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The Opportunity of a Generation: Ireland’s €116 Billion National Development Plan

Matheson has today welcomed the Irish Government’s publication of the €116 billion National Development Plan (NDP), the most ambitious single capital spending plan it has ever published.

"The NDP consists of a 10 Year Capital Plan and a National Planning Framework, and is the first time that an Irish Government has prepared evidence-based, dual investment and planning strategies” commented Rhona Henry, partner and head of the Construction and Engineering team.

The Irish Government expects the country’s population to increase by at least one million people by 2040.  The intention of the NDP is to fund projects that will accommodate such rapid growth as sustainably as possible.

The key message for the private sector, and particularly Matheson’s client base of internationally focused companies and financial institutions doing business in and from Ireland, is that many of the projects included in the NDP are intended to be delivered through collaboration between the public and private sectors and are designed to improve Ireland’s attractiveness as a leading global destination for foreign direct investment.

Many of the key high-value projects in transport such as Dublin Metro and light rail expansion, DART heavy rail expansion, the new Dublin Airport runway and the M20 motorway, together with ambitious education, health, justice and social housing projects, will benefit from some private sector involvement and will boost Ireland’s attractiveness to international investors both directly and indirectly.  Garret Farrelly, partner and head of the Energy and Infrastructure team and a member of the firm’s Projects Group, notes that the NDP should benefit all international and domestic firms investing in Ireland over the medium to long term:

“As Ireland continues to attract inward investment and migration, while benefitting from a strong fiscal and macroeconomic position, now is the time to make long term investment decisions.  The NDP commits the Government to a transformational plan of action to secure Ireland’s attractiveness for business for many years to come.” 

Peter O’Brien, a partner in the Banking and Finance Group and a member of the firm’s Projects Group, notes that Ireland remains an attractive market for private sector participation in infrastructure delivery: “Public Private Partnerships and other privately financed project delivery mechanisms have a very successful track record in Ireland and our clients have had very positive experiences in this market over the past 10 – 15 years”.

Crucially for the private sector, the NDP includes a commitment to continue to employ the “very useful” Public Private Partnership (PPP) delivery model and / or “alternative financing” methods, particularly for revenue-generating projects, subject to value for money assessments.  The NDP notes that a review of the use of PPPs in Ireland concluded that “PPPs can play a very important role in the delivery of public capital investment projects contained in the National Development Plan.”

The National Planning Framework is a detailed strategy mapping out the development of Ireland’s physical infrastructure from now until 2040.  The Government has targeted cities such as Cork, Limerick and Galway as areas for urban development to balance the rapid growth of Dublin.  The National Planning Framework is the first national-level planning framework with legislative backing: the Irish Government plans to enact legislation mandating that most major planning decisions taken in Ireland must have regard to its priorities. A new Independent Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) will be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the National Planning Framework.

In addition, following a recent memo from the Department of the Taoiseach, the Government has agreed that new rules are to be introduced to reduce the period during which a judicial review can be launched from 8 to 4 weeks.   Further, the rules on who is eligible to apply for judicial review will be restricted so that a party must prove they have a sufficient interest in the development and show it has a direct impact upon them (but subject to the Court’s discretion).  In order to expedite proceedings the court may also allow for a “written submissions only” process which would avoid the need for lengthy court hearings, such as those that were experienced by Apple in 2017, in their plans to build a data centre in Galway.

In 2016, the Irish Government commenced a review of its 2015 capital expenditure plan (which Matheson welcomed at the time) and the NDP, which has emerged from this review process, is considerably more ambitious than the 2015 plan. "The NDP has been described as a once in a generation opportunity to align a government-backed pipeline of projects with a sustainable mandatory planning policy designed to facilitate long-term growth.  We welcome the publication of this ambitious plan and we hope that the legislative regime underpinning it proves effective and flexible enough to deliver this goal",  comments Farrelly.

Matheson’s Projects Group is keenly aware of the importance of the NDP to its current and prospective clients and will publish a more detailed overview of the NDP in the coming days.  In the meantime, should you have any queries about the NDP or upcoming projects in Ireland, please contact Garret Farrelly, Rhona Henry, or Nicola Dunleavy.