Just over a year ago I packed up my life in London and left my job to travel the world. Now my travelling adventure is over I’m living and working in Ireland again. It’s great to be back, but for others thinking about making the move, be prepared. Adjusting to work in a different country, even if it is home, is going to be a challenge but that’s the beauty of it. The different politics and issues are a refreshing change and something I’d recommend to anyone thinking of coming home.
A year after graduating with a Masters in Planning and Sustainable Development from University College Cork I moved to London in 2009. Here I started out as graduate transport planner with Transport for London (TfL). TfL is much like the National Transport Authority (NTA) but with a remit overseeing both the public transport system and road network. This was a great place to start my career in planning. I worked on high profile projects including the Roads Task Force Report, which culminated in a new strategic framework for London’s roads and a rail extension to Barking Riverside a new town currently under construction in East London.
With the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson as chair of the TfL boardroom, work was always interesting. His energetic approach to shaping the transport network kept everyone on their toes and made for a challenging and enjoyable workplace. To add to this, the media gaze was never far away, with transport stories often on the front cover of the newspapers.
Moving home to Ireland I’ve noticed the press spotlight is just as intense but shines on different things. Traffic congestion on our roads has been a constant theme as the number of road users climbs back to pre-2008 levels. With increasing levels of people, goods and services trying to get from A to B catering for competing demands is a big challenge for policy makers. Only half of the government revenue generated from the transport sector is reinvested back into the system so funding shortfalls should come as no surprise.
In London, transport has significant budgets for capital projects and high levels of subvention to get the most out of the current system while the new projects are completed. This isn’t the case in Ireland. Money is tight right now but looking ahead there are major projects in the pipeline like Metro North and Dart Underground and construction on Luas Cross City is going strong. But as far as the media is concerned the real transport issues at the moment are about traffic congestion, keeping Irish Rail in the black and bus drivers behind the wheel.
Transport issues almost certainly play second or third fiddle to the housing crisis in the minds of planners. There are lots of opinions about the root cause of the problems across the housing sector but being back in the country only six months I feel I’m not qualified to give mine here. But I do think there is an inherent link between land use and transport that historically has been missed by decision makers. This is not just an Irish issue of course.
In London decisions on where to spend transport budgets are closely tied to how many new homes and jobs that can be created as a result. So much so if my old department had a mantra it would have been “jobs and homes, jobs and homes, jobs and homes”. The scene is perfectly set for this to be the mantra here in Ireland too and the early signs are promising that the link between land use and transport is starting to be recognised.
The Government’s Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund is one example. The €200m pot makes money available to Local Authorities to invest in infrastructure to help bring forward development. This is a short term measure of course and while the housing crisis is a headline now it is longer term planning about where people live and work and how they get between the two that is crucial for the sustainable development of the country in the future. On this issue the National Planning Framework (NPF) is the only show in town.
Despite criticisms about the Department for Transport and its lack of priorities since the formation of government Minister Shane Ross gets that the NPF will shape national transport policy. The National Transport Authority (NTA) is ready too. It has just launched a suite of regional transport models. A set of tools Ireland has never had before that will help forward planning immeasurably.
Everything looks to be in place for the NPF to help close the gap between land use and transport policy and maybe it will. But whatever happens, personally it is great to be back home thinking and debating these kinds of issues. So for anyone else thinking about coming home, now is a great time to do it.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the IPI nor are they intended to reflect IPI policy. He writes in a personal capacity.