A number of Deputies wish to contribute. I call Deputy Lahart, to be followed by Deputies Cahill, Rabbitte and O'Keeffe.
National Planning Framework: Statements (Resumed)
I am delighted to be able to speak on this topic. As my party's spokesperson on Dublin, I want to focus on some small aspects of the national planning framework, NPF, that affect Dublin. I will be coming back to my constituency, as we all do, because everybody's constituency in one way or another is a microcosm of the State.
The ultimate objective of the NPF is to guide the future development of the country, taking into account particularly the projected population increase and the need for corresponding employment to meet that population increase.
We heard from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI today of the health needs and the infrastructure the State will have to provide in the next few decades to deal with the challenges we face.
Even though the planning framework does not specifically refer in detail to Dublin, there needs to be a planned future of the city and the city region. In terms of anybody who has an interest or a stake in the city and an interest in its future, and I am mindful of bodies such as Dublin Chamber tends to get the headlines, but all the other interested bodies and stakeholders would like to see a planned future for the city. When we consider the challenges facing Dublin, from a Dublin perspective and that of some of the regional capitals, if ever there was an case for the need for a directly elected executive voice to co-ordinate plans for the future of this capital, the national planning framework demonstrates it. I know the Minister's party was supportive of it but I have heard talk recently of a move to the idea of having a directly elected major for each of the four Dublin local authorities. I do not have an issue with that as long as there is one overarching voice somewhere who can pull people together to make the strong hard decisions that need to be made and to bring the people of the capital with them.
IBEC's contribution to the national planning framework, which is itself a fine document, refers to the ranking of Dublin in global terms. We are the 20th city in global ranking, which is not a bad ranking, but I think we would all agree that it would be our ambition, aim and objective to improve it. The statistics start to spiral downwards after that. Dublin has a 43% congestion level and it take 50 minutes longer per day to commute in Dublin than it does in other parts of the country. According to IBEC, that amounts to 192 hours extra travel time per year, which is eight full days extra travel time in Dublin. I know that if I do not leave Knocklyon at 7 a.m. to come to the Dáil, there is no point leaving until 9.15 a.m. because it will take 90 minutes some days to travel 11 km to Leinster House. The national planning framework can announce pious aspirations as to how to deal with these issues in the medium and long term, and hopefully it sets out a vision for the capital, but the problem is that these are real issues facing people now in the city region.
The M50 is almost at gridlock. I get a notification to my phone from the Live Drive twitter account, which is an interesting one to follow. Even if 50% of the tweets are accurate in terms of the impact caused by delays arising from collisions occurring either on the M50 on a daily basis or on roads leading to it, never mind all the other minor collisions that occur throughout the city, it highlights that there is a great deal in which the traffic corps could be engaged. I noticed in the spending Estimates for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport that there is a commitment to provide funding for the demand management measures that are required on the M50. This includes the digital signage that enables the National Transport Authority, NTA, to control the speeds on the M50 at peak times or during bad weather. When it appeared before the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, Transport Infrastructure Ireland said that such measures could buy it an extra five or six years in terms of the M50's capacity. This needs to be delivered very quickly. It must be fast-tracked because there are far too many collisions which are causing incredible delays and tailbacks. We know that congestion already costs an estimated €350 million annually in Ireland generally and Dublin accounts for a great deal of that amount. There are no immediate plans to deal with that but small steps could be taken.
I am speaking as my party's spokesperson on Dublin, but this is not about a Dublin versus rural divide because a prosperous Dublin creates a prosperous country. I hate to see competition, and I also hate to hear some people who occupy the seats to my left talk about everything stopping at the Red Cow roundabout. The bulk of my constituency and other Dublin constituencies are beyond the Red Cow roundabout. It is worth reminding people that the most disadvantaged areas in the country remain in Dublin and, therefore, the challenges in terms of those who are disadvantaged remain in Dublin.
The Dublin region, which also takes in Wicklow, Kildare, Meath, and Louth, generates half of Ireland's GDP. I wish to point to one area where a great deal of work needs to be done. In fairness, the previous Government gave powers to the local authorities to begin the development of tourism in the three regional Dublin county areas and a great deal more work could be done in that regard. I ask the Minister to challenge his Cabinet colleagues to compare the annual spend on research and development in tourism and the annual spend on research and development in the area of agriculture. Tourism was probably the most resilient product we had during the crash. It was at least as resilient as agriculture. It is not about attacking agriculture but about giving a product that has stood the test of time, and that is like gold to our economy, equal status, or at least the status it deserves.
