I am pleased to open this debate on the new national development plan. The plan sets out a vision of how Ireland can be transformed over the next seven years and how we can provide a better quality of life for all. It is an ambitious, fully costed, multi-annual blueprint for sustainable development. It encompasses a broad and comprehensive approach to our economic priorities but also to regional development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
The objective of a better quality of life for our people informs the national development plan. This objective will be delivered in particular by the following measures and strategies in the plan: an investment of some €88 billion in our economic and social infrastructure; a major programme of social inclusion measures costing some €50 billion over the period, including services for children, the elderly and the disabled; a major focus on environmental sustainability backed up by total investment of €25 billion in key areas, including a quadrupling of investment in public transport over the levels in the last plan; a model for regional development that, through the framework of investment and complementary land use policy, can assist all regions to achieve their potential and promote a better environment and quality of life; and strong and tangible all-island co-operation implemented in a co-operative way to the benefit of all citizens on the island.
This national development plan, the fourth since 1989, will build on the solid foundations of its predecessors. It worth recalling the progress we have made since we adopted, in response to EU requirements for Structural Funds assistance, the process of formulating national development plans to progress this country's development. When the first plan was launched in 1989, unemployment was at 15%, the national debt was 107% of GNP and Ireland experienced net emigration of some 208,000 people in the 1980s.
By contrast, the backdrop to the launch of the new plan in January 2007 is one of virtually full employment, a debt-GNP ratio of 25% and a population increase of almost 609,000 over the past decade. The three previous national development plans, funded in significant part by EU Structural Funds, have played a significant role in this remarkable turnaround. Investment under these plans, especially in employment creation, training, education and in infrastructure combined with other successful economic, budgetary and taxation policies and underpinned by the social partnership process, has helped transform Ireland.
Unlike its predecessors, the new national development plan has not been prepared to meet EU requirements and thus draw down the limited amount of EU Structural Funds now available to Ireland. Nonetheless, the Government considers that a new plan was necessary for the following four reasons. We need a comprehensive, coherent, costed and integrated investment blueprint that sets out how we will deliver sustainable economic and social development into the future, thereby improving quality of life for all. We need to send a signal to private sector investors, both indigenous and international, that Ireland has a comprehensive blueprint for investment in areas that will influence and impact on their commercial decisions.
Public bodies also need medium-term policy and financial frameworks within which to plan investment. We need to promote balanced regional development and promote environmental sustainability and underpin all-island co-operation. Finally, we need to demonstrate to taxpayers that there is a comprehensive plan in place that will invest their money on strategic priorities and will do so in a value for money manner.
The plan will involve an estimated expenditure of €184 billion over seven years. This investment will be rolled out within a framework of economic and budgetary stability and in full compliance with the requirements of the EU Stability and Growth Pact. The economic framework underpinning the plan assumes annual average economic growth over the period of 4-4.5% and it is affordable on that basis.
The period to 2013 represents a major window of opportunity in resource terms to tackle our infrastructure deficits before population-related expenditure pressures in health and pensions appear on the horizon. We must use our favourable demographic situation to boost the productive capacity of the economy to meet the long-term demographic challenges. The Government commissioned a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute on the investment priorities for the plan. The plan accords with the prioritisation recommended to capital investment by the ESRI, notably in areas such as transport. The Government is of the view that the quantum of investment required over the period is considerably in excess of that recommended by the ESRI. Accordingly, Government investment under the plan is €2 billion per year higher than that recommended by the institute.
In determining the levels of Government capital investment, the Government took account in particular of the following key factors: the need to decisively tackle economic and social infrastructure deficits, demographic projections which estimate a population of in excess of 5 million in 2021, the window of opportunity in resource terms; and the economic rate of return on infrastructure investment. The Government believes that the construction industry has the capacity and flexibility to deliver the increased investment without causing an inflationary impact as occurred at the outset of the previous plan. Lessons have also been learned from programme and project management problems which surfaced in the early part of the previous national development plan. Key implementing agencies, such as the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency, have had significant enhancement of resources and are now well geared to deliver the programmes and projects in the new plan. Recent experience, especially in the transport area, is very positive in this regard.
