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Ireland’s Infrastructure Deficit Needs To Be Prioritised: Dr Frank Crowley UCC

Dr. Frank Crowley, Carrigaline, is a lecturer in the School of Economics, UCC since 2007. He lectures on economics, innovation – specifically regional development, policy intervention and firm performance at undergraduate and postgraduate level in UCC. Frank will now be writing guest economics columns for The Carrigdhoun, beginning this week. In The Carrigdhoun this week, Dr Crowley calls for Ireland’s infrastructure defecit to be prioritised.

Ireland’s Infrastructure Deficit Needs To Be Prioritised Carrigaline is a great example of the challenges the Government faces in the next few decades. The town underwent a rapid population expansion in the last 20 years. In 1996 the population was 7,827. By 2011, the population nearly doubled to 14,775. The most recent census in 2016, indicates Carrigaline is Cork’s largest town with a population of 15,770. A modest increase from 2011. Since the 90’s, it has become a key commuter town for the city of Cork and for the pharmaceutical industries in Ringaskiddy. Further, in the last few years the local public secondary school underwent major expansion and there has also been an additional three schools created in the area. In the past few weeks, a new development started with 800 new houses planned. This means an estimated population increase of about 2,500 people. The housing crisis is no doubt one of the major challenges for the present government. The recent government action plan for housing and homelessness is indeed welcomed and urgent. But before any developments commence, one would expect the local transport infrastructure to transform before or at least simultaneously with population change. Has this happened in Carrigaline? Well despite some minor developments, not much has really changed in the infrastructure of the area for 20/30 years. The town is congested with car traffic. The locals living in the area will provide you with plenty of evidence. And, it is in this area that a major deficit exists in most parts of Ireland and the rectification of this infrastructure deficit needs to be prioritised immediately. Putting housing in areas before the necessary supporting transport infrastructure is foolish and there does not seem to be anything happening quickly in response to this problem. The allocation of capital expenditure per annum for transport has declined dramatically since the height of the boom from €2.5 billion in 2008 to €900 million in 2017. This represents a fall in spending on roads, rail etc of about €655 per citizen in 2008 to €187 per citizen in 2016. And during this time, the Irish population has increased substantially. A similar pattern of a decline of spending is evident in the area of housing, planning, community and local government. The result of this lack of investment is congestion in our urban areas producing happiness damaging externalities for Irish citizens. This is also problematic for attempts to create private investment within and into the Country. Governments do not create private sector jobs. But they do create the environment that enables or inhibits businesses to prosper. Providing the right infrastructural environment is key for this and we are way behind. Adding a relief road here or there, and around large towns will not do. Park and rides and cycle to work schemes will only help the problems marginally. And there is no point adding more buses to already congested roads. We need to think what type of Ireland do we want for 2050? What will be sustainable and efficient? How will we shorten commuting times? Less time needs to be wasted sitting in cars and more time spent by people doing more productive activities. In terms of Carrigaline, the biggest development in the future horizon appears to be the M28 motorway linking Cork to the port in Ringaskiddy. Is that even enough? We need to start thinking what is sustainable for the future? We need to start thinking big. What will the population of Carrigaline and surrounding areas be in 50 years? Will the green belt between Carrigaline and Cork disappear? Economically, bus lanes are the cheapest solution. But, would light rail provide an alternative to the motor car? We need to start doing cost-benefit analyses based on future not present populations. Carrigaline is a micro example of the macro infrastructure challenges that exist throughout the country. Our government needs to start planning way beyond their four year political cycle. And crucially, they need to find the money. Perhaps, curbing their fixation with cutting taxes and increasing spending on infrastructure is a place to start. The political challenge is to ensure that the institution of government can spend public monies wisely.

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