Although Dublin Chamber is not the oracle on all things Dublin, it is a useful guide with respect to the issues that bother employees in the Dublin region because the companies they represent employ close to 300,000 people. The most immediate problems facing Dubliners, as the Minister will know as he is a Dublin Deputy, are the chronic housing shortage, the high cost of rent, about which the Minister has heard enough during the past hour and half, and the transport options. After the housing and rental challenges facing the Government, it will be judged on the solutions it brings forward in short-term initiatives and responses to the transport challenges which involve the chronic and growing gridlock in the city and its surrounding areas.
Everybody from Dublin Chamber to IBEC has spoken about building upwards in Dublin, and the Minister has also mentioned it. In criticising him, I have asked where is the queue of developers applying for planning permission. I believe the Minister and I would share a vision about how we would like to see Dublin built and developed. The national planning framework offers an opportunity to feed into this in a constructive way. It cannot be left exclusively to planners. Dubliners are crying out to be shown a vision of what a high-rise Dublin might look like, whether that might be done through an international architecture competition or otherwise. Dublin Chamber has broken some ground on this and it has a good video showing what a futuristic Dublin could look like. Some of it is very attractive, and some of it is very challenging. It would not necessarily be to my taste. The Minister will only get Dubliners to buy into the notion of high rise if they see it is accompanied by amenities, appropriate recreational, community and performance spaces and it fits in the context of the city. I would like to see the planning framework deal with that aspect.
Regarding transport, all the Deputies who come into this Chamber, particularly from the Leinster counties, will tell the Minister about the growing gridlock. We need to move quickly to provide large park and ride facilities to facilitate public transport into the city. We also need to facilitate park and ride facilities that promote the use of public transport. Before we can promote the use of public transport and deliver on a national planning framework, the Government will have to invest in public transport in order that people know that if they wish to use that option that it is available.
The previous Deputy said he was speaking as our spokesperson for the Dublin area. I will be parochial in my comments as well. I am speaking as a Deputy for Tipperary. In terms of balanced regional development, the draft document most definitely does not fulfil that title. The Government gave a commitment that this new national planning framework would not be business as usual and would not repeat past mistakes. As outlined in the Planning and Development Bill 2016, the following objective will be enshrined in legislation: "to secure balanced regional development by maximising the potential of the regions ..."
This policy statement and legislation create a clear expectation that a draft plan would deliver on this objective and that it would support the growth of the regions and provide a meaningful counterbalance to the uncontrolled growth of the greater Dublin region. The population projections provided for in the draft plan are the eastern and midlands assembly area with 2.8 million or 48% of the population; the northern and western assembly area with 1 million or 17% of the population; and the southern assembly area with 2 million or 34% of the population. These population projections, when analysed further, represent little or no targeted growth in Tipperary’s towns, villages and rural areas over the lifetime of the plan.
If the Government is to deliver meaningful, balanced regional development through socio-economic growth and to support the viability of rural communities, there needs to be a re-examination of population distribution. This will have serious implications for the future of rural counties. The estimated potential population growth in Tipperary is 196,000 people in allocated growth figures. Of those, 60,000 or 16% will be in large towns and the remaining population for small towns, which are defined as below 10,000 people, is 119,000. Distributed between the nine counties in the southern region, with proportions to be decided by a regional spatial and economic strategy, RSES, it should be 13,222 people each between 2018 and 2040. That is an average growth in the 22-year period of the plan of 601 people per annum, or 240 houses in our county per annum.
On the urban structure of the towns, the draft plan has sought to draw a distinction between urban areas above 10,000 people and the remainder of the country. Rather than go with the CSO designation of a rural town being anything under 1,500 people, the NPF has used a higher figure of 10,000 people. The only large town in this category in Tipperary is Clonmel. Other towns such as Thurles, Nenagh, Carrick-on-Suir, Roscrea, Tipperary town, Cashel, and Templemore are effectively defined under the draft plan as small rural towns. This means that they must be allocated population from the same pot of 119,000 above, as one-off housing and rural villages. There is little justification for this and it will have serious implications for the future of our towns.
