Way in which we have treated land and home ownership may not be fit for purpose for a growing population, Engineers Ireland conference hears, while Lord Adonis says infrastructure commission if backed by government is a good idea

Ireland must design and build a better and fairer future for its citizens but, in order to do so, it will require re-engineering our built and planned environment, John Moran, social entrepreneur, told Engineers Ireland’s annual conference, held in the Strand hotel, Limerick, on April 13. “The way in which we have treated land and home ownership may not be fit for purpose for a growing population like we now have,” he added.

Engineers Ireland director general Caroline Spillane with social entrepreneur and former secretary general of the Department of Finance, John Moran

“Over the years, from 1916 until entry into the European Union, the Irish population rested rather close to three million people.  Since then it has moved to above 4.75 million. It is going to continue upwards towards six million.

The need to put the common good ahead of the individual

“To make matters worse, we also piled almost all of the state architecture and services in or around one of our smallest counties – Dublin – with a restricted hinterland as it was on the sea. This meant that as less and less was happening elsewhere, Dublin land became more valuable relative to other places for those living there and more and more expensive for those who had to move to the capital.”

Moran said that in order to change this, “re-engineering our built and planned environment to design a better and fairer future” is required. He added: “And a better future cannot be measured on purely financial terms by counting the money in the pockets of citizens.

“We must change the debate as we should be doing in a more advanced economy, so that success is people being “well-off” measured in broader terms more like a happiness index and fairness of opportunity to all who call Ireland home whether newcomers or established long-timers.

“Re-engineering for this success will require a new approach where the common good is put much more ahead of individualism.  Without radically revisiting our views on property rights and the needs of the common good, those lucky to be invested in housing especially owned housing in certain parts of the country – particularly close to Dublin – will have an advantage in life which can never be caught up to by those living further away or entering the system.

Creating a greater sense of fairness and opportunity

“Against a backdrop of growing inequality in the world and a growing sense that many of our citizens are being left behind despite growing prosperity, there are many uncomfortable truths for us to be faced.

“I tend by nature to be optimistic about society and especially Irish society. Our nation has been built very much on a sense of community for generations. By facing up to these problems honestly and innovatively I believe that in this great country we can create a much fairer and more stable society into the future while retaining the competitiveness necessary for our economic prosperity.

Moran said the essence of the re-engineering is twofold: first, creating a greater fairness of opportunity for more people, and do that by providing opportunity in more places than just “in the centre of one city”.

Second, recognising that the common good is “better served by people who are prepared to live with the compromises that come from living in greater proximity to their neighbours.   It makes delivering public services cheaper and we must reward that”.

He added: “As a corollary, for those currently living in the more individualistic ways we once tolerated even encouraged, we should continue to support them as best we can but also work to provide more attractive and more sustainable lifestyle alternatives for them as they move into different phases of their lives.

Putting the east on a diet

“Anyone who sits in traffic in Dublin for over an hour or more to get to work knows we are not coping well with our huge structural challenges of population growth and eastward drift,” said Moran.

He added that “we do not have the luxury of starting with a clean sheet of paper but it does seem to me that we can easily move to offer two different urban lifestyle choices to sustainably accommodate the majority of our population growth and arrest eastward drift”.

He suggested that we could either look at living in the capital, or, in what he termed an ‘Atlantic economic corridor city cluster’. He said: “By providing an alternative, we get to buy Dublin time to provide for a more limited but continuing growth as it turns itself into its own nodal city with places like Cherrywood, Heuston Quarter, Tallaght, the Dublin airport zone being allowed to develop.

“In the same way for the Atlantic Economic Corridor, the key to reducing demand to live in the one place (and therefore reduced price inflation in all of the cities) for housing and commercial space is improved connectivity.  With one motorway added we see just how different the world looks for places like Tralee, Cork, Waterford, Portlaoise, Galway, Ennis all within one hour of the centre of this non Dublin region of interconnected places.

“And since it is hard to speed up travel any further on the roads, you need to do something to speed up the connectivity of this new hub and Dublin with a high-speed railway.”

‘Fund connecting Dublin to a regional city efficiently by public transport’

Moran said to imagine a scenario where the government decided to fund a pilot scheme connecting Dublin to a regional city efficiently by public transport, and progressing the process as resources are freed up. Once the pilot is planned and under way, the same could be done with Limerick, Waterford, Cork and Galway in quick succession, thus rapidly improving the country’s interconnectivity.

“Driving a pilot within a broader framework is the easiest way to make this a reality if all the pieces are done in the one city at the same time. Re-engineer it well and not only do cities like Dublin prosper but many other cities and towns of Ireland adjusting to this new model can prosper too,” said Moran.

Director general Caroline Spillane with guest speaker Lord Andrew Adonis, former Chair of the UK National Infrastructure Commission at the Engineers Ireland Annual Conference in Limerick city on April 13, 2018

Conference speakers explained that for the country to meet future challenges and opportunities for growth, that infrastructure development, industry innovation, and ensuring the presence of strong engineering talent within third level institutes to meet industry demands, were all essential to drive ambition and business growth within a region.

Lord Andrew Adonis, former chair of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, told the delegates that a national infrastructure commission wasn’t a panacea but that it was a good idea if it received comprehensive government support. “If [a National Infrastructure Commission] is going to work, you have to get the government onside, and we had the government partly onside,” he said.

Give national infrastructure body as much teeth as possible, but no panacea

“So what’s my advice to you? A good idea – give it as much teeth as possible but it’s not a panacea. At the end of the day an expert advisory body is only an expert advisory body. It’s only as good as the powers that ministers are prepared to invest in it. If they are prepared to take long-term infrastructure planning seriously, then it can play a role. If not, it’s just window dressing.”

