The development of the N52 Bypass schemes dates back to 2001. Part 8 planning approval for the scheme was granted by Louth County Council in June 2005 and the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) was confirmed by An Bord Pleanala in 2006. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding in the period since 2006, Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) was unable to confirm approval for the scheme to progress to construction. However, in 2018, some funding was secured and this enabled the appointment by Louth County Council, which is the road authority for the area, of technical advisors to carry out detailed design and to prepare the Business Case and tender documents.

Following re-activation of the scheme, however, a number of concerns regarding the scheme design were expressed by local communities. The concerns primarily relate to the creation of two cul-de-sacs that were included as part of the scheme in the Mullenstown/Coole area and the negative impacts that these arrangements would have on local traffic movements.

These concerns reflect the many changes that have occurred in Ardee and its environs in the intervening twelve year period. In particular, the population of the area has increased and this is reflected in the number of new homes that have been constructed in the vicinity of the scheme over recent years. 

The design of all major national road schemes, such as town bypasses, is not only about providing a strategic, safe and efficient roadway for long distance traffic. A wide range of other factors must also be taken into account, including environmental, engineering, financial, traffic patterns and the impacts of the scheme on the local community. It is, therefore, central to TII’s approach to the development and implementation of major national road schemes that the views of local communities are heard and are taken on board to the extent possible.

Accordingly, during recent months, meetings were held and detailed submissions from residents were received by Louth County Council and TII. Of particular concern in these submissions is the proposed closure of the Townspark road west of the new bypass and the closure of the Mullanstown Road east (that is on the Ardee town side) of the new bypass and the consequences of these closures.

As already stated, the views of the local community are an essential part in the design and delivery of major national road schemes. Accordingly, Louth County Council, with the support of TII, has been working to identify means of addressing the issues that have been raised by the local community. The Council’s endeavours in this regard are, however, very much constrained by the original scheme design which was statutorily approved by An Bord Pleanála and the scope of the land that was acquired for construction of the scheme.

All of the options that were identified by Louth County Council following consultation with the community would require an amendment of the planning permission and the acquisition of additional lands, if they are to be progressed.

It is within this context that, on 29 August 2019, Louth County Council sought TII approval to commence the tender competition for the construction of the scheme, as approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2006. The Council’s application was made on the basis that there would be a subsequent amendments to the junctions, if found to be warranted. Any such amendments would, it should be noted, necessarily require a separate and subsequent planning procedure.

Notwithstanding the strategic importance of this project – both locally and nationally – it is TII’s position that the Ardee Bypass scheme must provide a fit-for-purpose bypass that benefits not only long distance traffic movements but also the lives of the local community and their business and leisure activities. TII is also, of course, fully committed to achieving the maximum value for taxpayers’ money, in accordance with our obligations under the Public Spending Code.

Accordingly, as it had become clear to TII over the course of the interaction with local residents that the issues raised would have to be addressed, Louth County Council has been requested to undertake a review of the scheme design in advance of progressing to construction. The review will consider the junction strategy for the scheme and the facilities for vulnerable road users. A comprehensive public consultation process will be undertaken as part of the review to ensure that all interested parties have the opportunity to engage in an open and equitable process. Public consultation events will be held in early 2020, following the completion of a technical review of the scheme, and drawings will be provided showing viable junction alternatives and arrangements for pedestrians and cyclists. Submissions will be invited and the best technical option will then be progressed to Part 8 planning approval next year.

In parallel, the works already commenced on the ground will be concluded and the Business Case for the scheme will be updated and submitted for review, as required under the Government’s Public Spending Code. Subject to all the necessary approvals being received, it is anticipated that Louth County Council will tender the main construction contract before the end of 2020 or early 2021.

It has been suggested that TII should consider granting approval to Louth County Council to tender the project, in its current guise, and to incorporate at a later stage any design amendments that are identified and agreed following the review process. It is, however, the case that public bodies such as TII cannot sanction the tendering of projects prior to the complete finalisation of the design, scope and specification of the works that are to be delivered under the contract. Any such approach in relation to the Ardee Bypass project, which involves the investment of many millions of taxpayers’ money, would be entirely in contravention of the principles of the Public Spending Code and would inevitably leave Louth County Council/TII/the taxpayer exposed to very substantial claims under the contract. 

In summary, in circumstances where residents have voiced serious concerns regarding the impacts of the scheme on the local community, it is clearly prudent at this time to conduct a review of the scheme and to invite the views and submissions of the local community, before committing many millions of taxpayers’ money. This will ensure (a) the delivery a fit-for purpose Ardee Bypass scheme that benefits the local community and (b) the achievement of maximum value for money for the taxpayer.

TII is fully committed to delivering the national road projects that have been identified for construction in the National Development Plan, which include the N52 Ardee Bypass. Louth County Council has only paused progress on the bypass scheme as it consults with the public during a review of the project.  The Council will seek planning consent for any improvements identified and warranted following the review and TII will provide funding for project expenditure as it occurs, including the main works contract.