Minister Murphy's address at the CIF annual conference, Dublin 2017

Published on Thursday, 12 Oct 2017
Minister Eoghan Murphy

Intro

I know that the Taoiseach took you through some of the key measures and investments announced in Budget 2018, when it comes to housing and homelessness – the increased funding, the new finance vehicle, the CGT step-out and so on.  As well as our increased ambition for Social Housing, I think this Budget is important because it removes some of the remaining significant obstacles when it comes to building more houses, more quickly, and at more affordable prices.

I know the Taoiseach also signalled the establishment of a Construction Sector Group as part of a whole of construction strategy. I discussed this some months ago with your Director General Tom Parlon – it’s an important initiative and we should get started with it as quickly as possible.  Because we have big challenges ahead – and we have to plan in a coordinated way for the future. And that doesn’t mean politicians deciding in a vacuum over in government buildings somewhere, and then expecting the construction industry to follow.

It means consulting with you, working through potential obstacles, understanding the landscapes and opportunities, and setting down a plan that all stakeholders can work on together.  In that context I’d like to focus my remarks today on the new National Planning Framework – Ireland 2040: Our Plan, which is currently out for its final round of public consultation.

Ireland 2040: Our Plan

I’m currently reading a book called: The History of Future Cities.  The initial chapters are a fascinating look at the development of 3 cities – Mumbai, St Petersburg & Shanghai.  Very interesting to read about the vision that was brought to each of these cities, by different people for different reasons.  They weren’t always necessarily positive visions – or positive motives perhaps.  But the design of these cities, the vision, the inspiration, would have a profound impact on their own country’s history and development – indeed the world’s – for the following century.  We are tasked perhaps with less grand aspirations, but with no less important a mission: to plan & manage the sustainable growth and development of our country over the next 20 or so years.

That’s very challenging.

First of all, and unlike in the case of St Petersburg, we are not starting from scratch.  We have an already developed country, with five main cities, and a developed network of transport infrastructure.  We have great history and heritage in our built environment, that must be protected.  And we have to be conscious of climate mitigation targets and putting sustainability at the forefront of all of our endeavours as we grow.

Growth expectations

And we will grow.

By 2040

  • There will be at least an extra 1million people living in the Republic, taking the population to 5.75m (20% increase). The all-island population will be roughly 8m people.
  • There will be an extra 600k jobs, mainly in the knowledge economy & in services.
  • We’ll need 500k new homes for all of these people.
  • The population aged over 65 will double (to 1.3m people or almost ¼ of the total population).
  • Those aged under 15 will fall to under 1m people.

It’s not possible to know what the political and economic challenges might be for all those people living and working here in 2040.

But there are political and economic challenges that we have to be aware of now as we plan:

  • Brexit being the most obvious one, but also the future of the European Union and how it might evolve and how that might challenge us.
  • The current retreat from globalisation and free trade being pursued by certain countries and how this might impact on things like Foreign Direct Investment.
  • Technology and the changes it will bring, for how we work and where we live (like remote working, the shared economy, drone technology, automation and artificial intelligence).
  • Communities – protecting communities as we grow, regenerating parts of our country where we can – and because we must.

Status quo cannot hold

If we continue to grow as we have been, if the status quo maintains – depleting our communities and our regions, sprawling away from our urban cores – then our cities will choke off (in particular our economic engine in Dublin) – and the country will die.

People might question this notion.

They might say that things, relatively speaking – and putting to one side the crisis in homelessness and the current shortage in housing – they might say things are not so bad:

  • We’re in the top 10 when it comes to human development, GDP per Capita, FDI, democracy.
  • That’s true.  But we fall in to the top 20 when it comes to quality of life and environmental performance.
  • And we fall in to the top 30 in Dublin when we talk about liveable cities.

So our National Planning Framework has to have a Vision that will navigate us through these challenges, both the existing ones we know of like protecting the environment- and the challenges that may come due to developments external to us.

New Vision

We’ve had spatial strategies before and they have failed. So how will this vision be different?  Well first of all it’s going to be aligned across governmental departments so there will be coherence between what the framework envisions and what others are planning, be it in relation to schools or hospitals or roads.  For the first time, the NPF will align with a 10-year National Investment Plan – we are putting our money where our mouth is. Our capital investment will underpin our planning framework so that these plans are real.  Thirdly, the national framework will be the bedrock or foundation for all other development plans.

