The lack of a motorway between Cork and Limerick is the “single biggest gap in Irish infrastructure” and planning needs to be kick- started urgently, the boss of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has said.
Now is the time, director general Tom Parlon said, to explore options for major infrastructure with the European Investment Bank.
Speaking in Cork, Mr Parlon said making the long-awaited M20 between the two cities a reality was a “no-brainer” that would ignite the regional economy.
However, he warned the stalled progress of recent years had taken its toll. Planning was halted in 2011 when the Government deemed the €1bn price tag too expensive.
Mr Parlon said: “When joined up, the combined population of the two regions is substantial, an ideal counter-investment area to Dublin. Unfortunately, the decision was taken not to proceed with the planning, so even if we had a Cork taoiseach in the morning and this was priority number one, this is going to take a while before we get all our ducks in a row to invest in it. Planning may be the bane of our lives but it is important that it is done strategically and done early.”
Transport Minister Shane Ross allocated €1m for exploratory work last year but warned funds were not in place to sanction it. The favoured M20 route, from the junction with the proposed Cork northern ring road near Blarney to the junction with the N21 at Attyflynn in Limerick would reduce travel time between the cities from 61 to 45 minutes.
Mr Parlon also warned of a serious shortage of tradespeople coming through, outside the traditional big three of carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, and that it could affect the economic recovery. “There is a lot of construction work in the pipeline. DKM measured construction output last year at €15.5bn, which will grow to €20bn by 2020. That’s about an extra 100,000 people working in the industry.
“Skills, especially in the wet trades of bricklayers, block-layers, and plasterers, as well as floor and wall-tilers, will be in scarce supply. It means accessing the European workforce, because we don’t have them up-skilled here,” he said.
Government policy had to reinforce the importance of skills, and provide incentives to employers to take on apprentices, he said.
“Unfortunately there is a bit of snobbery there when it comes to parents and third level education. But third level isn’t for everyone and the drop-off rate is too high.
“If those people were attracted to the trades, it provides a springboard to qualifications desired all over the world,” he said.
He was “optimistic” about the impact of Brexit and thought “common sense would prevail” in relation to trade and movement of people when the UK government realised how impactful a hard Brexit would be. He foresaw regions such as Cork benefiting from Brexit when the Government realised the importance of infrastructure projects such as the Dunkettle Interchange, the N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy, and the Macroom bypass.
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