Tuesday, 11 June 2019
National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]
Many people in rural areas and the west would like to see much of the plan happen faster. That is one of the big issues. One of the aspects of the plan relates to climate change. It is about balance in the economy and balanced regional development. One of the big issues for the people living west of the Shannon is that we do not see enough infrastructure being built fast enough in order to develop an economy in that part of the world which can rebalance the economy which is probably overheating in Dublin with traffic jams and all the problems with rent, housing, etc. Part of that could be done through ensuring we have more places for people to live outside the city and in other regions around the country.
Having more places for people to live also requires more workspace development for people to work in those areas. That is one of the problems we have. Many people require workspace development to allow them to work from home or work from hubs near home. Broadband is one of the key infrastructural elements we require to make that happen and we require that as quickly as possible.
I come to the climate change aspect, particularly around how land is used. The Government is missing the big picture in respect of what we can do with climate change. Obviously land can be used to sequestrate as much carbon as possible and there is an economic opportunity to make that happen. However, if the Government simply leaves the market to deal with it, it will not happen. That has been the experience in the past. The Government needs to be a player in this area.
In order to develop the kind of sectoral approaches we need, particularly in regard to biogas and biomass which hopefully will replace the non-renewable carbon fuels we are using to produce most of our electricity, we could go down that direction. However, doing so requires all the biomass to be grown somewhere and it has to be grown on farmland. The farmers who grow that need to know they will get a guaranteed long-term payment for it. Half a dozen farmers cannot just decide they want to grow biomass. They need to know there is a structure, a market and payment for it. Nobody will do that on the required scale unless the Government has an involvement.
One of the things missing from the development plan is the concept of the Government playing a role in developing key sectors to ensure our climate change targets are met. To do that would be a major advance. It would not add much cost to the national development plan, but it would certainly give people confidence that there will be an emphasis on ensuring our climate change targets are reached.
Housing is one of the big issues. I come from a small rural parish with a three-teacher school going down to a two-teacher school owing to lack of children because no families are living in the area. Many rural areas do not have enough people because we do not have the jobs or infrastructure. However, at the other end of the country the place is bursting. We need to place an emphasis on rebalancing the economy. That will not happen if we leave it to the market to do it and if we leave it to business to develop on its own; the Government needs to play a role.
We need an economy that creates more wealth for more people everywhere. We need more services for more people everywhere. We need more supports for more small businesses everywhere. For that to happen the Government needs to show it is prepared to put the money in place.
As my colleague has said, the motion before the House is very reasonable. It calls on the Government to state how and where it will find the funding to develop the projects promised in the plan in the context of the significant cost overruns in other areas. It is not ridiculous to ask for that. Equally it is not ridiculous for the Government to take cognisance of the impact climate change will have. There are issues across the country with developing renewable energy, particularly the solar panel business. Deputy Stanley has a Bill before the House on microgeneration so that people could generate energy on the roofs of people's homes and businesses. So far nothing has happened with that because the Government is holding it up.
If the Government is serious about these things, it needs to be moving this aspect forward. For instance, what is happening with charging points for electric cars, particularly for people living in rural areas? People living in those rural areas have higher mileage on their vehicles than people living in urban areas. However, there is practically nowhere outside towns and cities for them to charge electric cars. Equally people living in rural areas do not have the options that people have in other places.
To make a difference we need infrastructure that will require key investment to happen fast. To do that requires turning the national development plan back to front. Many of the things planned for the last few years need to be done in the first few years. That is one of the key problems I saw when it was launched in Sligo last year with great razzmatazz. That is fine; every Government will do that. At the end of the day the funding that has been put in place and the funding that has been promised is not being delivered for many of the communities that need to see it now.
The motion is not asking the Government to do too much. At this point the Government needs to place the emphasis where the greatest potential is. The greatest potential for the economy is outside the areas where the economy is overheating; it is out in rural areas and out in the regions which is where most investment needs to be made. At this late hour I implore the Government to ensure the infrastructure is put in place, particularly broadband and the roads infrastructure required in rural areas so that business can develop and be sustainable.