Failure to invest in critical regional infrastructure could jeopardise economic growth in the south of the country and limit business development, according to Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly.
Crucial transport infrastructure must be prioritised to safeguard the initial signs of economic recovery with action urgently needed on areas such as reinstating the Cork to Dublin air route and improving surrounding road links.
With interest rates at record lows and a major European infrastructure warchest up for grabs, the sooner projects are commissioned and completed the better chance the southern region will have of attracting business.
“If we want to secure our recovery we need to invest in infrastructure. There’s a strong case that can be made to tap into the funds available from the so-called €315bn ‘Juncker Plan’… These things need to be done and the sooner [they’re done] the less they’ll cost with interest rates at record lows.
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“If you’re trying to market an area, the more boxes you can tick the more investors will take note. If companies don’t see the will or opportunity to create infrastructure the more likely it is we’ll see them go elsewhere,” Mr Kelly said.
The Cork to Dublin route has been the subject of much debate with DAA chairman Pádraig Ó Riordáin raising the issue at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Transport Committee earlier this year.
Mr Ó Riordáin told the committee that Kerry receives state support in the form of a public service obligation to the tune of €270 per passenger to make the air connection to Dublin viable.
His comments were echoed by Cork managing director Niall McCarthy in May who said a €1.5m annual subsidy would be needed to make the Cork route feasible and added that sufficient appetite did not exist among large firms.
A Cork Chamber submission on the Draft National Aviation Policy for Ireland in July of last year sought a commitment to reinstate the air-link to maximise domestic transfers and to enable Cork-based businesses capitalise on Dublin’s emerging reputation as a long-haul hub, however.
it@Cork chairman Ronan Murphy said while he did not think the absence of the route would have a major impact on business in the region, he admitted it is “definitely an inconvenience”.
An EMC spokesperson said Cork Airport has no bearing on EMC staff location.
Mr Kelly also said that improving the road network between Cork and Limerick – either via the proposed M20 or alternatively by extending the motorway which connects Cork and Mitchelstown — could harness the strengths of both Cork and Shannon airports to offer a viable alternative to Dublin for those in the south.
Shannon, he suggested, could cater largely for long-haul with Cork ideally positioned to serve the short-haul market.
Final approval was granted in June for the European Fund for Strategic Investment which is aimed at kickstarting stalled infrastructure projects by leveraging up to €315bn in public and private money.
Launching the programme last November, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker described it as the jump cable to give Europe a kick-start and emerge from an investment trap which has emerged as private investors remain reluctant to fund large-scale projects.
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