THE N/M20 Cork-to-Limerick Road Improvement Scheme is a key element in Project Ireland 2040, the Government’s long-term strategy to make Ireland a better country.
The National Development Plan sets out that the N/M20 Cork-to-Limerick scheme would better connect Ireland’s second- and third-largest cities by improving the transport network. This would increase safety and reduce travel times.
A number of road-and-rail options have been shortlisted to improve the connection between the two counties. There are also Active Travel proposals for improved infrastructure for walking and cycling to be developed, after the preferred option is selected later this year.
Navy Option: Commencing on the existing N20 at Killeens, this option heads offline to the east of the N20, via Stoneview, Tullig, Rathduff, east of Mallow, Twopothouse, Ballyhea, east of Charleville, and continues on to Limerick.
Green Option: Commencing on the existing N20 at Killeens, this option follows the N20 via Blarney, Waterloo, and Rathduff, until Mourneabbey, where it heads offline to the east of the N20 and joins with the navy option to the southeast of Mallow.
Orange Option: Departing from the navy option south of Ballyhea, the orange option heads offline to the west of the N20 and Charleville, via Clashganniv and Kiltoohig, and continues on to Limerick.
T1 Option: Comprised of localised, online improvements to the existing N20 between Cork and Limerick to address collision blackspots, road alignment, and junction issues. Safety-and-capacity improvements of the existing N20 junctions through Mallow are being assessed and considered. Local bypasses to the west of Buttevant and east of Charleville are also being considered.
T2 Option: Follows the green option along the existing N20 from Kileens, via Blarney and Waterloo, until south of Rathduff, where it heads offline to the east of the N20, following the navy option east of Mallow and Buttevant. North of Buttevant, the T2 option is the same as the T1 option, with localised, online improvements and a local bypass to the east of Charleville.
RS1 Option: Improved rail services and frequency between Cork and Limerick, via Mallow, Charleville, and Limerick Junction. This option would remove the requirement to change trains at Limerick Junction for a new ‘no change’ service using existing Cork-to-Limerick rail lines. The new Cork-to-Limerick service would stop at Mallow, Charleville, and Limerick Junction.
RS2a Option: Improved rail services and frequency between Cork and Limerick, with new rail line between Charleville and Limerick, via Bruree and Croom. The new Cork-to-Limerick service would stop at Mallow, Charleville, and potential new stations.
RS2b Option: Improved rail services and frequency between Cork and Limerick, with new rail line between Charleville and Limerick, via Fedamore and Ballyneety. The new Cork-to-Limerick service would stop at Mallow, Charleville, and potential new stations.
The proposed motorway, which was first mooted back in 2008, continues to be contentious.
Numerous residents’ associations have formed in opposition to the proposed plans.
Residents’ groups are fearful that their communities will be divided if their route is chosen. They have suggested alternative plans to a motorway, which they hope will be taken on board. A decision is expected to be made on the preferred route by the third quarter of this year.
Whitechurch residents have mobilised in opposition to the navy route, which they say could potentially rip communities apart. Their spokesperson, Dee Hosford, says the community is united in its opposition to the motorway.
“It comes up through mainly residential areas and once it passes through Whitechurch, it is coming through prime agricultural land,” Ms Hosford says.
“We are objecting to it on behalf of residents who are going to lose their homes under compulsory-purchase orders and the agricultural side of things would see their prime land ruined. One farm, in particular, is going to be cut in four.”
Ms Hosford says she wants common sense to prevail.
“We want the planners to look at the existing option of the N20,” Ms Hosford says. “We would be hoping they will put a dual carriageway from outside Blarney to outside Mallow and open it up to the motorway from thereon. If they go with the T2-route option, it is the most cost-effective and it will have minimal disruption on properties and agriculture.
“The proposed motorway plan is a huge waste of money. It is like somebody in Limerick got a blue marker and drew a line to Cork.”
Should the navy option be selected, Ms Hosford says the Whitechurch residents’ group will oppose it. “We will fight them all the way. We will go to every court. We are ready for that, if required,” she says.
Colin Hannan, who lives, and runs a business, in Lavalley, three miles from Mallow town, is also concerned about the M20 plans.
“It is a complete ‘no’ to the motorway or dual carriageway for us, because either of those options would impact us significantly,” Mr Hannan says.
“The only options for us are rail, or else upgrading the N20. I think the smaller train stations need to be opened up again. An upgrade of the existing N20 would be the second favourable option. There are options for it to be upgraded without taking houses or property off it.”
Mr Hannan says he was disappointed with the level of communication, which has upset a number of his neighbours.
“They are asking us to make life-changing decisions and yet communication has been very poor,” Mr Hannan says. “Residents are angry and confused. We teach 170 children every week. We have a section here for autism and early intervention. The proximity of the motorway to our land would mean my business would close.”
Jonathan Healy, who is the co-chair of the Waterloo Access Group, is hopeful, whatever route is chosen, that the local residents will still be able to get from one side of the road to the other.
