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End of road for Ballina’s N26?

End of road for Ballina’s N26?

> €5m already spent on road that looks doomed
> Minister says he will ‘deal with it’ as a matter of urgency

Anna-Marie Flynn

Minister of State Dara Calleary has refused to ‘give up’ on the second phase of the N26  – despite An Bord Pleanala’s shock decision to turn down the multi-million euro project last week.
The Ballina-based TD will now bring the issue to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley, as a ‘matter of urgency’, stating: “I am not giving up on the N26. This is a significant setback but, working alongside Mayo County Council officials, I will deal with it.”
Minister Calleary told The Mayo News he is ‘deeply disappointed and frustrated’ at the decision of the planning appeals board not to approve the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for the 19km second stage linking Ballina and Bohola.
“The implications of the decision have the potential to delay this project for a considerable lenght of time. I am frustrated because (a) the decision process took so long, over two years, and (b) the inspector’s report appears to have been overturned.
This is major infrastructural project and indications of any potential difficulties should have been presented before this,” he said.
Despite the submission of an application to the board in October 2007, it took until last Thursday for the appeals authority to announce it had refused planning permission for the long awaited stage two of the route.
Stage one was completed six years ago, closely followed by selection of a preferred route for stage two.  In February 2008, oral hearings were heard by the board and despite a spend of over €5 million on design to date, the future of the road is now in serious doubt.
While the inspector had originally given the project the green light, the board overturned this decision. In reaching its decision board members took into consideration the status of the River Moy as a salmon angling resource of major international importance, the designation of the Moy as a special area of conservation, and of part of the Moy Valley as a proposed natural heritage area. Existing and future predicted traffic volumes on the N26 and the recent upgrade of the N26 (stage 1) between Ballina and Mount Falcon were also taken into account.
In its report, the board claimed that it had not been demonstrated that the proposed road scheme, designed to dual carriageway standard with two major bridge crossings of the Moy, was justified and stated it would “constitute an unacceptable intrusion into the Moy river valley and its designated habitats, and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”. It also noted that ‘a more modest upgrade may be acceptable which complements the important resource of the river Moy’.
As the details of the decision emerged last week, local people and business interests spoke out against the move and vocalising fears that lack of infrastructure will spell doom for north Mayo. Chair of the Roads and Transportation SPC, Cllr Jarlath Munnelly described the news as an “enormous setback for the entire county”.
“This is a major blow – I know that those words are frequently used to describe bad decisions, but in my view, this is the end of this road project. Connecting Mayo with the major towns, airports and seaports is essential for future business, and for our economic survival. This decision has basically stated that we don’t need a good road between Ballina and Dublin. In that case, we will be heading back into the dark ages in County Mayo,” he said.