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No date for MetroLink, but Taoiseach says €165bn National Development Plan is 'not a wish list'

The NDP will commit to €35 billion in spending on transport up to 2030.

Image: Shutterstock/mark_gusev

Updated Oct 4th 2021, 2:43 PM

THE GOVERNMENT’S NATIONAL Development Plan covering a range of projects has an overall budget of €165 billion, it was announced today. 

The plan was announced at a press conference in the Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s home county of Cork, and can be read in full here.

The government said it estimates that an annual average of up to approximately 47,000 direct and 33,000 indirect construction jobs will be sustained by the investment over the course of the NDP.

It said that “extensive efforts” have been made to ensure the NDP will support the Government’s climate ambitions.

€5 billion in additional carbon tax receipts over the period of the NDP have been allocated to increase capital investment levels in energy efficiency.

Public transport will get €12 billion in funding, with roads projects to get €6 billion and €4 billion to be spent on walking and cycling infrastructure.

Metrolink and DART + West are included in the plan, but there are no completion dates for the projects.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the government has “worked to align the capital investment plans for the next decade in our country to the most important strategic challenges we face”.

He defended the new plan, stating “it is not a wish list”, adding that “delivery will be key”. 

Martin acknowledged that plans are good, but that the public want to see delivery of large infrastructure projects. 

Faced with criticism that there many concrete timelines and costings were omitted from the plan, the Taoiseach said that the plan needed to be “nimble”.

He said competitive tendering for projects was needed so as to get the most from taxpayer’s money.

Minister Michael McGrath announced that external experts will be advising the Government on the tender for all these projects to avoid the pitfalls faced by the Children’s Hospital when it comes to spiralling costs.

The Taoiseach said that the plan “will respond to the housing crisis, we will tackle the climate emergency and we will proceed with the digitalisation of our economy and our public services”.

Martin said that the plan’s focus on investment in education “will renew what I believe to be the single biggest enabler of progress and prosperity in our country”.

“We will enable the transformation of our health service, delivering the investment framework necessary for the implementation of Slaintecare,” he added.

“Unprecedented in scale, this plan will see investment of €165 billion out to 2030. It will drive the next phase of our post-pandemic recovery and will create thousands of jobs in the construction sector.”

Martin said that it is “the largest and most environmentally conscious National Development Plan in the history of the state”.

This National Development Plan includes delivery of projects already signposted or ongoing, including Bus Connects and the National Broadband Plan. It will also include new and expanded programmes that support the government’s National Strategic Objectives, such as:

  • Delivery of the Enterprise Green Transition Fund to help businesses build their resilience, and environmental sustainability
  • €360 million annually for active travel programmes
  • Positive transformation in our regional cities through public realm investment and the roll out of light rail projects
  • Delivery of new and expanded health services including the Enhanced Community Care Programme

Martin said the plan “builds on the work of our Shared Island Unit and defines new cross-border investment priorities across all sectors”. The Shared Island Fund will be at least doubled to €1 billion to 2030.

The NDP also provides the public resources to deliver the government’s Housing for All Plan – with Martin describing housing today as “the most urgent and important social issue facing our country right now”.

The plan provides for an “unprecedented level” of Exchequer resources to build over 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost rental homes.

It provides for the water and wastewater infrastructure necessary to service hundreds of thousands of new homes.

It is the largest State-led building programme in our history, while also facilitating the large increase in private housing output required to meet our housing needs.

Martin promised that the government is “taking steps to tackle some of the planning and legal delays which bedevil infrastructure and housing projects in Ireland”.

“Under the direct supervision of the Attorney General, there will be a swift and comprehensive review and reform of our planning system.

“We will also work with the construction sector to increase its capacity, with a particular focus on innovation and productivity. The clarity that we are providing today, and the confirmation of this large pipeline of projects does give the industry the certainty it says it needs to invest in the skills and capacity to deliver.”

The plan warns, however, that there is “a risk that investing too much over a given period could add to inflationary pressures in the construction sector and crowd out some desirable private sector investment, for example, in housing.”

Martin said there will be challenges on the inflation side particularly over the coming months and a watching brief will have to be kept on that.

The Taoiseach said that the plan also makes increased investments in retrofitting, sustainable transport and decarbonising the country’s energy supply.

“Plans are important, but citizens rightly expect delivery,” said Martin. “I am confident that the Plan we are publishing today will make a positive difference in this regard.”

He went on: “In conclusion, this Plan reflects our priorities and ambitions for Ireland as we emerge from a once-in-a-century pandemic, learning from that experience and building on the positive changes and new perspectives that have emerged.”

“The Budget next week will chart our economic course as we move forward with the next phase of recovery.”

Public Transport

Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan TD and Minister of State, Hildegarde Naughton TD announced the details of the €35 billion investment package for the transport system.

They said that under the plan, 500,000 extra daily walking, cycling and public transport journeys will be delivered by 2030.

€360 million a year will support 1,000 km of new and improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025, as well as additional investment in greenways – the largest ever investment in active travel infrastructure.

BusConnects, including segregated cycleways, will be rolled out in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford while international connectivity will be supported through investment in ports and airports.

The much-touted MetroLink, which has been in the pipeline since 2005, now looks like it has been delayed yet again to as late as 2034. But it is in the NDP, with the document calling it the “largest ever public investment project in the history of the State. Its completion date is to be confirmed”.