The draft plan does not prioritise the growth and investment needed in infrastructure, such as ports, airports, road and rail infrastructure in the southern region. The growth and development of strategic infrastructure is critical if balanced regional development is to be achieved over the lifetime of the NPF. Critical regional infrastructure should be identified for growth and development and included in the national investment plan. Construction of the M24 linking Limerick, Waterford and Cork is essential.
On the growth and expansion of Shannon and Waterford airports, Shannon Airport has the potential to build upon well-established aviation-related activities, while also growing passenger numbers, through utilising existing public capital investment. The growth and expansion of Foynes, Rosslare and Belview ports will be even more critical once Brexit becomes a reality. Also vital is the protection and development of intercity rail lines such as the Limerick to Dublin line, Limerick to Waterford and Limerick-Nenagh-Ballybrophy.
Climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy are key global challenges of our times and effective spatial planning and development should be at the heart of the solution. I urge the Department to include a stronger national policy response to promote renewable energies and ensure that energy considerations become part of all spatial planning processes. It is welcome that County Tipperary’s leadership has been recognised in the draft NPF. Tipperary can become a pilot and best practice location for the further development of energy production, the bio-economy, rural development and the creation of jobs in this sector. Hopefully Bord na Móna and Coillte will play their part and use their extensive infrastructure to ensure that this becomes a reality.
Our plan must deliver on its core aim of achieving balanced regional development in order to achieve an internationally competitive and sustainable economy and a better quality of life for our citizens. The draft plan, as published, will not deliver on this central aim, with particular respect to the strategy outlined for growing the regions, the urban structure presented, and the lack of a clear vision and policy framework for towns and villages in rural areas. If the plan goes ahead as presented in this draft, the rural towns in my constituency, which have been under pressure for long years, will go into even greater decline.
I welcome the opportunity to address the national planning framework. I will speak as a national legislator and as an east Galway Deputy. As a national legislator, the most important thing I am looking for is that the vision is fair and equal to all. I would like to think that there is good and fair regional balance across the country. In the 18 months that I have been coming to Dublin as a Deputy, I can see the growth and prosperity that is happening here and in the surrounding counties. However, when I cross the Shannon at Athlone or turn at Tullamore, I do not feel the same wealth or see growth happening. I welcome that the national framework may possibly address this, but it is a toothless exercise unless proper capital infrastructure funding is put aside to deliver it.
I slightly regret that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is here. The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, was here earlier and I would have appreciated it if he had heard my views. Much of what I have to say has to do with infrastructure regarding roads, rail, greenways and tourism. They are issues in east Galway. I live on one side of the Shannon bridge in Portumna. On the other side are Tipperary and Offaly. When I cross the Shannon, I enter the "Ancient East". On my side of the bridge is County Galway and there is no development of anything to do with the Shannon there. That part of the infrastructure and framework is critical for the vision to grow Ireland. The Wild Atlantic Way and the marketing of Ireland's Ancient East have been so successful and it is very important that we have the same opportunity to develop the branding and marketing of the River Shannon. Some 23 different county councils feed into the Shannon and that development and framework is very important for us. It is important to know that funding is there, and we do not look for very much money for marketing.
Many of the rural communities have done much of this work already themselves. They need funding in respect of the role of Waterways Ireland. Many of the communities up and down the Shannon depend on Waterways Ireland, which used to be known as Shannon Navigation in the old days. They depend on it for cleaning the Shannon and for the signage along the river. Waterways Ireland was one of the subsidiaries that fell under the Good Friday Agreement and, at this time, while the Irish Government pays 80% of the funding towards it, 80% of the employment it creates is in the North. We have a disparity there which is very evident in places like Killaloe, Portumna or further up towards Shannon Harbour. I would like to see how that will feed into the national framework document.
It would be remiss of me not to talk about the gridlock we experience in Galway city. Most of my constituents go into Galway city. The Minister's colleague, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, spoke very eloquently about the gridlock in Parkmore earlier on. I have been attending meetings with various business developers from IBEC in Galway and in Westport for two years.
