Capital Infrastructure priorities – Broadband remains top of the list!

Engineers Ireland recently published The State of Ireland 2017, which focuses on the state of Ireland’s infrastructure and the extent to which it is fit for purpose. This is timely as the Government are in the process of considering the capital infrastructure priorities to be funded over the next few years.

This State of Ireland 2017 report, download here (3.4MB), is the seventh in a series of annual independent reports, on the state of the country’s infrastructure, informed by panel discussions and expert advisory groups.

This year’s report focuses on two key sectors, transport and communications though the report also makes separate recommendations on the infrastructure areas of energy, water supply and wastewater; flood management, water quality and waste infrastructure.

Transport

Ireland’s transport system was awarded a ‘C’ grade – meaning it is of mediocre standard: It is inadequately maintained, and / or unable to meet peak demand, and requiring significant investment. The report notes that investment in Ireland’s transport infrastructure is simply too low to support economic growth and jobs and more investment is needed to reduce congestion and increase sustainability.

Communications

The WDC was a member of the Communications Advisory Group which considered the coverage and connectivity of Ireland’s communications network and how Ireland’s communications network rates with the country’s needs.

As is evident from the report, unlike any other infrastructure considered, the quality of the broadband and communications network was graded spatially. A different grade was awarded depending on whether the infrastructure was located in urban, intermediate urban or remote rural areas which highlights the different quality of the infrastructure depending on location.

The urban areas are classed as the five major cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Intermediate urban areas are those other urban areas and surrounding townlands. The third category, rural including remote rural are the hinterlands of towns and remote locations.

Considering the question How would you rate Ireland’s communications network with the country’s needs, urban and intermediate urban were awarded a ‘B’ grade, whereas rural areas were awarded  ‘D’, conveying a poor, below standard poorly maintained, frequent inability to meet capacity and requiring immediate investment to avoid adverse impact on the national economy. The report notes that in rural and remote rural areas, State intervention is needed and the Government’s NBP programme must intervene for 542,000 premises representing 21% or one million of the national population.

For those of us who have long advocated that intervention is needed and that the National Broadband Plan needs to be implemented speedily and comprehensively, none of the report’s finding are a surprise. However the fact that the Communications Advisory Group, composed of companies such as the main telecoms providers, the telecoms regulator and Google among others, highlights the universal agreement that investment is needed as a matter of urgency.

Census 2016

Elsewhere, publication of Census 2016 data provides county data on broadband use in households.

Census 2016 Summary Results Part 1 Section 9, download here (1.1MB) shows the increasing take-up of broadband nationally, from 20% in 2006 to 70.7% in 2016.

The report also highlights the rural – urban divide where 61.1% of households in rural areas have a broadband connection compared to 76.2% of urban households. Looking at counties in the Western Region, all have a broadband rate lower than the state average of 70.7%, apart from Galway city, see Fig 1 below. Leitrim and Roscommon have the lowest broadband rates across the Region with 58% and 59.8% respectively.

Fig 1. Percentage of households with broadband internet access, Western counties 2006-2016

The National Broadband Plan

These same counties are relatively poorly served with broadband infrastructure. As the State of Ireland 2017 report shows the more rural areas are often the least well served. Under the National Broadband Plan the Western Region counties are among those requiring the most state intervention in rolling out high speed broadband networks. While 23% of premises nationally will be included in the National Broadband Plan ‘Intervention Area’, the rate is much higher across the Western Region with an average of 36.5% of all premises. Counties such as Roscommon and Leitrim are particularly dependent on the National Broadband Plan with 48% and 51% of premises respectively in the NBP Intervention area. The state intervention area in the other counties of the Western Region extends to 44% of premises in Mayo, 36% in Sligo, 34% in Donegal, 34% in Clare and 29% in Galway.

How Ireland Compares Internationally

Data recently released from the OECD highlights the need for urgent investment in Ireland’s fibre based broadband infrastructure. As Figure 2 below shows, Ireland is nearly at the bottom of the pile for the percentage of fibre connections as a share of total broadband subscriptions.

