Eamon Ryan: Not all National Development Plan projects will ‘necessarily’ go ahead
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended the Government’s new multibillion euro plan for infrastructure and said “it is not a wish list”.
At the launch of the new €165 billion National Development Plan (NDP), Mr Martin said that while a lot depends on a project’s journey through the planning and statutory process, the Government is committed to a large-scale capital investment over the coming 10 years.
His comments came after the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said earlier on Monday that not all road projects would necessarily go ahead, and also amid criticism that some major projects such as the Metrolink do not have costings or timings in the plan.
Speaking at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Mr Martin also said that housing is the most urgent and important social issue facing the country right now and that 300,000 homes would be delivered by the end of 2030.
The plan warns, however, that there is “a risk that investing too much over a given period could add to inflationary pressures in the construction sector and crowd out some desirable private sector investment, for example, in housing.”
Mr Martin said there will be challenges on the inflation side particularly over the coming months and a watching brief will have to be kept on that.
Separately, he said there was scope for the State the be more ambitious and this would see increased investments on retrofitting and decarbonising the energy supply. Mr Martin said the State has to “get better at actually delivering infrastructure projects that are important.”
“This gives the industry the certainty it says it needs to invest in the skills and capacity to deliver.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government needed to anticipate what the Ireland of 2040 would look like, “what our jobs will be, how we travel, how we live.”
“This is the largest ever investment in transport infrastructure in the history of the State with…for new public transport, new roads, new active travel projects and continued investments in international connectivity through our seaports and airports.”
“The 2:1 spending ratio in favour of new public transport and roads is maintained.”
Mr Varadkar said a new enterprise green transition fund would be set up by his company to help companies with climate measures.
He said the Government would borrow to invest in public infrastructure in schools, healthcare and housing. “I’m convinced this is the right approach, it is what the Biden Harris administration is doing in the United States.”
Mr Ryan said for him some of the key projects involve investing in Cork, Galway, Limerick and other counties outside of Dublin.
He gave the example of the metropolitan railway system for Cork and also using rail lines in Limerick. He also indicated that lower carbon projects would be advanced at a quicker pace.
Mr Ryan said the development of “active travel” was critical so that it was safe for children to walk or cycle to school. Greenways would not just be for tourists, he said, but must be for locals in the first instance.
In relation to new roads, Mr Ryan said there would be a range of projects to come but he indicated that bypasses were projects that could be considered to meet Government objectives.
He said that when the Government is asked about the cost and timelines for particular projects, it is “better to be honest” and say that exact costs would become clear when the project comes through the planning phase. He said there should be competitive tension at local level.
Mr Ryan also said the plan would see Ireland become a low carbon renewable efficient economy.
The Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said that economic recovery after Covid-19 represents “an enormous task” and the economic investment and stimulus in the national development plan will help with that. He said 81,000 will be working in direct and indirect construction to implement the plan.
“The investment here is gigantic, €165 billion… the ambitions here are of a scale the likes of which we have never seen before.”
In order to ensure costs on large projects do not spiral out of control, Mr McGrath said there would be a new major projects advisory group with members appointed through an open and competitive process.
Speaking earlier, Mr Ryan said not all roads projects contained in the NDP will necessarily go ahead.
When asked on Monday morning if all of the projects contained in the plan will actually happen, he said: “Not necessarily no, I don’t expect they will because to be honest there are so many road projects already committed to that if we spent on all of them we wouldn’t have money for anything else. But I am not ruling them out, I am not saying definitely no.”
He said bypasses in particular deliver on all of the objectives that the Government want to achieve.
The NDP was the subject of much debate and discussion at Cabinet but all parties in Government are committed to tackling climate change and the plan is “green through and through”, Minister for Transport Eamonn Ryan has said.
Mr Ryan said the NDP, which will be officially launched later today in Cork, is a follow-on from the Programme for Government agreed between the Greens, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael last year and will set out sustainable development over the next two decades.
“We are 100 per cent behind the NDP and we were centrally involved – there was no twisting of arms, a lot of talking, a lot of arguments and lot of discussion but that is what politics is about – we have to sign off on it at Cabinet but it follows on from the Programme for Government.
“In that Programme for Government we are committing 2:1 in public transport compared to new roads, where we are committing €360 million a year for active travel – that’s transformative…it’s a real opportunity for change in our country.”
Speaking at a press briefing at the Shakey Bridge in Cork with Green Party Ministers and local Green Party Councillors in advance of the launch of the NDP, Mr Ryan pointed to the 2:1 investment in public transport over roads as what he said was proof of the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change.
And he singled out the investment in suburban rail transport in both Dublin and Cork as an indication of how proper planning can lead to better outcomes with housing located close to rail lines and public transport hubs to minimise commute times and the need for private cars.
“If I was to pick out one project or example of what is going to change things it is Metropolitan Rail for Cork. We have already committed to that in the Recovery and Resilience Fund – that Midleton to Mallow line, new stations, housing beside the stations shows how we can tackle the housing crisis.
“The public transport projects are critical to solving the housing crisis. What we want is transport led development where you put the housing in beside where the high quality public transport is and putting house beside public transport shows how we can tackle the climate crisis at the same time.”
Mr Ryan refused to be drawn on the likely cost of the Dublin MetroLink project connecting Dublin Airport with Dublin city centre or on when it was likely to be completed but he did re-iterate that the Government was fully committed to the project.
“We have to be careful in this NDP – I didn’t want to go down the route of saying ‘It’ll cost exactly this’ and ‘It will be built exactly then’. Firstly, you don’t want to tell people who are bidding in that this is what you are willing to pay? You want competitive tension.”
“Also, being honest, it takes a long time to get through the Irish planning system. When you start, how long it takes depends to a certain extent on planning and whether you are subjected to legal challenges.
“I have been working on MetroLink for 25 years. We started 25 years ago on the planning for it. It won’t be 25 years – it won’t be anything like it. We are going t build it as quickly as we can – this entire NDP as quickly as we can because we need it.”
Mr Ryan said that integral to the entire plan will be a massive ramping-up of Ireland’s house building programme, in particular the provision of social and affordable homes to tackle the housing crisis that has plagued the country since 2010.
“We are really ramping up housing expenditure over the next five years – the second half of the decade the public transport projects really kick in,” said Mr Ryan as he instanced some developments in Cork as indicative of the changes that he would like to see introduced nationally.
“A lot of what is happening in Cork is what we need to happen in the rest of the country. This National Development Plan is about doubling down on the national planning framework which is all about better regional development, compact development and low carbon development.”
He instanced the example of the Shakey Bridge behind him at the press briefing which was upgraded as an example of investment in active travel while he also instanced the recent pedestrianisation of 17 streets and 20 parklets in the city centre as examples of how urban spaces can be improved.