Road Network: Presentation.

I welcome Mr. Michael Egan and Mr. Fred Barry from the National Roads Authority and Mr. John Fitzgerald from Blackwater Engineering. Mr. Fitzgerald has made a submission to the committee, through Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, with regard to bridges that affect his business in south Tipperary. I invite Mr. Fitzgerald to make his submission to the committee and we will hear a response from the NRA. There will be no cross-examination of one witness by another, which is the usual way committees deal with the matters such as this.

We represent companies currently involved in constructing and transporting vessels required for a major expansion at the Bulmer's factory operated by the C & C Group in Clonmel, County Tipperary. We began this project in September 2005 and to date 60 vessels have been transported from Mallow and from Charleville to site in Clonmel. We project at least the same vessel numbers will be moved in the period to September next year. These vessels are usually moved in a convoy of three vessels with the convoy having an overall length of 85 m, a height of 5.95 m and a width of 5.4 m. The convoy is escorted by gardaí, personnel from the ESB as well as our personnel. Typically, if all goes according to plan, the convoy leaves Mallow-Charleville at 10 a.m. and follows a route through Kildorrery, Mitchelstown and Cahir, arriving in Clonmel at 12 noon the same day.

Recently we observed that a temporary bridge for site traffic has been erected at Tincurry on the N8 outside Cahir. I measured the clearance under this bridge to be 5.81 m, which will cause a problem for us if we have to transport our loads underneath that bridge. Initially we were also concerned that the new overpass planned for Tincurry would be problematic as the NRA standard minimum height is 5.3 m. With this in mind, I met Mr. Michael O'Malley of South Tipperary County Council roads section who gave me a copy of the layout plan of the Tincurry junction when it will be completed in 2009. It appears from this plan that we will be able to access the Cahir road by crossing to the opposite side of the dual carriageway through the central median and going the wrong way down the slip road provided we can get around the roundabout at the end of the slip road. We are seeking to have this point clarified.

However, until this junction is completed the temporary bridge will remain over the N8. While Mr. O'Malley was amenable to us using the contractors' compound to divert around the temporary bridge, he indicated that the constant disruption we would cause owing to the number of convoys we would send through would be a significant problem in future.

We find that moving tanks and vessels from our workshops is becoming more difficult with the ever-increasing number of road bridges and roundabouts being constructed owing to the expansion of the national motorway network. Consideration should be given by the NRA to the minimum height for bridges of 5.3 m with at least a route to divert higher loads around the bridges being provided. If we cannot be accommodated, we will have to negotiate narrow roads, thereby causing a danger to local traffic, lifting telephone and electricity wires and cutting overhanging trees and branches, which takes more time and requires more manpower than at present.

Italian contractors are on-site building vessels and our concern is that if we cannot solve this problem, Bulmers could well award the full contract to them. We do not see any other viable route to access the site in Clonmel. Given the importance of this contract to all the represented companies here, we hope we can be accommodated.

Prior to the road works currently taking place, I take it there was no bridge at the point mentioned.

That is correct.

An overpass was built to accommodate work on the project.

A temporary bailey bridge was erected for site traffic.

What other bridges posed problems for the company prior to that? I understand a number of bridges posed a difficulty.

A number of bridges posed problems for us. We are based in Mallow and vehicles, on leaving Mallow, must travel through Mallow town centre to access the Mitchelstown road. In the environs of Clonmel there are three or four bridges, which means that the drivers of our vehicles must go through Clonmel town centre to access the Bulmers plant on the Waterford side of the town.

With regard to the temporary bridge about which Mr. Fitzgerald is concerned, I take it that when the final bridge is erected, it will be lower than the temporary bridge.

That was our concern at the start of the project, and the height of the bridge will be 5.3 m. The bridge that will be erected there in 2009 when the road works are complete will be an overpass. If we can cross to the opposite side of the road, we will be able to get around it.

Yes, I know what Mr. Fitzgerald means. I invite Mr. Fred Barry to make his presentation.

Mr. Fred Barry

The National Roads Authority is aware of concerns that have been expressed in connection with the erection of a temporary bridge at Tincurry near Cahir on the N8 on the Cashel to Mitchelstown road project that is under construction and, in particular, the implications this will have for exceptionally high loads transported from Mallow, Charleville and other locations to Clonmel and possibly further afield. The road project is part of the Dublin to Cork dual carriageway that we were mandated to complete by 2010 in line with the Government's Transport 21 plan. Construction work began on the road in March of this year and is scheduled to be completed in May 2009.

The new road passes over the N8 at Tincurry and the temporary bridge, which was put in place by contractors acting in co-operation with South Tipperary County Council, who were the parties to the contract, caters for road construction vehicles. It is the county council in its capacity as statutory road authority under the Roads Act, rather than the NRA, which details with issues of this nature. Temporary works on the construction projects being built by the road authorities are dealt with by the road authorities rather than by ourselves.