Fig 2. Percentage of fibre connections in total broadband subscriptions, December 2016

Located 4th from the bottom of OECD countries, this data published in July 2017 relates to December 2016 and there is likely to be an improvement since then, however the relative position of Ireland in the OECD group shows how far we are from being in the top tier. Without a doubt, investment in fibre connectivity throughout the country is needed. These data and additional comparative data across the OECD are available for download here.

 

Deirdre Frost

What are the Capital Infrastructure Priorities for the Western Region?

Last week the WDC made a Submission to the Public Consultation on the Mid-term Review of the Capital Plan 2016-2021.

The consultation sought views as to what should be included in the current Plan (€42 billion), over and above what is already included – arising from additional resources (€5 billion) being made available.

In addition, an interesting and welcome aspect was that the Consultation also sought views on the criteria which should inform consideration of the capital investment choices to be made. This was in the context of the remainder of the current plan, but also and arguably of more importance in the context of a longer term 10 year Capital Plan.

This idea of a longer term 10 year Capital Plan acknowledges another important Public Consultation underway – the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the need to consider investment priorities which would align and support the final NPF. A draft NPF is due for consideration over this Summer.

In discussing the Considerations for the Mid-Term Review of the Capital Plan (Section 2), the WDC highlighted the importance of infrastructure for regional development where all regions need quality infrastructure to compete effectively. The WDC submission also noted;

  • The importance of long-term planning, as decisions made on infrastructure now have very long term impacts.
  • The need to invest to join existing networks together and complete ‘unfinished sections’. For example once the Gort-Tuam motorway is complete, the priority should then be to improve the outstanding sections between Tuam and Sligo to ensure a high quality road network.
  • Identify and utilise existing available capacity before considering new investments at congested sites. For example there is international air access capacity available at Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock. Another example is to develop more attractive services on the rail network, which is a valuable transport asset with capacity to ease congestion on the road network and help us meet Ireland’s climate change obligations.
  • Develop inter-regional linkages. While connectivity to Dublin from most regions has improved considerably in the last decade, inter-regional connectivity is relatively poor. By improving inter-regional connectivity, such as improving the road network between the urban centres in the Mid-West, West and North West then the investment potential of the key urban centres there can be enhanced.

The WDC submission also notes the importance of appropriate appraisal and evaluation methods when considering alternative investment projects. The capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined. The traditional cost benefit approach will naturally favour the larger and often largest population centres as the impacts are likely to be felt by a greater number, wherever the project is being delivered. To realise better spatial balance, there will need to be a change to the conventional appraisal and evaluation methodologies which are typically used to determine what projects proceed. The impact on the wider spatial balance of the country should be factored in.

In the section examining the prioritisation of Capital Expenditure and Selection of Projects/Programmes in current Capital Plan (Section 3), the WDC focused on the infrastructure areas it considers critical for Western development.

Key priority infrastructural investments include:

  • Funding to deliver and complete the National Broadband Plan as soon as possible to ensure high speed broadband for all.
  • National primary road improvements including N4, N5, N6, M17, M18, incorporating the Atlantic Road corridor.
  • National secondary roads see WDC Submission for specific priorities.
  • There is a need to increase regional and local roads funding to allow road maintenance programme to be enhanced.
  • The importance of Bus services and the Rural transport programme to citizens in the Western Region is highlighted.
  • Continue investment is needed to support increased rail frequencies and service levels on routes serving the Western Region.
  • Ongoing support for improvements and access to Ireland West Airport Knock and Shannon.
  • Investment in the electricity network and natural gas infrastructure is made through the commercial state sector, but it should be co-ordinated and monitored through the Capital Investment Plan.
  • Apart from completing all energy commitments in the Capital Plan there should be investment to connect to the natural gas grid at Athenry, Ballyhaunis and Knock, all three of which qualified for connection in 2006.

In Section 4, Long-term Capital Investment Framework (10 years), the WDC Submission examines the longer-term considerations needed for effective capital investment. The WDC believes that capital investment which is by its nature long-term investment should be undertaken within the context of a longer term planning framework as is proposed in the National Planning Framework 2040. The WDC has made a detailed submission to the NPF (4.5 MB) consultation conducted by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

Other considerations include:

Capital spending on new infrastructure should focus on supporting better spatial balance as well as supporting those citizens and that part of the country which is relatively poorly served. Quality infrastructure is one of the necessary conditions for regional development.

