All Island Dialogue on the Implications of Brexit on Culture, Heritage, Regional SMEs & the Impact on Border & other Rural Communities

Two weeks ago (6th February 2017) Minister Heather Humphreys hosted an All Island Dialogue on the implications of Brexit on Culture, Heritage, Regional SMEs & the Impact on Border & other Rural Communities in Cavan.   This was one of the fourteen All-Island sectoral dialogues which have taken place across the country over the recent weeks.

Over 100 stakeholders attended the event and there was engaged and active discussion of the issue throughout the day.  To begin with the Minister outlined the Government’s ongoing response to Brexit.  Then a panel of experts covering the broad range of sectors under the remit of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs each gave a short overview of the implications of Brexit for their sector.

Roundtable discussions were then held to consider the immediate impact of Brexit, longer term impacts and how they might be mitigated. The focus was on arts, heritage, small businesses and rural communities.  The discussions fed back into a broader panel discussion.

Common Themes from the discussions

A number of common themes emerged from the discussion (as well as detailed sector specific issues which are not covered in this post). A summary of the more general points raised by stakeholders, applicable to all sectors considered on the day, is provided below.

  • Uncertainty over the form and impact of Brexit was key to all of the discussion. This was regarded as a particular problem as we are just emerging from recession. Uncertainty increases risks for businesses, communities, cultural organisations and people as they make decisions.  Plans are therefore being delayed until a clearer picture emerges.
  • This slowdown in individual and business decision making is affecting economic and social activities on both sides of the border, even before the full consequences of Brexit are known.
  • There is very significant variation in the levels of knowledge of the possible implications of Brexit among businesses, communities and people. Some are well informed about possible difficulties or opportunities, others have very poor understanding and will therefore face more difficulty in making plans and developing responses to Brexit.
  • Currency fluctuations and the loss of value of sterling have had the most immediate impact which has led to other direct impacts on tourism and retail businesses.
  • Maintenance of the Common Travel Area and free movement of people was important to all involved in the discussion. Organisations staff and experts in various sectors move across borders regularly and any restrictions would negatively affect the functioning of these organisations and businesses.
  • Ensuring the continued implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with associated institutions and commitments was regarded as essential.
  • In future, changes to the way cross border services are provided in areas such as health and education will affect people living in border communities.
  • Currently the UK and Ireland are in a common regulatory regime but this will change. Across all sectors there were concerns about the implications of divergence in regulation and implementation of different regulatory approaches.  This is an issue in a variety of areas including, for example, procurement and data protection.
  • The form of future taxation agreements, VAT rules and rates could be very significant and have important implications for businesses and arts and cultural enterprises.
  • There will be a significant change to the funding landscape in the border region and beyond. It is unclear what will happen with the EU Peace programme, Interreg and other funding.  It was agreed that the border counties will be most affected by Brexit, and of these counties some will be more severely affected (Donegal was mentioned as the example of this).  There are over 300 border crossings and it is not clear whether they will all remain open in the future.
  • There has been a significant increase in cross border activity since the Good Friday Agreement and there is concern that this will be diminished. This has business implications but also intangible effects on the mind-set of those living close to the border.
  • A better understanding of the current trade and activities that take place across borders (between ROI and NI and between ROI and GB) is needed. This includes trade of goods and services, but we also have weak understanding of the reasons people are travelling across the border for work, trade or social reasons.
  • Understanding of the cross border infrastructures which have been developing in recent decades is important. The implications of change for roads, energy infrastructure and broadband need to be considered. Changes in the way these are planned and managed will affect both Ireland as a whole and border communities in particular.
  • There should be a focus on the development of new markets outside the UK and support both businesses and cultural organisations in doing this.
  • There was a view that many of the benefits of Brexit will be felt in larger urban centres and that border and rural regions will be most negatively affected because of their proximity to the border, the nature of their enterprises and their smaller population base. There is concern that here could be further rural de-population if the opportunities that Brexit may bring are confined to the Dublin area.  This needs to be addressed in a coherent manner.
  • It was highlighted that if we want a sustainable, viable and vibrant Border region, we need to plan to achieve this
  • There was a suggestion that the concentration on Brexit will take the focus off other important issues already affecting the Border region, such as access to services, infrastructure and access to employment.
  • Finally, among many of the participants, in all areas, there was a positive, ‘can do’ attitude. It was felt that we have had problems and difficulties before and have dealt with them.  There was concern that there might be an overly negative portrayal of the implications of Brexit, and that this in turn was affecting the confidence of enterprise, communities and people and in turn affecting their decision making.

