I thank the Senator for the opportunity to discuss the matter and bring some clarity to it. I welcome the opportunity to provide clarity and address any misunderstanding that may have arisen. We had some discussion of Project Ireland 2040 and the regional plans in the Dáil. We need to have more discussion in this House, in committee and the Dáil to tease out what we are trying to achieve with the roll-out of Project Ireland 2040 and the regional and county plans. There is a little confusion. People have talked about there being limited ambition.
The designation to which the Senator refers, that of tier 1 large growth town, forms part of the regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, which, in addition to the four Dublin local authority areas, includes the three mid-eastern counties of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. Those guidelines are being superseded by a new draft regional strategy and this may have resulted in some confusion. The designation, tier 1 large growth town, which was used in previous publications has been discontinued. In the new draft regional strategy such areas are now designated as a key town to simplify matters. They are not being downgraded. I want to allay the Senator's fears about that.
I understand he is concerned about the future of Naas and is committed to it, as is the Department. We see Naas as an essential town. It is a key town in Kildare and the region. Naas has been identified as a key town in the draft regional strategy for the eastern and midland regional assembly area. The draft regional strategy describes in detail the function and purpose of a key town and reflects the Senator's ambition for further job creation along with housing development and that the two be matched with the infrastructure needed. In the past, housing has been developed in counties such as Meath and Kildare but there have not been enough jobs. Naas has done well and has secured many indigenous jobs. Kerry Group was a major factor in that. We want to create and win more jobs. We do not want 7,500 or 8,000 people having to commute from Naas. The focus in the regional strategy is to match the two to make sure housing secures jobs and jobs secure housing and that we link them together. In the past we have had one or the other which is not good planning. There must also be all the other infrastructural services to go with it.
The national planning framework, NPF, published earlier this year together with the national development plan, NDP, as part of Project Ireland 2040 is intended to provide a strategic context for future planning, development and investment over the next two decades. In addition, the NPF represents the long-term strategy for Departments, State agencies, State-owned enterprises, regional and local authorities and others to support communities to achieve their potential for economic, social and infrastructural development through a shared set of strategic objectives and key principles. The goal is to achieve that potential in a logically planned way. As a strategic document, the NPF is being given further and more detailed expression at regional level through preparation by the regional assemblies of statutory, regional, spatial and economic strategies for the three regional assembly areas.
I understand the Senator is raising this matter in response to the publication of the draft regional, spatial and economic strategy for the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, EMRA, for which a ten-week consultation period commenced just last Monday.
The east and midlands regional spatial and economic strategy is the first of three draft strategies to be published by the regional assemblies during the coming weeks. They will replace the previous regional planning guidelines, all seven of which are by now outdated. The consultation period on the draft regional strategy will run until 23 January, and it is open to any interested party, including Senator Lawlor and others who are interested, to make a formal submission in writing to the regional assembly on the content of the draft regional strategy. We would welcome the Senator's involvement through discussion here or through formal submissions to outline clearly his concerns and fears if we get it wrong and his ambition for the town and what he wants to achieve for Naas and Kildare in general. We want our plans to be ambitious. We want to be very clear that the NPF will not limit the ambition of any town but to help grow it in a planned and co-ordinated way and successfully link the process of having well-planned housing in an area that has all of the services to go with it.
The finalisation of these regional strategies in the first half of 2019 will, in turn, prompt reviews and updates of individual county and city development plans to ensure strategic co-ordination and consistency between national, regional and local levels. The Senator has raised this issue in other conversations and I believe that much clarity has been brought to the process over recent weeks at regional level, in terms of future ambition and zoned lands. People will have had their concerns and fears allayed and I assume the Senator's councillor colleagues understand what we are trying to achieve through the regional plans. I hope this brings some clarity on what a key town is. We are just replacing the terminology used in the past.
Growth centres such as Sligo and Athlone are a little different. They are to drive the regions around them because we are trying to disperse the population into other regions that have experienced population decline. Sligo and Athlone have been picked as regional centres to try to drive activity not just in the towns but in the regions around them, whereas Naas is a key town for Kildare and the region.