Investment in road infrastructure to join existing networks together and complete ‘unfinished sections’. For example in the West/North West. These are often infrastructure requirements needed to satisfy current as well as future demand.

As outlined previously, the state should capitalise on the capacity already available and ‘sweat’ the state investment already made, such as in transport, for example the rail network and the international airports with spare capacity such as Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock. Other examples include educational infrastructure (Institutes of Technology), Health facilities and Housing.

Policy will also influence the infrastructure investments needed. The need to lower carbon emissions will help influence infrastructural investments (for example supporting cleaner transport modes).

Another consideration is to enable greater policy integration and joined up investment decisions across all sectors, for example planning, employment and transport policy sectors, which are proven to help to make sustainable and active travel more attractive alternatives to the private car.

A good example is the benefits which could be realised through increased e-Working, see WDC Policy Briefing No.7 (748 KB) which can reduce transport demand, traffic congestion and emissions. It has been estimated that if just 10% of the working population of 2.1 million were to work from home for 1 day a week, there would be a reduction of around 10 million car journeys to work per annum[1]. Benefits arising from higher broadband speeds and greater levels of e-Working include time savings, enhanced communications, increased sales and productivity gains[2]. To promote greater take-up, e-Work needs to be prioritised as a policy objective and a cross departmental approach is required. Lead departments would include the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment.

The WDC Submission is available for download here (4 MB).

Deirdre Frost

[1]Department for Transport, Smarter Travel: A Sustainable Transport Future, A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 http://www.smartertravel.ie/sites/default/files/uploads/2012_12_27_Smarter_Travel_english_PN_WEB%5B1%5D.pdf#overlay-context=content/publications. p.35

[2] Indecon International Economic Consultants, July 2012. Economic / Socio-Economic Analysis of Options for Rollout of Next Generation Broadband. Analysis undertaken on behalf of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) as part of the Government’s National Broadband Plan, 2012. http://www.dccae.gov.ie/communications/SiteCollectionDocuments/Broadband/National%20Broadband%20Plan.pdf

Key Issues for the National Planning Framework – Submission from the WDC

The WDC  made its submission on Ireland 2040 – Our Plan: National Planning Framework   yesterday.  The Issues and Choices paper covered a wide range of topics from national planning challenges to sustainability, health, infrastructure and the role of cities and towns.  A key element of the paper considered the future in a “business as usual” scenario in which even greater growth takes place in the Dublin and Mid East region with consequent increased congestion and increasing costs for businesses and society, while other parts of the country continue to have under-utilised potential which is lost to Ireland.  The consultation paper therefore sought to explore the broad questions of alternative opportunities and ways to move away from the “business as usual” scenario.

The WDC submission considers these issues from the perspective of the Western Region, the needs of the Region, the opportunities its development presents for Ireland’s economy and society as a whole and the choices, investments and policy required to achieve regional growth and resilience.

This post highlights the key points made in the submission.  The complete, comprehensive submission on the National Planning Framework by the WDC can be read here (4.5MB PDF).  A shorter summary is available here (0.7MB PDF).

 

What should the NPF achieve?

  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) provides Ireland with an opportunity to more fully realise the potential of all of its regions to contribute to national growth and productivity. All areas of Ireland, the Capital and second tier cities, large, medium and small-sized towns, villages and open countryside, have roles to play both in the national economy and, most importantly, as locations for people to live.
  • While spatial planning strives for ideal settlement or employment patterns and transport infrastructure, in many aspects of life change is relatively slow; demographics may alter gradually over decades and generations and, given the housing boom in the early part of this century, many of our existing housing units will be in use in the very long term. If the NPF is to be effective it must focus on what is needed, given current and historical patterns and the necessity for a more balanced pattern of development.
  • To effectively support national growth it is important that there is not excessive urban concentration “Either over or under [urban] concentration … is very costly in terms of economic efficiency and national growth rates” (Vernon Henderson, 2000[1]). Thus it is essential that, through the NPF, other cities and other regions become the focus of investment and development.

