Amid much fanfare, the Government launched the €116bn plan to “re-imagine Ireland” and prepare for the future following a special Cabinet meeting at the Institute of Technology in Sligo.
Project Ireland 2040 will invest in infrastructure, housing, health and the environment over the next two decades.
It includes a €2bn urban regeneration and development fund, €1bn rural development fund, and €500m climate action fund.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the framework as a “significant milestone in our country’s development” adding that it marks “the point at which we put a lost decade behind us and move forward into a new decade of expansion”.
“We have the plan, we have the money, now we need to move to implement it. This is a plan for all our citizens — the old, the young, and the yet to be born, living in towns, in cities and in the countryside,” he noted.
Elective only-hospitals will be built in Cork, Dublin and Galway while Government has also committed to 2,600 extra acute hospital beds under the Project Ireland 2040 framework.
House building will increase to 25,000 homes a year by 2020, rising to up to 35,000 by 2027. Social housing will be provided for 112,000 families in the next decade in a bid to address the housing crisis.
A total of €7.3bn has been earmarked for regional road accessibility investing in national roads across Ireland, plus €4.5bn for regional and local, improving links to the north-west and across the country.
A new runway will be built at Dublin Airport, and there will be investment in Cork and Shannon airports.
A significant number of measures around protecting the environment form part of the plan with €22bn allocated to deliver on climate action investment.
From 2021, some 45,000 homes will be retrofitted per year to become more energy efficient — up from 30,000 per year.
All public buildings will be energy efficient by 2030 while no more diesel-only buses will be bought for public transport services after mid-2019.
However, the Taoiseach said that the plan on its own won’t allow the country to meet the EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets: “It will get us a good chunk of the way, we estimate that this plan will get us between 30% and 40% of the way. Other measures are needed too, so you will see some of them already in national mitigation plan, but we will have to look at other things as well, for example, carbon taxation.”
The Taoiseach strongly refuted a claim made by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who said the plan amounts to an election manifesto: “I imagine over the next 10 or 20 years there will be many elections, so this is a long-term plan, not an election manifesto.”
He said there had been “detailed consultation” in the lead-up to the planning framework which has been worked on for three years: “I encourage the political parties to come behind it and to say that they support it and they endorse it and if they can’t I encourage them to say in detail what they would do differently.
“So if there is a new project they would like to add I would like to know which one would like to remove. If there is a project they wish to accelerate, I would like to know which one they are going to slow down, but I do encourage them in the first instance to support it.”
Transport infrastructure: More than €10bn to be spent on road network
The Government hopes to spend €5.7bn on national road schemes and €4.5bn on improving regional and local roads in the next decade.
The details are contained in the national development plan (NDP), which intends to improve the road linkages between Dublin and most of the other urban areas and regions, particularly in the North-West.
The NDP claims “substantial progress” has been made, since 2000, in improving road linkages, but it is hoped that “every region, and all the major urban areas, particularly those in the North-West, which have been comparatively neglected until recently, are linked to Dublin by a high-quality road network”.
Another key priority is the Atlantic Corridor and a high-quality road network linking Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Sligo.
The NDP also provides investment for development of the border region, including: the N2/A5 road serving Meath, Monaghan and Donegal; the N14 Manorcunningham to Lifford; the N52 Ardee Bypass; the N2 Slane Bypass; the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin; the N5 Westport to Turlough, and Ballaghdereen to Scramogue; the N56 Dungloe to Glenties and Mountcharles to Inver.
The Government is also “committed to participation in the further development” of the A5.
The following sections of the national road network should undergo early planning this year:
N2 Clontibret to the border; N2 Rath roundabout to Kilmoon Cross; N2 Ardee to south of Castleblaney; N3 Virginia bypass; M4 Maynooth to Leixlip; N4 Mullingar to Longford; N4 Carrick on Shannon; M11 from Jn 4 M50 to Kilmacanogue; N11 Oilgate to Rosslare; N13 Ballybofey Stranorlar bypass; N13/N14/N56 Letterkenny bypass and dual carriageway to Manorcunningham; N14 Manorcunningham to Lifford; N17 Knock to Collooney; N21 Newcastle West bypass; N21 Abbeyfeale; N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction; N24 Waterford to Cahir; N25 Waterford to Glenmore; N25 Carrigtwohill to Midleton; N52 Tullamore to Kilbeggan; N3 Clonee to M50; M50 Dublin Port south access.
