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Low carbon transition for Western Region homes- what’s the base line?

One of the most important elements of the transition to a low carbon rural region will be emissions reduction from homes in the Western Region by improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources for heating in particular (as discussed in the last blog post on this topic the focus of current WDC work on the transition is on rural dwellers).  The government, in the Climate Action Plan 2019, has set very ambitious targets for improving energy efficiency (retrofitting 500,000 buildings to a much higher level of efficiency (BER B2 or cost optimal or carbon equivalent) and moving to more renewable heat sources (with a target to install 600,000 heat pumps  (of which 400,000 will be in existing buildings).  In order to understand how what needs to be done to meet these targets we need to know where we are starting from.  This post sets out, in detail, some of the baseline information on homes in the Western Region.  Knowing the current situation means that we can better understand what we need to do to make the transition possible and ways to make it happen.

Homes in the Western Region

To understand the challenge it is first useful to look at the number and types of homes in the seven county Western Region.  According to Census 2016 there were 303,081 ‘permanent housing units’, that is all permanent residents excluding caravans, mobile homes and other temporary structures, (these accounted for 987 residences in 2016).  While newer homes have been built since the Census in 2016, the numbers are relatively small and those homes are not the focus of the efficiency and energy upgrades envisaged in the Climate Action Plan, so the Census remains the key data source.  The Western Region, in 2016, accounted for 17.98% of the permanent homes in Ireland which is in line with the share of the population living in the region (17.4%).

Galway county had the largest number of homes (62,729) and when combined with Galway city (as it is in some data discussed below) it has significantly more homes (91,556) than other Western Region counties.  Leitrim, the smallest Western Region county, had 12,404 homes (see Figure 1 below).

 

Figure 1: Permanent homes by county in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002

 

The types of homes in the Region are also important, given that different types have different levels of energy efficiency and can have different options for switching to more renewable energy sources. For example, terraced houses will have lower heat loss than detached houses while flats and apartments are more suited to a central or district heating systems than more dispersed housing.  Figure 2 shows the significance of different housing types in the region and state.

 

Figure 2: Type of permanent housing units in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002

Clearly, with the exception of Galway city, detached houses are the most common housing type in the region (64% of all homes in the region compared to 37% of homes in the rest of the state).  As would be expected the more rural counties have an even higher proportion of detached homes (Leitrim 73%, Roscommon 74%).  Counties with a higher urban population (Clare 59%, Sligo 57%) have a smaller proportion of detached homes but all are still above the state average (42%.  As noted above this has implications for the types of changes we need to make in relation to efficiency and heat sources.

The age of homes in the region is also important to planning the transition.  Figure 3 shows when homes in the different counties were built.  Significant house building in all counties between 2001 and 2010 is very apparent, with more than 30% of homes in Galway County (32%), Leitrim (35%), Roscommon (31%) and Donegal (31%) built in that period, while all other Western Region counties also have a higher proportion of homes built in that period than the rest of the state (25%).  Homes built in the different periods have different requirements for energy efficiency upgrades, and will face different costs and challenges.  The oldest homes will often face the most significant challenges, though it should also be recognised that they are not necessarily the least efficient.  More than a quarter of homes in Leitrim (26%) were built before 1960 while only 17% of those in Donegal were. In Galway City only 10% of homes were built before 1960.

 

Figure 3: Age of homes in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1005

 

While there will be different requirements for transforming homes from different eras, given the more recent improvement in building standards it is generally assumed that homes built  after 2010 will require least upgrading and therefore the focus of the SEAI grants, for example for heat pump  installation, is on homes built before 2011.  Figure 4 shows the proportions of homes in the Western Region built before and after 2011 (excluding those not stated).  In most counties, and in the State, only 2% of homes were built from 2011 onward (the exceptions are Galway City (1%) and Galway County (3%).

Figure 4: Number of Homes built pre and post 2011 in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1005

 

Evidently there is a very significant amount of work ahead with almost 98% of homes likely to require energy efficiency upgrades and fuel switching to complete a move to a low carbon economy. There are of course some pre 2011 exceptions such as the small number of homes which were built to higher efficiency standards than required or which have completed the process already).

 

Efficiency of Homes: Building Energy ratings (BER)

A Building Energy Rating (BER) certificate indicates a building’s energy performance rates on a scale of A-G. A-rated homes are the most energy efficient and G-rated are the least energy efficient.  It is calculated through energy use for space and hot water heating, ventilation, and lighting.  Figure 5 shows the different energy ratings given to buildings covered in each county up to 2018.  In all counties more than 90% of homes achieve a B3 rating or less.  While this data is very useful, in most areas fewer than a third of homes (often considerably fewer) have had a BER assessment[1] and so it is not clear if the homes which have been assessed accurately reflect the housing stock.

Figure 5: Percentage of rated buildings in each BER class for Western Region counties, 2019

Source: CSO, 2019, Domestic Building Energy Rating Table EBA02

 

The Climate Action Plan focus is on improving homes to a BER rating of at least B2 (or cost optimal or carbon equivalent.  Currently in the Western Region Galway and Mayo perform best with 5% of homes with a BER rating achieving B2 while only 2% in Leitrim and Roscommon do so.

The SEAI has recently produced an interactive map of BER ratings and with detailed BER data mapped at small area level.  Figure 6 below is a snapshot the national map where green DEDs have a median rating of B and above (there are not many on the map), while yellow shows DEDs with A median C rating, orange  is D, Red is E, Dark red, F and purple G.  The map should be viewed with caution as many DEDs have fewer than 20% of their homes with a BER rating and so the data may be skewed.  It is, however, really useful for planning and can be viewed in full here.

 

Figure 6: Map of median BER ratings by ED

 

Source: SEAI https://www.seai.ie/technologies/seai-maps/ber-map/

 

Fuels used in home heating.

While much of the discussion above has related to improving energy efficiency in homes, the other element necessary for reducing the carbon foot print of our homes is the fuel used for heating.  We will need to decarbonise the fuels used, by switching to renewable energy which may be electrical (generated from wind, solar or, in future, ocean energy), or bioenergy (e.g. wood energy, biogas from anaerobic digestion or a liquid biofuel).