Developing Cities

  • As the NPF is to be a high level Framework, in this submission the WDC does not go into detail by naming places or commenting on specific development projects, as these will be covered by the forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES). The exception to this, however, is in relation to the need for cities to counterbalance Dublin.  In this case we emphasise the role of Galway and the potential for Sligo to be developed as the key growth centre for the North West.
  • The North West is a large rural region and Sligo is the best located large urban centre to support development throughout much of the North West region. With effective linkages to other urban centres throughout the region and improved connectivity, along with support from regional and national stakeholders, Sligo can become a more effective regional driver, supporting a greater share of population, economic and employment growth in Sligo itself and the wider North West region.

Developing Towns

  • While the NPF is to be a high level document and the focus is largely on cities it is important not to assume that development of key cities will constitute regional development. All areas need to be the focus of definite policy, and the NPF should make this clear.
  • While cities may drive regional development, other towns, at a smaller scale, can be equally important to their region. Recognising this is not the same as accepting that all towns need the same level of connection and services.  It is more important to understand that the context of each town differs, in terms of distance and connectivity to other towns and to the cities, the size of the hinterland it serves and its physical area as well as population.  Therefore their infrastructure and service needs differ.
  • Towns play a central role in Ireland’s settlement hierarchy. While much of the emphasis in the NPF Issues and Choices paper is on cities and their role, for a large proportion of Ireland’s population small and medium-sized towns act as their key service centre for education, retail, recreation, primary health and social activities.  Even within the hinterlands of the large cities, people access many of their daily services in smaller centres.  The NPF needs to be clear on the role it sees for towns in effective regional development.

Rural Areas

  • Rural areas provide key resources essential to our economy and society. They are the location of our natural resources and also most of our environmental, biodiversity and landscape assets.  They are places of residence and employment, as well as places of amenity, recreation and refuge.
  • They are already supporting national economic growth, climate action objectives and local communities, albeit at a smaller scale than towns and cities. But a greater focus on developing rural regions would increase the contribution to our economy and society made by rural areas.
  • The key solution to maintaining rural populations is the availability of employment. It is important that the NPF is truly focused on creating opportunities for the people who live in the regions, whether in cities, towns or rural areas.

Employment and Enterprise

  • In the Issues and Choices paper a narrow definition of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location seems to be assumed. This does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the likely changes to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are redefining the conceptions of work, enterprise and their physical location.
  • If the NPF mainly equates ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address the needs of a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force.
  • Similarly the NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy and enterprise base. It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth across all regions and particularly in sectors where regions have comparative advantage.

Location Decisions

  • While job opportunities are a critical factor in people’s decision of where to live, they are by no means the only factor. Many other personal and social factors influence this decision such as closeness to family (including for childcare and elder care reasons), affordability, social and lifestyle preferences, connection to place and community.
  • Many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere or, in some cases, e-Work for a number of days a week. The NPF needs to recognise the complexity of reasons for people’s location decisions in planning for the development of settlements.

Infrastructure

  • New infrastructure can be transformative (the increase in motorway infrastructure in recent decades shows how some change happens relatively quickly). Therefore it is essential that we carefully consider where we place new investments.  To do so, capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined if we are to move from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
  • Investment in infrastructure can strongly influence the location of other infrastructure with a detrimental impact on unserved locations. The North West of the country is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regard to motorway access. This situation will be compounded if investment in rail is focused on those routes with better road access (motorways) in order for rail to stay competitive, or if communications or electricity networks are developed along existing motorway or rail corridors.
  • The WDC believes that the regional cities can be developed more and have untapped potential, however better intra-regional linkages are needed. The weaker links between the regional centres – notably Cork to Limerick and north of Galway through to Sligo and on to Letterkenny, are likely to be a factor in the relatively slower growth of regional centres in contrast to the motorway network, most of which serves Dublin from the regions.