The following regional and local roads will be improved by the national development plan:
the Sallins bypass; Adamstown and Nangor road improvements; Portlaoise southern distributor road; Shannon Crossing; Laytown to Bettystown link road; Garavogue bridge scheme; Dingle relief road; Athy southern distributor road; Sligo western distributor road; Coonagh to Knockalisheen main contract; Realignment of R498 Nenagh/Thurles road at Latteragh; Killaloe bypass/R494 upgrade and Carrigaline western distributor road.
Routes to Ireland’s ports will be upgraded, such as the M11, improving connectivity to Rosslare; the N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy Road, improving access to the Port of Cork; N21/N69 Limerick to Adare to Foynes Road, improving access to Shannon Foynes Port.
A study of high-speed rail between Dublin-Belfast, Dublin-Limerick Junction/Cork and an evaluation of its economic benefits, against improvements to existing-line speeds, will be carried out within the year. A total of €2bn is to be provided to Irish Rail for the expansion of the Dart services while €2.4bn is to be put into the Bus Connects programme.
Climate change: €22bn plan prioritises greener homes, transport
Some €22bn worth of investment in technology and other initiatives is aimed at reducing carbon emissions even while population growth increases carbon- producing activities through extra demand on energy, transport, and industrial output.
Exchequer spending will run to €7.6bn while private investment is expected to account for €14.2bn. A €500m climate action fund is to be set up to kickstart investment, financed by an existing 2c per litre levy on petrol.
Other expenditure will include €4bn in funding to upgrading 40,000 homes per year from 2021 to achieve a minimum B BER. A B rating will also be targeted for all public buildings and a third of commercial premises, and supports are to be put in place to switch 170,000 homes from oil-fired boilers to heat pumps and rooftop solar panels.
Much of what is mentioned is already in the national mitigation plan, such as the aim for 500,000 electric vehicles to be on the road by 2030 with a parallel expansion of the public charging network.
After 2030, all new cars will have to be zero emission and, after 2045, no NCT cert will be issued for non-zero emission cars. A ban on buying diesel buses will come into effect next year.
Major investment in public transport infrastructure such as extra bus routes and expansion of the Luas, Dart and Metrolink — costed elsewhere in the plan — is also included.
Power for homes and industry is also in focus with the use of coal at ESB’s Moneypoint station to end by 2025 at a potential cost of €1bn. Peat-powered stations are to be phased out by 2030.
Investments in the electricity and gas networks will boost their capacity to serve a bigger population, enable them carry renewable and strengthen connections with France and the UK. Wind energy is a priority but funding will be available to pursue projects in wave, solar, biomass and hydrogen.
District heating schemes will be supported as will pilot projects in a number of rural towns where food and agricultural waste will be converted to gas for local use. Increased investment in forestry is planned.
Infrastructure is to be strengthened to handle the effects of climate change with improved road drainage, stronger bridges and the raising of some roads. There is also restated commitment to the €940m in flood risk management plans already set out for 29 riverside and coastal communities.
Housing: New agency could claim land through CPOs
Project Ireland 2040 proposes the establishment of an urban regeneration agency that will have the power to claim land through compulsory purchase orders if it feels the sites in question “are not being utilised to their full potential”.
The establishment of the body - called the National Regeneration and Development Agency forms part of the Government’s €2bn urban regeneration fund. A €1bn fund for rural development also forms part of the plan.
More than 500,000 new homes are needed to meet the expected population growth between now and 2040, according to the plan, and it indicates the Government’s intention to focus housing development in concentrated areas, “at locations that can support sustainable development”.
Some 45,000 homes are needed in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford in the next two years, and up to 35,000 homes per year are needed nationwide between now and 2027.
The plan says the Government will adopt a major new policy emphasis on renewing and developing existing settlements, rather than seeing a continuation of a development sprawl of cities and towns out into the countryside.