Actions Suggested by Stakeholders during the discussion

  • Clear information needs to be made available about the possible implications for Brexit for communities, cultural organisations and businesses, addressing their specific issues.
  • It is important that there is more analysis and understanding of the current situation in regard to cross border trade, cross border service provision, and the on-going community engagement across borders. This information needs to be used as a basis for considering Brexit implications and appropriate response.  With more detailed information we can have better policy responses.
  • Analysis should not just address issues of business or trade but also the hard to measure issues of social integration, identity and sense of place along the border.
  • It will be important that the implications of differing regulatory standards are well understood and that these are considered both in Brexit negotiations and in developing responses to this regulatory issue in future.
  • We should use expertise from other member states which have borders with non EU countries to get a better understanding of the potential issues and to understand their models and means of ensuring that borders and relationships between EU and Non EU countries are smooth and seamless as possible.
  • The potential for substitution of imports from the UK needs to be explored as it may provide opportunities across a range of sectors.
  • The government needs to continue to consult stakeholders as the impacts of Brexit become clearer so that responses and actions can be developed.
  • We should examine problems individually and develop responses to each. There cannot be one single policy response, each issue will need to be addressed.  Brexit  is complex and responses should be tailored to the individual issue.
  • Both ROI and NI need to work closely together to understand the possible implications for Brexit for both jurisdictions and to work to achieve the best possible agreement. In this it is important that there is a close working relationship and significant engagement with the NI Executive so that all island solutions can be implemented where appropriate
  • Future government policy, including the National Planning Framework, needs to take into account the potential implications of Brexit and the changing nature of the border and ensure that there is a plan for a positive, sustainable future for the border region.
  • Special supports for the border region should be considered, in terms of structural funds as well as enterprise and community support and funding.
  • A specific fund for EU regions with sharing a border with non EU countries should be developed to mitigate the difficulties faced by these regions.

 

The focus in this dialogue on rural communities and on the Border region was significant, as these are likely to be the most immediately and directly affected by Brexit.  Uncertainty was a key theme of the discussion, and it is to be hoped that once Article 50 has been declared by the UK government and negotiations begin, that the situation may become clearer. You can sign up for on-going updates on Brexit here.

 

 

Helen McHenry

 

Realising our Rural Potential- Action Plan for Rural Development

The Action Plan for Rural Development –Realising our Rural Potential –developed by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DAHRRGA) was launched yesterday (23.01.17) in Ballymahon, Co. Longford as was mentioned in our last post.

action-plan-cover

The Action Plan contains 274 actions which are to be completed over the next three years and uses the Action Plan for Jobs as a model with responsibility for the delivery of each action is assigned to a government department  or other body.  Each action has a clear timeline.

action-plan-targets

There is an emphasis on the positive assets of rural Ireland and on ‘changing the narrative towards the contribution made to our economy and society by rural areas, rather than a focus on rural decline’.

It is recognised that rural Ireland is not a homogenous place and that different areas face different challenges.  There is no clear definition of rural Ireland but it seems to use that defined in the CEDRA (Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas )  “all areas located beyond the administrative boundaries of the five largest cities”.

Building on Policy

The Action Plan builds on the CEDRA report and the Charter for Rural Ireland and contains a number of actions which build on these.  For example, a review of the implementation of the CEDRA report is one action, while the REDZ are also part of the Action Plan.

action-cedraRural Proofing, which was a commitment in the Rural Chart published last year, is included here too

action-rural-proofingThe Action Plan outlines the population and other changes which have been taking place in rural Ireland and briefly examines the challenges and opportunities faced by rural areas.  One of the key challenges noted is BREXIT and the Western Development Commission is committed to an action (along with DAHRRGA) to examine the impact of BREXIT on rural areas and on border areas in particular.

action-wdc-brexit

Action Plan Themes

As mentioned in our previous post there are five thematic pillars, each of which has a series of objectives and actions.   Each of the five are further broken down into more specific themes as follows:

Pillar 1: Supporting Sustainable Communities

  • Making Rural Ireland a better place to live (Actions 1-19)
  • Enhancing Local Services (Actions 20-36)
  • Empowering Local Communities (Actions 37-46)
  • Building Better Communities (Actions 47-67)

 

Pillar 2: Supporting Enterprise and Employment

  • Growing and Attracting Enterprise (Actions 68-104)
  • Supporting Sectoral Growth (this covers the Agri-food Sector, Renewable energy and International Financial Services -Actions 105-120)
  • Skills and Innovation (Actions 121-134)
  • Supporting Rural Job Seekers and Protecting Incomes (Actions 135-151)