We understand the temporary bridge has headroom clearance of 5.7 m to 5.8 m. We want to bring to everybody's attention that along the permanent road there will be a number of bridges which will be built to 5.3 m initial clearance. I heard the submission suggesting that we should make the clearance higher. A 5.3 m initial clearance, which has been in place for many years under the NRA's design standards for all the major new roads around the country, was arrived at following review of the practices in all the other west European countries and it is at the high end of the typical standards. That is not to take away from the problems arising for companies, such as those presenting, with very long, wide or high loads. I am not suggesting that they do not experience problems. What I am saying is that the 5.3 m height is at the high end of the west European practice.

We understand that the first approach to South Tipperary County Council on the implications for loads of this temporary bridge occurred in the past fortnight, although I accept it may have been some weeks earlier. The council is attempting to accommodate the Mallow-based company involved in moving the high loads, certainly in the short term by providing access through the site, but in the long term there will be a permanent bridge and the solution must come through the Department of Transport regulations governing wide loads, which do not refer specifically to high loads but refer typically to high loads or also wide loads. That is a matter between the local authority and the Garda. If the local authority were to ask us to act in a particular case, we would certainly look at it, but in the first instance this is a matter for the individual parties to work out with their local authority and the Garda.

In addition to the Mallow-based company, there is a further company involved, of which we are aware, in Charleville, County Cork. While we have not received any submission from this company, we are aware of its situation and we have also asked South Tipperary County Council to look at what can be done in that case. As I understand it, the council has not been approached yet by this company.

On high loads generally, I take this opportunity to draw the committee's attention to the fact that the NRA would greatly welcome the reintroduction of maximum vehicle heights in Ireland. There is a continuing frequency of bridge strikes. What those heights should be is a matter for the Department of Transport rather than for ourselves, but we would welcome the reintroduction of such restrictions. I am happy to take any questions.

I am a little confused by the vagueness of the NRA presentation. We are faced here with a problem affecting up to 300 or 400 manufacturing jobs in both Mallow and Charleville. There are contracts in place which demand delivery of these size tanks before Christmas, and that is just the short-term perspective on it.

It seems incredible that there is no process by which a temporary bridge being erected would be properly notified and that the public and industrialists could make observations and submissions so that this problem would not arise in the first instance. Manufacturing industries generally are suffering greatly from increased costs of transport and production and that has become obvious in recent times. If the State agencies, either at local level or national level, cannot facilitate our industries, we will continue to lose jobs.

I am intrigued that the NRA would welcome the introduction of maximum vehicle heights. It is tanks being made specifically to a manufacturer's design that are being discussed in this instance. If they cannot be made in Mallow or Charleville, they will be made elsewhere by foreign companies, which will create a problem for Irish companies in the north Cork area. Coming to this meeting, I had hoped there would be a way to resolve this problem

In all fairness, the NRA said it would work in conjunction with South Tipperary County Council to see what it could do to resolve the situation. It has shown willingness to do that. However, Deputy Murphy should accept that it may not be in his interest for height limits to be introduced as it could cause a bigger problem.

Mr. Barry

I understand the commercial issues for a company with deliveries to make, but there is a willingness to address the problem in the short term. However, there were six different opportunities for public input to what will be a 5.3 metre high bridge. There is no question, therefore, of either the NRA or the local authority not having provided the opportunity for input. It is unfair to say it did not.

It is a pity we have not got South Tipperary County Council officials here today. I spoke to some of them yesterday, but it is obvious that the NRA is saying it is not really involved in the matter and that it is a matter for the council. Whoever is responsible, the problem must be solved. My concern relates to south Tipperary and the Bulmer company. I represent south Tipperary and come from the town of Clonmel. We do not want to see any difficulties arise with regard to Bulmers Limited as it is an important industry for the town and is developing and expanding at a significant rate throughout Britain and the Continent. It is vital a solution is found. What solution does Mr. Fitzgerald see to the problem and how would he like to see the matter solved?

Yesterday evening I received a telephone call from South Tipperary County Council informing me that two additional bailey bridges, of which we were not aware, were to be erected at Glengarra and Blackbawn on the N8 in the next six weeks. With regard to how we would like to see the matter resolved, I assume that when the new road is finished, we will be able to use the new motorway to pass over these bridges because we will not need to use the existing N8. However, for the next three years, until 2009 when the bridges are in place, we would like access provided to us to get around them in some fashion. I do not see any other way around it.

Mr. John McMahon

Making the bridges higher would not involve a massive cost. We are just talking about increasing the height by 400mm to 600mm. The bridge is a temporary one and no great effort would be required to make it higher to facilitate our vessels passing through. It would not involve a massive cost to do that.

The problem is that these are set contracts.

Mr. McMahon

Yes.

Like with any other contract, when extras are included the problems arise.

Mr. McMahon

We have been delivering vessels from BCD Engineering for the past 25 years and we have delivered these types of vessels to the UK. We are proud that we built all the vessels for a new plant in Birmingham, approximately 40 vessels of the size we are discussing. They all went out through Dublin Port and we continue to deliver to the UK. We can get around the route to Dublin because we can still use the old road. Therefore, the new bridges are not an issue in that sense. Hopefully they will not be an issue in the building of further new roads because the old roads will be still in use.