BusConnects, which promises to revolutionise public transport in the nation’s five cities, is also in the NDP. So too is the expansion of the Dart to Dart+ – this is expected to see the Dart line expanded west and further north. 

An enhanced Dublin-Belfast train service is also in the plan. It is hoped that the travel time will be reduced to one hour and 45 minutes while the service is expected to run on an hourly basis. 

Investment in the regional and commuter bus fleet will continue with the purchase of up to 400 new vehicles. They will be low emission EUROVI vehicles: low floor single deck coaches and low floor double deck coaches.

The plan includes investment in bus stops, including upgraded poles and live timetable information and provision of wheelchair accessible bus stops, in order to improve the bus network’s accessibility.

The Cork Commuter Rail service running from Mallow to Midleton via Cork City, with a ten-minute frequency, could be in place within five years.

Cost of fares 

When asked about how the government plans to encourage people to use the rail services, when the cost of tickets remains high, Ryan said the government is facing into some real problems with public transport subsidies.

The pandemic stopped revenue in its tracks for public transport providers, said Ryan, stating that the State had to step in to “fill the gap” with a huge investment to “keep the companies. 

During lockdown, the Government invested in heavily in public transport companies which were unable to operate to keep them afloat.

He said: “We had to fill that gap with a huge investment, to cover the PSO (public service obligation), to keep the companies going.

“Now as we come out we have a real problem, because we see car traffic coming back, but people are still slow on public transport.

“Our public transport revenues are not rising as fast as we would like and we’re going to be in a tight budget situation.”

A return journey from Dublin to Cork on Irish Rail costs over 80 euro, and the Transport Minister accepted the price is prohibitive.

However, he said any reductions would have to be targeted measures, rather being introduced across the board.

The priority for the moment will be on improving public transport, and offering more frequent services.

“I would love to have to say here, I’m going to reduce every fare” he said.

“I think we’re going to have to target some of that.

“We’re going to have to think about how, in particular, certain categories or groups we really want to try encourage on to public transport.

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“First and foremost, I can’t promise I’m going to half that train fare and so on.

“What I think we need to do is invest in the network, invest in new trains, give people more frequent service.

“Then as then, the numbers start coming back and the fair revenue increases, then we look at what we can reduce then.”

He added: “I’m very confident we will be able to lower them as we get the numbers on transport.”

Roads

Maintaining Ireland’s existing national road network to a robust and safe standard for users is to cost a significant amount of money, the NDP states. That funding will be provided for capital maintenance works.

The upgrades will provide for greater use by public transport, the potential adoption of Intelligent Transport Systems and other traffic enhancement measures to improve the efficiency of the network

An example of a project that will help to use existing road assets more efficiently and safely is the implementation of Variable Speed Limits on the M50 by 2023, which will help improve the flow of traffic on the motorway at peak times.

Also in the plan are the proposed changes to the Dunkettle interchange, east of Cork city. The project aims to remove the traffic light system currently in place, allowing a free flow junction that will provide considerable time-saving benefits for passenger and freight traffic using the network.

Earlier today, Ryan stated that some of the projects in the plan may not be completed, stating that they are at different stages of the approval process. 

He said it is “better to be honest” and say that exact costs would become clear when the project comes through the planning phase. 

Climate action 

The plan includes enhanced retrofitting of 500,000 homes to BER B2. The NDP Review also commits to increasing the share of renewable electricity up to 80% by 2030.

It also commits to the creation of a Microgeneration Support Scheme whose primary aim
is to incentivise citizens and businesses to produce and consume their own electricity.

The report says that the reliability of electricity supplies will be “strengthened through investment in the electricity transmission and distribution grid and through further interconnection with other electricity markets, including the Celtic Interconnector to France and further interconnection to the UK. This will be complemented by measures such as investment in energy storage and the rollout of smart meters.”

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with public transport will be addressed by replacing diesel buses with lower emitting alternatives under the BusConnects programme, by expanding the reach of the DART network and by “encouraging and
incentivising” commercial bus services to switch to lower emission alternatives in their fleets.

A regulatory backstop will prohibit the sale of non-zero emission vehicles from 2030 onwards and “will be underpinned and complemented by further Government support for electric vehicle charging infrastructure”.

Government Data Centre

The plan also sets out that the Government is building its very own data centre.

When asked why the State needed its own, the Taoiseach said the project is contained in the programme for government, and also has approval from Brussels. The State holds a huge amount of data, he explained, stating that the new centre will be ready in 2025. 

Housing

Up to 2030, 54,000 affordable homes will be made available for purchase or rent. This will include an average of 4,000 Affordable Purchase homes each year.

A new form of affordable housing will also be provided for following the introduction of Cost Rental, where rents are based on the cost of the provision of housing, “rather than on purely commercial terms”, says the plan.

We can expect an average of 2,000 Cost Rental Homes to be provided each year.

The plan notes that in higher density locations, there is insufficient apartments being built for sale. A new Fund is being established which through a competitive bid process, “will ensure that these developments can be built at lower cost for sale to owner occupiers”. This measure is based on activating the planning permissions already in place for such homes over the coming five years.

- Additional reporting Aoife Barry

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