Ireland will lose out on opportunities arising from Brexit unless the Government wakes up to the need to invest heavily in Dublin’s infrastructure. That was the message delivered by business group Dublin Chamber to the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee, Mary Rose Burke, CEO of Dublin Chamber, the body which represents businesses in the Dublin region, warned that traffic congestion in the Greater Dublin Area is costing the Irish economy a minimum of €350 million every year - a figure that will rise to €2 billion annually by 2033, according to new figures from the Department of Transport*.
Ms Burke told the Committee that this was a conservative estimate, contrasting it with the figure of €1.2 billion per annum issued by the Dublin Transportation Office in 1997.
Chamber CEO Burke, who was presenting on the Mid-term Review of the Capital Investment Plan, argued that preparing the Greater Dublin Area for Brexit should be the overriding priority in deciding how to spend the remaining €2.655 billion in unallocated capital funds.
Ms Burke told the Committee: “Brexit is the greatest imminent challenge – and opportunity – facing Ireland. For the best national outcome, Government should use the unallocated funds to ‘Brexit-proof’ the Greater Dublin Area by achieving tangible progress on housing supply, commuting, travel times, and the quality of public transport.”
She added: “Our national capital receives the lowest per capita spend on infrastructure in the entire country according to the last published data, despite all of Ireland depending on its success to drive growth, attract investment, and to fund regional services. This cannot continue. Ireland’s future is urban. We need to start investing in infrastructure in a way that respects and reflects where the Irish people are actually choosing to live in their greatest numbers.”
Need for Longer-Term Thinking
The Dublin Chamber CEO also called for Government to consider a longer timeframe in its next capital plan.
Ms Burke said: “Ireland has a problem of short-term thinking with respect to projects of long-term importance. The present Capital Plan is an example. At just six years in length, it is much shorter than the project lifespans of some of the most important projects it includes, e.g. Metro North. The next capital plan should have a 20-year timeframe and be aligned to other long-term strategies."
Government Must Prioritise Projects
Speaking to the Committee, the Chamber urged the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform to allow for comparison of major infrastructure projects by publishing meaningful cost benefit analysis, in tandem with the outcome of the new Capital plan.
Ms Burke said: “The Metro North and DART Underground projects should be prioritised above all, as these will have a national impact. Ireland urgently needs a rail link between our national airport and the centre of our national capital. The absence of this modern amenity makes an underwhelming impression on potential investors. Metro North is also needed to serve the rapidly growing commuter area of north county Dublin. The population of Fingal has grown by more than the entire province of Connacht since 2011.”
She added: “DART Underground, which would unify Ireland’s rail network while easing urban congestion, has been talked about for almost a half century now. Real action is long overdue. The remaining four years of the Capital Plan should be sufficient to make meaningful progress on these two vital projects.”
The Chamber CEO further contended that having maximised progress towards Metro North and DART Underground, the focus should be on improving the existing public transport system.
“Enhancement of Dublin’s bus services, upgrades to the ticketing and payment system, improvements to cycling and walking infrastructure, and co-location of complementary services, should all be considered. These are all areas where substantial gains can be achieved in a short timeframe and with a relatively low outlay,” she said.
* The figures were released by the Department on April 12th 2017 in response to a Parliamentary Question by Deputy John Lahart TD.