I join Deputy O'Donnell in committing absolutely to giving the very best transport system possible to the people of Moyross and, more widely, the people of Limerick.
The improvement and maintenance of local and regional roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. State grants, where applicable, are intended to supplement the funding allocated to the maintenance and improvement of roads by local authorities from their own resources.
The national development plan does provide for the gradual build up in funding for the road network but funding is not yet at the level needed for the adequate maintenance and renewal of regional and local roads. For this reason the primary focus for capital investment continues to be the maintenance and renewal of the network with some limited investment in road improvement schemes. In this context 12 regional and local road improvement schemes were identified for development, subject to necessary approvals, in the NDP, and the construction of the Coonagh-Knockalisheen distributor road is one of those schemes.
I am aware that the origins of this scheme lie, as the Deputy said, in the Limerick regeneration programme. The distributor road was one of a range of measures proposed in a report prepared in 2007 by John Fitzgerald to address social exclusion and deprivation in the Moyross area. The lack of accessibility, including the lack of pedestrian and cycling access, in the Moyross area was seen as a barrier to economic development and as contributing to social exclusion. The masterplan developed subsequently by the Limerick Regeneration Board in 2008 set out detailed action plans for the regeneration of disadvantaged areas in Limerick, including Moyross, with improved transport and access seen as important tools in improving socio-economic conditions. The aim was to attract mixed-use development to the area to promote local employment and services and provide public transport services together with high quality infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.
While my Department agreed to support the project some ten years ago, the funding cutbacks associated with the post-2008 recession delayed implementation of the scheme. This meant that while significant advance works were carried in the period 2017 to 2019, the main scheme is only now getting to construction decision stage. Under the public spending code, capital projects are subject to review and approval at a number of stages. As required under the project appraisal procedures, Limerick City and County Council has submitted a recommendation on the award of a contract for the construction of the scheme.
I am considering the project carefully at present and plan to visit Limerick shortly, probably early in the new year, to walk the route and engage directly with stakeholders. I will then make a decision on the council's contract award recommendation.
The other point the Deputy mentioned is a vital one in terms of improving the transport system for the people of Moyross and the wider Limerick area. As the Deputy stated, a rail line does go through the area, namely, the Limerick-Ennis-Galway rail line. The reason for my review and the consideration of this project in the wider context is that I believe it may be possible for us to put forward a truly radical proposal for the whole of Limerick city, including the construction of a public transport system on existing rail lines in Limerick which connect the city in a range of ways, with the introduction of a number of stations which would completely transform and lift the city into the future. We are in the middle of a consultation on the Limerick metropolitan area transport strategy and I believe it is absolutely appropriate for me, as Minister, to consider such radical proposals in favour of new public transport systems on existing rail lines which could, and to my mind should, include the provision of a new rail station and a regular commuter service for the people of Moyross. In that context, it is good transport planning and policy and housing and development policy to consider what implications such a radical change to the whole transport infrastructure in Limerick, and particularly the area of Moyross, would have in terms of what we do in all transport projects in the area.