Climate Change

For the future, the need to move to a low carbon, fossil fuel free economy is essential and needs to be an integral and much more explicit part of the NPF.  The National Mitigation Plan for Climate Change is currently being developed, and it is essential that actions under the NPF will be in line with, and support, the actions in the Mitigation Plan.

How should the NPF be implemented?

  • While much of the role of the NPF is strategic vision and coordination of decision-making, in order for the Framework to be effective it is essential that the achievement of the vision and the actions essential to it are appropriately resourced. The Issues and Choices paper does not give a detailed outline of how the NPF implementation will be resourced, except through the anticipated alignment with the Capital Investment Programme.
  • It should be remembered that policy on services and regional development is not just implemented through capital spending but also though current spending and through policy decisions with spatial implications (such as those relating to the location of services). Therefore it is essential that other spending, investment and policy decisions are in line with the NPF rather than operating counter to it.
  • While the NPF is to provide a high level Framework for development in Ireland to 2040, it seems this Framework is to be implemented at a regional level through the RSES. The Framework and the Strategies are therefore interlinked yet the respective roles of the NPF and the RSES are not explicit and so it is not evident which areas of development will be influenced by the NPF and which by the RSES.
  • In order to ensure that the NPF is implemented effectively it is important that there is a single body with responsibility for its delivery and that there is a designated budget to help achieve its implementation.

 

It is expected that a draft National Planning Framework document will be published for consultation in May.  Following that a final version of the Framework will be prepared for discussion and consideration by Dáil Éireann.

 

As mentioned above the full WDC submission on the Issues and Choices paper Ireland 2040 Our Plan- A National Planning Framework is available here (PDF 4.5MB) and a summary of key point and responses to consultation questions is available here (PDF 0.7MB).

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] http://www.nber.org/papers/w7503

WDC Insights Christmas Quiz Time Again!

We are sure you have been reading our WDC Insights blog and keeping an eye on our publications throughout 2016.  Take our Christmas Quiz (10 questions) and see just how well you can score on regional development and Western Region issues.

The answers are at the end with links to more information and the relevant posts.

Good Luck!

 

blog christmas tree1      County Incomes

County incomes and regional GDP statistics are released by the CSO annually.  Disposable indicates the level of material wealth of households residing in different regions and is a better indicator of material well-being of citizens than GDP per person.

What county had the lowest household disposable income per person in 2013 and 2014?

  1. Mayo
  2. Leitrim
  3. Donegal

blog christmas tree2       Regional and Local Roads

Regional and local roads are the core of regional and rural transport. They are crucial to economic activity, and the importance of commuting to work across counties and to towns and cities is well recognised yet the regional and local roads grant allocation for 2016 was €298m, less than half that for 2009.

How many kilometres of regional and local roads are there in Ireland?

  1. 91,000kms
  2. 127,000kms
  3. 62,000kms

blog christmas tree3      Employment and Jobs

The jobs growth that is occurring in the Western Region in recent years has been strongly driven by self-employment.  Between 2012 and 2015 the number of self-employed in the Western Region grew by significantly, and by much more than in the rest of the state.  By how much did it grow?

  1. 12.1
  2. 11.8%
  3. 13.6%

blog christmas tree4      Vital Statistics

It is interesting to look birth and death rates by county and the significant differences among them. There were 65,909 births in the state in 2015 of which 16% (10,527) were to mothers resident in the Western Region.  The birth rate (Births per year per 1,000 population) nationally was 14.1 with the highest rate (17.4) in Fingal.

The lowest birth rate was in both counties Roscommon and Kerry.  What was it?

  1. 12.6 Births per 1,000 population
  2. 9.1 Births per 1,000 population
  3. 11.8 Births per 1,000 population

blog christmas tree5      Enterprises in the Western Region

In 2014 there were 40,797 active enterprises registered in the seven county Western Region.  This was significantly lower than the number registered in 2008.  In contrast, in the rest of the state the number in 2014 was just 1% below the 2008 figure.

How many more businesses were registered in the Western Region in 2008 than in 2014?

