Monday 26 April is the last day to make a submission on the public consultation process for the largest section of motorway yet to be proposed in Ireland – some 80 km between Cork and Limerick. Submissions must be with An Bord Pleanála before 5.30pm. Unless you are a statutory consultee, or are set to lose land to the proposed motorway, an “observer fee” of €50 is payable (for more details see http://www.corkrdo.ie/files/M20 CPO data/Newspaper Ad/Cork County Council 36882 CPO Examiner Advert R2.pdf)
Over the past few weeks I’ve been fielding queries on the proposed route – everything from how much agricultural land will be lost (more than 2,400 acres) to when An Bord Pleanala is likely to issue a decision (end of August 2010).
One gentlemen sent me a list of 6 questions. They focus more on the financial side than the environmental one. Below I reproduce his questions, together with my answers.
Q 1. Ireland is building the proposed M20 (Limerick/Cork Motorway) through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and can you confirm to me that the Irish Government will guarantee the project and so the Irish taxpayer. Where will the initial €800 million come from, which is the estimated cost of the M20 project?
A) The proposed M20 project is to be considered for PPP, according to the public consultation documents. The PPP company takes out a loan – basically on behalf of government, and the government signs a contract to give that company the necessary interest and capital payments each year. In this way PPP is a means of borrowing off the Government’s balance sheet. However, the government actual pays more over the life of the project because the borrowing, technically speaking, is not sovereign (Government) debt, and borrowing by private companies is always dearer than by governments.
Q 2. Is the European Investment Bank (EIB) or the European Development Bank expected to financially support the M20 motorway project?
A) On 29 March 2010 the Vice-president of the European Investment Bank, Plutarchos Sakellaris, in a visit to Dublin said that his institution “was examining the possibility of part-funding the proposed N17- N18 Gort to Tuam Public Private Partnership motorway project”, noting that “if completed this would form part of a second western transport corridor between Cork, Limerick and Galway”. Click here for source
The proposed Gort to Tuam motorway is more developed in planning terms than Limerick to Cork (proposed M20). Going on Mr Sakellaris comments above it seems likely that EIB finance will also be sought for the proposed Cork to Limerick motorway.
Q 3. Do you know how much the Irish Government is raising per month to run the country? My understanding is €2 billion!
A) The Department of Finance is likely to borrow €19bn in 2010, which amounts to 1.6bn a month, or about 400m a week.
Q 3. You mentioned the National Development Plan (NDP) for roads yet I understand the Irish authorities are saying that they have no Plan or Programme for roads so how are they able to avoid acknowledging it as a Plan?
A) There was a requirement under the 1993 Roads Act to produce a roads plan for the whole country, mapping out a strategic vision of how Ireland would be interconnected by road, something that would show how duplication and waste in motorway construction would be avoided. However, the requirement to produce this plan was abolished in 2007.
Plans or programmes must be subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) under European Law. However, the NRA claim to have no plan as such: projects are simply progressed on the basis of Transport 21. The NRA and the Government further claim that the Transport 21 plan isn’t a plan, but is more of a list of schemes. The government’s case is that because there was no legal obligation on it to compile Transport 21, it is not a plan it had to make, and is therefore not a plan under the SEA Directive.
Q 4. Has the Irish Government ever received any money from Europe for road projects?
A) Yes, since joining in 1973 “Ireland has received €58 billion in funding from Europe, including some €17.5 billion since 1989 from the Structural and Cohesion Funds. In addition, the European Investment Bank (EIB) has lent almost €10 billion to the Irish economy since
1973 ( click here for source)
It is also possible to see which projects were funded or part-funded by the EU, click here.
Q 5. Do you know what Ireland’s total debt and the size of its budget is? How much of the spending side of its budget is made up by taxation and how much is the shortfall that has to be borrowed?
A) In 2010 Ireland will take in around 50bn but has a current annual spending requirement of around 70bn; hence the need to borrow close to €20 bn in 2010.
Ireland’s national debt has increased from €45 bn in 2008 and now stands at in excess of €75bn: see http://www.ntma.ie/NationalDebt/levelOfDebt.php
Our national debt is expected to double within 4 years, jumping to €150bn by 2014.
In 2008 some €2.6bn was spent servicing the national debt. By 2015 that figure will reach almost €8bn.
This is considered the optimistic scenario. See http://www.ronanlyons.com/2009/12/22/what-will-irelands-government-finances-be-like-in-2015-a-five-year-view-on-the-budget/
Q 6. Any other information that you think might be helpful.
A) Motorway has already been constructed between Cork city and Cahir, part-funded by the EU. This route is known as the M8. At Cahir the M8 intersects with the N24 running between Limerick and Waterford. The NRA has already indicated its intention to enhance the N24, with dual carriageway proposed for at least some of the route:
Less than 3,500 vehicles a day make long distance journeys between Limerick and Cork, including going the whole way between both cities. Traffic count data shows that there are only an average of 11,000 vehicles on half the route, the 40km section between Croom and New Twopothouse. The only sections of the route that see robust traffic levels are the 20km north of Cork, and the 20km south of Limerick used be commuters.
Of the 11,000 vehicles on the low-flow 40km section (between Croom to New Twopothouse) at least 70 cent constitutes local traffic making reasonably short journeys. So 7,700 vehicles are making local trips while 3,300 are longer distance. Only the longer distance traffic will migrate to motorway. This is especially true in the case of Croom to New Twopothouse because the proposed motorway departs quite radically from the existing road alignment, avoiding the very towns from which the demand to make local journeys derives.
Motorway has capacity for 50,000 – 80,000 vehicles. Hence if motorway was built between Croom and New Twopothouse it would be a chronically low-flow section, operating at c. 5 per cent capacity.
The alternative approach is to stream the approx 3,300 longer distance vehicles on to the M8 and improved N24. (Hence, travelling from Cork, long distance traffic wishing to avail of high quality road could be accommodated on the M8 motorway as far as Cahir, and from there, take the enhanced N24 route to Limerick.)
With these 3,300 vehicles attracted to the eastern route described above, volumes on the section between New Twopothouse and Croom would fall to 7,700 vehicles. Upgrading the existing road – rather than a whole new motorway – is then what’s required.
Not having to construct 40km of new motorway alignment in open countryside – particularly given the heavy engineering proposed for this section – would save somewhere in the region of €400m.
The above approach would also match the Government’s most recent policy document, Smarter Travel (2009), under which car commuting to work “will fall from 65 per cent to 45 per cent” and “the overall number of kilometres travelled by road will not increase significantly”.
Although working almost a year later, those compiling the consultation documents for the proposed M20 appear to have no awareness of Smarter Travel.