The highest priorities for change are buildings heated using the most carbon intensive fuels (oil, coal and peat) and homes in the Western Region are particularly reliant on these, being rural, with little access to the natural gas grid and often using very traditional forms of central heating.  Figure 7 below shows the percentage use of oil and solid fuels (excluding wood energy) used in homes in the Western Region (from Census 2016).  In the Western Region as a whole more than four fifths of homes use oil, coal or peat for central heating, compared with 44% of homes in the rest of the state.  In Donegal 9 out of 10 homes use these fuels, with Mayo and Roscommon almost as high (each 87%).  Galway city has the lowest use of these fuels in the region (57%) and even that is higher than in the rest of the state.  Clearly homes in Western Region counties need to be prioritised in the switch to low carbon heating.

Figure 7: Oil and solid fuel as a percentage of central heating fuels in Western Region counties

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1053

 

While much of the discussion on home heat (e.g. in the Climate Action Plan) has focussed on heat pump installation, it may be that homes heated using coal and peat might find a switch to other renewable solid biomass such as wood energy to be more appropriate, especially in older homes which will need very significant retrofitting and may have particular ventilation requirements.  The focus of heat pump installation may therefore be on homes heated using oil.  Figure 8 below shows the percentage of homes in Region which use oil for central heating.

 

Figure 8: Oil as a percentage of central heating fuels in Western Region counties

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1053

Almost 60% of homes in the Western Region use oil for central heating compared to 36% in the rest of the state.  Again Galway city is lowest (at 50%) with the highest oil use in Leitrim (65%) and Donegal (64%).  A fifth of homes in Galway city (21%) are using electricity for heating which reflects the higher number of flats and apartments there (21%).  Roscommon has relatively low oil use (55%) because of the very significant use of peat (27%) to fuel central heating.  Homes in Galway county also commonly use peat (23%).

 

Heat Pump ready?

While it is important to change the type of energy used to heat homes in the Region, as discussed above  energy efficiency and good insulation are the first steps which need to be taken with a ‘fabric first’ approach advocated by SEAI for home energy improvement.  This is particularly important when heat pumps are to be installed as the home must be well insulated in order for heat pumps to work properly.

SEAI have used Heat Loss Indicator (HLI) data from BER certifications (see more here) to assess how many homes built prior to 2010 are ready to have heat pumps installed.  A prerequisite for heat pump installation is a HLI of ≤ 2 W/K/m2 and the percentage of homes ready for heat pump installation in the Western Region is shown in Figure 9 below.  Interestingly, this is a similar percentage of homes[2] in the Western Region (11.7%) as in the Rest of the State (12.8%).  Sligo is the Western Region county with the highest proportion of heat pump ready homes (15.6%) followed by Galway (14.0%) and Leitrim (12.6%).  Roscommon (8.6%) and Mayo (9.3%) have the lowest number of homes ready for heat pumps.

Figure 9: Heat Pump ready homes (HLI ≤2) by Western Region county

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableEnergyAut/key-learnings-from-the-seai-heat-pump-programme and CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002. Own calculations.

 

The HLI of ≤ 2 is the most stringent measure of heat pump readiness, but given the very significant target for heat pump installation in the Climate Action Plan (400,000 in existing homes by 2030) if it also useful to look at other homes which are close to this level of readiness.  SEAI have, therefore, also estimated the number of homes which are heat pump ready using a HLI of ≤2.3 with certain caveats (see this for the detail of these).

 

Using this measure there are a considerably higher proportion of heat pump ready homes (see Figure 10) in the Western Region (23.2%)[3] which is higher than the rest of the State (22.5%).  Again Sligo has the most heat pump ready homes (27.8%) with Galway (23.9%), Leitrim (24.1%) and Clare 23.9% all higher than the Region average.  The lowest proportion of homes ready for a heat pump is in Roscommon (18%) and Mayo (19.4%).

 

Figure 10: Heat Pump ready homes (HLI ≤2.3) by Western Region county

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableEnergyAut/key-learnings-from-the-seai-heat-pump-programme and CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002. Own calculations.

 

Although only 23% of homes are currently heat pump ready in the Western Region this still amounts to 65,187 homes in total in the region (and 351,295 in total for the state).  Prioritising these homes would make a very significant start on meeting the target in the Climate Action Plan.

Conclusion

In this post I have given some of the baseline information necessary for planning the transformation of our Western Region homes to more energy efficient, low carbon dwellings.  Clearly the scale of the transformation required is enormous and some of the issues which need to be addressed and actions which might be put in place will be discussed in my next post.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] BERs are usually done because a home is to be sold and a BER cert is required for this.

[2] Heat pump ready homes by county is shown as a percentage of permanent homes built before 2011 from CSO Census of Population 2016.

[3] This figure includes all those homes with a HLI of ≤2.0

Reprioritising and Updating Transport Policy and Investment

Recently, there have been a few publications which focus on the need to reprioritise policy and investment across various aspects of Irish transport infrastructure and services.

The Irish Exporters Association (IEA) has published a paper entitled Building a Transport infrastructure that fosters Irish exports to the world, see here. The IEA, whose focus is on supporting Irish exporters and ensuring efficient international transport access, sets out policies and recommendations which they believe are necessary to more effectively support exporters across Ireland. From a Western Region context, a few of these are particularly relevant.

Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC)

The IEA believes that the Atlantic Economic Corridor needs to be supported through improved connectivity from the North West to the South West of Ireland. The IEA sees the AEC and Ireland’s regions as an important counterbalance to Dublin and the transport infrastructure needs to more effectively support Ireland’s agri-food and Life Sciences industries along with all other industrial clusters located there.

Rail Freight development

The IEA are asking for policy supports to move more freight by rail, noting the relatively tiny share of traffic carried by rail in Ireland (0.9%) compared to an EU average of 17% in 2016. The Western Region is the source of most rail freight in Ireland. The IEA is asking for supports such as reduced track access charges for rail freight, which is a practice common across Europe. This is discussed further in a report commissioned by the WDC and available here. Apart from the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (rail freight can reduce the carbon footprint by 70%), the other significant driver is the huge degree of congestion which generates significant costs, highlighted in a report discussed further below.