 

Pillar 3: Maximising our Rural Tourism and Recreation Potential

  • Support targeted Rural Tourism Initiatives (Actions 152-166)
  • Develop and Promote Activity Tourism (Actions 167-185)
  • Develop and Support our Natural and Built Heritage (Actions 186-202)

 

Pillar 4: Fostering Culture and Creativity in Rural Communities

  • Increase access to the arts in rural communities (Actions 203-209)
  • Enhance Culture and Creativity in Rural Ireland (Actions 210-222)
  • Promote the Irish language as a key resource (Actions 223-231)

 

Pillar 5: Improving Rural Infrastructure and Connectivity

  • Broadband and Mobile Phone Access (Actions 232-247)
  • Rural Transport (Actions 248-263)
  • Flood Relief Measures (Actions 264-276)

 

Key Actions

While there are more than 270 actions the key actions for the Plan (as highlighted by DAHRRGA )are listed here:

  • Supporting the creation of 135,000 new jobs in rural Ireland by 2020 by assisting indigenous businesses, investing €50m for collaborative approaches to job creation in the regions, and increasing Foreign Direct Investment in regional areas by up to 40%.
  • Implementing a range of initiatives to rejuvenate over 600 rural and regional towns.
  • Introducing a new pilot scheme to encourage residential occupancy in town and village centres.
  • Assisting over 4,000 projects in rural communities to boost economic development, tackle social exclusion and provide services to people living in remote areas.
  • Increasing the number of visitors to rural Ireland by 12% in the next three years through targeted tourism initiatives, including increased promotion of Activity Tourism.
  • Accelerating the preparation for the rollout of high-speed broadband and ensuring that all homes and businesses in rural Ireland are connected to broadband as early as possible.
  • Increasing capital funding for flood risk schemes up to €80m per annum by 2019 and increasing to €100m per annum by 2021
  • Improving job opportunities for young people in rural areas by increasing the number of apprenticeships and traineeships available locally.
  • Developing an Atlantic Economic Corridor to drive jobs and investment along the Western seaboard and contribute to more balanced regional development.
  • Investing over €50 million in sports, recreation and cultural facilities throughout the country, including in rural areas.
  • Protecting vital services in rural Ireland by improving rural transport provision, enhancing rural GP services and protecting rural schools.
  • Introducing a range of measures to boost job creation in the Gaeltacht, including the creation of 1,500 new jobs in Údarás na Gaeltachta client companies by 2020 and the development of Innovation Hubs in the Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry Gaeltacht regions to support entrepreneurship.
  • Combating rural isolation by improving connectivity and enhancing supports for older people, including significant investment in the Senior Alert scheme.
  • Building safer communities by providing a more visible, effective and responsive police service in rural areas through the recruitment of 3,200 new Garda members over the next four years to reach a strength of 15,000 members, and by introducing a new community CCTV Grant Aid Scheme.
  • Examining the scope for increased investment in regional roads in the context of the review of the Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021
  • Assessing and improving rural transport routes and developing new routes where necessary
  • Delivering 18 new primary care centres in rural Ireland by end of 2018
  • Investing €435m in 90 public nursing facilities and district and community hospitals in rural Ireland, up to 2021, creating up to 5,000 jobs during the construction phase
  • Improving societal cohesion and wellbeing in rural communities by supporting cultural and artistic provision and participation.

 

Co-ordination and monitoring

One of the important outcomes of the Action Plan should be a more integrated approach to rural issues across government departments and agencies.

The implementation of the Action Plan will be overseen by a Monitoring Committee which will include representatives of relevant government departments and key rural stakeholder interests.  The Committee will be supported by DAHRRGA.

Reports will be submitted every six months to a cabinet committee on Regional and Rural Affairs which is chaired by the Taoiseach and the progress reports on the delivery of the actions will be published.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphries, TD  has appointed Pat Spillane as an Ambassador for the Action Plan for Rural Development who will assist the Monitoring Committee in identifying the impacts of the Plan on Rural Ireland and encourage businesses, communities, sporting organisations and others to engage with the Plan.  Mr Spillane previously acted as Chair of the Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA).  He will also be a member of the Monitoring Committee which will oversee the implementation on the Action Plan.

While the majority of the actions are already part of government policy including them in the Action Plan means that their progress will be regularly monitored by Monitoring Committee which should ensure continued focus.

