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Eoghan Murphy: Dail Statement on Project Ireland 2040, 20 Feb 2018

Published on Wednesday, 21 Feb 2018
Minister Eoghan Murphy

At the outset, I thank my officials in the Department for the huge amount of work that they have done over the past number of years in preparing the national planning framework. They did that work over more than a three-year period and under Ministers who held this portfolio prior to me - the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, who worked at the time with the Minister of State, Deputy English, on the plan and the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, before that.  When we look at the national planning framework as part of Project Ireland 2040, it is a huge credit to the civil servants in the Department and the work they have done over that time.

We face serious challenges today in Irish society. In my own Department, in particular, in housing, planning and local government, we have a challenge and a crisis in housing and homelessness and to face that challenge today, of course, we put in plans for the immediate term. Rebuilding Ireland is one such plan, for a five-year period, involving more than €6 billion worth of investment to deal with the crisis we have in homelessness and the challenge we face in the shortage of housing. When I came into my role as Minister in this Department, I said that if we did not plan for the longer term, in facing these immediate challenges we risked building in crises and problems into the future. We have a responsibility as a Government to plan long term, to take a long-term time horizon into the work that we do.

However, it is also a great opportunity for us as a Government. Ten years on from when the banking crisis first began with the guarantee of the banks, with the national accounts balanced we can look to the future, and not only imagine a future Ireland for our people, but implement it. That, in essence, is what Project Ireland 2040 is all about.

We know the world is changing. We know we face significant risks from issues, such as Brexit. We are not quite sure yet how they will manifest themselves. We know that when it comes to climate change, we have to implement a number of new measures over the course of the coming years, in terms of climate mitigation and works that need to go on up and down the country. The national planning framework, in and of itself, in terms of managing our growth and managing where people will live, is one such climate mitigation measure. We know when we look at technology, and the disruption it can bring to Irish life in both positive and negative ways, that these will be challenges that we will face, as a Government and as a society, into the future.

Regardless of those challenges we face today and those risks that are coming down the line for good or for ill, we know that from the point of view of demographics, we have to plan for the future. At the very least, 1 million extra people will live in our country by 2040. That will require at least half a million new homes to be built in the State. Where will we build them? It will also require additional jobs - at least 660,000 net new jobs - in the economy because over that period of the next 20 years, many jobs of course also will be destroyed through technology and innovation.

Consequently, we will have to create 660,000 net new jobs in the economy over that period. By 2040, one in four of us will be over the age of 65, one in six of us will be under the age of 15 and many of the jobs in which those born today in Ireland will work when they graduate from college, 20 or 25 years from now, have not yet been invented. That pressure of 6 million people in this country, on our existing communities and on the environment, both built and natural, demands that we plan for the future as a Government. It demands that we not only meet that responsibility but also take that opportunity.

At a high level, the country is doing very well. We are in the top ten countries in the world when we look at such matters as foreign investment, human development and democracy but we fall into only the top 20 countries in the world when we look at such matters as the environment or quality of life. When we take metrics such as liveable cities, we then fall into the top 30. Of course, we know that many people in our country today are facing significant difficulties in their lives because of the long tail from the banking crisis that began ten years ago, particularly when we look at issues in the housing sector for which I am responsible and the crisis that people face in homelessness but also the affordability difficulties that people have in Ireland today. When we look at other ways of measuring quality of life issues, we look at such matters as commuting times. In 2016, based on the census results, 230,000 people travelled an hour each day each way in and out of work - two hours a day over five days. That puts significant strains on people's lives in terms of their quality of life, it costs them additional money and, of course, it is not good for the environment.

Therefore, we need a paradigm shift when it comes to Government planning, Government thinking and implementation. That is what Project Ireland 2040 is about. It is joined up across every Department and thus every aspect of our lives. It is protected in law as a plan and there is a hierarchy of other plans that must follow from it so that there is consistency in our planning framework for the next 20 years. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has said, it is aligned with our public investment for the next ten years and more to make sure that our money follows the plan in terms of how we are investing in terms of the strategic decisions that we make in that plan. Of course, as a part of that plan as well, we set up an office of independent regulator to make sure that we do what we say we will do and to be an independent arbiter on the Government in so far as it is implementing the national planning framework and the national development plan as part of Project Ireland 2040.

