I thank the four Deputies for raising these matters and welcome the opportunity to discuss the implementation of the national planning framework, NPF, on which we are now focused. The national plan was published earlier this year. It sets out the long-term strategy for the future development of Ireland as a whole, and the NPF implementation roadmap was published subsequently to address a number of practical implementation measures.
To prepare the NPF, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, was commissioned to prepare population projections, based on demographic and econometric factors, for the years ahead to 2040. The ESRI conclusions are in line with the latest mid-range Central Statistics Office, CSO, population projections, also published this year. I am conscious that each local authority has other ways of predicting population projections as well, so there is time, during discussion on these regional plans, to agree on the population figures and how we can try to monitor them as best we can.
At a high-level national policy context, the NPF is to be followed by more detailed regional strategies that are being prepared by the three regional assemblies. In turn, local authority development plans are being prepared by the 31 local authorities. The aim is that the county plans would align with the regional plans, which align with the national plans also. There is a fair amount of scope within those plans to allow for proper planned development, which is what we are trying to achieve.
Notwithstanding the finalisation of the national planning framework, there were many calls from local authorities for individual county population projection data, which became necessary to address inaccurate, locally driven estimates derived from NPF regional figures and which were leading to commentary, which was well wide of the mark, about population allocations and caps. As was stressed in the House during the debate on the planning Bill, it is not about caps. That is not what we are trying to achieve. It is about proper development and reaching targets in a sustainable way in terms of building houses, jobs and all the other services. The caps have become the issue but we need to tease that out more to ensure we can get agreement on reaching level 2 because we want to have proper planning for what we are trying to achieve.
To provide clarity, my Department published the NPF implementation framework, including projections for individual counties, based on the ESRI work and the NPF. That was accompanied by a detailed circular, which outlined how the projections would be applied, taking account of transitional factors, and which was to enable the regional strategies to plan for the period to 2031 and for local authorities to plan to 2026.
The focus on population figures alone, however, risks missing the point about the purpose of planning and having a national planning strategy. The Deputies will be well aware, as will other Members in the House, of recent and historic trends which saw very high levels of housing developments in areas on the margins of Dublin, which did not always match the growth in local employment opportunities and the provision of essential amenities and services for fast-growing communities. That is something we discussed at the very early stage of the national planning framework. In counties like Wicklow and Kildare and my county of Meath that undertook a lot of housing, we have to make sure, under the national planning framework, that we join up the dots, that those houses are serviced properly, that they are provided with all the amenities they need, and that they have the jobs matched up as well. Without doubt, more houses will have to be built, but we also have to plan for everything else those counties did not get, and they did not get the proper funding to go with that. They got all the development and all the housing but they did not get the resources to match everything else up. The essential part of the regional plans will be how we join up those dots. Our areas of Wicklow, Meath and Kildare are singled out in the national planning framework for special attention in terms of how we can achieve that.
It is right that we are having this conversation but we should not get sidetracked on the population caps. They are not necessarily meant to be caps. They are predictions of where we are trying to go. While I understand the debate has become focused on that, we need to determine how we can get this teased out to get agreement on plans that give us what we need for our counties. Focusing on the populations is missing the point.
We need to move away from the old and failed models of just zone and build, which, while rewarding landowners and developers with high financial returns from speculative housing development, did not tackle the longer-term issues facing existing communities, often from previous suburban expansion, such as congested roads, pressure on schools, limited amenities and a general sense of housing being provided ahead of jobs and services, not the other way around. We need the balance. How do we get the building of housing at the right pace whereby we can match up the infrastructure? I am very conscious that some of these counties have invested in infrastructure that was probably needed ten years ago but is in place now. We have to make sure that is used as well. It is about having that conversation to decide how we can achieve that in a planned and co-ordinated way and not focus just on caps. It is about how we can get good planning, allowing for the population increases that will happen, but also trying to ensure there are population increases in the future in the other counties that did not see such increases.