Ports

The IEA believe that with Dublin Port operating at or near capacity, further upgrading and diversifying Ireland’s export gateways must be a strategic Government priority. This need is compounded by Brexit. The IEA believe the Government should further develop Ireland’s regional seaports to provide exporters across Ireland with viable, cost efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin port. They welcome the proposed redevelopment of both Rosslare and Galway Ports.

Airports and air cargo

Similar to the concentration of traffic through Dublin Port, the IEA recognises the concentration of air cargo through Dublin airport. It believes that cost-efficient, viable and well-connected alternatives should be promoted in the West and South to facilitate high-frequency aviation connections to key European and global cargo and business hubs and ensure sustainable economic growth nationally.

This echoes the views expressed by the WDC in its submission to the recent consultation on the Regional Airports Programme, arguing for the need to update transport policy generally and aviation policy specifically to reflect the overarching objectives of Project Ireland 2040, see the WDC Submission here.

The CSO Aviation statistics, see here, highlight the trend of the increasing concentration of air passengers travelling through Dublin airport compared to other airports. For example, in 2014, Dublin accounted for 81.9% of all passengers (total = 26.5 million), compared to 85.6% in 2018 (Total = 36.6 million). This represents an increase of 9.6 million passengers in 4 years with Dublin Airport accounting for 95.2% of total passenger growth in that period. So along with a significant increase in total air passenger numbers, there is an ever-increasing share travelling through Dublin airport. The WDC considers that with Dublin Airport now operating at or near capacity, and capacity available at other airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock and Shannon, cost-efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin should be utilised and promoted.

Level of concentration unusual in a European context

Just last week a report by Copenhagen Economics entitled Assessment of aviation policy as a driver of economic development in the West and Mid West of Ireland, see here noted the particularly high concentration of passenger traffic in Dublin relative to the other airports in Ireland which is especially high when compared to other small, open economies in Northern Europe. According to this report, the concentration of Dublin’s share of passenger traffic in Ireland represents the second highest, behind only Schiphol in the Netherlands. However, while Dublin’s share continues to increase that of Schiphol has been decreasing over time. This is partly due to Dutch aviation policy, which sets maximum aircraft movements through Schiphol, and actively encourages flights via other national airports in the Netherlands. Dutch aviation policy recognises that airport development is viewed as being part of regional development outlined in the Randstad 2040 Strategic Agenda. The report calls for initiatives to improve Shannon Airport’s global connectivity. A better capacity utilisation at Shannon Airport (in addition to other airports outside of the Capital) will enhance the growth capacity of the West and Mid West regions, and at the same time alleviate pressure on Dublin without requiring costly infrastructure investments.

Budget 2020

It seems Government maybe listening and in Budget 2020, a marketing support fund was announced, comprising approximately €10 million over three years to Tourism Ireland which is to be made available to support the regional airports outside Dublin, including Shannon Airport see here. This is a small but welcome development but more policy supports will be needed to ensure that other airports can grow their numbers and their share of national traffic which in turn will help them to become self-sustaining.

The Costs of Congestion

Finally, recent reports by the Department of Transport indicate that rebalancing traffic away from an increasingly congested Greater Dublin Area (GDA), will not only support the goals and objectives of Project Ireland 2040 but will also make financial and economic sense! The research measured the costs of congestion, specifically around the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) see here. Some of the congestion in the GDA and the M50 are contributed to by passengers and freight originating in the catchments of ports and airports in the West and South such as Shannon and Knock but who currently travel through the GDA to access services at Dublin Port and airport.

The reports estimate the annual value of time lost to road users due to aggravated congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), as compared to where the road network is performing well. The cost of time lost due to aggravated congestion is measured at €358 million in 2012 and is forecasted to rise to €2.08 billion per year in 2033.

These estimated costs do not include other costs, for example, increased fuel consumption and other vehicle operating costs, or increases in vehicle emissions or the impacts of congestion on journey quality. Additionally, congestion also has an impact on the wider economy, and Ireland’s competitiveness. All else equal, high levels of congestion will reduce the attractiveness of a location to work and live in, as well as directly affecting the cost of transporting goods and services. These costs are not captured by this study, and as such, the total costs of aggravated congestion are likely to be higher than those estimated in this report.

Conclusions

It is clear that the benefits of supporting better transport infrastructure and services across ports, airports, the rail and road network outside of the GDA and specifically along the Western Region and Atlantic Economic Corridor makes sense from an economic, social and financial perspective. Implementation of Government policy already set out in Project Ireland 2040 through the NDP and the updating of various sectoral policies needs to take place to give effect to these policies and to a better Ireland for all its regions.

 

Deirdre Frost

Travel to Work Areas and Border Labour Catchments

The WDC will present analysis on Travel to Work Areas (TTWAS) and the smaller labour catchments located along the Border at a conference in Derry, organised by NERI on 1st May see here for more details.

This work is part of a larger piece of work examining the smaller labour catchments across the Western Region which in turn is part of the WDC programme of research on Travel to Work Areas and Labour Catchments which has been a key element of the WDC Policy Analysis work programme for the last 10 years.

The work on smaller labour catchments follows on from the WDC report published in 2018, Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments (2018). This provides a detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region, based on travel to work patterns, namely: Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon and is available for download here. (14.2MB)

The map below illustrates all the labour catchments across the Western Region, arising from the analysis of Census 2016 data.

Map 1 Labour Catchments across the Western Region 2016

The analysis of smaller labour catchments reviews the remaining 26 complete labour catchments contained within the Western Region and the 26 reports will be published shortly. Here is a sneak preview of some findings and points of interest.

The 26 complete smaller labour catchments are distributed across each of the counties of the Western Region as the table below shows.

Table 1 The 26 smaller Labour Catchments in Western Region Counties, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The smaller labour catchments range in size from the largest, Ballina in Co. Mayo with 9,034 resident workers, to the smallest, Charlestown-Bellahy with 962 resident workers.

