Funding must be made available as a matter of urgency to allow the Mallow Relief Road project to proceed, according to Fine Gael TD for Cork East Constituency, David Stanton.
Raising the matter with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Retail Business, Neale Richmond TD, in the Dáil Chamber, Deputy Stanton said: “Mallow has been designated as a key town in the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Southern Region. It is a very nice place to live with outstanding education, sport, health and recreational facilities. It is probably the best served town in Ireland for rail services, but traffic congestion is a major problem.
“The need for a relief road has been agreed for almost a decade now. In fact, an Indecon Economic Study was presented to the then Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe, by what was then known as the Mallow Representative Group in mid-2015 which found that a relief road would remove heavy traffic from the town centre, enhance its attractiveness and facilitate the revitalisation of the town which could be worth up to €90 million.
“Subsequently the project was included in the Government’s Capital Spending Programme 2016-2021 and funding was allocated for a feasibility study and a pre-appraisal plan. A lot of work has been carried out since with, I understand, up to €1.2 million expended to date on the relief road plans.
“It had been expected as recently as last February that an application would be sent to An Bord Pleanála later this year. Cork County Council had applied to Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) for €1.4 million to finalise works and to bring the scheme to the Board. Imagine the impact and shock in the town and the region when the TII allocations were announced in February and that only €100,000 was to be made available. This was to pay for work already carried out, so in effect, the project has been shelved indefinitely leaving property owners, the local authority, TII and the people of the town and region in limbo”.
David Stanton continued: “I understand that the Northern Committee of Cork County Council has written to Minister Ryan expressing its deep disappointment at his decision to issue a Section 24 letter which effectively overruled TII’s proposals to fund the Mallow Relief Road project in the amount of €1.4 million. TII has also written to the Department of Transport pointing out that in it’s view the project is consistent with relevant objectives of national policy and has formally requested approval to increase the 2023 allocation for the project.
“If this project goes to An Bord Pleanála it could take a year to 18 months before the Board comes to a decision. This has stymied, if not killed the project which is killing the town, so I would ask the Minister why this decision was made?”
Minister Redmond responded that: “The Government has earmarked €5.1 billion for capital spending on new national roads projects from 2021 to 2030 as part of the National Development Plan. The funding will provide for the development of numerous national road projects, including the completion of projects which are already at construction stage and those close to it. As the greater portion of this funding becomes available in the second half of the decade, this means that there was a constraint on the funding available for new projects this year.
“Approximately €491 million of Exchequer capital funds have been provided for national roads through TII to local authorities in 2023, these allocations were announced by the Department of Transport and TII on 16 February and indeed include the referenced €100,00 to Cork County Council with regard to the Mallow Relief Road. As with all national roads projects in the NDP, the delivery programme for the project will be kept under review for 2024 and considered in terms of the overall funding envelope available to TII”.
Highlighting the funding aspect, David Stanton said: “Can I point out that this is not a new project. We have billions of extra funding in the Exchequer and Cork County Council are looking for €1.4 million to allow this to go to An Bord Pleanála where it might sit for 6 months, 12 months, or who knows how long. I do not know why we cannot find €1.4 million to allow this to happen, it does not make sense. The whole community of Mallow and North Cork and indeed into parts of Kerry are absolutely frustrated by this decision. Without any rhyme or reason this was pulled at the last minute, and it is not good enough.
Minister Richmond acknowledged that is not acceptable that budgetary constraints have been cited for 2023 and agreed to go back to Minister Ryan to discuss funding allocations for the rest of this year and for 2024.
Deputy Stanton raised the matter directly with the Taoiseach in the Dáil chamber the following day with the Taoiseach responding to say: “I appreciate the frustration of the people in Mallow and the business community there as well. The Government is prioritising bypasses as part of the National Roads Programme, and this is a bypass. We have about €500 million a year for the National Roads Programme, about €250 million to improve and maintain those roads and €250 million for new projects.
“It is never the case that every project can be funded every year, but we have agreement across Government that if savings arise during the course of the year, because some projects don’t proceed for some reason or another, it can be reallocated. So, this one is certainly on the agenda, if we are able to find savings during the course of the year, they can be reallocated. I can’t promise that now, but I will work on it”.
Deputy Stanton said he will continue to highlight this very important issue with the Taoiseach and the Ministers concerned.