A huge amount of consultation has been undertaken in developing the national planning framework. Three years of work went into it by the Department, being led by an expert advisory group and I thank them for the input they have given over the course of that period. There were more than 40 road shows across the country to talk to people about our ideas but also to get feedback on those ideas. We had two significant periods of public consultation. In the most recent period of public consultation, we received more than 1,000 submissions from the public, including over 150 submissions from elected representatives up and down the country. We had somewhere between seven and nine hours of debate in the Dáil where one third of Members spoke. We then had a motion in both the Dáil and Seanad that tasked the Oireachtas joint committee with considering the national planning framework and reporting to us on the contents of the draft document, and then we reflected on that in the final document that has been decided on by Government. The plan is better for that period of public consultation that we did. Each of the phases of consultation that we did, each of the road shows that were attended and each of the submissions that we got helped improve the plan and made it a better plan for that consultation and feedback.

It is, of course, by its nature a framework document. We cannot be alive to every single thing that might happen, economically, socially or politically, over the next 20 years and we put in place a framework to act as a guide for investment for different parts of the country as to how they might grow into the future. It sets in train that process. We now have the national planning framework and the national development plan.

In the course of this year, each of our three regions will develop regional, spatial and economic strategies to act as the next level in that hierarchical or tiered approach that we have to planning and from that, each county and city plan will then align over the course of the reviews of their own plans in line with the regional, spatial and economic strategies and in line with the national planning framework and the national development plan.

Because it is a framework document and because it looks to a 20-year time horizon, it is, of course, open to review. In 2021, we will have an informal review of the document based on the population changes that have been evidenced in the census review in 2021 and a more formal review will then follow following the census in 2026 to make sure that our targets are aligned with how the population is growing over that period.

The ambition, from the framework and the work that we have done in aligning it with our investment decisions, is to have a shared vision for every community up and down the country. They are expressed in the document as our national strategic outcomes - these ten shared goals around our quality of life, be it access to health care, access to education, connectivity, improving every village, town and city, and our rural fabric, and everything in between in our country in that period. Therefore, the national strategic outcomes are the key linkage between the national planning framework and the national development plan. That is our measure of shared success when we look to 2040, namely, achieving those ten national strategic outcomes.

When we look at the structure of the national planning framework, we structured it based on the 2014 reforms that were made for the administration and planning of local government in the country in the three regions that were established in 2014 and how we looked to manage the additional 1 million people who will live in our country by 2040. We are talking about managing 75% outside of Dublin. As to what that means for Dublin, in itself, 25% growth in that period would still be quite significant for Dublin, based on growth patterns in the previous number of years. We looked at what we want to do with that 25%, say, roughly 250,000 people. Half of those, we believe, need to live, work and study within the M50 and that will mean significant strategy decisions being made in Dublin to grow inwards and upwards and to increase density in the city. Another way of looking at how we want manage the population growth over the next 20 years is that 50:50 split: 50% of growth in our cities, that is, in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick; and 50% everywhere else. What that means for Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick is those cities growing at a rate of 50% to 60% - twice the national average and twice as fast as Dublin. That has never been achieved before and if we can do that, it will be of great significance for those cities. Of course, when we look to the rest of the country, we are talking about 30% of growth being in our existing larger villages and towns and 20% in our smaller villages and rural fabric.

Another way of looking at the population changes that we might see between now and 2040 is the split between the regions. With 50% cent of the growth being in the eastern and midlands region, crucially, between the northern and western region and the southern region, in the northern and western region an increase in population of 160,000 and 180,000 will bring its population to over 1 million, and the southern region an increase in population of between 340,000 and 380,000 will bring its population to almost 2 million.

We recognised in the consultation period and received much feedback around certain key regional centres in the northern and western region, for example, Sligo and Letterkenny. We also recognised the need to strengthen reference to the Atlantic economic corridor and the huge role that will play for the development and investment that we plan between now and 2040. In the midlands, we saw the strategic role that Athlone plays in terms of the three regions.

We also looked to the important cross-Border linkages that are there: Drogheda and Dundalk into Newry, and Letterkenny into Derry. They have been reflected in the plan. Regarding the structure of the plan, I have mentioned the ten national strategic objectives in the plan. In terms of the meat and the planning detail, there are 75 national policy objectives from which the regional spatial economic strategies and the local authorities will now develop their own planning based on the guidance that is provided in those 75 objectives.