Each labour catchments has a greater number of workers living there compared to the figure reported in the Census for the town at its core, indicating a greater labour supply available than might otherwise be considered.

Of the 26 smaller labour catchments 15 reported an increase in numbers over the 10 year period from 2006 to 2016, while 11 of the smaller labour catchments reported a decline in numbers over the same period.

Generally, those that reported a decline are somewhat remote, for example five of those that reported a decline are located in Co. Donegal, namely, Ballybofey-Stranorlar, Buncrana, Killybegs, Bunbeg and Ballyshannon. Belmullet in west Mayo also recorded a decline in the number of resident workers living there over the 10 year period. A further four catchments in east Mayo/Roscommon reported a decline; namely Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen, Boyle and Castlerea, while Gort in co. Galway also had a decline in resident workers living there over the 10 year intercensal period.

In the case of the labour catchments in Co. Donegal, the larger labour catchments of Donegal town and Letterkenny, both recorded an increase over the period indicating move from the smaller more rural catchments in the county to the larger centres and this in part accounts for the changes.

For the centres in Mayo and Roscommon which reported a decline in numbers, some of this can be accounted for by growth in adjacent centres such as Castlebar and Carrick-on-Shannon but further analysis is needed to explain the changes in detail.

There is also some evidence of greater levels of longer distance commuting to Dublin and other locations, for example, the numbers travelling from the larger catchments of Galway city, Sligo and Ennis to work in Dublin has more than doubled over the 10 year period. This trend is likely to be evident for the smaller centres also.

However, it is also true that rural areas remain very important places of work. Across many of the 26 labour catchments the second most important place of work after the town itself is the rural parts of the county. Smaller centres and rural areas are very important employment centres and the analysis will show that this employment extends across sectors such as Education, health and Social Work, Manufacturing and Wholesale, Retail and Commerce.

Further detail will be available following the presentation at the NERI conference and will be posted here

 

Deirdre Frost

 

 

Galway as a Key Regional Driver

The WDC recently presented to Galway Chamber (presentation available here), noting some of the work they have recently undertaken and highlighting some policy implications for the Region as well as the city.

Galway – which Galway?!

Galway city and its reach goes well beyond the city boundary, but measuring this is complicated. In part because there are different measures depending on the role performed by the city, for example as a centre of excellence for health it has an extensive regional remit. More recently there is consideration of the Galway Metropolitan Area Spatial Plan (MASP) as part of Ireland 2040 and the National Planning Framework.

Travel to Work Areas

Another way of examining the impact and influence of Galway is examining its labour catchment. The WDC has analysed labour catchments, based on Travel to Work Areas, which in turn are based on the commuting patterns of workers resident in the Western Region. The WDC first undertook this exercise based on Census 2006 data and has completed the same analysis 10 years later with the most recent Census in 2016. This provides useful trend data, which shows a growth in the size of the Galway city labour catchment over the period. The Galway city labour catchment and the extent of commuting to the city highlights the extensive reach of the city across the entire county and beyond into parts of Galway and Mayo.

Highlights from 2016 Census

The recent Census data shows that between 2011 and 2016 the number of people living in Galway city grew by over 4% (4.2%), and by 2.4% in County Galway. Both the city and county had much higher population increases than anywhere else across the Western Region, (Mayo and Donegal recorded slight declines).

When examining the socio-economic profile of residents, the figures for Galway city are generally very similar to the state average, for example, in terms of the employment (53.4%) and unemployment rates (7.9%) and the share not economically active (38%) the Galway city figures and the State are the same.

NPF and RSES

There was a discussion on the National Planning Framework and the Northern & Western Regional Economic and Spatial Plan. While the NPF is to be a move away from ‘business as usual’, from a regional perspective the focus is on the five cities. A concern is implementation and the importance of sectoral policy as an instrument of change for both capital & current spending. Sectoral polices need to be aligned to support the move ‘away from business as usual’. However, there is little evidence of this in the NPF, so for example, policies such as the National Aviation Policy devised well before the NPF now need to be reviewed to support the regional population and employment targets.

On the Northern & Western Regional Economic and Spatial Plan, while the WDC welcomes regional population targets there needs to be more commitments to help deliver. There is much potential in the regional centres but there needs to be better links and investment, however much of this is at the back end of the programme rather than being front loaded. As we know from previous spatial planning exercises (e.g. National Spatial Strategy), implementation is key. What happens if priorities of a Government Department or sectoral agency conflict with RSES?

Policy implications for Galway

Better intra-regional transport links e.g. M18 have extended labour catchments & opened up new opportunities, for example there is now more commuting for work between Galway, Ennis, Shannon and Limerick. This can be a key asset for large employers looking to access the skills they need. The Galway-Ennis-Shannon- Limerick may currently be the most cohesive element of the Atlantic Economic Corridor and it illustrates how good transport links are critical.

Employment and good job opportunities are important in ensuring skilled people will stay in the region and Galway needs to attract new and dynamic enterprises. Employment is very important but Galway as a place to live is equally, if not more important. Place of residence is usually more stable than place of employment, therefore retaining the good quality of life available in Galway and improving on it should also be a policy priority.

Galway City and Chambers city Regions Conference

The idea of the regional cities working together more cohesively was a key theme discussed at the conference on urban development hosted by the Chambers of Commerce in the five cities – Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, held in NUI Galway on 28th March. The conference, entitled ‘Ireland’s Cities – Powerhouses of Regional Growth’, explored how Ireland’s five cities can fulfill the goals of economic development for their regions set out in the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Project Ireland 2040.

The Minster for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD, opened the conference and welcomed the initiative, pointing to the opportunities for urban growth and regeneration without urban sprawl. John Moran, Chair of the Land Development Agency pointed to the opportunities for the four regional cities to work together to create a counterbalance to the East and to combine capacities to create more opportunities. Other speakers included Anne Graham, CEO of the National Transport Authority.  John O’Regan, Director of AECOM discussed the results of their Survey on Our Cities’ Infrastructure Needs and Dr. Patrick Collins from NUI Galway discussed a Vision for Galway as an example of urban regeneration highlighting issues and opportunities. The presentations will be made available on the Galway Chamber website shortly.

