Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Ceisteanna (44)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

44. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the progress being made to finalise preferred routes with respect to the TEN-T priority routes improvement project in County Donegal; and when the preferred routes design option will come before the local authority for approval. [21721/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Transport)

Permission has been given to Deputy Ellis to take Deputy Pearse Doherty's question.

I would like to ask the Minister for an update on the progress on finalising the preferred routes with respect to the TEN-T priority routes improvement projects in Donegal. When will the preferred route design option come before the local authority for approval?

I would like to explain that as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and construction stages of individual national road projects are matters for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF.  This provides the strategic and financial framework for TII’s national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027.  In the ten years covered by the plan, more than €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network.

In County Donegal, the TEN-T comprehensive road network runs from the Leitrim county boundary on the outskirts of Bundoran in the south of the county to the Northern Ireland Border with Derry in the north east of the county at Bridgend on the outskirts of Derry city. It involves sections of the N13, N14 and N15.

In 2016 Donegal County Council commissioned a corridor needs study on the TEN-T comprehensive network within Donegal. The study identified projects in Donegal that are necessary to improve the TEN-T comprehensive network to the required standard in compliance with the TEN-T regulations. The outcome of the study identified a priority list of schemes.  

The project consists of improvements and realignment of three sections of the national road network. These are the N15 and N13 Ballybofey to Stranorlar bypass; the N56, N13, and N14 Letterkenny bypass and the Letterkenny to Manorcunningham dual carriageway; and the N14 Manorcunningham to Lifford realignment scheme, including the N14 and N15 link to the A5 western transport corridor in Northern Ireland. As I have previously outlined, in the context of Project Ireland 2040, these projects are identified as strategic investment priorities in the NPF and the NDP.

Feasibility studies for the priority schemes commenced in 2017 and the route selection process is ongoing. Public consultations on identified route options for all these priority schemes were held in April and May 2018 in Letterkenny, Lifford and Ballybofey. The short-listed route corridors have been evaluated and assessed and the emerging preferred route has now been identified for each of the schemes. 

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The emerging preferred routes were presented at the public consultations, which took place in February 2019.  Following these consultations, further confirmation and refinement will establish the preferred route corridor for each scheme, which I understand will be presented to the public in the third quarter of 2019. In advance of this the design team intends to give a presentation on the preferred route to the elected members. Donegal County Council is the sponsoring agency. When the preferred route corridors are established the next phase will be to move to planning and design and subsequently to the appropriate approvals procedures in accordance with the public spending code and Government approval.

I will now refer to the benefits of the scheme. These schemes are of critical importance to this isolated north-west Border region. They are important in meeting the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, enabling regional growth and in the context of developing a city region encompassing Derry, Letterkenny and Strabane. The project will significantly improve access to essential services like primary healthcare in Dublin, Derry and Galway, as well as access to the principal international gateways in Knock, Shannon, Foynes and Dublin, as well as Belfast, Derry and Larne in Northern Ireland. The project is key in delivering the national policy objectives of developing strong and connected rural communities and economies.

With regard to funding, TII has allocated € 2.5 million to Donegal County Council this year to progress planning work on these projects.

I ask this question in place of my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, whose constituents have asked him to raise their concerns about the proposed TEN-T roads project with the Minister. As the Minister said, the TEN-T network is a proposed scheme of improvements on three national primary routes in Donegal, namely, the N15 and N13; the N56, N13 and N14 Letterkenny bypass and Letterkenny to Manorcunningham dual carriageway; and the N14 Manorcunningham to Lifford realignment scheme, including the link to the A5 western transport corridor. While no-one in Donegal is opposed in principle to having these vital upgrades carried out, there are real concerns over the possible effects on the local communities of certain sections of the preferred route options which have emerged.

I take the point Deputy Ellis has made, of which the Government is well aware. These schemes are of critical importance to this isolated north-west Border region. It is important in meeting the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, enabling regional growth and in the context of developing a city region encompassing Derry, Letterkenny and Strabane. The project will significantly improve access to essential services like primary healthcare in Dublin, Derry and Galway, as well as access to the principal international gateways in Knock, Shannon, Foynes, Dublin and, through Northern Ireland, to Belfast, Derry and Larne. The project is key in delivering the national policy objective of developing strong and connected rural communities and economies. There may be reservations, as there are about all routes. However, Deputies Ellis and Pearse Doherty will appreciate the overall benefits here .

TII has allocated €2.5 million to Donegal County Council this year to progress planning work on these projects. Donegal County Council, as the Deputy will know, is the sponsoring agency. When the preferred route corridors are established, the next stage will be to move to planning and design and subsequently to the appropriate approval procedures in accordance with the public spending code.

Traders in Ballybofey and Stranorlar fear the absence of a road link to the corridor will decimate trade in the towns. Similarly, homeowners and farmers have expressed anger at the prospect of having their homes razed to the ground or farmlands bisected to make way for a few kilometres of tarmac. Despite their willingness to facilitate and explore alternatives, they have described the public consultation phase as a mere box-ticking exercise. TII intends to bring the proposal to the council in the coming months. Can the Minister advise when this will happen and what assurances can be given to the people of Donegal that their voices will be listened to as part of this process? When the project design came before elected members of Donegal County Council last month, councillors were justifiably angry at being advised that the adoption of the preferred routes was an executive function. We have heard that far too often. They were effectively told that the decision to pass the plans was not for them but for senior officials. Surely, this constitutes a fait accompli. Given the concerns of the communities I have referenced and with local elections around the corner, can the Minister give a commitment that councillors who take their seats in the new council will have a say and will be able to bring the genuine concerns of their constituents to the attention of both the local authority and TII?

I understand the concerns of Deputies Ellis and Doherty for the communities. They have every opportunity to make their views known, and I presume that the new council will not be reticent in expressing its opinion. I will outline for the Deputy the expected construction timetable for all three schemes to which he refers. A project identified as a priority in the TEN-T study should take approximately three years to progress to construction, commencement and completion. However there is no timeframe for completing the schemes at present as they need to obtain both business case approval and planning consent. They are subject to the availability of funding in the future. To deliver a major national road scheme from concept to construction and completion can take an average of between eight and 13 years. I can break this down for the Deputy if he wants.

We will not have time.

I will give the Deputy an estimate of costs. The estimated cost to the Exchequer for planning in the period from 2018 to 2022 is €6 million. The estimated working cost of the project is €400 million, broken down into three lots of €115 million, €99 million and €186 million.

Question No. 45 replied to with Written Answers.