I thank the Chairman and the members for the invitation to attend. I am TII's director of capital programme management. I am accompanied by my colleague, Geraldine Fitzpatrick, TII's head of the roads capital programme. With us is Joan Martin, the chief executive of Louth County Council.
It is my understanding that the committee wishes to discuss the N52 Ardee bypass project. I welcome the opportunity to affirm TII's commitment to the project and provide clarity on the status of the N52 Ardee bypass and the manner in which Louth County Council will be progressing the project with support and funding from TII.
The Ardee bypass is needed to alleviate high levels of traffic congestion and remove, from the urban environment, heavy commercial vehicles that do not need to be in that environment. The Government’s commitment to the scheme is expressed in the Project Ireland 2040 national development plan where the N52 Ardee bypass is named as a strategic investment priority for the period 2018 to 2027 to improve accessibility to the north west. I have appended an extract from the national development plan to the copies of this opening statement.
The N52 scheme obtained planning approval from Louth County Council in 2005 and An Bord Pleanála approved the compulsory purchase order for the required land in 2006. A map of the approved scheme is also appended to the copies of this statement. Land acquisition commenced in 2007. Unfortunately, the economic crisis that followed meant that it was not possible to provide the funding for the construction of the scheme at that time. Following the mid-term review of the Building on Recovery - Infrastructure Capital Investment Plan 2016 to 2021, a commitment was given to the provision of funding through 2019, 2020 and 2021. Even though the first of the funding was for 2019, the commitment allowed reactivation of the scheme at the end of 2017.
In January 2018, Louth County Council provided the preliminary overall plan as part of monthly updates to councillors and to members of the public on request. As a result of the information provided, which included drawings of the scheme, residents from the Mullenstown-Coole community convened public meetings in April 2018. At those meetings, concerns were expressed about the impacts that the scheme might have on local traffic movements. I would like to acknowledge the work done by a number of elected representatives, including the Chairman, in bringing these concerns to the attention of Louth County Council and TII last year. Through the months of May, June and July 2018, meetings were held and detailed submissions from residents groups were received by Louth County Council and TII. Of particular concern is the closure of the Townspark Road west of the new bypass and the closure of the Mullanstown Road east, that is, on the Ardee town side of the new bypass, and the consequences of these closures. A point made in all of the submissions was that the residents did not wish to delay the construction of the N52 bypass. In the past year, Louth County Council, with the support of TII, has been working to find a way of addressing the issues raised within the limitations of the scheme’s planning permission and within the acquired land. This was in order not to delay the construction of the scheme.
The design of the scheme was completed in 2004. The design is safe and compliant with design standards and the bypass would have been built in 2008 if the funding was available. However, there have been significant changes since then such as the construction of a number of additional houses, the growth in membership and activity in Ardee Celtic football club, Sean McDermott’s GAA club and Ardee rugby club. These changes in the local area and an increased commitment by TII to meeting the needs of vulnerable road users, coupled with an increase in walking and cycling, creates different desirable outcomes to be achieved by the design.
In September of 2018, Louth County Council identified a number of options for possible changes to the junctions on the scheme. All of the options require an amendment of the planning permission and the provision of additional land if they are to be progressed.
On 29 August, Louth County Council sought TII approval to commence the tender competition for the construction of the 2004 design that complies with the planning permission and fits within the acquired land. Local residents had indicated support for this progression to construction on condition that there was a commitment from TII and Louth County Council that subsequent amendments to the junctions, if found to be warranted, would be the subject of a separate and subsequent planning procedure. As director of capital programmes for TII, it is my responsibility to consider this request. It had become clear over the course of the interaction with the residents that the issues raised would have to be addressed. I decided not to grant that approval and I requested Louth County Council to undertake a review of the scheme design in advance of progressing to construction.
As the Chairman will be aware, TII's obligation as sanctioning authority under the public spending code is to ensure that value for money is achieved by "doing the right thing and doing it right". I understand that the review of the original scheme will delay the project by 12 to 18 months. However, this review has the potential to incorporate significant benefits such as better community connectivity, infrastructure to cope with increases in walkers and cyclists, improved access for sporting facilities and required adaptation for climate change.
Louth County Council has suggested that a non-statutory public consultation process would be undertaken. This will allow for contributions from all stakeholders, including residents in the wider Ardee community, sports clubs, public transport providers, organisations that provide services to this area such as An Post, school bus operators and local businesses. I am confident that any additional costs incurred in improving the scheme will be offset by the additional benefits. I will hand over to Louth County Council's chief executive, Ms Joan Martin, who will outline what the next steps in the process of delivering the N52 bypass of Ardee will involve.