Boston Scientific, Baxter Limited and Medtronic are all experiencing the same problem at Parkmore. It is the main topic of discussion for them every year when they get together. To most people, the Parkmore issue is not a difficult one. It is about putting in place another road to let traffic out. Unfortunately, addressing the issue fell between stools in the local county councils and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, but progress has made. It takes the 4,200 people working in this estate up to an hour and a half to get out of it. Most of these people are from the east, not the west.
The M17 and M18 were opened a number of weeks ago. While I welcome and appreciate this progress, regrettably, all the traffic is yet again being fed into Galway city. While the opening of the M17 and M18 has led to people getting to Galway a lot quicker, the volume of traffic from the M17, M18 and main Dublin-Galway road is causing congestion where our business development is located. Parkmore happens to be on that side of the city. The Minister is nodding, which would indicate he has heard what I am saying a hundred times before. At the last meeting which I attended with IBEC, we were told it would be approximately ten more years before a light rail or outer right ring road is developed. If that is the case, we are going to lose business in Galway. While this project is mentioned in the framework, I do not think we can wait ten years for the plans for its development. I am concerned that if we have to wait that long, business will go elsewhere. Business needs connectivity. Businesses need to know that their staff will not have to spend an hour and a half trying to access their place of employment. They do not want to have to rearrange their shifts and start times to 7.30 a.m. or 8 a.m. to facilitate staff. It is not only people working in Parkmore that are impacted. There is a huge volume of people working in our universities and hospitals who have to leave their homes at 5.50 a.m. in the hope that they will make it to work for 8 a.m., which is ridiculous given many of these people live only a half an hour out the road. I will not labour the point as I think the Minister understands the Galway city transport issue. A number of Deputies spoke about how wonderful a place Galway is to visit. Those who want to do so should aim to be there before 3 p.m. on a Friday. After that time, they will be stuck in traffic for three or four to hours. This is not what we want. Galway will be the capital of culture in 2020. It is important to get tourists in, around and out of the county in a timely manner.
I would like to also speak about greenways. The funding provided in budget 2018 for greenways is very welcome. Greenways are another form of freight. They are the freight of people that we can bring into our counties. In terms of connectivity, the Dublin to Galway greenway is a huge issue at this time. We need to look at ways to bypass obstacles. We need to connect with the people in terms of this framework. Why is it that the only option in terms of getting people from Athlone to Galway is through productive farmland? This proposal will never merit support. Anybody in government will find it very hard to sell to a farmer the idea that he or she should allow his or her productive farmland to be divided up. This is the same farmland that was divided in the context of the development of the Dublin-Galway road. It is the same farmland that came into focus in relation to the Gort to Tuam bypass. Farmers are resistant to this so we need to look at alternative areas where there is lots of Coillte land and Government-owned properties.
On rural towns, none of the towns in my constituency has a population of more than 10,000. While my constituency is quite large, not one of the towns in it has a population of 10,000. Only one of them has a population of 7,500. It is important when we are looking at balanced regional development that the planning structures to be put in place for rural housing development are also considered. If we want to have people working in regional hubs, they need to be able to get in and out of them easily. We must give people the balanced lifestyle that they so choose when they live in the west or anywhere outside of Dublin or the surrounding counties. We have to give them the opportunity, if they so wish, to build in places such as Woodford or Headford. People who want to build on the family farm and seek planning permission to do so should not find themselves in an urban fringe or be faced with restrictive planning conditions because it was decided in a county development plan that they cannot build in a particular area. They might come from that area and have been educated there and are now looking to put their children into schools in that area. County councils need huge input into this area and that will come through this framework.
I am disappointed that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has left the House. In regard to the funding provided for Galway County Council, it is currently two weeks away from a budget and almost broke. The distribution of equalisation funds needs to be revisited in order that we can keep councils alive and allow them to deliver the planning framework.
I am humbled to have the opportunity to speak to two Ministers. I hope what I have to say is of some importance. The national planning framework is welcome. The last plan put out by the Minister, Deputy Murphy, was Rebuilding Ireland. It is sad to see the phrase "Rebuilding Ireland" being used. A lot of good work was done in the country over the past 20 years by previous Governments and this should be acknowledged and not overlooked. This national planning framework is a framework for the next 20 years. It is hoped it will not be just another aspiration. The national spatial strategy was launched in 2002, the initiatives and proposals of which were scrapped in 2012 by the previous Government, which is a pity because things might have moved on a bit quicker.