A key principle in the national planning framework and in our vision for our country between now and 2040 is compact growth, taking advantage of our villages, towns and city centres, where there is already significant built infrastructure, and of those economies, be it a matter of reduction of our carbon footprint, the public transport that is already there, brownfield infill sites or the revitalisation of villages and towns for business and people living there. We want to achieve that 40% for compact growth. One of the key mechanisms we have to achieve this is the use of the development funds to which the Minister for Finance already referred, one for urban Ireland and one for rural Ireland. This funding is separate to the investment we have in roads, hospitals and schools. We wish to use this funding to invest in and regenerate village centres, town centres and parts of our cities in line with those objectives regarding the growth we have, in particular compact growth, to improve the livability of our villages, towns and centres.

Another key policy tool is the establishment of the new regeneration and development agency. We recognise as a Government that there are certain strategic landbanks that are not in the hands of local authorities but in the hands of other State bodies, State agencies or the semi-State sector. We will need an overarching body to work with the local authorities, my Department, the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Minister for Finance to ensure we are using those strategic landbanks in the best interests of our citizens to arrive at some of the strategic outcomes we have for our population to improve its quality of life. Using these two tools, we hope to achieve these national strategic outcomes, in particular around the aspect of compact growth. We also recognise the great vibrancy and the huge importance of rural Ireland and its fabric, our smaller villages and ensuring we have - and we do in this plan - a proper vision for those communities that can be shared across every community in this country.

Members in this House have raised concerns about some elements of the plan. Some of these concerns are legitimate questions but some are perhaps not so legitimate. I will speak to a number of these concerns. The first thing it is important to say is that this is not a naming document. It is a high-level strategy. We have principles in respect of compact growth, tools such as the funds and the agency I mentioned, the protections in putting the national planning framework on a statutory basis and having an independent office of a planning regulator, and the investment in line with the national strategic outcomes.

We should see Project Ireland 2040 as a tool for the three regions we have in our country, for every community, not to dictate from central government but to empower them and guide them in respect of investment, development and regeneration. I have also heard some Members of the Opposition talk about how this plan will place caps on towns and villages. That is not the case. We have in the document targets for each region of the country. They are very ambitious targets and they have never been achieved before. If we can achieve 160,000 to 180,000 new people living in the northern and western region, bringing the population to over 1 million people, it will be a significant success for our country if we can balance our growth between now and 2040 in that way. Every part of this country can grow under Ireland 2040.

Another concern that has been raised has concerned the process that we have undertaken to date. It was never the intention that there would be a final vote on the final document. If that were the intention, the draft legislation would say that. That draft legislation has not changed since I came into the Department or since the Minister, Deputy Coveney, came into the Department. When the planning legislation that is currently going through the Seanad is enacted, the national planning framework will then be on a statutory basis.

It was always expected that the Government would consult on the draft document, would then make changes to the plan based on that consultation period that we had and would not need to go back to the Dáil for a vote on those changes made following the consultation. Again, if that was the intention of the legislation, it would say as much in the legislation, and it does not. We have followed the process faithfully.

There was a motion before both Houses last year, the motion at the Oireachtas joint committee to submit a report, and we reflected on that report as part of the draft consultation and on those concerns raised. We tried to incorporate them into the final document as best we could. When the planning legislation passes in the Seanad, it will put the national planning framework on a statutory basis. If we were to wait for the planning legislation to pass in the Seanad before the Government finalised the national planning framework and the national development plan, it would not have changed in any way the process that we undertook and would not give any greater power to the Oireachtas than those powers that have already been exercised in the process that we followed.

However, if the planning legislation were delayed, many of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal would not be implemented, we would not be able to set up the independent office of the planning regulator, which I am already in the process of trying to do and which I want to do as quickly as possible, and we would not be able to do other important things such as designating data centres as national strategic infrastructure.

I very much welcome the housing commitments in the national development plan beyond those in Rebuilding Ireland. In 2021, under Rebuilding Ireland, we will bring approximately 12,000 new homes into the social housing stock. This ambition is maintained for every year of the national development plan to 2027. This means that roughly one third of all houses produced in the State from 2021 onwards will be social housing homes brought into that social housing stock by the State for citizens who need our help the most. I also welcome the commitment on water in the national development plan. More than €5 billion in additional funding is now being provided to Irish Water and to our strategic water ambitions beyond that which is already committed in the existing plan for Irish Water to 2021. Project Ireland 2040 is a very ambitious plan for our country. This is a great opportunity for us as a Government but also as an Oireachtas to put in place a strategic plan for every citizen in every community in our country.