Cork-Limerick motorway ‘viable’, says Michael Noonan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has suggested the Cork-Limerick motorway could be built as long as tolls are included.

Cork-Limerick motorway ‘viable’, says Michael Noonan

Speaking at the Budgetary Oversight Committee, he said the €800m project could not be funded alone by the State as it was “way beyond what was affordable” but that it might be viable if tolling was applied.

If the M20 could be shown to be able to generate an income flow to service borrowings, he said, the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat would allow it to be kept off the national balance sheet.

He said public-private partnerships could also be the answer to other infrastructural projects around the country.

It gives fresh hope for M20 campaigners who say the motorway is vital if regional imbalance is to be addressed.

The need to upgrade the Cork-Limerick road was first mooted in 1998 but the economic crash of 2008 put paid to the project.

In 2011, then Transport Minister Leo Varadkar officially declared the project stalled, saying there was no money available. His successors have toed the same line, while Mr Noonan had until now poured cold water on the idea.

The favoured M20 route, from the junction with the proposed Cork northern ring road near Blarney to the junction with the N21 at Attyflynn in Limerick, would reduce travel time between Blarney and Attyflynn from 61 to 45 minutes.

A survey of 2,000 businesses along the route is being undertaken by Cork and Limerick Chambers to examine the socio-economic benefits of the M20.

Regarding house prices, Mr Noonan denied that the help-to-buy scheme had any bearing on rising costs, saying “that is not the way it works”. He said the 1,000 people who had received assistance under the help- to-buy scheme, at a cost of €10m, had no impact on rising prices.

“That money could not possibly affect prices,” said Mr Noonan. “It is too small a quantum. The scheme is designed for young couples to have a house. There are no circumstances in which an injection of €10m into the housing market since Christmas could have risen prices.

“The rising of prices is principally due to supply and demand.”

Mr Noonan said local authorities could allow more high-rise planning permission in urban centres in order to ease demand, saying young couples and single people in many cases would like to live in such apartments.

Local authorities should allow another five- or six- storey extensions on top of Dublin residential sites but were loath to do it, he said.

“It doesn’t have to be Manhattan or anything like that,” he said.

The minister said he was “unashamedly in favour” of the UK negotiating an agreement that allowed free trade with the EU.

“That would mean no tariffs,” said Mr Noonan. “We have €1.2bn travelling to and from the UK every week in trade. There are 400,000 jobs involved. That is what is at risk.”

Mr Noonan was speaking to the committee regarding the so-called Stability Programme, which sets out the Government’s macroeconomic and fiscal forecasts for the EU.

He said that the “continuation of robust growth cannot be taken for granted” as there were a number of significant risks, including Brexit, that could potentially derail the recovery.

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