  1. 3,824
  2. 2,167
  3. 3,210

blog christmas tree6      Local Property Tax

The Local Property Tax (LPT) is an annual self-assessed tax charged on the market value of all residential properties in the State.  It came into effect in 2013 and is being administered by Revenue.  The total number of properties returned for payment of the LPT in the Western Region was 354,400 in 2015 with 1.86 m properties returned for the state.  In the state €427m in Local Property Tax was collected nationally in 2015.

How much was collected in the Western Region ?

  1. €62.7m
  2. €61.4m
  3. €59.2m

blog christmas tree7      Broadband

The WDC has been highlighting rural broadband needs for more than a decade. It is a particular issue for our largely rural region

What proportion of premises covered by the National Broadband Plan area are in the Western Region?

  1. 73%
  2. 19%
  3. 34%

blog christmas tree8      Regional contribution to Agricultural output

Despite the importance of agriculture for employment in the region it contributed only a small amount to GVA in the West and Border regions.  However, although only a small proportion of GVA is from Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing in these regions, they both make a substantial contribution to national Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing GVA.

What percentage share of national GVA from Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing is produced by the Border Region?

  1. 14.4%
  2. 27.6%
  3. 16.2%

blog christmas tree9      Population changes in the Region

Preliminary results for Census 2016 show that the population grew in most Irish counties, but it fell in some counties of the Western Region.

In how many counties of the Western Region did it fall?

  1. 2 counties
  2. 3 counties
  3. 5 counties

blog christmas tree10      Vehicles licensed for the first time

In 2015 Roscommon had the fifth highest level of new car registrations in the country.  This is surprising for such a small county.  What is the reason?

  1. Roscommon people love to drive new cars
  2. A car hire company operating in the county is registering the cars there
  3. In this county Santa brings new cars for Christmas every year

 

blog christmas treeAnswers:

  1. County Incomes

Answer: 3) Donegal

For more on this see this post

 

  1. Regional and Local Roads

Answer: 2) 91,000kms

For more on this see the post here.

 

  1. Employment and jobs

Answer: 3) 13.6%

For more on this and other information about the jobs recovery see this post

 

  1. Vital Statistics

Answer: 3) 11.8

Read more about vital statistics in the Western Region counties here

 

  1. Enterprises in the Western Region

Answer: 1) 3,824

For more about enterprises in the Western Region and the varying trends among counties see this post

 

  1. Local Property Tax

Answer:1) €62.7m or 2) €61.4m

This time we accept either of two answers!  According to the blog posted in September it was €62.7m but figures have been revised since then and are now €61.4.  Read the blog post to find out more about the LPT or find the latest data here

 

  1. Broadband

Answer: 3) 34%

Read more about the issue of rural broadband here and here.

 

  1. Regional contribution to Agricultural output

Answer: 1) 14.4%

Read more about the regional GVA from different sectors and the contribution of regions to national output here.

 

  1. Population changes in the Western Region

Answer 2) 3 counties

The population fell in Donegal, Sligo and Mayo.  For more on the preliminary results on census 2016 for the Western Region see this post and this post and this post which focuses on housing and vacancy rates or read our WDC Insights and reports available here  https://www.wdc.ie/publications/reports-and-papers/ .

 

  1. New Vehicle registrations

Answer: 2) A car hire company operating in the county is registering the cars there

There is a Car Hire company office operating in Roscommon which taxes all new vehicles for the Car Hire Company (i.e. all the offices in Ireland)  for the first time in the County – the figures in the previous post were based on the first taxing of the vehicle and not the registration. This company taxed 2,236 vehicles out of the 4,877  vehicles in 2015. That is nearly 45% of the new private cars licensed for the first time in the county.

For more on new car registrations and the level in Co. Roscommon see this post and this one.

 

How well did you do?

You got 9 or 10 answers correct

CONGRATULATIONS! You really know a lot about regional development, the Western Region and the Western Development Commission’s work.

 

You got between 4 and 8 answers correct

WELL DONE, a good score but some deficiencies in your knowledge. Perhaps you should read our WDC Insights posts more carefully in 2017!