“The target is for at least 40% of all new housing to be delivered within the existing built-up areas of cities, towns and villages on infill and/or brownfield sites. The rest of our homes will continue to be delivered at the edge of settlements and in rural areas,” it says.
It will do this, it claims, by increasing residential density “through a range of measures including reductions in vacancy, re-use of existing buildings, infill development schemes, area or site-based regeneration and increased building heights”.
It says the existing pattern of development is unsustainable because it forces people to commute greater distances between their places of work and services. The plan aims to tackle this by concentrating development within existing urban areas, with “a particular focus on brownfield development, targeting derelict and vacant sites that may have been developed before but have fallen into disuse”.
As part of this, the National Regeneration and Development Agency will work with public bodies “to co-ordinate and secure the best use of public lands, investment required within the capital envelopes provided in the National Development Plan and to drive the renewal of strategic areas not being utilised to their full potential”.
“The Government will consider how best to make State lands available to such a body to kick-start its development role and to legislate for enhanced compulsory purchase powers to ensure that the necessary transformation of the places most in need of regeneration can take place more swiftly and effectively,” the plan states.
There will also be greater emphasis on the development of apartments, building “inwards and upwards, rather than outwards”.
Education: Capital spending to top €1bn a year
Building and other capital spending on education will exceed €1bn a year by 2021 under the National Development Plan.
Many elements of the education plans included in the 2018-2027 plan have previously been announced and some building elements will just barely exceed current delivery rates.
From a €745m allocation this year, the Department of Education’s capital budget will jump to over €940m in each of the next two years. It will then rise to €1.06bn and €1.1bn in 2021 and 2022, respectively, bringing total investment over the plan’s first five years to over €4.7bn.
The plan is to deliver 20,0000 permanent school places a year through the department’s school building programme, which will be just 1,000 more per year than were delivered in 2017. They will be a mix of additional places for existing schools and the construction of new schools in areas of significant population growth, with up to 50 large-scale projects a year expected to be completed, around the same as last year.
The focus of school building will move from primary to second-level, where enrolments are not expected to peak until 2025.
A €100m annual allocation by the early 2020s is planned for maintenance and minor works grants, which should be welcomed by schools given the lack of certainty around these schemes in recent years.
Over the longer 10-year term of the NDP, €2.2bn from taxpayers is being committed in support of infrastructure priorities in universities, institutes of technology and other publicly-funded colleges.
As previously announced by Mr Bruton and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor last October, this will include 11 public-private partnership projects to develop facilities at institutes of technology.
The Irish Universities’ Association said the extra capital funding opens the way for urgent upgrades to many outdated facilities, and to expand buildings needed to cater for an anticipated growth by 40,000 students up to 2030. But, it said, the investment needs to be matched with a ‘long-overdue” overhaul of the operational funding model for higher education to provide human capital, referring to the lack of political progress on the 2016 Cassells report recommending the sector needs an extra €600m of non-capital funding a year by 2020 and €1bn more annually by 2030.
Healthcare: 2,600 extra hospital beds promised
Almost €11bn has been earmarked for developments in the health service over the next decade including 2,600 extra hospital beds, 4,500 additional public nursing home beds and two new hospitals for Cork.
Money will also be provided for development of the paediatric unit at Cork University Hospital. Phase 1 was completed last year at a cost of €13m. The second phase is estimated to cost €17m. Cork has also been earmarked for a new ambulance base, in addition to Limerick and Galway.
The national development plan contains no timeline or location is given for the proposed acute hospital in Cork. In relation to the elective hospitals — one each for Cork, Galway and Dublin — the plan says they will provide “high volume, low complexity procedures on a day and outpatient basis”, adjacent to general hospitals.
Several projects, previously announced, are in the plan including the National Children’s Hospital, the New Forensic Mental Health Service Hospital in Dublin, and phase 1 redevelopment of the National Rehabilitation Hospital at Dún Laoghaire. However phase 2 is also in the plan which would see the refurbishment of the existing hospital building, in addition to the new 120-bed adjacent hospital under construction as part of phase 1.
The national programme for radiation oncology will receive funding for replacement and additional facilities and equipment at public hospitals in Dublin, Cork and Galway.