“We appreciate the existing N20 is not fit for purpose,” Mr Healy says. “Actions need to be taken to improve safety more than anything else, but whether it is the green or blue route, we don’t particularly mind, as long as we can maintain access from one side, from the Waterloo side to the Whitechurch side. As a grouping, we can’t afford to lose our junction.”
Other Waterloo residents are affected by the green option, such as Cliona Browne, who says this proposed route would have severe repercussions for her area.
“This is the third time residents on the green route have had to deal with this issue,” Ms Browne says. “A lot of residents in Waterloo received notice of CPO to facilitate an underpass during the motorway proposal in 2010. We would have been, basically, left living in a roundabout. We are extremely worried. A motorway, which carries that much traffic through such a built-up area, will affect too many people’s lives.”
Mourneabbey residents have also expressed their concerns about the proposed M20-route options, which would divide their community and affect up to 300 acres of farmland.
Declan Walsh, chairperson of Mourneabbey Irish Farmers’ Association, says all the residents are opposed to the two proposed routes.
“Upgrading the existing N20 is the best option,” Mr Walsh says. “It can run all the way to Mallow and even beyond. Their proposed plans will remove rich farmland, out of commission for ever.
“It would run through 13 dairy farms. They are going to split other farms. It is also going to cut across six roads, which are the artery of the community.”
Mourneabbey farmer James Fitzgerald is also worried about the impact another divide would have on the close-knit community.
“It would really compromise my daily life as a farmer, as it would come through my farm,” Mr Fitzgerald says. “It would be a nightmare, from a residential and farming perspective. It would cut families, friends, and neighbours apart from each other.”
In contrast, John Lee, who is a member of Buttevant Community Council of Muintir na Tire, says that a motorway would be beneficial for the town.
“We are in favour of the motorway,” Mr Lee says. “It would alleviate major traffic problems. The motorway would reduce the volume of traffic and the town would be more pleasurable for residents and might entice more people to stop.
“We will be looking for a closer link to the motorway, on and off. If the motorway does not go ahead, they will have to do up the N20, because the amount of commercial traffic on that road is huge,” he says.
Ian Doyle, who is a resident, a public representative, and a business owner in Charleville, would be in favour of upgrading the N20 to a dual carriageway.
“The view shared by the local chamber is to upgrade the N20 to a dual-carriageway status and put in a singular bypass from the northern side of Charleville to the southern side of Charleville,” Mr Doyle says. “This would be the most cost-effective and the best for all communities. Our main concern is a total bypass, or a new route, will hinder the growth of Charleville. If the motorway happens, one of the main things for us is the exit-and-entry points.”
Blarney residents are also worried about the proposed green route, says resident Niamh O’Sullivan.
“From an engineering, environmental, planning, and housing-provision perspective, the green route is completely at odds with the local area development plan for Blarney,” Ms O’Sullivan says.
“The existing estates — Castle Gardens, Ard Dara, Aisling Geal, Ard na Greine, plus all the individual homes in the area — form a large part of the existing Blarney housing stock.
“Moreover, the surrounding greenfield lands are all zoned for future housing. They form the proposed ‘Ring Wood’ and the ‘Stoneview’ development areas, which would provide over 90% of Blarney’s new housing needs for the next 20 years. All of this land borders the existing N20 and the development plan would be totally undermined if the green route were to be selected,” Ms O’Sullivan says.
Linda O’Leary, who is the secretary of the Castle Garden Residents’ Association, in Blarney, expressed the residents’ fears about the proposed M20.
“There will be major financial impacts on residents, because properties will be devalued or even possessed and families forced to relocate.”
Liam Madden, Fine Gael councillor, has sympathy for all the community and residents’ groups that are fearful of the impact a motorway would have on their lives.
“We need extra safety measures. I would like to see all the options explored,” Mr Madden says.
Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central, Thomas Gould, is hopeful that any decision on the route of the M20 will be the least impactful.
“Every effort must be made to ensure that the interests of residents are central to the decision-making process,” Mr Gould says.
Liam Quaide, Green Party councillor, says a continuous dual carriageway is the best option.
“We are recommending a comprehensive rail network, with new stations in Blarney, Blackpool, Buttevant, Ballyhea, and Croom, as well as a new dual carriageway between Cork and Limerick that completely bypasses Rathduff, Mallow, New Twopothouse, Buttevant, Ballyhea, and Charleville,” Mr Quaide says.
Jari Howard, project co-ordinator for the Cork-Limerick scheme, has reassured residents’ groups that potential impacts will be minimised.
“The project team understands the concerns that individuals and communities experience during the planning-and-design stages,” Mr Howard says. “The public will be kept informed of the decisions made and the design, as it develops. The project team will endeavour to avoid any potential impacts on people and the environment, whilst providing improved infrastructure that will benefit both the local and the wider community.”
Mr Howard expects the preferred route to be revealed in the third quarter of this year, following an extensive assessment.
“The Stage 2 assessment and appraisal will lead to the identification of the best-performing option, or combination of options, which will be taken forward as the preferred option. This will be displayed at a future public consultation, which is expected to take place in Q3 2021,” Mr Howard says.