 

You got between 0 and 3 answers correct

OH DEAR! Time to pay more attention to regional development and Western Region Issues. You’ll have to do some extra study over the holiday! Reread the WDC Insights blog and check out the WDC publications page and re-take the quiz in the New Year!

 

Happy Christmas!

blog christmas tree

 

 

 

 

Helen McHenry

Transport Infrastructure Priorities

Following years of budgetary contraction and reduced capital investment in infrastructure, there is now a return to consideration of what capital investment is required and what should be prioritised. The last Government published its plan for capital investment Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 in September 2015. It seems possible that a new Government may revisit some priorities.

The Exchequer capital allocations for the period are €27 billion, of which Transport accounts for 29%. €6 billion is allocated for national, regional and local roads and €3.6 billion is for public transport. While the roads budget appears significant, most of this is for maintenance of the existing network, with just €1.6 billion allocated for new projects. The WDC has posted recently on the importance of maintaining local and regional roads especially in rural areas, see here.

Public Transport

The COP21 Agreement in Paris last December has renewed attention on the need to reduce greenhouse emissions and the development of sustainable transport projects. The recent European Commission country report for Ireland highlighted congestion in Dublin as an issue and this is suggested as an issue for consideration by the incoming government, for example see blog post . The WDC supports more sustainable transport and has highlighted potential for emissions reductions through use of more rail freight, read more here (245kb). However this should not mean that road priorities should be relegated, especially where the road network remains relatively weak.

At a recent Infrastructure Summit a presentation by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) highlighted some of these issues. The map below illustrates Ireland’s current road network, noting the motorway, primary and secondary routes.

TII road network prioirties

The map shows how the motorway network extends across the southern half of the country and the Dublin-Belfast corridor. The development of the motorway network is of great benefit to those regions and centres they serve. However by default those areas without such road improvements have reduced accessibility relative to other parts of the country.

The capital plan includes funding for one motorway project underway in the Western Region, from Gort to Tuam – part of the Atlantic Road Corridor. This is very welcome, however once complete in 2018, the relative weakness of the road network north of Tuam will be even more apparent.

This is not to argue that there is a need for motorway infrastructure to all parts of the country but there does need to be investment to improve journey times to relatively inaccessible urban centres for example to Ballina, Sligo and Letterkenny.  A 2012 study by the NRA on the impact of national road investment 2006-2010 on the effective density of urban areas including their accessibility to employment’ found that Sligo, Ballina/Castlebar and Letterkenny among others had no or very small improvement.

There are plans for improvements on the N4 (Collooney to Castlebaldwin) and the N5 Westport to Turlough as well as improvements to the N56 in Donegal all of which are welcome and will improve accessibility to Sligo and Castlebar respectively and should be progressed asap.

According to the TII other sections of the Atlantic Road Corridor, to the north of Tuam, (for example N17 Tubbercurry ByPass and Collooney to Tubbercurry) have been suspended and it is not clear if there are any timelines for reinstatement and funding of these projects.

Regional priorities not modal!

A by-product of the improved motorway network has been the relative dis-improvement in journey times on main-line rail services and reduced patronage on some services.  As investment in transport is often considered on a mode specific basis, the cumulative effect on specific geographic routes and regions is often not considered. So proposed investment in rail is now focused on those routes with better road access (motorways), in order to stay competitive. Therefore the cumulative effect of little funding for improvements in both road and rail on some routes, for example to the North West, is not considered from a broader, transport accessibility point of view.

 

Western Region Needs

In terms of transport most of the Western Region and rural Ireland travels by road. As the WDC noted in its submission (300 KB) to the Department of Transport, over 40% of the population (68% in the WDC region) live in rural areas and smaller settlements. There must be more consideration of transport issues for smaller settlements and rural areas which currently account for 48% of all trips (compared with 32% for the four main cities). Even with plans for higher density living and the planned National Planning Framework,  the majority of the population will continue to live in the historical settlement pattern and spatial planning will not change that pattern significantly even in the long term. Thus transport investment needs to focus on current spatial patterns as well as any future growth in demand.

