Pictured at Monday's meeting were (from left): PRO, Anthony Moore, Chairman Richard Cooney, former MAyor of Drogheda Frank Maher and Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Transport, Robert Troy TD.
I picked up a bug somewhere along the line on Monday and by 8.00 pm when I arrived at Barlow House for a public meeting organised by Fianna Fail to discuss Drogheda’s long-awaited Port Access Northern Cross Route (PANCR) it was turning into a severe case of man flu.
Half an hour later I was coughing and sweating profusely. It may have been the man flu or it could have had something to do with the temperature of the air in the room.
There was quite a crowd at the meeting and they had lots they wanted to talk about, there are elections on the horizon don’t forget.
But the main item on the agenda, the PANCR, is a plan that was hatched 20 or so years ago by a group of property developers, which was given the go-ahead from the planning authorities 14 years ago.
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That was at the height of the property boom and it seemed to the faithful and the wishful thinkers of the time that Bertie might have been right when he said the boom was “getting boomier.”
Except, of course, he was wrong. Soon after the PANCR got the permissions it needed the bubble burst and the rest is, as they say, history.
In essence the idea is sound insofar as it could well play a major role in solving two of Drogheda’s big problems – the housing crisis and the dreadful traffic situation which is exacerbated by the large numbers of Heavy Goods Vehicles using the streets of the town to access Drogheda Port and other local industries.
The plan is to build a 5.6 km stretch of road linking Drogheda Port to the motorway network at Killineer. This would open up large swathes of land to development for housing and community activities use such as sports facilities. It sounds like a no-brainer but, as one speaker put it, hardly a sod of soil has been turned.
Introducing the topic the secretary of the Fianna Fail South Louth/East Meath Comhairle Ceantair, Tomás O’hEochaidh, said the purpose of the meeting was to raise the issue with the people who would be making the decisions – “It’s only by us being determined and committed that will it actually happen” he said.
Cllr. Tommy Byrne said he was a councillor in 2005 when the plans were passed but, even after all the delays, he was still confident that the project could be completed in five years. It was, he said, the critical missing link to allow Drogheda to realise its full potential.
He said that the Government should show leadership by funding the new road which would eventually be paid for by contributions or levies from the housing developers.
The need for leadership on the matter was a common theme for many of the speakers including the former President of Drogheda Chamber of Commerce, civil engineer Eddie Phelan, who said it was a good idea at the time but unfortunately it was done “… at a time of madness when money was no issue and everything could be done.”
“There were also development contributions of €24,000 attached to each house to be built which, as soon as the market dropped in 2008, made the scheme unworkable.
“From a Chamber viewpoint, we would love to see something like that going forward but it needs an organisation of some sort that is going to push for funding for development and then open up the lands to developers.”
Drogheda FF’s PRO, Anthony Moore, said that the people of Drogheda had showed the people of Ireland and people from around the world who attended the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann the great town that Drogheda is and what a great future lies ahead of it.
“But unfortunately the Government does not agree” he said. “This year, as we all know, it relegated us to an afterthought in the 2040 development plan and it rebuffed our claim for city status.”
“It is now equally dismissive of our demand for developing the Northern Cross Route” he said.
“If this development goes ahead we will see 7,000 new homes built in this town, bringing talent and investment in their wake.
Frank Maher who was Mayor of Drogheda when the Northern Cross route plan was first put forward, said that at the time people thought it was going to happen very quickly but it didn’t for the reasons that we all know.
“Looking back on it, maybe that might have not have been an entirely bad thing because I would have a different view now on how the town should grow and how we should make our town sustainable and a good place for people to live.
“I think Eddie has put his finger on it, for something like this to work somebody needs to lead it, to coordinate it and to drive it.
“But I notice from the Minister’s (Shane Ross) reply that Deputy Breathnach has circulated, that his Department has no grant application on hand in relation to the proposed Drogheda Northern Cross Access Road.
“So here we have Louth County Council who are the primary body responsible for this plan and according to the Minister there is no current application for funding. That would indicate to me that the project is on the back burner and they’re not really interested in it.
“I hope that this meeting and, others like it that need to happen and other groups need to get involved, will light a fire underneath the Council and make sure they put this at the top of the agenda.
“Firstly the access route itself is important to relieve the town from its traffic woes including the heavy goods traffic that’s heading for the port but secondly to open up those lands not just for housing but for parks and. It really would be good for the town and the community for that to happen.
Maher outlined several practical obstacles to the working of the Northern Cross route such as HGV drivers and hauliers opting to take the shortest and cheapest route and also needing to access the town centre for deliveries.
“At the moment my observation of this plan is that it is lost somewhere in the quagmire and unless, as Eddie says, somebody takes ownership of it and drives it forward it’s not going to happen. Maybe the way forward is to set up a separate development company, I don’t know but I fear that if we leave it to Louth County Council nothing is going to be happening and we could be here in another five or ten years talking about the same thing.
“On the issue of funding, yes the government should certainly fund the first phase but if it does open up lands for potential development then the developers have a responsibility and they must contribute as well.
“I would not be happy with the full cost of this being borne by the taxpayer. If people are going to benefit from tis in a commercial way then they must make a contribution. That’s one of the lessons we must learn from what has happened in the past. It can‘t just be public funding that comes out of everybody’s pocket. If private developers are going to make money for this then they have to put their hands in their pockets as well.
“The problem is that nothing will happen on this unless somebody takes control and at the moment nobody is taking control.”
Part two of this article will appear tomorrow – hopefully the man flu will be better by then.