AN TAISCE has made a formal complaint to the European Commission that plans for a highway between Dublin and Derry involve a “transboundary breach” of the EU’s directive requiring strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of major projects.
It also claims that the directive is being breached by the National Roads Authority (NRA) in pursuing plans for more motorways and dual-carriageways and seeks “compliance action” on an alleged breach of the Habitats Directive by the planned New Ross bypass in Co Wexford.
Describing this bypass as “the largest single intervention in an area of sensitive ecology and landscape”, the complaint notes that it would include a high-level bridge 4km south of New Ross in place of an original, more modest route immediately adjacent to the town.
The bridge “cuts through the hill at Camlin on the Co Wexford side and passes over the river Barrow, candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC), to the Pink Rock in Co Kilkenny within sight of the area around the President John F Kennedy family farmstead at Dunganstown”.
It notes that a legal challenge to An Bord Pleanála’s approval of this scheme failed in the High Court on March 2nd and says the judgment of Mr Justice Hedigan failed to have regard to the review terms of the EU directive on environmental impact assessment.
An Taisce claims the NRA “has been given virtually autonomous legal status by the Irish Government to plan, seek consents for and funding for motorway/dual-carriageway schemes, both contained in the National Development Plan and even not”.
These included the Atlantic motorway/dual-carriageway from Letterkenny, Co Donegal, running via Sligo, Knock airport, Tuam, Ennis, Limerick, Mallow, Cork and Waterford, connecting with the New Ross bypass, with a new N30 link to the N11 bypassing Clonroche, Co Wexford.
Further sections of the N11 and N2 were to be upgraded to motorway standard. “As in the case of New Ross, a genuinely needed bypass is being used as the pretext for constructing massive inter-regional motorways or dual-carriageways”, An Taisce says.
In a letter to EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik, it notes that Co Meath alone would have four motorways running through it.
“The Irish Government is also already committed to making extensive contribution to a new dual-carriageway running through Northern Ireland from the Monaghan border to Derry and the upgrading of the Belfast-Larne link,” An Taisce writes.
“The NRA is at advanced contract negotiation for the 80km Tuam to Crusheen sections of the Atlantic Corridor, and the New Ross bypass” it says, adding that plans for the M20 Limerick-Mallow-Cork section had been lodged with Bord Pleanála along with the Cork to Killarney N21.
Rather than scaling down schemes to reflect the lack of exchequer funding, the NRA and Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey were “actively working on a mechanism to subvert Government borrowing limits in finding a means to proceed with the road programme”.
This was to be achieved through either public-private partnerships (PPPs), “the plundering of the National Pension Reserve Fund or some sort of special dispensation from the European Central Bank through the European Investment Bank . . . The energy and resources being devoted to proceeding and securing funding for these road schemes and the secrecy with which it is being conducted and the lack of media or public awareness of the issues is astonishing”, it says.
Proceeding would “create a debt mountain for the next generation on top of that already incurred through the Irish banking and property collapse . . . at a time when the decarbonisation of power generation and transport ought to be the greatest priority”.