The plan was the subject of extensive consultation involving submissions from and meetings with social partners, regional bodies and other interested groups. This consultative process overwhelmingly endorsed an ambitious level of capital investment in the new plan. The plan launched by Government shows that account has been taken of the priorities and concerns raised in the process. The plan also contains provision for commitments under Towards 2016 and sets out a new multi-annual integrated blueprint for the implementation of these and other commitments.
The new plan adopts a whole-of-Government and cross-departmental perspective to resource allocation, following the successful format which has been the hallmark of previous EU-funded plans. The plan sets out an integrated strategy under the five priority areas of economic infrastructure; enterprise, science and innovation; human capital; social infrastructure; and social inclusion. An investment of €54.7 billion in economic infrastructure will include the completion by 2010 of the major inter-urban road routes; significant enhancement of the Atlantic road corridor; a quadrupling of investment in public transport compared with the previous plan, including major expansion in rail capacity in the greater Dublin region and enhanced rail services outside the greater Dublin area; 15% of electricity supply will be generated from renewable energy by 2010; and significant ongoing investment in the electricity network is envisaged.
Some €20 billion will be invested in the promotion of enterprise, science and innovation and will include a radical enhancement in the quantity, quality and commercial use of research and development. There will also be investment in potential start-up and growth-potential companies. We intend to invest in attracting more tourist visitors; and a more efficient, competitive and environmentally friendly farming sector and agri-food sector is a necessary objective.
A total of €25.8 billion will be invested in training and education under the human capital priority. This will support the continuing up-skilling of the workforce and improvement of employment prospects for groups such as lone parents and people with disabilities, the provision of new schools in rapidly developing areas and a comprehensive information and communications technology programme for schools are planned. There will be a further increase in the numbers attending third level colleges, especially from disadvantaged areas and there will be major reform and modernisation in the third level sector.
A sum of €33.6 billion will be invested in the area of social infrastructure to include 60,000 new social housing units and 40,000 new affordable housing units as per the NESC report; 500 primary care health teams will be established by 2011; there will be an expansion of the range and quality of sports facilities throughout the country, including the Lansdowne Road and Abbotstown projects; and there will be nationwide investment in arts and cultural facilities, including a new National Concert Hall in Dublin and a new National Theatre.
Approximately €50 billion will be provided to promote social inclusion, particularly for the creation of an additional 50,000 new child care places by 2010, and there will be progress towards the target of halving the proportion of children with serious literacy problems in primary schools serving disadvantaged communities. We will seek to assist 7,000 additional people with disabilities into employment by 2010 and to provide an additional 550 teachers as language support for the integration of migrants. A total of €9.7 billion will be provided for older people, both to support them living independently in their own homes and, when they can no longer live at home in independence and with dignity, to support the provision of high quality residential care.
The plan also sets out a strong framework and commitment to investment in key horizontal policy areas including regional development, rural economy, all-island co-operation and environmental sustainability. The regional development strategy set out in the plan will give a major impetus to the implementation of the 2002 national spatial strategy, although investment under the previous plan also reflected, and was consistent with, that strategy. With the regional planning guidelines adopted, the national development plan provides the specifics in terms of programmes and resources to implement the vision of the spatial strategy.
We need to invest to assist all the regions to reach their potential. Lopsided economic growth which sees the capital and its hinterland as the primary driver of all activity is not in anybody's interests, least of all those of the people of Dublin and its surrounding counties. Balanced regional development is a precondition to sustainable national development. If we are to enjoy a high quality of life alongside, and in support of, a high level of national income, every region and every community must be able to reach its potential for success. It is vital to delivering a better quality of life for all.
