Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming. I do not think I have had the pleasure of seeing him in the Seanad previously. It is great to have him here.
The Commencement matter I tabled seeks an update from the Minister for Transport on the timelines and funding costs for the proposed phase 2 works on the Bandon southern relief road. Phase 1 of the roadworks was completed nearly 30 years ago, so we have been waiting a long time for the completion of the road. At this stage, it has been talked about for nearly a generation. It is a major issue in terms of ensuring a town the size of Bandon can be fit for purpose. Bandon is the biggest town in and the gateway to west Cork. All traffic for west Cork goes through the town.
In the review of the national development plan, we must ensure that projects such as phase 2 of the southern relief road are prioritised. We are in the bizarre position that all heavy vehicles must go through Bandon because they cannot cope with the gradient of the previous bypass. Anything from 9,000 to 14,000 vehicles pass my office in South Main Street every day. Bandon has been smothered as a result. Funding must be found and a timeline put in place to ensure the southern relief road is developed and Bandon gets a chance to become a beautiful town.
There has been significant investment in Bandon in the past decade. The main drainage scheme and the flood relief scheme have been prioritised. This has resulted in major changes to the town. We are now going through a major phase of public renewal and redevelopment, which will also change the urban landscape of Bandon. A lot of good things are happening in the town but the key piece of the jigsaw, phase 2 of the southern relief road, is missing. It was for this reason that I tabled this Commencement matter seeking an update from the Department on its plans for this important infrastructure.
Will the Minister of State inform the House of the timelines and costings for the proposed phase 2 of the southern relief road? I am very concerned about the costings. I raised the issue in 2019 with the then Minister, the former Deputy Ross, who gave a costing of €7.5 million. I am very concerned about the level the costings will have reached by now given the inflation in the construction sector. The sooner we get the project started and finished, the better because we will have better value for money for phase 2. Will the Minister of State indicate to the House where we are with this very important project in west Cork?
I thank Senator Lombard for raising the issue of the phase 2 work on the Bandon southern relief road. I am representing the Minister for Transport who has responsibility for overall policy and securing Exchequer funding for the national roads programme.
Under the Roads Acts, and in line with the national development plan, NDP, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TIl, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. TIl ultimately delivers the national roads programme in line with Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework, NPF, and the NDP.
In that context, TII provides the Department of Transport with regular updates on its delivery of the national roads programme.The following information, from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, is the most up-to-date information available to me on the Bandon relief road. The N71 relief road around Bandon ties back into the existing road network via a steep downhill gradient and drivers also need to negotiate a number of roundabouts and priority junctions within the built-up area of Bandon, of which I am sure the Senator is acutely aware. I understand when he says the town is smothered. It is chock-a-block, which costs a lot of time and causes delays. It does not help business trading in a town to have so many trucks on the main street. Road safety is also a key issue when so many large vehicles are passing through a busy town.
The N71 experiences heavy traffic, with annual daily traffic of between 9,000 and 14,000 vehicles. The proposed relief road extension would involve bridging over the R603 to remove the existing steep gradient and construction of approximately 2.5 km of new single-lane carriageway, tying back to the existing N71 just to the west of the town. A feasibility study was completed by Cork County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland is reviewing the study. The project assessment plan was approved by the Department in 2020 and work on early planning and design will continue in 2021, with a preferred route for the bypass extension yet to be identified.
As this project is in the early stages of planning, it is not possible to provide an accurate estimate of the total costs at this stage. The Senator referred to an earlier figure, but that was a preliminary estimate at that stage. The estimated cost cannot be finalised until the project reaches the business case stage of the process. However, TII allocated €100,000 to Cork County Council to progress the planning and design in this calendar year. TII has informed the Department the approximate cost of progressing phase 2 would be an additional €200,000. This would fund works such as a ground investigation, water monitoring and some archaeological works.
Pending future funding availability, Cork County Council hopes to progress the scheme to planning permission stage in the coming years. The timescale will be at least three years because water monitoring, archaeological works and identifying a preferred route take time. The timeframe for delivery of any major or minor roads project that requires statutory approval, whether for an environmental impact assessment, a compulsory purchase order, CPO, or both, is normally between eight and 13 years. That can mean from beginning to end. Normally, the assessment takes 80% of the delivery time, whereas construction normally accounts for only 20% of the entire time of a project.
All projects, including those listed in the national development plan or the revised national plan, require statutory approval and compliance with the public spending code.
When we are doing the review of the national development plan, we must ensure that projects such phase 2 of the southern relief road in Bandon are included. These are key infrastructure projects for towns throughout Ireland. Phase 2 of the bypass would have the benefit of changing the look of Bandon. The same applies to projects throughout the country. It is important that the Government focuses on ensuring we have a road programme that sorts out these issues. When it comes to the Bandon southern relief road, time is money. I am very concerned about where the costs will go on a project of this nature. The former Minister, Mr. Ross, famously said the project would cost €7.5 million. I am concerned it could be a multiple of that with the way the timelines are going. I am genuinely concerned about how the timelines could lead to a significant increase in costs.
I understand the point the Senator is making about the revised national development plan, which is scheduled to be published in early October. It is imminent. I am not privy to whether specific road projects will feature on a long list of individual projects or if there will be overall funding and thematic approaches, with the line Departments and TII then working out the specifics. I am not privy to the nature of the document which will come out next week. I will pass on the Senator's views on the matter to the Minister for Transport, who is the line Minister, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Even when a project is included in the national development plan, it still has to go through the required approval under the public spending code, in terms of planning, consents and such issues. It is important these projects get priority, but even with the priority, there is still quite a process to go through. We will continue to monitor this situation.