“Six years ago, I produced a report with Sir John Armitt proposing a national infrastructure commission. What we recommended was that it should be an independent statutory body set up by parliament with a parliamentary remit to undertake two exercises.

“The first is a national infrastructure assessment, which would take place once per parliament. It would be a 25-30 year assessment of the economic infrastructural requirements of the nation at large, which would be updated each parliament, which parliament would then be invited to vote on with recommendations from the government. The government would then be forced out into the open to say what it thought about the proposals and whether it agreed or disagreed with them. Then parliament would vote.

‘I had authorised the third runway at Heathrow’

“It would also look at specific issues referred to it, either by nature of them being very problematic in infrastructure terms or as a way of generating consensus. We had in mind the experience after 2010 when I had authorised the third runway at Heathrow and then, the first act David Cameron took when he became prime minister, was to cancel it because it was politically difficult.

“What he then did, when the business community in the UK went into revolt about that is he set up an independent commission under Sir Howard Davies to look specifically at the issue of the third runway including the option of constructing a completely new airport in the estuary. It also looked at Gatwick, Stansted, Northolt and other options.

“After two years of exhaustive work, including elaborate public consultation which was very important, it recommended for the third runway a number of conditions including no night flights and less vehicular traffic entering Heathrow.

“The government in principle accepted that recommendation. The opposition in principle accepted that recommendation. We are now waiting to see whether parliament will agree it. And that to my mind will be an acid test of whether this independent commission model works. Parliament is due to decide this in July.

‘If parliament ducks runway decision, then commission idea a waste of time’

“If parliament votes to do the third runway I will be able to tell you that it does work and you should have one. If it ducks it, or delays it or sets up another commission to look at this for the third time, then I will tell you it’s a bit of a waste of time, really, and what you should just do is try to encourage your politicians to take decisions themselves. And it is very much in the balance.”

Dr Emma Silke, head of business development, ESB ecars

Separately, Dr Emma Silke, head of business development, ESB ecars, told the conference: “I am delighted to say that at this time last year ESB was appointed to Transport for London’s (TfL) rapid charging framework, which is the single framework that’s going to be used to access sites across London to roll out charging infrastructure. TfL make available sites across the Greater London area that we bid for, and should we win them we deploy our charging network.

“They have revised their initial figure of 300 sites to 700. So the size of the prize has doubled for us in terms of being a network owner-operator there. ESB so far have been awarded 60 of those sites across London. It’s a really good news story for Ireland Inc and our capability in this sphere,” she said.

Ground-breaking, Ardnacrusha hydro-electric scheme

Barry Lowe, engineering manager at Lufthansa Technik Turbine Shannon and Chair of the Thomond region of Engineers Ireland, said: “We in Thomond are justifiably proud of our engineering tradition. We had the electrification of Ireland in the late 1920s which began with the ground-breaking, Ardnacrusha hydro-electric scheme.

L-R: Sean Lenihan, chair of Thomond Region Conference Co-ordination Committee; Everest climber John Burke of charity Elevate; and Barry Lowe, chair of the Thomond Region

“In the 1930s we became the gateway to Europe – with the establishment of the European terminal for transatlantic air traffic in Foynes on the Shannon estuary – giving birth to our strong aviation sector. In the 1940s Shannon airport was built and was the first airport in the world to establish an industrial free trade zone.

“This has gone on to play an important role in the economic and social development of Ireland – especially the midwest. The results can be seen in the international and diverse industry base we have today – which includes electronics, biomedical, software, biopharma and fintech. With the population of Ireland expected to grow by one million people by 2040 – requiring an additional 660,000 new jobs – we can look forward to continued and significant growth in our regions.”

Ireland’s fastest-growing investment location, contributing €15bn to Irish economy

Dr Pat Daly described the midwest as: “Ireland’s fastest growing investment location, home to 500,000 people and contributing €15 billion to the Irish economy.” He discussed Limerick 2030, the Economic and Spatial Plan for Limerick including the development of the eight-acre Cleeves Riverside Campus, the 550,000-sq-ft opera site on Rutland Street, Port Economic Park and the Station Plaza. He said Limerick has a reputation for “making things happen”, “and encouraged others aiming to innovate within their regions to plan and “organise around ambition”.

Paschal Meehan discussed the experience he has garnered from his time as chair of Limerick for Engineering. He said: “Limerick for Engineering is an industry-led initiative which has the support of the education and training providers in the region.” He added that its primary goal is to; “increase the quality and quantity of engineering talent – apprentices, technicians and engineers – available in the region”.

Caroline Spillane, director general of Engineers Ireland, said: “Our conference is timely given the publication by our government in February of the National Planning Framework and the €116 billion National Development Plan both elements of the ambitious Project Ireland 2040 initiative.

“Every objective contained in these plans will require the engineering community to play a significant role. It will be engineers like you who will be integral to the delivery of projects that will support communities which are pivotal to Ireland’s prosperity, connectivity and sustainability.”

Michael Lohan of IDA Ireland said that in the past two-and-a-half years, more than 23 jobs announcements had happened in the midwest, creating 3,500 jobs. He said investors were in the business of seeking “talent, world-class infrastructure, competitiveness, certainty and open innovation”.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/a-adonis6-1024x683.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/a-adonis6-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanNewsESB,infrastructure,Limerick
Ireland must design and build a better and fairer future for its citizens but, in order to do so, it will require re-engineering our built and planned environment, John Moran, social entrepreneur, told Engineers Ireland's annual conference, held in the Strand hotel, Limerick, on April 13. 'The way in...