The Framework will be completed this year.  Next year our 3 regions will be tasked with coming up with more specific Regional Spatial & Economic Strategies based upon the Framework and in more detail, with City & County plans based upon that, and local area plans based upon that. This will be the new hierarchy - and it will be set in law.

Finally, there will be a smart growth fund put in place centrally to enable Regions to target growth and development for key areas by competing for additional funding (based on the merit of the project and as long as it is in line with the 10 year NIP and the NPF).

Consultation

The Government has been working on this plan since the end of 2014. There have been roadshows, public consultations, an expert Advisory Group & over 700 submissions from a whole range of stakeholders.  Over the next number of weeks, you will have a final chance to make your views known, helping Government finalise the NPF document by the end of this year. 4

Concentrate growth for quality of Life

One of the core principles at the heart of the NPF is to concentrate growth in the core of our population centres. To focus development in existing villages, towns, urban centres and cities. To stop sprawling inefficiently outwards, and to focus on higher density and on infill development. This is particularly important in our cities.

What it means is moving away from the idea that every new build must be a suburban 3-bed family home – and I recently made announcements around changes to the guidelines to promote the building of more mixed and modern forms of housing, especially in our cities.

As the economy continues its recovery, as we build more houses and improve the lives of people locked out of the housing market or trapped in emergency accommodation, a key challenge for all of us will be around expectations – about meeting the expectations of people when it comes to important quality of life issues.

And you’ll find that turning our attention towards quality of life issues, things like commuting times, energy efficiency of homes, affordability, community – will also make sense from an economic and efficiency point of view as we capitalise upon existing and planned infrastructural investment.

Rethinking city growth

Our cities and large towns are growing as major centres of employment – but they are not growing quickly enough as places to live in.  The population of Ireland grew by 53,000 people in the year to April 2017, the largest increase since 2008 – that’s 1.1% year-on-year growth when the rest of the euro area was essentially static.  Half the day-time population of Ireland’s three largest cities travel from outside.  One quarter of Leinster’s working population travel into Dublin each day.  In 2016, 230,000 people commuted at least an hour a day each way, a 30% increase in long commutes in just five years. Just think about what that means for families in terms of quality of life.

If we learnt anything from the so-called Celtic Tiger era, it was that our future does not lie in our people living in one location, and commuting up to 100km away to work, juggling work and family lives and losing the battle to strike a reasonable balance.  With less than 1,000 properties available for rent in Dublin and similar low levels in all our other cities, there is not just under-supply, but a gaping hole in the supply of affordable accommodation (and rental accommodation in particular) in the heart of our cities. Turning that tide means we simply have to deliver more apartments in our cities.

Yes we have an immediate housing crisis to face.  But if we pause to plan, even for just a moment, we can tackle that crisis but also secure the sustainable development of our country and our communities in to 2040 and beyond.  We must think about the impact of our actions now in the decades ahead if one crisis isn’t to simply roll in to another.

So when we look at the growth of 1m people and where they might live, we have to try and manage that growth between our 5 cities, as well as between our 3 regions:

  • In Dublin, that means 25% of national growth happening within Dublin, and half of that within the M50 (we’ll need joined up planning across the LAs, new land plans eg. Naas Road)
  • It means another 25% of our forecast growth happening in the cities of Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway (each will have to effectively double in population size at least) (Limerick Georgian core, Waterford North Quay)
  • And it means that 50% of the population growth will happen everywhere else.

15% of the growth will take place in the fabric of towns, villages and rural areas (opportunities from changes in tech and job types).

Another way to look at it is half of the anticipated growth taking place on the eastern seaboard and in the midlands, and half in the southern, Western and Northern regions.  This all has significant implications for what we build, how we build it and where. And so again, it’s a smart move to put together a whole of construction strategy, working with you, and others.  And if we think back to that quality of life challenge – we have to build communities.  A quarter of our population over the age of 65 – we have to build communities. People with disability or other health needs and their quality of life, within communities.  And affordability – being able to live close to work, at an affordable price, so that you can live your life the way you choose to.

Conclusion

Thank you for inviting me here today.  It goes without saying that your sector has a key role as we finalise and implement Ireland 2040: Our Plan.  I look forward to any further submissions you may have during this final consultation.  And I’m eager to get our Construction Sector Group together and working together to navigate the challenges that we face.  And in navigating those challenges, securing new Opportunities for all of our citizens.

Thank you.