 

Deirdre Frost

Travelling from the Western Region to work in Dublin. How has it changed and Why?

The Western Development Commission (WDC) recently published a report on Travel to Work patterns in the Western Region. Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments (2018) is available for download here.

The report draws on Census 2016 POWCAR data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region. The analysis, undertaken by the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO), contains a detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region, namely: Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon.

Travelling to Dublin City for Work

Of particular interest is the place of work of residents living in the Western Region and how this has changed in the last 10 years when the WDC conducted the same analysis based on Census 2006 data. In this blogpost we examine the numbers travelling to work in Dublin city from these seven centres and the extent to which this has changed over the last decade.

From the analysis of 2006 Census of Population data and accompanying report, (published in 2009), see here , the numbers travelling to work in Dublin city from each of the catchments in the Western Region ranged from 73 (Roscommon) to 411 in the Galway city labour catchment. These figures represented 1.0% and 0.63% of the total catchment size respectively, see Table 1 below.

Table 1. Numbers travelling to Dublin city from labour catchments in Western Region, Size of catchment and Share of catchment travelling to work in Dublin, 2006 and 2016.

Examining the same data 10 years on there is quite an obvious change. Though both periods are similar in that they are characterised by strong employment and economic growth, across each of the catchments there is a considerable increase in the numbers travelling to work in Dublin city. It is also notable that while the relative population size of each of the catchments all increased, the rate of increase is not that significant. Therefore the share of the total in each catchment travelling to work in Dublin city is much greater in 2016 than it had been in 2006, now ranging from 1% in Letterkenny to 3.5% in Carrick-on-Shannon.

So the numbers and the share of all resident workers in each catchment travelling to work in Dublin has all increased considerably and has generally doubled or in some cases nearly trebled (for example Ennis and Roscommon).

So what are the factors behind this change?

  • Improved transport between Dublin and the regions is also important; the example of Carrick-on- Shannon and Letterkenny applies here. The improved road and motorway networks serving Limerick (Ennis), Galway and to a lesser extent Sligo as well as intercity rail services, all make journey times quicker.
  • Better job opportunities and the relative the lack of opportunities in the regions is another key factor. There is no doubt that especially for more senior or more specialised positions, most of these are located in Dublin. For those living in the Region and who want to progress up the career ladder, work in Dublin may be the only option.
  • The economic crash between 2006 and 2016 and ensuing high unemployment, may have forced people living in the Western Region to take up positions in the Capital, ‘in the short-term’, but the short-term has turned into the long-term, especially in the absence of good opportunities closer to home.
  • It is also possible that many of these positions, while based in Dublin, allow for some degree of flexibility and working from home for a day or two during the week. This can make the long commute on the alternate days more manageable for some. There is a range of data attempting to measure the incidence of e-working or teleworking and most suggest that it is on the increase. It is also likely to be a factor in retaining key personnel during periods of skills shortages and low unemployment. See WDC publications on e-working here, the Gig economy here and Home-based working here.
  • Finally, geography is an important factor in the relative differences. It is no surprise that the share of the total catchment working in Dublin from Carrick-on-Shannon (3.5%) is much higher than Letterkenny, given its relative proximity.

Accessibility to Jobs

Recent research by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, National Road Network Indicators 2017, see here, shows the changes that have occurred in the road network between 2006 and 2017 and how this has influenced accessibility to jobs, see Page A1 showing the impact of the improved road network linking Dublin and the regions.

The report notes that A significant proportion of the road capital spend from 2013 to 2017 was within the West of the country and this has resulted in improved employment accessibility for these areas. This is to be welcomed but the report also notes that despite this peripheral areas in the North-West, West and South-West and South-East still tend to suffer from poor accessibility to jobs.

It is also worth noting that the decline in accessibility on routes into Dublin, due to ongoing traffic growth, are in part caused by the increased numbers of people from the Western Region travelling to the city to work.

To counter this, to help ease congestion and improve accessibility into Dublin, regional growth needs to be supported and accessibility within the Regions needs to be improved. This will improve interregional mobility, enhance labour catchments and supply in the Regions and make it more attractive to do business there.

Project Ireland 2040

The Project Ireland 2040 National Development Plan 2018-2017 commits to Enhanced Regional Accessibility as National Strategic Outcome 2. This recognises the importance of travel catchments and urban centres and their regions. From a Western perspective it is also welcome that it acknowledges the need to invest in transport to the North West which has been comparatively neglected until recently.

From an interregional perspective, the commitment to deliver the Atlantic Corridor, linking Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo is very important. Enhancing this network will improve travel to work times within the region, helping to improve accessibility and improving job prospects for residents within the Region. It will also hopefully make the region more attractive for new job creation. While the Plan notes that the Atlantic Corridor will be delivered progressively, it is hoped that it will be completed as timely as possible, both for those commuters who wish to find work closer to home and to realise the wider objectives of regional growth under Project Ireland 2040.

Regional Difference, Regional Strategies and a Ratio- employment and residence in towns in Ireland.

The National Planning Framework has a chapter on ‘Making Urban Places Stronger’ which covers settlements from cities to small towns.  In discussing Ireland’s urban structure (p58-59) it looks at population and employment and highlights a ratio of “jobs to resident workforce” as a key indicator of sustainability for a town.  Data is provided (in the NPF Appendix 2) on town population, resident workers and jobs in the town for 200 settlements with a population of over 1,500 people in 2016.  This is the only detailed data provided in the National Planning Framework.  It is useful to look at differences in the ratio across the regions to see if this indicator can help us better understand residence and employment as town functions.

The NPF suggests in the footnote to the discussion of this ratio that:

A ratio of 1.0 means that there is one job for every resident worker in a settlement and indicates a balance, although not a match, as some resident workers will be employed elsewhere and vice-versa. Ratios of more than 1.0 indicate a net in-flow of workers and of less than 1.0, a net out-flow. The extent to which the ratio is greater or less than 1.0, is also generally indicative of the extent to which a town has a wider area service and employment role, rather than as a commuter settlement. (Footnote 22 pg 176).