However, it is not our business to provide the roads. We have been manufacturing for 25 years and have built a good reputation. Currently, BCD Engineering employs approximately 200 people. The problem could have a devastating effect on the possibilities for our company because we have fixed contracts in place to deliver these vessels. We have been doing it for 20 years, but suddenly this structure has appeared in our way.

Does the NRA accept there will not be a problem in the long term?

Everybody accepts that in the long term when the road is finished there will be ways and means of getting around it. Mr. Fitzgerald put the suggestion to the committee that it might mean having to go the reverse way at some stage but it is possible.

Mr. Barry

We have not studied the alternative routes that might be available to BCD.

The last thing I want to see happen regarding the transport of these vessels is that they would come from Mallow to Mitchelstown and then attempt to take the Ballyporeen, Clogheen, Ardfinnan, Clonmel route. I am sure the companies do not want that either.

That road would be closed for a week if I know Deputy Ned O'Keeffe.

I thank the Chairman for agreeing at short notice to receive the deputation and his acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation for industries in my constituency and the threat to a substantial number of jobs should we not find some alternative way of solving the problem. Other companies abroad may be able to offer better costs. I am very familiar with the situation because I live on the route they travel along by Killdorrery and Mitchelstown. I know the little country roads and I can divert when I know they are on the road.

I welcome the delegation from the NRA which I have always found to be co-operative and helpful and it does an excellent job in trying to develop the infrastructure of the country. I have no difficulty with the NRA in any issue. I do not know anything about South Tipperary County Council so I cannot speak for it. However, I hope we can arrive at some solution to help those three companies in their endeavours to develop the country and the existing industries.

The expansion in the economy means new developments in the farming and chemical areas. I hope there will be a solution to the problem. I welcome the three companies and I commend them for their development and the work they are undertaking in a very competitive and technical sector. I ask the NRA and the companies concerned to sit down together and work out a solution to this problem. Mr. Barry is a very approachable man from my experience as a politician. I do not know how he gets on with the private sector but he came from it.

This problem can be solved. I am familiar with the route from Mitchelstown to Ballyporeen and Ardfinnan and Clonmel as I often use it as a short cut to Dublin. It would be very congested and there would be a lot of nuisance if it were used. I am sure Mr. Fitzgerald is also familiar with the route because he comes from the Waterford side of Araglin. This is a local issue but I hope these industries will develop an export business.

I thank the Chairman for receiving the delegation at short notice and for his commitment and that of the Government.

I agree with everything that has been said by my colleagues. While we all sympathise with the companies involved, we must try to move from sympathy to a solution. South Tipperary County Council has a key role to play and Deputy Healy asked the pertinent question as to how we might liaise with the council. I note that Mr. Barry has asked South Tipperary County Council to follow up with the companies. Is he ensuring this will happen quickly and that there will be liaison and a result? This cannot be allowed to drift. Has the NRA made direct contact with South Tipperary County Council in recent days?

Mr. Barry

We have made direct contact and we will stay in contact.

Following on what Deputy Ned O'Keeffe said, is it possible for all parties to sit down together in the near future with South Tipperary County Council to try to hammer out a short-term solution?

It is a positive sign that there is a willingness on the part of the NRA and no doubt on the part of South Tipperary County Council. This not only affects the companies but it also affects the jobs in Clonmel. It is equally important that everything possible is done to facilitate everybody concerned in order to overcome the problems. Where there is a will there is always a way.

With regard to the timescale the companies are under pressure as we speak. What kind of timescale would cause the problem to become unbearable? It is obvious it will not be solved today or tomorrow but is there a deadline?

There is no point in the Senator suggesting that it must be done by a particular date.

That is my point.

I have no doubt that the bodies involved, the NRA and South Tipperary County Council, will reach resolution on the matter. There is a willingness among all parties to get it resolved, which is important. The NRA was quite willing to appear before the committee and meet the companies involved to see what could be done. It was willing to act as a semi-representative for South Tipperary County Council. I have no doubt the matter can be resolved.

We must be very precise about what needs to be solved. In addition to this bridge two other bridges are potentially affected. We also need to consider the long-term solution. Four separate issues must be addressed.

While there might be four issues, we need to resolve the immediate problems now. The issues down the road regarding rerouting, etc., would normally be addressed on the basis of agreement and that they should be done in set times as we have seen with the moving of other wide loads. It is done under a protocol that exists between the NRA, local authorities and manufacturers or other organisations. We all see wide loads moved at certain times. We have a commitment that the NRA and South Tipperary County Council, as its agent, along with the respective companies will meet to work out an acceptable position for everybody, which is all we require. Is everybody happy?

I thank Mr. Barry and Mr. Egan for appearing before the committee. I also thank Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. McMahon for putting to us a very reasonable case, which I believe everybody accepts. There is a definite willingness on behalf of everybody to resolve the issue. If there are any further problems I have no doubt they will come back to us.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.03 a.m. sine die.