When, Not If

1 December 2016 The Financing Irish Infrastructure 2016 conference in Dublin highlighted a significant project pipeline emerging, as Irish authorities ramp-up capital expenditure with a sense of urgency. David Keniry reports

“When the likes of Apple come to the likes of Cork and say we are not putting any more people in here until the housing stock is significantly enhanced…then as a country we need to take a step back.”

Donal Murphy from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund provided delegates at Financing Irish Infrastructure 2016 with this anecdote that demonstrates the risks to post-Brexit Ireland posed by its infrastructure deficit. It is emblematic of the sentiment among public and private sector delegates at the conference that an increase in capital investment was no longer an issue of if, but of when and how.

It also demonstrates another key theme that came out of the event: the need for a major increase in capital investment across the country and not just in Dublin.

In his keynote speech, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said: “Under the approach of using public-private partnerships, we are committed to making further progress in education, health, justice, transport and social housing.”

Donohoe confirmed that the review of the Capital Plan “beyond the current levels of capital investment” will be completed by his department by the summer of 2017 “to bring certainty”.

The six to nine month review process will see a “structured” opportunity for the private sector to offer their views in terms of what infrastructure is needed.

Concurrently, the National Planning Framework is to be completed by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney in the first half of next year, with each piece of work informing the other.

Donohoe also said that both he and Coveney have committed to using “social housing as a pathfinder approach to look at how we can put in place private financing models for public projects that we are confident that we have certainty over for the next 20 to 30 years”.

Brian Murphy, chief executive of the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA), welcomed the certainty that the minister’s words give to the country’s social infrastructure pipeline.

With €200m allocated for PPP ventures in Third Level education in the 2015 Capital Plan, Murphy said the NDFA is talking to the Department of Education & Skills about what specific projects will be delivered.

Emma Leonard from the department’s Third Level Building/PPPs Unit said it hopes to be in a position early next year to look at parameters of the PPP programme for the higher education sector and the selection process for projects.

And Leonard is likely to have plenty of interest, not least from Trinity College Dublin. The institution’s head of capital projects, Greg Power, said he is looking forward to these announcements. “Trinity will engage and other universities will engage,” he said.

Dublin Institute of Technology’s engineering and built environment leader, Louis Gunningan, agreed, suggesting that there is a long waiting list of institutes of technology that want to launch various projects.

On health, Murphy confirmed that the ongoing Primary Care Centre PPP programme is a pathfinder for the model and will be a forerunner for other projects in that space, with both the NDFA and the Health Service Executive “really happy with the progress”.

After visiting the Summerhill Primary Care Centre site on his way to the conference, Donohoe praised the scheme and said it is “how we want to deliver healthcare in our country for many decades”.

This page was last updated on:
3 July 2017.

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