It suggests that those settlements with a high ratio of jobs to resident workforce are, by reason of accessibility, employment and local services, fulfilling important roles for a wider area.  This, as will be discussed later in this post, is particularly strongly indicated for towns in the North West.  Firstly, however, a scatter diagram (Figure 1) showing town size and the ratio of jobs to resident workers provides a good overview of the data.  For reasons of scale the five cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford) are not on this diagram but are discussed in more detail below.

Figure 1: Town Size and Jobs to Resident Workers by Regional Assembly Area.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2

The very different patterns among towns in the three regional assembly areas is clear in the diagram.  Towns in the Eastern and Midland Region tend to have lower ratios (most less than 1.0) with more workers leaving the town for jobs elsewhere than are travelling to the town.  In contrast towns in the Northern and Western Region, though generally smaller, are more often serving as centres of employment for their wider area.

As the NPF notes in relation to the North West, towns there tend to have ‘more significant employment and service functions relative to their regional and local catchment’ (p 59).  Table 1 below shows the ratio of jobs to resident workers for towns in the three Regional Assembly areas and the Western Region; the differences in the ratios again emphasise the different functions of towns in the Regions.

Table 1: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in towns over 1,500 in three Regional Assembly areas and Western Region.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (Western Region own calculations)

The low ratio for towns in the Eastern and Midland indicates the importance of commuting for many towns and the dominance of the large Dublin City region.  Indeed only 2 towns in EMRA have ratios higher than 1.5.  These are Longford (1.596) and Athlone (1.591) both of which are on the periphery of the EMRA, less under the influence of Dublin, and both have important employment and wider service functions for their hinterlands.  In contrast, 40 towns in the EMRA (just over half) have a ratio of less than 0.5.  In the NWRA area, where there are 44 settlements with a population of more than 1,500,  7 towns have a ratio of more than 1.5 while 4 have a ratio of less than 0,5.  In the Southern Region, with three key cities, a quarter of towns (19) have a ratio of less than 0.5, while 7 towns (9%) have a ratio of greater than 1.5.

Looking at the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit), the overall ratio is very high (1.26) and of the 39 listed 7 have a ratio of more than 1.5 while four have a ratio of less than 0.5.

Cities and Key Regional Centres

Given the focus on the development of cities and a few key regional centres in the National Planning Framework, it is useful to examine the ratios for the five cities and these regional growth centres (Table 2).  Somewhat surprisingly, Dublin City and its suburbs has a ratio of only 0.978 despite being the major centre for the Region.  This is likely to be related to the location of the boundaries of the suburbs and the fact that there is a larger Dublin Region agglomeration which has a spread of job locations and worker flows to towns that are essentially part of a greater Dublin.

As expected, the other four cities have ratios greater than 1.0, with Galway the highest of these (1.302).  Looking at the proposed regional growth centres, Athlone, Letterkenny and Sligo all have high ratios indicating their importance as employment and service centres in their wider hinterlands.  In contrast Drogheda and Dundalk (which are mentioned in the NPF as part of a “Drogheda-Dundalk-Newry” cross border network) both have lower ratios. Drogheda, in particular, has many people travelling to work elsewhere.

Table 2: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in Cities and Regional Growth Centres.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2, (EMRA towns in purple, NRWA in green and SRA in blue).

 

Patterns of employment and residence in the Western Region

Looking briefly at towns in the Western Region, Table 3 shows the settlements with the highest jobs to resident workers ratios in the Region.  There is no particular pattern relating to town size, but the top five are all ‘county towns’ and have particular local employment and service functions.  Other towns in the top ten often have key employers indicating the importance of employment spread.

Table 3: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in ten Western Region settlements with highest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)

In contrast to the towns in the table above, Table 4 below shows the Western Region towns with the lowest job to resident worker ratios.  These are all ‘dormitory’ towns serving Galway, Sligo and Limerick.  These are the only towns in the Western Region which have a ratio of less than 0.5 indicating perhaps, aside from these, a more sustainable region in terms of commuting patterns.

Table 4: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in five Western Region settlements with lowest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)

Conclusions

Understanding where people work and where people are most likely to travel to work is essential to our understanding of employment and economic activity in our Region.  The WDC will publish a detailed analysis of travel to work patterns and labour market catchments in the Western Region next month. It is based on data from Census 2016 will also provide a comparison the 2009 WDC study Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region which used Census 2006 data.

The use of the jobs to resident workforce ratio in the NPF is interesting.  It is quite a restricted indicator but the variation in the ratio among towns of all sizes and across the different regions serves to emphasise that the individual employment and other characteristics of each town are the key to the town’s pattern of, and opportunities for, development.  Therefore a clear understanding of the functions and areas which each town can develop is important.

For the Western Region, the ratio has served to highlight the importance of towns of all sizes as centres of employment in the region, while in contrast it shows the importance of commuting to many towns in the East.  Thus, there is a need for very different regional strategies in relation to towns in the North West and in areas of other regions where the influence of the cities is not significant.

A strong argument is made throughout the NPF that concentration in larger cities and towns is essential, but this data indicates that, in the Western Region at least, smaller towns often have high jobs to resident workers ratios and they are attracting workers, probably from their rural catchments.  It is therefore important that we consider the case for ensuring a wider spread of employment across towns of different sizes and develop better policies to do so.  If there is too much focus on the largest cities we risk replicating the problems in the East, where many towns have little function other than as dormitories for the cities.

Locating jobs where workers reside, and supporting those urban centres which have important local and regional functions could be a more sustainable approach and perhaps would be easier to achieve than concentrating residence in the largest urban centres.

 

Helen McHenry

 

Commuting in the Western Region

Census 2016 results, Profile 6 has highlighted some key trends in relation to commuting patterns across the country. What are the trends in the Western Region and how do they compare with the national picture?

More commuting to work

The number of people living in the Western Region and commuting to work in 2016 was 306,359, an increase of 7.4% (21,136) since 2011, somewhat less than the national increase of 10.7% over the five year period.

