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EDITORIAL: Big plan high on aspiration

February 25th, 2018 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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DELIVERY will be the key to success for the Project Ireland 2040 national planning framework for the next two decades, which was launched with great fanfare by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last weekend. The €116bn plan is certainly high on aspiration and contains a welcome bias towards spreading future economic growth beyond Dublin to the regions, with a focus on the other cities and some big towns in the midlands and north west. 

Cork will be one of the beneficiaries of this and the big ticket announcement – for the umpteenth time – is the allocation of €900m for a Cork-Limerick motorway to link in with the western economic corridor. This is one of several projects in the latest national planning framework, such as Dublin Metro, that had previously been announced and repackaged – it was certainly mentioned before each of the last four general elections – and opposition parties claim that as many as 179 projects have been resurrected and included.

With Dublin already bursting at the seams, there is no disputing that most of the estimated extra million people that are expected to be added to our population between now and 2040 will need to be catered for outside of there, but it is vital that the other urban centres they plan to put them in have the infrastructure in place to be able to absorb them and that these places don’t become like our capital city with exorbitant rents and property prices. It is crucial that housing supply is sufficient to meet demand and, so far, there is a yawning gap in this regard.

There is a welcome €1bn in funding allocated for rural Ireland out of the €116bn total that Taoiseach said communities could ‘bid for.’ Hopefully, that process won’t be too convoluted. The €21.8bn allocated for climate action is a welcome pragmatic response that should benefit everybody ultimately.

While a lot of the plan’s €116bn would have had to be spent anyway to meet the demands of a bigger population, Project Ireland 2040 provides a good steer for what needs to be done, but who is going to ensure that it is seen through? Governments will inevitably change during its lifetime and it may get watered down, especially if external economic circumstances impinge on our ability to fund it. 

Many of the projects that have been included are ones that were shelved during the ‘lost decade’ after the demise of the Celtic Tiger boom and a ‘hard Brexit’ could pose a fresh threat, so we need to get on with them as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, we still have crises in social housing and public healthcare that need to have all available funding frontloaded to help solve them, as they are such a cause of suffering and misery to many. Rural areas need high-speed broadband roll-out to level the playing field with the urban areas that have raced so far ahead of them in benefitting from the economic recovery.

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