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What will Ireland look like in 2040?

Where will an additional 1m people live? How will they travel? Where will they work?

Project will plan for boost in population

Project will plan for boost in population


We know one key detail: there will be an additional one million people living in Ireland, and two-thirds of them will be in the workforce. Until now, however, the rest of the details have been sketchy: Where will everyone live? Will there be enough schools and hospitals? Can our transport, energy and communications infrastructure cope?

Through Project 2040, the Government is laying out a plan for the future, setting out a spatial strategy which aims to ensure that 75 per cent of population growth occurs outside Dublin, with attention focused on Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Athlone and Sligo are designated as regional centres. Dublin will have a new Metro Link and the existing Dart will be expanded. Housing supply is being prioritised, with the aim of a baseline level of 25,000 new homes a year by 2020 and a likely level of 30,000-35,000 annually by 2027. The arts and culture sector can also expect substantial investment.

Investment in critical infrastructure did falter during the recession years, and the Government’s aim is to bring the country back up to speed. Project 2040 is underpinned by a National Planning Framework (NPF) which lays out broad ambitions for Ireland up to 2020, and a more precise national development plan (NDP) which lays out the critical infrastructure plan for the short- to medium-term.

The NDP will be reviewed periodically. A new National Regeneration and Development Agency will be established and given statutory powers to oversee the release of strategically located land banks.

Niall Cussen, chief planner with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, is one of the key architects of Project 2040. “If the framework is successfully implemented, people will start to see changes, especially in the centres of our towns and villages. Currently empty sites and buildings will become the heart of new communities. There will be new urban quarters, taller buildings and high-quality architecture. People, not cars, will be the focus of cities and towns. We’ve seen the effect of regeneration in areas like the Dublin city quays and Smithfield, and we can imagine a similar process for the north quays in Waterford and the Tivoli docks in Cork.”

A rural regeneration and development fund worth €1 billion will support local communities and businesses with populations of less than 10,000 to work together on developing ideas for their local areas, while an urban regeneration and development fund will be allocated €2 billion.

Richard Hamilton, associate director with Future Analytics Consulting, says that a successful NPF will see an Ireland with attractive city and town centres that are full of life.

“They will have diverse economies and clean, safe prosperous places but for the plan to work, it will need to have success stories to build on. We need all the skills and experience of State agencies and authorities to be aligned to deliver important infrastructure and housing.”

“Looking back 20 years, we did a good job building a motorway network and we have better public transport and infrastructure,” says Cussen. “In the future, people can look forward to a more physically and digitally connected country. We are one of the most open trading-based economies in the world and our ports, airports and digital infrastructure is crucial in helping us to make the next jump. We know that the population will grow and the number of people over the age of 65 will double, so we have to plan for that in the health system. Demand for schools will rise; the school planning process has already improved and we now have a modular system to roll out new school buildings where they are needed, with much less reliance on prefabs.”

Big, bold and ambitious

It’s a big, bold and ambitious plan, but is it credible and how can we be sure that it will be implemented?

“This is a really big event for planning,” says Hamilton. “It’s the first time that the Government’s national investment is so strongly integrated with a vision for the country based around sustainable development and regeneration. The National Planning Framework adopts a more comprehensive analysis of the country than the National Spatial Strategy (2002-2020), taking on board health, housing, movement, an integrated economy, heritage and nature in a coherent vision. Securing compact and sustainable growth is at the heart of the NPF, with a very positive focus on the livability and quality of life of urban places. It maps out in a structured way how we face and plan for significant growth that would have been unfathomable during the recession. The €3 billion regeneration and development fund will be crucial to achieving the sustainable regeneration agenda and encouraging development back into rural towns and villages.”

Will there be political and implementation issues? Yes, and we are aware of them

There are clear obstacles which could prevent the plan from ever being fully realised, including politics, economics, and planning and legal issues. Hamilton says that the plan needs to be closely monitored to prevent urban sprawl and that it needs leadership.

“We think that there will be strong controls built in to the implementation process, and we expect the independent Office of the Planning Regulator to adopt a very proactive role, engaging with local authorities monitoring the implementation of policy.”

Both Cussen and Hamilton emphasise that the plan is flexible and will be subject to periodic review and updates based on consultation with citizens and other stakeholders.

“Will there be political and implementation issues? Yes, and we are aware of them and not denying them. The economic underpinnings of the plan, which the Department of Expenditure and Public Reform worked on, are relatively conservative, assuming somewhere closer to the worst-case scenario from Brexit than to an economic climate with rapidly overheating economy. We have a whole government approach which means departments will communicate and we can be responsive.”

There isn’t really a one-off investment in the NPF, according to Hamilton. “Many of the initiatives are legacy projects that should have been delivered years ago. Investment in infrastructure, housing and education needs to be continuous and ongoing. The NPF uses the phrase ‘continuous regeneration’; and this is what it should be all about. The tone of the plan is generally very progressive.”

Drilling into the detail: some key plans

– Project 2040 is focused on 10 strategic outcomes, including compact growth, strengthened rural economies and communities, high-quality international connectivity, a low-carbon and climate-resilient society, sustainable water and environmental resources, and access to high-quality health, education and childcare services.

– At least 40 per cent of future housing needs to be met by building and renewing within existing built-up areas. Richard Hamilton of Future Analytics Consulting suggests that this figure should be significantly higher.

– Regional accessibility is a key objective of the plan. The Atlantic Corridor aims to link Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo through a high-quality road network.

– Investment is to be directed to a more equal balance of growth between the three regions of Ireland (northern and western, southern, and eastern and midland which includes Dublin).

– New runway for Dublin Airport, continued development of Cork and Shannon airports, investment in Ireland West Airport Knock.

– Development of a major national cultural infrastructure plan for the next 10 years.

– Upgrading of 45,000 homes per annum from 2021 to make them more energy efficient. A new €500 million Climate Action Fund with a strong focus on the transport sector.

– 50 large-scale school projects annually until 2021, and increases in capacity across institutes of technology and in the postgraduate sector.