You can read the full Action Plan here.

There is a short video also available.

 

 

Helen McHenry

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

This is the Western Region

For the year end the WDC policy analysis team has produced an infographic of the Western Region highlighting key statistics and important elements that contribute to the economy and life of the region.

We have included population and population changes for our seven counties (on a handy little map reminding you of where we are) as well as key employment, unemployment and self-employment statistics.  Alongside these we have income and enterprise statistics for the region and we looked at connectivity and highlighted other regional characteristics including rail freight use and wind energy.

wdc_infographiclow_res-01

 

 

We hope you enjoy it, if you want to take a closer look, download the pdf here (1.4MB) and, in case you are wondering where it all came from, the data sources are listed on the second sheet

 

Helen McHenry

Transport 2016 – Issues and themes

Transport Ireland 2016, a conference organised by Eolas last week included a wide range of speakers on a range of transport issues, providing an update on public transport investment plans as well as technological developments, for example electric vehicles and alternative fuels.

The conference programme is available here.

A couple of the following presentations were of particular interest to the WDC and the Western Region.

Ethna Brogan from the Department of Transport outlined some of the transport commitments of the Capital Plan 2016-2021 Building on Recovery noting that unlike other elements of the Plan which cover a 6 year period, Transport covers a 7 year period to 2022.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport received an allocation of €9.6 billion for transport investments comprising €6 billion for roads and €3.6 billion for public transport. The stated objectives of the transport investments are two fold

  1. Develop and maintain transport networks to the required standard to ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and freight
  2. Encourage modal shift to ensure transport makes a contribution to Irelands’ climate mitigation targets.

The objective of greater modal shift is welcome given the significance transport has in Ireland’s energy emissions. As noted in a recent WDC Insights publication (245kB) though Agriculture is the single largest contributor of emissions in Ireland (33.3%), it is followed by Transport (19.5%) and more importantly, in the last fifteen years (1990-2014), Transport has shown the greatest overall increase in emissions – by 120.9% over the period.

Therefore, the Transport sector represents a major contributor to energy emissions which is forecast to increase further in line with economic growth, for example emissions from transport have increased by 2.5% from 2013 to 2014. With this in mind, and along with the urgency to tackle climate change, the questions arises as to whether we have we got the balance right between conventional and alternative and more sustainable modes of transport?

That being said, the WDC Western Region is a largely rural region, requiring significant investment in maintenance and improvements in the roads network, national, regional and local roads, which support bus transport as well as car travel. For example the continued funding for the Gort-Tuam motorway and other roads projects is very welcome.

Edgar Morgenroth from the ESRI gave a presentation on The Regional Development Impact of Transport Infrastructure noting that ‘significant accessibility differences remain across Ireland’ and he noted that much of the North West along with West Kerry are the only regions were accessibility to a motorway junction is 120 minutes drivetime or more. There was also reference to the positive effect of transport infrastructure in national and regional economic development, with roads having the largest productivity effect in contrast to other transport modes.

Martin Nolan, CEO of Bus Éireann noted that Bus Éireann services are particularly important to regional and rural Ireland. There are three aspects to their business; public service obligation (PSO) routes, Commercial and School Transport services, which all combined delivered 79 million customer journeys in 2015. He noted that while lower fuel costs benefit the company’s operating costs, they also impact on some of their customer base, making it more attractive to travel by car!

One of the most interesting presentations and the only one to exclusively examine rural transport was by Carmel Walsh of Kerry Community Transport Ltd, soon to be renamed Local Link Kerry. She outlined the Rural Transport Programme and its work since 2002, the various changes it has undergone and its current status, managed by the National Transport Authority and now delivered nationally by 17 Transport Coordination Units (TCUs).

In 2015 there were 1.76 million passenger journeys delivered by 400 private operators who are mainly local businesses, with a strong knowledge of their community and their needs. There is a focus on ensuring accessibility but the service is for and is used all the community, young and old. There is recognition that further integration with Bus Éireann services will improve services for Rural Transport users.

Technological developments will be important in reducing transport emissions and many of the speakers focused on the ways in which technology can reduce urban congestion.

One technological development which will impact on regional and rural areas is the electric vehicle. According to Declan Meally of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), while the technology is now available, the price is somewhat prohibitive. This looks set to change in the next few years.

