The most recent Census of Population in Ireland was undertaken by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in April 2016, with preliminary results available in July 2016 and full results available from mid- 2017. This coincided with the preparation of the National Planning Framework (NPF), which was finalised and published in early 2018. Work undertaken for the NPF to project estimates of future population growth in the years ahead to 2040, is based on the 2016 Census, as the most up to date available CSO data.
The demographic and econometric modelling of 2016 Census data, which comprises the evidence base underpinning the NPF, includes the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) research study, titled ‘Prospects for Irish Regions and Counties: Scenarios and Implications', which is available on the ESRI's website at the following link: http://www.esri.ie/publications/prospects-for-irish-regions-and-counties-scenarios-and-implications/
The National Planning Framework (NPF) was adopted by Government in February 2018. This was reiterated by Government in May 2018 and a ‘Roadmap’ document was drafted, setting out target population growth for each County to 2026 and 2031. This was issued to Regional and Local Authorities in July 2018.
The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) for the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly (EMRA) area, which includes County Meath, was subsequently adopted by the EMRA in June 2019 and includes the NPF targets. The Meath County Plan the first statutory development plan review to be brought to the draft stage of the plan review process following the adoption of the RSES for the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly (EMRA).
The National planning strategy outlined in the NPF seeks to facilitate regional development, led by the growth of Ireland’s five cities and five identified regional and cross-border drivers. It aims to ensure that a greater proportion of housing demand arising in Ireland’s cities and towns, can be accommodated within and close to the cities and towns and thereby avoid sprawl into surrounding counties and the long-distance commuting that this gives rise to.
While the NPF strategy is to break the ‘business as usual’ pattern of development, it also recognises that this change will not automatically be achieved from the outset and allows for transition over time. While seeking to discourage rapid unplanned growth and sprawl, the NPF strategy supports continued population and housing growth in County Meath, projecting an additional 26,000 persons in the ten years from 2016 to 2026, while also allowing for an additional ‘headroom’ figure of 6,500 persons over this period. This means that the Meath County Development Plan to 2026, must plan for a further 32,500 people in the County by 2026, than were there in 2016.
It remains a matter for the forthcoming Meath County development plan to determine how this level of growth should be provided for and distributed throughout the County, including over the period of the next County Development Plan. This is the exercise that is currently underway and requires prioritisation, whereby the new population planned for is targeted towards zoned land that is serviced and locations where infrastructure and facilities have been or can be provided.
The NPF is explicit that rather than focus on seeking additional housing development in locations that have been subject to rapid development and require infrastructure and services to further ‘catch up’, some locations should include planning for a greater focus on deficits, such as targeting greater employment and the needs of existing communities, as well as housing.
The NPF, has a long term overarching strategic framework, which will continue to be informed by the latest evidence based data and statistics. However, the 2016 Census of Population, coupled with evidence based demographic modelling work carried out, as referred to above, continues to be an appropriate means by which to project population figures and appropriately plan for their accommodation in the Meath County Development Plan 2021-2027.