You only have to look at a map of the road networks in Ireland to see clearly that the motorway network leaves the regions underserved. The same is true of our rail network.
From a perspective of the National Planning Framework, it has a focus on balanced regional development. For that to be possible you have to have access, it is as simple as that.
The regions need to be reasonably accessible. The roads network needs to be improved and unfortunately the planning system we have in place at the moment is just too slow to deliver.
The proposed Galway outer ring road serves as an example of the setbacks the current planning process can create in delivering an infrastructural project of such huge economic importance to the region.
After 23 years of start, stop, and return to the drawing board we have €35 million spent and no road to show for it. If we’re serious about delivering the National Development Plan (NDP) we need a planning system that can deliberate on planning applications in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Infrastructure is critical for the development of the region. If we are to achieve the objectives of the NDP, we have to deliver the infrastructure that will make it possible for industry to invest in the regions.
This regional investment will create employment opportunities which in turn will reduce regional decline. Access to the regions is a crucial element for this to happen.
If you want to build a sustainable island economy you need to distribute the investment throughout. We have huge potential across regional Ireland, with the likes of Knock Airport for example we are ripe for reaping the benefits of infrastructural investment.
If you made Knock Airport more accessible it would create a lot more choice for people and could service the western and northern region right into Northern Ireland, and if the Strategic Development Zoned lands around the airport were serviced it would have the potential to attract significant FDI into the region.
The old maxim still rings true that if you build it, they will come.
We need to be realistic about opening up the regions to create opportunities making them attractive to live and work. You have to ensure, for example, that the needs of the younger populations are being met in the region. Only that way can you make the Island more prosperous.
An independent non-political infrastructural commission, comprised of industry experts, akin to models operating in the UK and other countries might offer one solution. These are long term investments and for that to work you need consistency in planning, development and policy.
An infrastructural commission could establish what projects would be built and when, they would have the knowledge and experience to guide these projects through the various stages from concept to design, and from planning to construction.
Infrastructure is more than just roads and railway networks. It’s power generation, it’s water services, it’s waste treatment plants.
It is the foundation that allows us to deliver the schools, healthcare facilities, workplaces and homes that we all need to live and work in. Without the infrastructure we cannot deliver our built environment.