Within the Western Region all counties experienced an increase in workers commuting though only Galway city experienced a rate of increase that exceeded the national average (11.7%). This was followed by County Galway (9.5%), Donegal (8.8%), Clare (7.4%) and Leitrim (6.3%). Counties Roscommon (6%), Mayo (4.4%) and Sligo (1.2%), all had increases, though well below the national average.

Travel to work in the Western Region

Commuting by car

  • Most commuters in the Western Region travel to work by car (72.4%[1]), either as a driver or passenger – less than 7% of car commuters are passengers. Nationally 65.6% of workers commute to work by car to work, a decrease from 66.3% in 2011. As the numbers at work has increased over the period, this indicates an even greater change than the percentage share might suggest.
  • In the Western Region the share travelling by car stayed the same – 72.4% since 2011, but as the numbers employed have increased (excluding not stated, by 21,478 or 7.4%)  it indicates a greater number of people in the Western Region are travelling by car than in 2011,(+15,816 or 7.5%) the opposite trend to that occurring nationally.
  • Within the Western Region, all counties had a minimum of 71% of commuters travelling by car, ranging from a high of 75% in Clare to 71.8% in Mayo. Only Galway city had a lower share of car commuters – 61.9% – reflecting the greater public transport availability and more walking and cycling options there.

Public Transport

  • In the Western Region the share of commuters using public transport increased from 1.8% in 2011 to 2.1% in 2016, while nationally, the share of commuters using public transport increased from 8.4% to 9.3%. All counties showed a percentage increase apart from counties Donegal and Mayo, though most change was marginal apart from Galway city.
  • All western counties had increases in the numbers both travelling by bus and train which given the extent of the train network in the region suggests many of those travelling by train are commuting to destinations outside the Region.

Cycling

  • In the Western Region, the share of those cycling to work increased from 1.1 to 1.3% between 2011 and 2016, while nationally the rate has increased from 2.3% to 3%. Within the Western Region all counties except Roscommon and Leitrim showed an increase in the numbers and percentage share of commuting by cycling to work.

Walking

  • Within the Western Region, there was a slight decline in the share of commuters walking to work, from 7.8% to 7.4%, though there was an actual increase of 440, obviously less than the rate of employment growth in the Region.
  • Nationally there was a decline in the share of commuters walking to work, from 9.9% to 9.3%, though this masks an actual increase of over 4,500 persons walking to work. Within the Region, Galway city has the highest rate of walking to work, 17.2% in 2016 up from 17% in 2011.

Longer journey times to work – more congested routes or longer distances travelled?

  • Of the over 300,000 people in the Western Region travelling to work, nearly 30% (29.9%) had a journey time of less than ¼ hour while a further 29.7% have a journey time of between ¼ and ½ hour, see Figure 1 below.
  • This indicates a majority of workers living in the Western Region (59.6%) have a journey time of less than ½ hour, less than in 2011 (61.9%) indicating people’s journey times have become longer.

Figure 1. Percentage Share of Working Population and Time Travelled to Work, 2016

Source: CSO statbank. Profile 6, Commuting Table E6023.

Nationally 52.2% of workers have a journey time of between ¼ and ½ hour in 2016, a decline in the share in 2011 of 55.9%. The extent to which people are travelling longer distances or travel times are longer, (because of congestion due to the greater numbers travelling), is less clear.

Within the Western Region, workers living in Galway city and Sligo have the shortest journey times, with 67.4% and 66.6% respectively with a travel time of less than ½ hour. Close to two-thirds of workers in Donegal (64.7%) and Mayo (63.8%) have journey times to work of less than ½ hour.

The share of commuters with journey times of less than ½ hour is less in the counties of Roscommon (59.7%), Clare (59.1%), Leitrim (55%) and County Galway (47.6%), indicating generally longer commutes for people living in these counties.

In the case of workers living in County Galway, 34.1% have a journey time of between ½ and 1 hour, while a further 8% have a journey time of between 1 hour and 90 minutes suggesting many are travelling some distance and/or travelling on congested routes into Galway city.

Further analysis, examining where people work and the extent to which they travel for work will be examined in forthcoming WDC policy analysis.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

[1] This excludes the ‘not stated’ category.

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

New WDC Publication: WDC Policy Briefing No.7 e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has published its latest Policy Briefing WDC Policy Briefing No.7 e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence, which is now available for download at the following link here.

e-Work is a method of working using information and communication technology in which the work is not bound to any particular location. Traditionally this has been understood as working remotely from the office, usually from home, whether full-time or for a period during the working week. e-Working can provide particular opportunities in regions like the Western Region where many are living some distance from key employment centres.

The WDC Policy Briefing, which includes case studies from companies and individuals, examines:

  • The extent of e-Working.
  • The way in which weaker broadband access in more rural locations impacts on the rate of e-Working.
  • Factors driving e-Work.
  • Recommendations on how e-Working can be further promoted.

This Policy Briefing shows that e-Working is a widespread practice but somewhat hidden from official statistics. It also shows that while there is demand for greater e-working, broadband speeds need to be improved.

The WDC Policy Briefing contains recommendations to support more e-Working, including priority rollout of the National Broadband Plan to those counties with the lowest broadband speeds. Additional case studies are also available for download from here.

Deirdre Frost

E-Work and New ‘Work’

In a previous blog post, E-Working – what are the trends? I examined the data available on e-work, also termed tele-working. Much of the data, especially the trend data available from the Census, only measures those workers who work ‘mainly at or from home’ and as discussed this only captures a small element of the workforce which we know, frequently work from home.

Capturing the extent to which people e-work is related to how the question is phrased; so for example if the Census question was changed, to ask whether a person worked on one or even a ½ day per week basis, it is likely to significantly increase the number reporting that they are e-workers.

Rural E-working

A recent report commissioned by Vodafone and conducted by Amárach Research, Connected Futures (3.8MB) examined the extent to which broadband has influenced those working in rural Ireland. The research found that nearly one in four broadband users in rural Ireland uses the internet at home in relation to their work (about 430,000 people). Among those remotely accessing work from home, most use the internet to check email and organise their work diary. Nearly half use the internet at home to work on reports and presentations. These e-workers report that with internet access, they can avoid commuting to work, which the research indicates typically occurs about two days a week.

