A successful European economy must provide a modern physical infrastructure. In its absence, businesses will go elsewhere.
This prescription more than justifies the publication by Engineers Ireland and the Irish Academy of Engineering, assisted by InterTradeIreland, of an analysis of what the engineers see as priority investments in the next 20 years for the whole island which may house a population of eight million people.
Two key points emerge from the analysis. First, the infrastructure budgetary needs will remain an expensive part of official budgets. Second, the implementation mechanisms of planning, prioritising and delivery will rely on efficient public policy delivery.
In Belfast, the report was introduced by Gerry Cawley, chair of the Northern Region of Engineers Ireland.
He emphasised that “a critical building block for a strategy for 2030 is the assumption that progress will be more likely if official policies encourage the trend for more people to live |in the eight larger urban city areas”.
The strongest development focus is expected to be along the east coast, linking Belfast and Dublin. To reduce the amount of commuting and reduce the environmental consequences of vehicle usage, the plans for the urban areas should increase the density of population in these centres.
The main recommendations focus on developments to cope with climate change, improve transport facilities, improve the energy services, improve the environmental impact of |water and waste services and enhance the ability to use ICT services.
This creates a long list of projects which need to be fully assessed, costed, and prioritised.
Dealing with the impact of climate change, the engineers offer a cautionary prospectus. All the principle cities on the island are on coastal estuaries and will be vulnerable to storm surges. The previously forecast 1 in a 100 year event should now be considered more like a one in 10 event.
This is backed by maps of several estuaries showing the probability of sea inundation following a rise in sea levels of just under 0.5 metres.
Following the precautionary principle, the report commends the preparation now of a register of critical infrastructure which is vulnerable to climate change.
The analysis of likely future demands on the transport infrastructure concludes that the volume of vehicle traffic and rail travel between the eight cities is expected to continue to grow at a significant rate.
Interestingly, the number of vehicle movements between Belfast and Dublin is larger than the next largest intra-island route which is Dublin to Cork.
The engineers suggest that the capacity of both the rail and motorway links from Belfast to Dublin need to be increased.
In a surprising calculation, the volume of road traffic between Belfast and Dublin could be large enough to justify a four lane motorway for about two thirds of the route. This conclusion depends in part on the use of the railway.
“Should there be a significant increase in rail traffic it may be possible to reduce the need for a fourth motorway lane until a future date if the speed and frequency of the rail service is not improved the requirement to build a fourth lane will occur earlier.”
In a practical reservation, the authors calculate that investment to allow trains to travel at 140 mph on the Dublin line would cost £1.5bn.
A more modest 100 mph service would cost £200m.
Looking ahead in terms of energy supply, the recommendations open up new options.
A share of the electricity generation should come from nuclear generators, whether on this island or by purchasing imported power.
In addition, capacity should be created to provide for storage of 20% of annual gas usage. All of these ideas challenge the policy makers to take some unexpected decisions and to face the difficult questions of their financing.
The Engineers do show that funding options for many of the schemes can be developed without directly adding to the public sector deficits.
This amounts to an intimidating but challenging prospectus to encourage economic change.