Carthy questions future of critical N2 project at PAC hearing with Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin Deputy Matt Carthy has said that the message from Transport Infrastructure Ireland regarding the future of the N2 Clontibret to the border road scheme was clear – government prioritisation of the project will deliver funding in 2022 to progress it to the next phase.
The N2 Clontibret to the border road scheme was one of eight projects included in the National Development Plan that was not allocated any funding in the TII 2022 workplan. The move led to much criticism at a recent meeting of Monaghan County Council and has dismayed many of those that travel the road from as far away as Donegal and Derry. It was seen as a critical element of the A5/N2 cross border route that has been central in many peace negotiations.
Deputy Carthy was engaging with the Chief Executive of TII, Peter Walsh, at the Public Accounts Committee last week. Mr. Walsh told the Cavan Monaghan representative that the body will follow the instructions of the department of Transport – meaning a government prioritisation of the project will see it proceed speedily. The Sinn Féin TD has since called on Minister Heather Humphreys to ensure that government deliver funding in 2022.
The engagement between Deputy Carthy and TII went as follows:
Deputy Matt Carthy: Transport Infrastructure Ireland is one of these organisations that finds itself in a bind, because whenever it is doing something that is welcome in a local community, it is the Minister who has delivered that. However, whenever it is postponing or suspending projects, that is on TII.
I want to try to figure out where the line is drawn in terms of political decisions versus TII’s input. For example, are roads that would be included in the national development plan, NDP, decided by the Ministers and the Department or does TII tell the Department and Ministers which roads need to be included in that NDP based on an objective criteria?
Mr. Peter Walsh – Chief Executive TII: At the time of the preparation of an NDP, the Department of Transport consults with us and other agencies. We would identify areas of the network that we believe require and warrant intervention. It is a matter then for the Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the elected representatives to approve an NDP, which we will then deliver. What we may have submitted does not always come through.
Matt Carthy: TII would send the Department a list, I presume in order, of what it thinks are the most critical road projects or transport projects?
Peter Walsh: “It is not as straightforward as that. There are policy decisions set down by Government that need to be honoured and followed. For instance, if the commitment to the protection and renewal of the network is placed as a very high priority, then that, obviously, becomes a first priority for us.
Matt Carthy: Of the existing network?
Peter Walsh: Yes, of the existing network. Therefore, we would need to meet those costs or advise Government and the Department of those costs. Where there is a commitment to projects at construction and there are contracts in place and those bills have to be met, that then becomes a priority that needs to be met. Where there is Cabinet approval to proceed with a project into planning, as part of expending code process, such as, for example, the Galway ring road or Foynes-Limerick, then those projects have a priority because there is a commitment to it. Therefore, the consequences of those need to be dealt with. Where there is a policy that says that we need to upgrade the access to ports, then the likes of Cork to Ringaskiddy, Foynes-Limerick or Oligate to Rosslare has a priority. The current 2022 allocations reflect the upcoming commitment to the Government’s Town Centre First policy that is imminent. All of those priority areas, as identified by Government, have to be reflected in the projects that we bring forward.
Matt Carthy: To clarify, let us say we are at the preparation stage of the NDP, so TII has done all that work. It has brought its analysis of the Government commitments and the projects, I presume, from its own members of staff or input from local authorities. It has outlined other national areas that perhaps the Government would like to consider. However, at the end of the day, it is the Department that sits down with the Minister to decide what will actually include in the NDP from that list. It then comes back to TII, which finds out what the NDP is. There may be, I presume, projects that TII has not considered on the top if its list, but all of a sudden, they are in shining lights in the NDP?
Peter Walsh: In my experience of it so far, it is generally the other way around. We had more and they were not favoured.
Matt Carthy: The Department took roads off TII’s list?
Peter Walsh: We would have identified areas of the network that required and warranted intervention, but they did not make it on to the NDP.
Matt Carthy: Perhaps it is just as well because Mr. Walsh said that TII cannot fund the ones that are there.
Peter Walsh: Is the Deputy referring to my paper to the transport committee?
Matt Carthy: No, in terms of the projects being moving to planning and upgrade stage, TII has dropped eight of them in terms of funding for 2022.
Peter Walsh: Yes, for 2022.
Matt Carthy: Therefore, if there were more projects within the NDP, there would have been more projects that would not have received funding from TII.
