WHERE is the €300,000 that was ring-fenced to construct a new roundabout at Rockview on the Mountrath Road in Portlaoise? That question put very forcibly by cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley at a recent meeting of Laois County Council?
The provision of a roundabout at the junction of the Rockview housing estate/Mountrath Road and the Link Road has been ongoing since 2009, when a design was agreed by the council.
In February 2015, councillors were told that the roundabout would have to wait until four other roundabouts in Portlaoise were completed. At that meeting, cllr Catherine Fitzgerald asked how much it would cost to install the roundabout, only to be told by a council engineer: “How long is a piece of string?”
Then in June 2016, despite consultants being paid to draw up plans for a new roundabout layout and design, the council said that it had to re-advertise for consultants to draw up new plans for the same roundabout because “of changes to engineering standards”.
In February 2017, they were informed by an engineer that the council “will procure consultants to undertake the design and progress to construction, subject to funding being available.”
Two months later, local councillors were informed by a director of services that: “The re-design of the roundabout is under consideration as part of further information on the planning application for this development.”
In September of the same year, agreement had been reached on a design for the junction, but a planning application for a development in the area was in progress.
Now some three years on, there’s still no advance on a new roundabout at the junction and cllr Dwane Stanley wanted to know where is the €300,000 that was put aside for the roundabout.
She said: “I asked recently where that money was and I was told there’s no funding available for the roundabout. I want an answer. Where’s the €300,000?”
Director of services Donal Brennan said: “The money for the roundabout comes from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. In 2019, we weren’t successful in obtaining funding, but we’ll put in another application for funding.”
Cllr Dwane Stanley said: “I’m just asking what happened to the €300,000.”
Replying, the council’s head of finance Gerry Murphy said: “That funding is still there. The €300,000 is still there.”
Cllr Willie Aird said: “If €300,000 is available, why isn’t the work being done? I also want to know who decided that there would be changes to the roundabout and have two entrances into the estate.”
Cllr Fitzgerald said: “Is this roundabout being done, or is it not being done? It’s been hopped from Billy to Jack for years. We want clarity on what is happening.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney said: “This is an issue of huge concern to local residents. All you have to do now is to go up there and see what can only be described as a piece of graffiti on the road where a roundabout is supposed to be.”
The council’s chief executive John Mulholland agreed with councillors that “the roundabout on the Mountrath Road is in a terrible state.”
He said that because of the new design layout, the €300,000 that had been set aside for the original roundabout would not be adequate. He also stated that an application to fund the additional works had been sought as an addition to the application for funding for the Portlaoise Southern Circular Road, but that application had been unsuccessful.
He said what was now needed was “to update the cost estimates and request the department to release the funding we need. The money that was put aside (€300,000) is still there, but it’s not enough for the job to be done.”
Cllr Willie Aird said: “Planning permission was approved in that area to build houses and for a second roundabout. Will it be down to Laois County Council to fund this one or the developer?”
Director of services Michael Rainey replied: “It’s not the developer.”
“So,” asked cllr Aird, “If we have to provide the funding for this second roundabout, does that mean we won’t have funding to construct the original one?”
Cllr Fitzgerald said that there are no new plans for a second roundabout. She stated that what was planned for the Rockview area would see the existing entrance to the estate closed at the roundabout, which would be left in place, and another entrance/exit to the estate opened some 100 yards further up on the Mountrath Road. She said that those exiting the estate at the proposed new opening would be prohibited from turning right, forcing them to drive up to the roundabout and back down in the town direction.
“That’s not going to work,” warned cllr Aird.