I accept that Dublin is growing rapidly. It is important it not be allowed to spread beyond the Pale as this would drive a further wedge between Dublin and the rest of the country. I refer the House to what happened in Britain. There are many reasons for Brexit. One of the main reasons for it was the disconnect between people from the city of London and the south-east and people from the rest of Britain.
Investment from the public purse is necessary. A framework of plans and proposals is no good without investment. It is important we know what funding will be put in place. The Government needs to have more foresight. We need to ensure that when we do invest, we get a return on that investment. During the crash, other countries under pressure spent additional money on infrastructure because they believed it would generate growth in their economies, and it did. I know that the American economy is larger than ours. Former President Obama spent money on the basis that he would get a return from it at the end of day, and he did. As I said, this plan is welcome.
Most of rural Ireland is still dependent on the agricultural industry. We cannot lose sight of that. Following on from the reduction in European subsidies, we must ensure a mechanism is put in place to ensure agriculture remains sustainable, not for large commercial farms but for family farms. Years ago, a farmer could have up to 50 cows on less than 100 acres and have a very attractive income.
Nowadays, a farmer would need to have more than 200 dairy cattle and a couple of hundred acres in order to make a living. Members do not want such farmers to be put under pressure to borrow more money and thus end up not being the owners of their own operations. In Denmark, farmers have been burdened with major debts. We must be careful that such a situation does not occur here.
In terms of other sectors of agriculture such as tillage, beef or suckling farmers, we do not want to lose the tillage sector. I emphasise this issue because, in the context of the dismantling of the quota regime for the dairy sector, when the tillage sector was lobbying for its future, former agriculture Ministers told some farming groups they should give up tillage and begin milking cows. I do not want that to happen. The tillage sector can play a vital role in rural communities. Representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine go abroad to promote beverages produced here by distilleries or breweries and make a big issue of that. The tillage sector needs to be looked after and that must be emphasised in any plans for the future.
Deputy Rabbitte said the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who has responsibility for infrastructure, was here earlier but he is not here now. He seems to be very hands-off in his approach to running his Department. I hope the Taoiseach will come to my area more often to make announcements about infrastructure projects such as the construction of the M20. Clarification is needed on the status of that motorway, which would connect up the western corridor. Maps were shown to Members in the House this evening which depict that the west and south west have been neglected in terms of infrastructural upgrades. Very few major infrastructural projects have been completed in those areas. The two most recent such projects in my part of County Cork might have been completed by the previous Government but it is lucky that the Government before that took a risk and signed off on them. Those projects involved the constructions of flyovers at the Wilton roundabout and Bishopstown in Cork city. We need movement. I heard earlier that progress is being made on an upgrade to the Dunkettle interchange near the Jack Lynch Tunnel. Capital projects are needed. We need to invest and think ahead. Studies have proven that previous capital investments generated economic growth in the surrounding areas. Ultimately, taxpayers pay for such projects and they will want to know where their money is going and whether they are getting value for money.
We need further upgrades. When I first became involved in local government in 1997 I was a member of the South-West Regional Authority. That was before there was mention of the Celtic tiger. The priority at the time in terms of a European transport network was from Cork to Rosslare. It was one of the major network connections required, along with Rosslare to Dublin and Belfast. That was before there was consideration of motorways from Dublin to Cork, Limerick or Galway. The European Union considered it more important that we build a European transport network from Cork to Rosslare. That will be badly needed because if Brexit goes ahead, Rosslare needs to be urgently upgraded as a ferry and cargo port. The proposed route would connect Rosslare with Belview Port and my own backyard of Cork Harbour.
The IDA often says at local or regional meetings that big multinationals want to be based in cities or urban areas. A major employer in Cork asked his employees to choose between working in Fermoy in rural Ireland or in Cork city. The employees said they would rather the business be based in Cork. We must ensure that access roads are of a high standard in order that people can drive to work. The faster a car can move on a road, the less greenhouse gas is generated. However, electric cars will soon be widespread. They will become popular when there is no congestion or traffic jams because the last thing one wants if one is driving an electric car is for it to go flat in the middle of a traffic jam. That is why we must ensure our networks and routes are free flowing.
