CIF Head of Southern Regional Services Joanne Treacy: The need to maintain investment and growth in infrastructure is paramount

by | Apr 26, 2023

Economic yields: The regions have much to offer and with a strong appetite to build more

Every region in Ireland has its strengths. Tourism along the Wild Atlantic Way, medtech clusters in Galway and the Midlands, pharma and bio-pharma clusters in Sligo, Cork, Waterford and Dublin and ICT clusters in Cork and Dublin.

The marine industry, the energy sector, forestry and of course the agri-food sector are present in all regions. These centres of economic activity must be supported by providing the necessary infrastructure so that they, and the regions they are located in, can grow.

It is well recognised internationally that providing the physical connection between clusters of economic activity can yield extensive  dividends to the national economy.

Progressive policy initiatives at a national level can yield benefits to the overall national economy. We now need to invest significantly more in our regional infrastructure.

The effects of the low level of investment in our physical infrastructure can be seen everywhere with congestion on our roads networks, inadequate and crumbling roads, flooding, a lack of residential supply, neglect and dereliction in the centres of our cities and towns all point towards an urgent need to invest.

The road to energy efficiency

Delays in the planning system have contributed to significant delays in development across the country with approximately 70,000 housing applications awaiting decision with a mix of both planning and judicial reviews.

However, changes to An Bord Pleanála, which were outlined in the Draft Planning and Development Bill, include a restructure of the existing board with an increase in planning commissioners to 15.

It is understood that many of the planning commissioners have now been appointed with the remainder expected to be in place by Q2 2023. The hope is that the current back log will start to ease as part of this restructure and developments which have been on hold will now progress.

The war in Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis has focused minds on Ireland becoming energy self-sufficient. Ireland has enough potential offshore wind capacity to cater for all our power needs and to export excess energy to Europe via the under-construction Celtic and Greenlink Interconnectors in Cork and Wexford.

An analysis carried out on Cork demonstrated that its energy demand could be reduced by 35 per cent by 2030 and the contribution of renewable energy to meet that demand could increase to 53 per cent over the same period.

Development related opportunities have since been identified, which would address Cork’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the following areas:

• Residential energy efficient retrofits
• Upgrade commercial and industrial energy efficiency systems
• Redesign of public lighting
• Development of public transport infrastructure

These initiatives identified for Cork are not unique to the county, they could be applied throughout the country. It is prudent to note the opportunities for the advancement of plans to implement  offshore wind farms.

In 2022, Rosslare Europort management announced plans to establish the port, its hinterland and the south-east region as Ireland’s Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Hub, with the potential to create up to 2,000 jobs.

With ESB developing a portfolio of offshore wind farms, and Rosslare Europort progressing plans to establish the port as Ireland’s offshore renewables hub, the joint initiative seeks to take advantage of their respective fields of expertise and knowledge.

ESB and Iarnród Eireann have signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding which establishes a common goal of maximising the opportunities of each parties’ respective development plans.

While non-exclusive in nature, the agreement sets out the two organisations’ intention to work together with the aim of developing a port solution capable of supporting ESB’s offshore developments in Ireland, in line with the country’s climate action targets and ESB’s Net Zero by 2040 strategy.

Bio-pharma building jobs

The biopharmaceutical industry has seen Ireland become one of the world’s leading locations for bio-pharma products. The most recent announcement is the Eli Lilly biologics manufacturing facility in Limerick with an investment announcement of $1million.

Another positive aspect of this announcement is the increase of up to 1,200 construction jobs which will be required to complete the development. In Cork, pharma giant Gilead Sciences confirmed the €45million expansion of their Carrigtwohill site with construction expected to commence this month.

The 5,176 sq m (55,714 sq ft) warehouse building will have net zero emissions and feature 764 solar panels that will supply 10 per cent of the site’s energy needs.

The Housing for All policy was deemed ambitious when released but in 2022 the number of houses built exceeded the 27,000-unit target with just under 30,000 units completed.

It has since been identified through the recent census that the targets set out in the policy will need to be increased as a result of the drastic and unexpected population growth of 7.6 per cent between 2016 and 2022.

It is vital for the region that the regional projects identified in the National Development Plan are delivered. Last year the Government underspent €690million of the states €11.5billion capital budget for new houses, roads, hospitals, schools and other developments.

Only 207 of the 1,263 infrastructure projects in the NDP have been completed thus far. While there are some very positive examples mentioned here regarding regional development the facts are that a faster turnaround in planning decisions, viability of construction, a reduction in inflation, material cost reductions, improved infrastructure and an increase in a skilled labour force are all factors which are critical for the security of continued development.

The sentiment among industry members is their strong appetite to build more, the need to maintain foreign direct investment and domestic growth with a faster turnaround regarding decision making.

The regions have so much to offer with a great network of industry partners and stakeholders who are interested and enthusiastic. It’s imperative we listen to their insight, knowledge and shared experience and continue to move forward.

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