From a rural perspective the recent Luas strike brought the options available to rural and Dublin commuters into sharp focus. As reported on RTE’s Morning Ireland, once alighting from a commuter train at Heuston, passengers had just four options: – the bus, bike rental, taxi or travel by foot. Most rural dwellers only have one option, travel by car! Of course roads can facilitate cycling, walking and bus services but in reality there are few footpaths, even fewer cycleways and not very frequent bus services (apart from on intercity routes).

Of course city dwellers will have more options, this is to be expected, but just because some of these are not working optimally is not a reason to forget what transport needs are required for rural and regional locations.

Now that the country has returned to economic growth and consideration of capital investment projects it will be important to ensure that there are improvements in accessibility to all regions especially to those centres which were relegated when funding was severely constrained.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

Regional and local roads – maintaining connectivity in rural Ireland

Regional and local roads are the core of regional and rural transport. They are crucial to rural economic activity, and the importance of commuting to work across counties and to towns and cities is well recognised see here  (1MB) and here (2MB) .

While motorways and national primary route have received considerable investment and have a very important impact on regional transport, good quality regional and local roads are essential for balanced regional development and for social inclusion providing vital linkages among communities, and between communities, their towns and larger urban centres.

There are almost 91,000kms of regional and local roads in Ireland, which accounts for 94% of the country’s roads network and they carry around 54% of all road traffic[1].   It is important that these local and regional roads are maintained to a reasonable standard according to their traffic load for local importance, and that there is a planned cycle of maintenance implemented by the local authorities who manage these roads.

Primary responsibility for improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads rests with local authorities.  State grants are provided to supplement realistic contributions by local authorities from their own resources. The recent announcement of the general grant allocation for regional and local roads budget allocation for 2016  is therefore of interest. It also provides a timely opportunity to highlight to decline in this budget over the last 8 years.

The regional and local roads grant allocation for 2016 is €298m which less than half that for 2009. The graph below shows the very significant decline in spending in this area since then.

 Figure 1: Annual Budget allocation for Regional and Local roads 2009-2016

 

road allocation graph 09-16

Source: Department of Environment, Community and Local Government announcements, Dáil Statements www.oireachtas.ie

When considering the very significant decrease in the annual budget allocation, it should be recognised that there have been important changes to local authority funding, most particularly the Local Property Tax. Resources from the Local Property Tax can, in more wealthy counties, ensure that there is a sufficient budget to maintain regional and local roads to appropriate standards. In fact none of the Dublin local authorities received any in 2015[2]. Poorer counties with less expensive property and fewer residences, which are usually the counties which also have relatively fewer commercial rate payers, have less money in their own budgets to spend and are more reliant on this roads funding. Roads in these counties are likely to be feeling the greatest impacts[3]. The changes in individual local authority allocations in the Western Region will be considered in a future blog post.

It should also be noted that while this post looks at annual regional and local road allocations as announced early each year, there are often additions to this allocation during the year, either for specific projects or as a supplemental allocation to each county[4] but while these supplements to the budget as very welcome, they cannot be relied on and of course this also make the planning of road maintenance more difficult.

While the reduction in the government grant allocation for regional and local roads budget is very stark, its impact needs more detailed consideration as do the levels of allocation to the different local authorities and their own resources available for local and regional roads.

Nonetheless for many local authorities it is increasingly difficult to maintain the regional and local road network and the impact of reduced budgets, since 2009, has a cumulative effect on the quality of the local and regional road network.

Users of these roads are well aware of this as they, in turn pay the higher costs of wear and tear on their vehicles, when, in most cases there are few alternative transport options.

 

Helen McHenry

 

 

[1] http://www.dttas.ie/roads/english/regional-and-local-roads

[2] Arising from the introduction of the local property tax, the four Dublin local authorities were in a position to self-fund for regional and local roads in 2015 and the funding allocation for county Cork was reduced. Similar details were not provided in the 2016 announcement

[3] Leitrim, for example, received €14m from this budget in 2010 and €7.4m this year. Reported in Leitrim Observer 10.02.2016 http://epaper.leitrimobserver.ie/iconic/books/160210leitrimobserver/index.html#/1/

[4] . For example an additional €50m was allocated for regional and local roads in July 2013