Finally, a study entitled Greening Transport is actually looking at a fairly logical option – lowering transport emissions by reducing transport use, through behavioural changes such as more telecommuting. The WDC is also examining this in forthcoming research on tele-working/e-working.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

 

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

Sustainable Transport and Rail Freight

Just last week, the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe, T.D., announced the allocation of €13.5 million in 2016 for sustainable transport projects in our regional cities. The Minister noted, ‘Providing more sustainable travel options in our regional cities is becoming increasingly important as congestion levels are on the increase again’.  Projects that will benefit are road improvements and junction upgrades to improve bus priority, the provision of additional cycle infrastructure and improvements to railway and bus stations.

Another option for promoting more sustainable transport, saving on CO2 emissions and relieving our congested road network is to support greater freight traffic by rail.

It is not well known that three of the four rail freight services currently in operation start or finish in the West. A report published last month by the Western Development Commission (WDC), Rail freight and the Western Region notes that rail currently moves less than 1% of surface freight across Ireland and most of this rail freight originates in the Western Region[1]. Irish Rail plans to quadruple national rail freight traffic within 4 years and much of this traffic could be from the Western Region. In the short-term this could double from 4 to 8 trainloads per weekday and each trainload removes approximately 18 truckloads from the road network.

Rail freight, where available, offers several advantages over road transport. It generates less than a quarter of the emissions of road haulage, removes heavy goods traffic from the road network  and it can provide an alternative and efficient route to market for business, avoiding congested routes and availing of the existing rail network.

The WDC report identifies traffic which could be transported by rail and also identifies the policies needed to support this growth.

Demand for new rail freight services comes following a period of continued under-investment and rationalisation of rail freight infrastructure and rolling stock. To assist Irish Rail develop the traffic potential and associated direct / indirect benefits to the country, the WDC report highlights some policies which can support the growth of this sustainable mode including:

  • A policy framework for freight transport is needed which sets out the multi-modal context of road, rail, air and sea which is central to supporting the wider economy.
  • Safeguarding and/or enhancing rail access into ports is needed – Dublin and Waterford have played a valuable role in the recent growth of rail freight. Policy support and investment in other ports such as Shannon Foynes, Galway and other ports, will be needed to reduce potential congestion and/or over-dependency on Dublin.
  • Maximising the use of the existing rail network such as using longer trains, use of the rail network at night, and engaging a bigger fleet of traction and rolling stock will all help grow the traffic volumes carried by rail.
  • Across many counties there have been initiatives to support new rail freight services – in Europe this has been largely based on the environmental benefits of rail freight compared to road freight. This has been done in absolute terms for example the European Commission’s former ‘Marco Polo’ mode shift programme (which closed in 2013) provided grants to offset the costs of starting up new intermodal and multimodal freight projects, the level of grant based on rail’s societal advantage over road estimated at €0.004 per tonne km. The Commission is currently considering a possible replacement for the Marco Polo programme.
  • In the UK supports are available based on the benefit:cost ratio (eg 4.27:1 for Great Britain rail freight revenue support grants[2] and 12.51:1 for Marco Polo mode shift grants[3]). Most of the intermodal services in the UK serving maritime and domestic customers have at some stage received revenue support grants.

The Government needs to de-carbonise the economy and the transport sector represents a major contributor to energy consumption and emissions. If greater efficiency is to be derived from freight transport, both road and rail will need to be exploited to their maximum extent, with the rail network having considerable untapped capacity. This is even more apparent with the increasing congestion evident on parts of the road network.

It seems the Department of Transport is now considering whether and how rail freight can play a greater role. According to Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 (September 2015) the Government will commission a feasibility study to examine options for expanding freight transport on the railways. This is to be welcomed and it is to be hoped work on this will commence very shortly so that opportunities to move traffic more suited to the rail network will not be lost.

While rail freight will continue to play a relatively small role compared to road transport, there is potential to grow volumes which will not only capitalise on our existing rail network but will also deliver wider public and societal benefits in terms of lower emissions and reducing traffic on the congested road network.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

[1] WDC counties; Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare

[2] Department for Transport Review of Revenue Support Freight Grant Schemes Summary Report, Arup 2014

[3] Ex ante Evaluation Marco Polo II (2007-2013), Final Report for the European Commission, ECORYS Transport June 2004, section 10.4

Here is the reason there are so many new cars in Roscommon!

Just to update on the previous post, Understanding rural transport statistics: Why are there so many new cars in county Roscommon? the compiler of the vehicle licensing statistics in Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has clarified that 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.

It is good to know there is a simple explanation, and again, a useful reminder that there can be unexpected patterns in the data we look at day to day !

 

Helen McHenry