Construction is already under way in Cork to provide replacement and additional radiation oncology facilities which will be commissioned in 2020. There are also plans for the construction of a “comprehensive cancer centre”.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the Government “can promise the sun, the moon and the stars in terms of extra spending and extra capital projects, but unless patients see actual, real time reductions in terms of their waits for accessing basic yet important treatments, it will be a failure”.
The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association said it welcomed the commitment to invest, but IHCA president Tom Ryan said it was “vitally important that an annual commissioning plan is agreed to put the additional 2,600 acute beds in place much earlier than the 10-year period proposed.”
The Irish Cancer Society said development of a comprehensive cancer centre “needs to happen to move Ireland towards world-class cancer services”.
Regional balance: Rural allocation done on a 2:1 ratio
The new NDP points out that 37% of the population currently live in rural areas, which might suggest a 3:1 urban/rural spend. Except it doesn’t.
Since the national planning framework “adopts a broader definition of ‘rural’ including smaller settlements with a population between 1,500 and 10,000”, it means “a 2:1 ratio is more appropriate in allocating resources between the two funds”.
That will provide some succour to rural communities, as might the money allocated to “strengthened rural economies and communities” — a total budget of €8.8bn that includes €4.5m of exchequer funding on regional and local roads, a €1m rural regeneration and development fund, €800m on agriculture and €800m in non-exchequer funding on state-owned enterprises such as Coillte. The national broadband plan is also mentioned — estimated cost “confidential”.
Road projects include the Carrigaline Western Distributor Road with local authorities also pushing for a Carlow Southern Relief Road and Tralee Northern Relief Road. There is capital investment for public transport in rural areas, but the “main emphasis” is on public service obligation routes and the Local Link Programme. “Subject to availability of operational funding” new town bus services will be provided in certain large towns, and ultimately to Carlow, Kilkenny, Mullingar, and elsewhere.
“Securing regional balance is the fundamental purpose of the NPF”, to be underpinned by the €1bn rural regeneration and development fund that includes rural brownfield development, with initial funding of €315m from 2019 to 2022.
Funding sources such as the LEADER Programme will continue, while the rural regeneration and development fund will integrate some existing schemes.
“New Technology and Innovation Poles (TIPs) will also be developed through EI and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to drive regional and rural development.”
The NDP refers to “town-scale pilots of food and agricultural waste to gas in agricultural catchments for local gas networks supply and biogas production” and the “piloting of ‘climate-smart countryside’ projects to establish the feasibility of the home and farm becoming net exporters of electricity”, citing solar, heat-pumps and wind.
Technologies: €9.4bn for business and innovation
A €500m technology fund for innovation, doubling the size of Cork’s Tyndall Institute, and assisting the IDA in showcasing the regions are some of the elements of the national development plan that will help business, according to the Government.
Business and innovation will be supported with €9.4bn up to 2027, according to the plan.
The plan pledges:
A €500m disruptive technologies innovation fund;
- eHubs for entrepreneurship and start-ups in every county;
- Expanding the IDA’s regional property programme, to attract investment to regions;
- A national design centre;
- Seed and venture capital funding to support regional start-ups and growth.
- Participation in EU high-performance computing programme.
- The €500m “disruptive technologies innovation fund” is to be distributed by research and education bodies, while the plan also says that one of Cork’s most successful research facilities, the Tyndall Institute, is to be upgraded to double its size.
The document said the fund would allow enterprises to compete directly for funding and would seed “a new wave” of start-ups.
Membership of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) is on the agenda, while the plan said that adding that a new space technologies programme will be “to the benefit of firms in the regions”.
Dublin Business Innovation Centre (BIC) chief executive Michael Culligan said €500m innovation fund could be “transformative” for start-ups.
“Every year, hundreds of promising Irish start-ups and scale-ups approach us looking for investment, but there has been a significant drop in the earlier stage seed venture funding available in the last couple of years for these innovative opportunities, leaving some truly original and progressive start-ups struggling to get the investment needed to achieve their ambitious plans,” he said.
The IDA regional assistance comes as rural towns around the country say they have been left out when it comes to foreign direct investment in favour of cities like Dublin and Cork.
The plan was criticised for simply reiterating projects that have already been committed to, such as the €300m Brexit loan scheme for businesses announced in the budget.