While recognising the importance of maintaining Dublin as Ireland's international gateway, the plan sets out an investment strategy for the development of the other gateways with a view to promoting better balance in economic development. This approach is about a better quality of life for citizens in all regions, including the greater Dublin area. The plan sets out investment priorities in each of these gateway areas. This investment will be complemented by appropriate planning and land use strategies to maximise the sustainable impact of these and other investments. In this way the regional development strategy will complement the goal of environmental sustainability. We must optimise the use of our improved infrastructure. In particular, we must promote settlement trends that allow people to live nearer their workplace and have access to excellent public transport, schools and other facilities.
A special gateways innovation fund will be established to assist development of the gateways in line with the spatial strategy's framework. An initial €300 million is being provided by the Exchequer for 2008-10 for this fund. This funding is intended to leverage significant additional funding from the private sector and or other parts of the public sector so that the total quantum of investment will be greater than the Exchequer contribution. The fund will finance local infrastructure such as urban regeneration projects, transport initiatives, in addition to those under Transport 21, and quality of life projects. A key consideration will also be the existence of close co-operation between local authorities in gateway areas.
The regional development strategy will support and complement the development of the rural economy. The plan sets out a general framework and key initiatives to develop the rural economy. The broad objective is to sustain the continuing process of growth and diversification in rural areas. Priorities include enhanced accessibility, communications infrastructure and activation of potential in areas such as local enterprise and services, tourism and the natural resource sectors. Key plan interventions to assist the development of the rural economy will include investment in the modernisation and enhanced competitiveness of the farming sector; the roll-out of broadband in rural areas, particularly those areas where the commercial provision of broadband would otherwise be uneconomic; investment in non-national roads and rural water services; and an expanded rural transport initiative.
The promotion of environmental sustainability is a more central theme in the new plan than in previous plans. The framework for action in this area is set out in Chapter 6. We face major environmental challenges over the period of the plan and beyond, including climate change, waste management and the maintenance and improvement of water quality. The plan provides for investment of some €25 billion in programmes which will directly protect the environment. We are more than quadrupling public transport investment as compared with the period 2000-06. Other key investments in the context of the climate change challenge include a major commitment to the promotion of renewable energy sources for efficient energy use. This is complemented by the regional development strategy based on a land use strategy which will be more environmentally sustainable.
The plan sets out a major new proposed framework for all-island co-operation. The plan contains proposals for significant Irish Government investment in North-South projects, notably in the transport area, and initiatives for mutual benefit. The Government wishes to agree and implement these with the British Government and a restored Northern Ireland Executive in the period 2007-13.
Value for money is also a central theme in the delivery of the planned investment. Most of the capital projects, notably in the key area of transport, are being delivered on or below budget and, in some instances, ahead of schedule. Building on this performance, all expenditure under the National Development Plan 2007-2013 will be subject, as appropriate, to a robust value for money framework. Among the key elements of this framework are that all projects will be subject to project appraisal, all capital projects over €30 million will require a full cost benefit analysis, the introduction of new procurement arrangements which will deliver greater cost certainty and evaluations under the value for money and policy reviews will be published and submitted to the relevant select committees of the Oireachtas. In the coming period, my Department will be elaborating on the monitoring process to be put in place to measure progress under the plan. We envisage a streamlined, focused approach whereby progress can be readily assessed by reference to relevant financial and physical indicators. We will avoid the bureaucratic, committee-laden reporting process under previous plans, which was a source of dissatisfaction as expressed in the consultation process. The emphasis will be on efficient delivery and transparent reporting. A key new feature is the formal submission of an annual report on plan progress to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The plan can only become a reality if the economy generates the necessary resources. The success of the plan will be determined by the continuation of sound economic and budgetary policies. A strong economy is the bedrock on which this plan can be built. That is why the Government is emphasising the importance of continuing the successful and stable economic and budgetary policies of recent years.
This plan addresses Ireland's current development needs directly. It sets out a roadmap for the next phase of our country's transformation and will deliver a better quality of life for all our people. Its implementation will help to secure our prosperity and make Ireland a better country, with stronger communities throughout the island. We have the plan and the resources. We must now proceed with the work of delivery, thereby improving the quality of life for this and future generations.