Saturday 20 January 2018

Dublin needs capital spending to be a city of growth

Traffic volumes will return to pre-recession levels, putting pressure on our infrastructure
Traffic volumes will return to pre-recession levels, putting pressure on our infrastructure

Gina Quin

We're back in business. After running on fumes for many years, companies are seeing an increase in sales opportunities. Now the biggest obstacle to growth is the ability to capitalise on them.

It's well-known that more businesses collapse during a recovery than at any other time in the business cycle. Why? After surviving on a shoestring, they simply don't have the capital in the business to deliver on the demands of growth.

There's a lesson in this for government. The huge growth being predicted for Ireland is good news, but we must get prepared for the demands that come with it. As a country we've been operating on a skeletal capital budget for the best part of a decade, and it is capital spending that will provide the economy with the capacity to grow and create jobs.

The biggest constraint on growth right now is in the Dublin region, the powerhouse of the national economy, accounting for 42pc of Ireland's GDP, half of all employment, and over half of all tax revenues.

Given its importance to Ireland Inc, we must do everything we can to ensure the Dublin region remains attractive to business and competitive on the world stage.

We all want growth, but growth brings a new set of problems: busier roads, longer commute times, congested buses and trains, rising rents, and a dwindling housing supply.

If the projections in the Government's Spring Statement are to be believed, then we should all get ready for more of the same. Government employment forecasts and historic trends indicate that there will be 43,000 more jobs created in Dublin each year for the next five years. That's 215,000 more commuters.

This will heap more pressure on Dublin's creaking transport infrastructure. Four-fifths of Dublin Chamber members are already saying that congestion is a competitiveness issue for Dublin. Ministers and transport chiefs are aware of the problem. Question is, will they provide the vision and funding to deliver what Dublin - and the country - needs in the long term?

Usage of Dublin's roads and public transport will soon be back to pre-recession levels. Rewind ten years and all the talk was of the need for projects like Metro North, Dart underground and an outer ring road around Dublin. Now, the business case for such projects is strengthening by the day. Building new infrastructure requires money. As it stands, the Government is struggling to maintain the infrastructure that we have.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has acknowledged that the Government is spending €300m a year less than is needed to merely maintain the transport system already in place. The Government's current plan is to spend around €150m per year on transport in the Greater Dublin Area. Rival cities abroad, such as Manchester and London, are spending up to three times as much on a per-commuter basis.

These are the kind of cities that Ireland, through Dublin, is competing with for business and investment. Factors such as congestion and commute times are a big consideration for companies - and their staff - when deciding where to locate.

And if Dublin loses its appeal, the danger for Ireland is that a company's second choice won't be Longford or Leitrim, but rather Zurich or Amsterdam.

Simply put, unless an ambitious capital investment plan is put in place for infrastructure, don't be surprised if growth falls short and businesses start heading elsewhere.

Gina Quin is the CEO of Dublin Chamber of Commerce


Irish Independent

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