Entirely Home-based E-work

The use of communications technology and more importantly its widespread availability at home has allowed new forms of work to emerge.

An early use of home-based working which is conditional on the availability of a minimum level of broadband speed has been the outsourcing of work where the employee is entirely home-based. For example Amazon and Apple were reported as requiring applicants to have a minimum 5Mbps download speed for home based customer support jobs. This and the need for universal high speed broadband is discussed in the WDC Report, Connecting the West, Next Generation Broadband in the Western Region (Low Res 1.5Mb).

Enforced Flexibility

A new report, published last week by TASC, Enforced Flexibility? Working in Ireland Today, (609kb) discusses an emerging practice where employees work entirely from home, though not by employee choice. For at least one of the high tech multinationals an emerging practice is to place some of their customer service workers in their own homes.  While traditionally the choice to work from home was perceived as a positive option, in this case the decision was made by the organisation rather than the individual: it was not an option as there was no possibility of working in an office. (p.62).

E-working has generally been considered in a positive light from the employee perspective, enabling more flexibility in working hours which can be more family friendly, reduced commuting time as well as fuel and carbon savings. However the TASC report notes that e-working which is wholly and entirely conducted from home, without the option of working in an office may not offer the same degree of flexibility. Constantly online during their shifts they were subject to the same tight supervision as those based in a traditional call centre environment. While it is difficult to establish what proportion of customer service workers now work in this way, there is evidence that the numbers are growing (p.62). In some instances these employees are self-employed contractors even though they are entirely contracted to the one employer.

The ‘Gig economy’

Measuring the extent of e-work is further complicated by the changing nature of work. The evolution of communications technology which has enabled the increased possibility of e-work, has evolved even further to allow new forms of ‘work’ to emerge.

Broadband and online platforms have allowed the development of new types of work and service delivery variously termed the ‘gig economy’, ‘sharing economy’, ‘crowd working’ and ‘uberisation’. Previously ‘gigs’ were how musicians earned a living, now the ‘gig economy’ includes all those who rent out their property, possessions or services for a fee, all of which is managed online!

The ‘gig economy’ is another form of e-work as it relies on electronic communication, though with the increasing use and availability of smartphones and mobile broadband this type of e-work is often less tied to a fixed location, whether this is at home or elsewhere. The ‘gig economy’ can also be seen as entrepreneurial, allowing individuals to initiate a process of selling goods or services and increasing the potential for self-employment.

Much of this type of work and service delivery is likely to be more developed in large urban centres, with significant critical mass. So far, within Ireland, Uber is just in Dublin and Cork – though the IDA announced a significant jobs announcement by Uber  in Limerick earlier this year.

However while parts of the ‘gig economy’ are urban driven, it is by no means exclusive to it. Airbnb can operate anywhere and maybe very popular in more rural areas with more limited supply, especially in high season.

As a type of employment, the ‘gig economy’ has raised questions about workers’ rights and protections such as guaranteed income, health care and pensions. Hillary Clinton, US Presidential candidate, when outlining her economic plan noted, This on-demand, or so called gig economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

Evidence of the ‘Gig Economy’

To what extent the ‘gig economy’ is changing the nature of work is not clear. Some argue that while more are choosing to earn income from this ‘gig economy’, it is not clear whether this is in the absence of another job or to supplement existing paid employment?

Research undertaken by the University of Hertfordshire has tried to quantify the extent of the ‘gig economy’ in both the UK and Sweden.

The research found that in the UK around 5 million people are engaged in the ‘gig economy’. In the UK online survey 21% say they have tried to find work managed via so called ‘sharing economy’ platforms such as Upwork, Uber or Handy during the past year, equivalent to around 9 million people or almost one fifth of the adult population. Around 1 in 10 (11%) of respondents said they had succeeded in doing so, equivalent to around 4.9 million people.

Almost a quarter (24%) of UK women responding to the survey claim to have sought work via online platforms, and one third (33%) of 25-34 year olds.

3% of respondents claim to find paid work via online platforms at least once a week, equivalent to around 1.3 million adults, with 4%, or around 1.8 million finding work at least once a month.

Main source of income or a supplement?

A quarter of all those workers in the ‘gig economy’ say they rely on this income as their sole or main source of income.

Only 10% of those workers in the ‘gig economy’ were students, a proportion that dropped to 6% among those working in the ‘gig economy’ weekly. This is in line with the general proportion of students in the adult population of the UK (at around 8%).

The range of work is extremely broad, from high-skill professional work at one extreme to running errands at the other. The most common type of work, undertaken by more than two thirds is office work, short tasks and ‘click work’ done online. However a significant proportion are doing professional work, creative work, providing taxi services or a range of other services in people’s homes.

Where is the ‘Gig economy’?

From a geographic perspective, the largest numbers are in England with one in five based in London, just under a quarter each in the South, the Midlands and the North with 7% in Scotland and 3% in Wales. This reflects the general distribution of the UK population.

The Swedish online survey found a similar pattern to the UK survey. In Sweden 12% are working in the so-called ‘sharing economy’ for platforms such as Upwork, Uber or Skjutsgruppen, equivalent to around 737,000 people. Twice as many people (24%) used such sites in the hope of finding work – equivalent to almost a quarter of the working age population.

Conclusions

E-work can describe a variety of employment types ranging from ‘traditional work’ conducted at home or on the move, through to occasional engagement in online activity to generate additional income.

This can include a traditional employment relationship between an employee and an employer with the employee working from home possibly one or two days per week. It can also include the ‘new’ types of work and service delivery associated with the gig economy’, where people are often self-employed.

E-working of all types and the more recent growth in online platforms which has enabled new forms of income generation are all dependent on the widespread availability of broadband. The research to-date indicates that this type of employment and income generation is a very significant and growing element of the economy and labour market. The evidence cited from rural areas suggest that online participation for work is as prevalent, if not more so than in urban areas. This reinforces the need for the universal availability of quality broadband, another reason for the speedy rollout of the Government’s National Broadband Plan.

Deirdre Frost