
I certainly support Senator Mulherin with regard to road improvements around Ireland. It is important that roads in regional areas, not just national secondary roads but regional roads, are upgraded to ensure that they meet the areas covered in Project Ireland 2040 and Future Jobs Ireland, which is very important for us. I will bring Senator Mulherin's concerns back to the Minister. His role is to make policy. It is up to TII, in conjunction with Mayo County Council, to ensure that priority is given to these roads in light of the economic activity in the area, which the Senator outlined, and the many multinational and indigenous companies operating there. It is important that we look after these companies and the employees of the companies who have to drive to work each day. Road safety is a priority for all of us as legislators and also for the Government. The worst section of the N26 route has been addressed by means of the N26 Cloongullane Bridge alignment project, which is currently being progressed as a minor works scheme. There is a traffic calming scheme in the village of Bohola on the N5 but it is important to complete the whole loop. That is all subject to funding. I will certainly bring that to the attention of TII and the Minister.