Peter Walsh: We have to work within the funding that is available to us.
Matt Carthy: That is the next part of the question. How does TII decide the projects it will not proceed with? Where does the relationship with the Department of Transport fit in?
Peter Walsh: The priority list that I just went through determines which schemes have a priority in terms of getting allocations. We allocate the funds required to meet the commitments that each of those projects will have in 2022. As things stand, we have quite a number of projects at construction, so they are at first priority in terms of ensuring that all the bills arising out of them are met. Whatever is left after that is what we allocate in accordance with those priorities of connections to ports, Town Centre First and so on.
It is then a matter of how much we have. It could be a case that a particular project is very large and the bills that are likely to arise in the short term in order to do ground investigations or topographical or environmental surveys could be very expensive and we cannot afford it that year. However, as we understand the funding profile from the Department, it improves dramatically in the year 2026. Therefore, those projects will be progressed at that time.
Matt Carthy: I am trying to identify in the here and now – 2022. For an example that I would know of, the N2, has two pieces, which are Carrickmacross to Ardee and the Clontibret to the Border road schemes. Nobody who has ever driven that road would say anything other than the priority would be the northern end, because that road is in a more dangerous position than the southern road. However, TII made a decision to proceed with the southern stretch. Why was that?
Peter Walsh: I do not know if I can give the Deputy absolute reasons here. Both were considered and the one that was better able to progress in 2022, as I recall, was the section to Castleblayney. Clontibret to the Border does not have the same accident history and, as such, the prioritisation was given to the more southern section.
Matt Carthy: Mr. Walsh previously mentioned that, in terms of criteria, in some instances there is Government approval to proceed to planning. Does TII have to prioritise that?
Peter Walsh: Yes.
Matt Carthy: For those projects that were dropped, for example, if the Government made a political decision that these are priority projects and that was conveyed to TII through the Department of Transport, would it then have to revise its annual plans?
Peter Walsh: It is open to the Minister to direct us to undertake any action. If the Department advises of a particular policy imperative that requires the progression of a particular project, of course we would take that seriously. I do not know how to answer beyond that.
Matt Carthy: Mr. Walsh answered it very fairly. Essentially, what Mr. Walsh is saying to us – and correct me if I am wrong – is that the NDP was launched with bells and whistles, but there was no funding or not enough funding for TII to be able to implement and deliver the roads element of it, and it may have funding in 2026.
Peter Walsh: I should differentiate between the first five years, 2021-2025, and the years 2026-2030. As we understand the funding profile, there are sufficient funds in the overall plan.
Matt Carthy: However, TII is not getting it until 2026?
Peter Walsh: Correct.
Matt Carthy: In 2026, the people who are currently in government will probably be sipping piña coladas somewhere and enjoying their retirement.
In the short term, I take it that these projects are shelved.
Peter Walsh: They are not shelved.
Matt Carthy: Will Mr. Walsh explain what is the status of these eight road projects?
Peter Walsh: They are valid projects. They are on our books and with the local authority. We are not in a position to fund them in a meaningful way to allow them to progress over the next couple of years. We will pick them up as soon as funding will allow. We have to work within the funding we have.
Matt Carthy: In cases where delays transpire due to lack of funding, is it Mr. Walsh’s experience that the overall cost increases if those delays are prolonged? By the time TII goes back to the project, new planning considerations can mean some of the work that was previously undertaken has to be redone.
Peter Walsh: A delay in any project will result in it being more expensive. That is true for all sorts of reasons.
Matt Carthy: Beyond inflationary and natural cycles, are they more expensive? For the eight projects in question, work has already been done to some degree on all of them. That may be feasibility studies or more technical matters. If progress is stalled or suspended and it takes longer to do it, and bearing in mind that general increases happen over time, is it fair to say there will be additional costs as a result of those delays because some of the work will have to be carried out again?
Peter Walsh: It may be for inflation reasons alone, but I think it is fair to say it will cost more.
Matt Carthy: Okay. To clarify, can the Department decide that the decision is wrong, that it wants the project to be prioritised in 2022 and that the current plans will have to be revised?
Mr. Peter Walsh: If the Department instructs us to do so, we would generally accept that. I cannot think of any circumstance where we would resist.