Since 1993 the EU holds responsibility on infrastructure policy – in the fields of transport, energy and telecommunications. In the transport sector, Europe’s TEN-T policy aims to boost economic, social and territorial cohesion between all Member States and their regions. It aims to prevent obstacles to the free circulation of goods, services and citizens throughout the EU.
Developments over the last few years which impact on transport policy include;
- Climate change
- Interconnection and interoperability
As a result, the European Commission has decided to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the guidelines for the development of the TEN-T and have undertaken a public consultation. The WDC submitted a response which is available for download on the Submissions page of the WDC website, see here. In this blogpost we summarise some of the key points.
The importance of transport infrastructure policy at EU level
EU transport infrastructure policy is crucial to ensure that transport infrastructure & policy contributes to enhancing the connectivity & accessibility of outermost & peripheral regions.
In parts of the Western Region of Ireland, geographic peripherality is compounded by relatively poor transport infrastructure which militates against effective participation in the EU Single market. This will be exacerbated further after Brexit.
EU transport policy is critical to support the transport needs to peripheral island member states such as Ireland & its Western Region. The Irish Exporters Association has noted that the transport needs of exporters in the West & Mid-West would be better served by ports & airports located there.
What are the benefits if infrastructure policy is made at European level
One of the benefits will be to support, guide & enhance member states’ transport policy. In Ireland’s case some aspects need to be revised in order to support the broader policy framework of Project Ireland 2040. For example, the National Ports Policy (2013) & National Aviation Policy (2015) were devised well before publication of Project Ireland 2040 which seeks to balance growth more effectively across Irish regions & will need regional transport investment to enable this. This will require EU support for funding.
In view of the cross-border nature of transport infrastructure, policies & subsequent investments should be harmonized in order to address existing bottlenecks to keep the Union accessible and competitive. This is very important in view of Brexit for Rep. of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
A coordinated approach at EU level is the most effective way to address challenges such as the transition to a carbon-neutral economy & the subsequent investment in the required infrastructure.
Form of the TEN-T network
The comprehensive TEN-T network is not sufficiently connected with the core network since there still exist missing links. The current network also does not serve all EU regions, including the North Western region of Ireland, whose importance will grow in the face of Brexit and the uptake of renewable energies.
There is concern that designation on the Comprehensive network, compared to the Core, provides for less access to TEN-T funding. In the context of peripheral regions such as the Western Region of Ireland where there is a ‘need to ensure connectivity & accessibility of all regions in the Union’, it is important that designation does not alter the level of funding available.
The inclusion of Shannon and Ireland West Knock airports and ports such as Galway & Killybegs as nodes is important in the context of the Atlantic Economic Corridor which extends from Letterkenny/Derry south to Limerick & Kerry.
The EU Designation on the core TEN-T network, as currently defined on the island of Ireland, extends from Belfast to Dublin to Cork with a connection to Shannon Foynes port. Given its peripherality, the WDC would like to see the transport links north of Shannon Foynes, and particularly from Galway north to Sligo and Letterkenny (the Atlantic Economic Corridor – AEC) to be included in those TEN-T classifications which provides for the maximum sources of funding support from the EU.
There is a need to join existing networks together & complete ‘unfinished sections’. The priority should be to improve the outstanding road sections between Tuam & Sligo as this is a key element of the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) and part of Irish Government policy. This network is even more important in the context of Border traffic and Brexit and the peripherality of the North west.
Also, the WDC urges the European Commission to take into consideration the added economic value of airports & ports, such Shannon & Knock airports & the further development of the Galway inner port & its future potential o to play a key role in the development of renewable energies and alternative fuels.
In the absence of investment, the relative standard of a transport network vis a vis another transport network which does attract funding is a relative disimprovement & therefore the region experiences a relative disadvantage in access. This should not be the effect of policy.
The TEN-T guidelines specifically aim to achieve a better and more efficient use of existing and new infrastructure while increasing the benefits for the users.
Despite overall passenger growth, there is an ever-increasing share of passengers travelling through Dublin airport which is in part due to the investment in motorway access there. There is un-used capacity available for international access at Shannon & Ireland West Airport Knock which have received significant state support over decades. Improved services at these airports will reduce the need for residents in regional locations to avail of services at Dublin Airport which in turn will reduce journey numbers through an already congested Greater Dublin Area.
These airports provide efficient access both to & from the region to destinations in the UK, Europe and the US vital to supporting the various businesses across the region as well as tourism access. Shannon Airport is particularly important to the Limerick, Shannon and Galway regions and is the only airport on the Western seaboard with hub connectivity via London Heathrow. It also offers pre-clearance facilities to the US. The Irish Exporters Association has reported that exporters in the West & Mid-West would be much better served from the ports and airports there rather than at Dublin.
The Western Region’s many valuable marine assets are relatively under-developed. The port facilities at Galway & Killybegs & Sligo are critical to supporting potential in seafood products, tourism, amenity, ocean renewable energy & marine innovations for the lifesciences sector & need to be enhanced.
Freight facilities at ports, railway depots & interurban road/motorway junctions should be safeguarded & invested in. Brexit will likely lead to new freight transport routes which need to be supported.
Transport policy is an important tool of economic policy. In Ireland there is a Government policy commitment to rebalance growth away from ‘business as usual’ and to support greater population growth in the regions including the West & North West. For this to be achieved there needs to be investment in transport infrastructure especially along the Atlantic Economic Corridor. The WDC believes that EU support and TENT-T classification can help in delivering greater investment in transport infrastructure along this corridor.
In an Irish context there is an increasing concentration of traffic through Dublin Port and Airport which in turn demands additional new investment to allow expansion of services. Meanwhile there are port and airport facilities, as well as road and rail capacity with much spare capacity which could service existing and new demand.
EU policy should more effectively support member states to capitalise on the capacity already available and ‘sweat’ the state investment already made, such as the rail network, port facilities in the Western Region including Galway and the international airports such as Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock. This is especially as this is consistent & supportive of the overarching policy framework of Project Ireland 2040.
In view of Brexit, and potential ‘Third country status for the UK & Northern Ireland’, peripherality of Ireland should not become an obstacle and should not lead to a lack of competitiveness. The existing transport infrastructure across the WDC region, including the key ports, airports, the road and rail network should be recognized as an important contributor to enhancing the social, economic and territorial cohesion of the EU. The inclusion of these nodes and networks in the comprehensive network would provide access to funding need to develop infrastructure that enhances the accessibility and competitiveness of the Western region, Ireland, and ultimately, the Union.