Thursday, 16 September 2021

Ceisteanna (65)

Peter Fitzpatrick


65. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Transport the status of the Ardee bypass project (details supplied). [44462/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I wish to ask for an update on this project. It should be noted that the N52 Ardee bypass scheme received planning approval in 2006. I have been informed that delays have occurred due to issues with routes and junction preferences and that a revised planning application process is expected. In 2020, and with the support of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, Louth County Council conducted a detailed review of the scheme and considered alternative junction strategies.

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and securing Exchequer funding for the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, and in line with the national development plan, the planning, design and construction of individual national roads is a matter for TII in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

The proposed bypass scheme to the west of Ardee is 4.5 km in length from Mandistown crossroads on the N52 west of Ardee, just inside the Meath county boundary, to Glebe townland on the N2 just north of Ardee. It is designed as a single carriageway road and comprises six junctions, including a proposed roundabout on the N2. The scheme includes two river crossings at the River Dee and the River Garra. Construction may commence in quarter 3 of 2023, with completion in quarter 4 of 2025, though it should be noted that this is subject to planning issues, approval under the public spending code and sufficient funding availability.

The N52 is important for enhancing regional accessibility and improving connectivity to Border counties. The bypass of Ardee would provide greater capacity for passenger and freight traffic on the route, which would support economic expansion of the region. In addition, the project supports improved road safety, reduced vehicular traffic in the town, better air quality and more active travel opportunities in the town, thereby providing for a better quality of life for local residents.

The current section of the N52 is arguably not fully fit for purpose, with the town of Ardee being subject to congestion, particularly at peak periods. The route serves both passenger and freight traffic every day and the legacy infrastructure is causing daily delays and journey time uncertainty for road users. The existing road runs directly through the town centre, resulting in an inability to regulate traffic flow and reducing the efficiency of travel on the overall network. In addition, the urban environment of Ardee is being negatively impacted as a result of the route running directly through the town centre.

The N52 is a national secondary road connecting the M7 motorway from just south of Nenagh in Tipperary to the N2 north of Ardee. Through the provision of reliable transport infrastructure, the proposed project aims to manage better traffic efficiency along the route.

The Minister has just wasted two minutes. I asked him for an update, but all he gave me was a response. He needs to show some respect to the people in Ardee. In fairness, Louth County Council and TII held a public consultation and the people of the Ardee area had the decency to attend and make submissions. The new design team is working hard to minimise the impact of the scheme on the surrounding areas and communities. I cannot believe that the Minister would waste my time and that of the people of Ardee. I ask him to please give us an update on the situation. Planning permission was granted in 2006. The traffic in the area is hazardous. His response has knocked me for six. I want to know that funding has been set aside and that it will remain in this scheme. Instead of waffling, can he please give me an update?

I mean no disrespect to the Deputy or the residents of Ardee. He is correct, but I wanted to read out the Department's official response so that the full assessment is clear. I will now read the remaining part of that response which, I hope, will give him some of the detailed information he seeks. I will further engage with him in the detail of it.

In January 2018, Louth County Council provided the preliminary overall plan for the scheme to public representatives and to members of the public. Concerns were raised regarding the junction layout and the impacts the scheme might have on local traffic movements. The Deputy will be aware of some of this detail, but it is important to set out the history. Detailed submissions from resident groups were received by Louth County Council and TII. In September 2019, officials from TII, along with Louth County Council, were invited to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport to discuss the issues. I attended that meeting and listened to the full hearing. It was agreed to request the council to undertake a review of the scheme design in advance of progressing the project to build in order that these issues could be fully considered along with matters raised.

A public consultation was held in October 2020 to engage on the emerging preferred junction option for the N52 Ardee bypass. A review of the road design and planning to date, including junction options, planning application issues, an environmental review and compulsory purchase order, CPO, matters, is currently being carried out by technical advisers for Louth County Council, to be completed later this year. In parallel, an environmental impact assessment, EIA, screening report and appropriate assessment, AA, screening report are currently with An Bord Pleanála for review and determination on the proposed amended scheme. The changes to the original scheme include amended junction layouts, additional cycle facilities, flood attenuation and soil management issues.

Subject to the outcome of the review and determination by An Bord Pleanála of the EIA and AA, it is intended to bring the scheme through the Part 8 planning process of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended. The next step would be to lodge an application with An Bord Pleanála for a further CPO, if needed. On this basis, Louth County Council could be in a position to tender the main construction contract for the scheme in quarter 3, 2022, which could allow a potential construction start date in quarter 3, 2023, with completion in quarter 4, 2025. It should be noted that this would be subject to sufficient funding availability and approval under the public spending code. A total of €8.1 million was incurred on this project up to the end of August 2021.

I mean no disrespect to the Deputy and apologise for the lengthy reply. We have a significant funding problem, but this type of project, which promotes town centres such as Ardee is, to my mind, a real priority. If we can overcome the planning difficulties, I believe funding can be provided.

The Minister has given me the response I wanted. Had he given it in the first instance, I would have been very happy. I must once again point out that the people of Ardee and the surrounding areas have heard nothing but empty promises since 2006 when this project first received planning permission. All I am asking is that the Minister give us confirmation of the status of the project and confirmation that funding previously set aside for it will be ring-fenced. The town of Ardee suffers from chronic traffic congestion, which has a serious effect on the business of the town and the surrounding areas and on people living in the area. I ask the Minister to confirm that this much-needed project will go ahead. Is there any possibility he might visit Ardee to engage with people in the area on this project for which they have been waiting since 2006? I believe, on the basis of the information just given to me by the Minister, that this project will go ahead, but there is so much happening in relation to it. People are not aware that information is awaited from An Bord Pleanála. I ask the Minister to visit Ardee and meet with the people. As I said, this process started in 2006 and it is now 2021. People have been waiting a long time. I put my trust in the Minister that he will help the people of Ardee.