Further delay possible as minister asks for route 'options' on Limerick–Cork M20

Donal O’Regan and Nick Rabbitts

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Donal O’Regan and Nick Rabbitts

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Deputy Niall Collins tabled a Dail question on the route

Deputy Niall Collins tabled a Dail question on the route

MINISTER Shane Ross has asked Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to look at route ‘options’ for the Limerick to Cork motorway, which could delay the stop-start project for up to three years.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe have both said the €1 billion project is certain to be included in the government’s 10-year capital plan later this month. However, what is not so certain is the route.

When the project was shelved in 2011 due to the economic downturn, the plan was for an 80km motorway from the junction with the N21 at Attyflynn to the proposed Cork northern ring road near Blarney. The corridor chosen was to run to the west of the current N20. Up to 3,000 attended public consultation days on the route options.

In the intervening years there have been many calls for a shorter motorway from Limerick to Cahir, which would then link with the M8 and Cork.

To “seek clarity for his constituents”, Deputy Niall Collins tabled a Dail question to the Minister for Transport. He asked: “Will the proposed M20 follow the route previously planned or will the planning now being undertaken by TII assess alternative routes?”

Minister Ross replied: “In relation to the Cork to Limerick strategic road link, as stipulated in the Public Spending Code and this Department's Capital Appraisal Guidelines, TII is required to carry out a detailed appraisal, including options analysis." 

The Limerick Leader understands that if the TII is allowed dust off plans for the corridor chosen it could get the project to An Bord Pleanala by 2020. Construction work could then start by 2021 / 2022 with possible completion in 2027 / 2028. However, if they have to go back to the drawing board it will add a minimum of three years. Deputy Collins said landowners on the chosen corridor have been “living in limbo” since the project was stopped.

“They haven't been able to plan for the future. It is hanging over them. They need to know if the motorway is going to be in that corridor or not. The answer I got back implies they are being asked to start from scratch and that the TII is being tasked with looking at all options. Landowners across the south of the county don't know where they stand,” said Deputy Collins. He said this epitomises Fine Gael's “spin over substance” tactics.

“Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a big statement last October that the project will be included in the 10-year capital plan. On Friday, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said it is seen as a ‘top priority in government circles’. They are all talk but still no actual answers of where it is going to go. It was a simple question,” said Deputy Collins.

Following a query from the Leader, a TII spokesperson said: “TII is anticipating working with Limerick County Council and engage with consultants on reviewing options for the Limerick to Cork strategic road link as required in the Departments Capital Appraisal Guidelines. Over the last few months a review has been on-going to see which elements of the previous M20 route selection process can be utilised to assist with future route option analysis.”

A media query to the Department of Transport went unanswered. After a follow up email, they said “it would be best to talk to TII on project itself”. As the department has responsibility for overall policy and funding the Leader sent two more emails asking for clarity. There was no response.

Gerald Quain farms on, or very near, the previously chosen corridor in Creggane / Colmanswell on the Limerick side of Charleville.

“There’s no question but that farmers in the north Cork and south Limerick areas who are on the route now find themselves in a kind of limbo where they are unable to plan or commit to their farming ventures until they know the actual route envisaged and the various sub-options around that. We’re ‘on hold’ in terms of how we’ll be farming and farming, as everyone should know, is all about planning ahead.

“Detailed route plans have to be made as quickly as possible and then those plans have to communicated to the farmers concerned – without prejudice to their rights – and with every respect for the individual landowners.

“I’ll conclude by pointing out that this south Limerick-north Cork region probably accounts for 15% to 20% of all the milk produced in the state – it’s the heart of the Golden Vale and probably the best natural milk-producing region in the EU – this isn’t any kind of low value waste ground or scrub that we’re talking about here,” said Mr Quain.

After Minister Donohoe’s comments on Friday where he said the M20 is a “top priority”,  Dr James Ring, Limerick Chamber chief executive, said he would be interested to see timescales.

“We cannot rest up just yet. It's all well and good to say we are going to build a road. Obviously I’m aware of the fact that the routes may be have to be looked at again. This time last year it wasn’t on the agenda at all. It is a priority which is great to hear. But in terms of a timescale, we want it to happen as soon as possible. We cannot afford to wait five or ten years for this to start.

“It’s worth noting we are meeting with the secretary general in the department this month to discuss, not just the M20 but to discuss transport infrastructure in general. But we will be relaying to him just how important it is that this road starts as fast as possible,” said Dr Ring.