Metro North construction may be brought forward
Cabinet is considering accelerating the project as part of review of capital programme
Paschal Donohoe is to tell Ministers that there is an additional €2.6bn available for capital investment up to 2021. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Speeding up the construction of the Metro North rail link between Dublin Airport and the city centre by up to two years is under consideration by the Government as part of its revised capital plan.
Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe will today tell his Cabinet colleagues the approach the Government will take in reviewing its five-year programme for capital investment.
Mr Donohoe will tell Ministers there is an additional €2.6 billion available up to 2021 that has yet to be allocated to any specific projects, as he sets out a mid-term review of the initial plan announced two years ago.
Metro North was included in the 2015 capital programme and was due to be completed in 2026 or 2027, with construction beginning in 2021.
Government sources said extra money could be allocated to the project to speed this up, but said no decisions have yet been made.
The benefit of doing so include that it would help increase Dublin’s attractiveness for investment following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and serve to encourage more people to use public transport sooner than had been hoped.
The initial capital programme contained €27 billion in direct exchequer funding for infrastructure spending, and this rose to €42 billion when semi-state and public private partnerships were taken into account.
Mr Donohoe added an additional €5.1 billion to this in last year’s summer economic statement, although some of this has been allocated to specific areas already such as €2.2 billion to housing.
The review will focus on allocating the remaining €2.6 billion.
As well as speeding up Metro North, other options mentioned by sources include the construction of the M20 motorway between Limerick and Cork, estimated to cost €1 billion, or spending money on a number of smaller projects.
This could include expanding emergency departments at pressurised hospitals to help alleviate overcrowding and investing in third-level education, such as new IT systems. It is unlikely that new hospitals would be built.
Sources said the M20 option is the least likely for a number of reasons.
Mr Donohoe’s revised capital plan will tie into Minister for Planning Simon Coveney’s upcoming national planning framework which aims to encourage population growth in a number of regional cities.
It does not want to encourage so-called “ribbon development” of small clusters of homes off any new road such as the M20 but to further develop Cork and Limerick, in terms of population and infrastructure.
Planning restrictions – such as ensuring that the areas off the motorway are not zoned as residential – are an option if the M20 is to be developed.
A longer-term view, according to one source, would be to wait for the cities to grow before building the M20.
It was also pointed out, however, that building the motorway while restricting development along its route could also increase the population of Limerick and Cork.
The capital plan review to be outlined by Mr Donohoe will happen in two stages.
The first will look at the priorities set out in the Programme for Government and existing capital plan, and will advise Ministers on how to allocate the extra €2.6 billion.
The second phase will then examine longer-term infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.
Government departments and interested parties will be invited to make submissions and final decisions will be made in time for the October budget.