I mentioned the M20 and it is important that be put in place. I hope a guarantee that the M20 will go from Cork to Limerick via Mallow, Buttevant and Charleville can be incorporated in the national planning framework. I am not being parochial in asking for that because I come from Mitchelstown, which is in the east of the county. However, I want to ensure that areas such as Mallow are safeguarded. Road users must also be safeguarded.
All Members recognise the importance of tourism to the economy. In fairness to the last Government, it held The Gathering, which was a success, albeit its first in a long time, and it was a great initiative. However, it will be very hard to sell The Gathering in the future because rural Ireland will be gone. We must take cognisance of the issues in that regard. We have a Minister who is trying to kill various aspects of the cultural values of rural Ireland. I am delighted that the Minister, Deputy Ring, is in place in this regard.
I will have to ask the Deputy to conclude as he has gone a minute over his time. I thank him for his understanding.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this important debate on the national planning framework. While neither the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, nor the Minister of State, Deputy English, has been in the Chamber throughout the debate and although they represent the lead Department dealing with the national planning framework, this issue involves all Departments. Members have referred to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in the context of roads but all Departments have some involvement. It is important that if Members come to the House to make contributions on the matter, Ministers should acquaint themselves with the issues raised.
The Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Communications, Climate Action and the Environment - broadband is a major issue - Rural and Community Development and Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht all have an important role in this matter. Members welcome the opportunity to put in place a national planning framework that will work for all regions and every community in the country from Malin Head to Dunmore East and from south Kerry to north Antrim because there has to be a crossover and we must work closely with the Northern Ireland authorities. There is a need for balanced development throughout the country. That is not what is on offer here as the framework is more focused on urban centres than on rural areas. Many Deputies represent rural constituencies and we have an obligation to ensure that such communities receive a fair and equitable share of any funding that becomes available between now and 2040. Expenditure on rural Ireland needs to be front-loaded because it cannot wait until 2030 or 2040 for investment.
It is alarming that apart from the first paragraph of the Minister's address on this issue, which referred to realising the potential of our rural regions and areas, there is little reference to doing something tangible for rural areas. It is mentioned but only as a cosmetic exercise. The plan does not contain any fresh thinking or new ideas on how to rejuvenate and rebuild rural communities that have been devastated in recent years.
The Minister in his speech correctly stated that the status quo cannot hold and further correctly identified that the regions in Europe are being depleted. That is a fact, but we must do something about it. We cannot just concentrate on the three regions, the cities and the larger towns. I come from a county in which the towns are much smaller than those to which Deputy Rabbitte referred. They are not in the bracket of 1,500 to 10,000. In outlining his vision for 2040, the Minister must ensure more focus on rural Ireland. It must be prioritised and we must look in particular at rural planning. I have been in public life every calendar year since 1979 except for 2015, and to this day, top of my priority list each week here in the national Parliament is planning. It is a major issue in rural Ireland to have to comply with the national planning guidelines. I wonder just how many Deputies in government welcomed the decree of the European courts recently in respect of the Flemish case. There must be a balance between those who are from the area and others. In my county's development plan, priority is given to those from the area, but now it looks as if all must be treated equally. If all are to be treated equally, do we put in place regulations that mean no one gets planning and therefore everyone will be treated equally then? We must find a way to give priority to our own people and those who grew up and lived in the area. Equally as important are those who had to emigrate because of the economic decline over the years, perhaps going back to the 1940s and 1950s. There are families coming home now to settle down in rural Ireland. That is for another day, but we must concentrate on it. It is becoming increasingly difficult in rural Ireland, so we must ensure we do something about this. We are trying to use the towns or cities as a magnet to attract people to areas surrounding those towns. If people want to build in rural Ireland and are prepared to pay for and put in the roads, the new types of septic tanks and the treatment facilities, we should encourage them to do so. When we look at the plans for a house, we take a very subjective view. If three planners were put into three different rooms and were all given the same planning application, I am quite sure that each would come out with a different view.
I will not spend time on ribbon developments. I get annoyed when I see that one must build six houses and then leave a gap before building another six. What about the person who owns the gap, who owns that field? He or she must forfeit it to the State. Then it is of no value to him or her whatsoever. When I first examined the Minister's intentions and direction, I was concerned about the definition of "rural". The word is defined as a small number of regions outside Dublin. We must have balanced rural development, but my fear is that it does not appear that this will happen. We cannot make the mistake made in the UK in the 1960s and ban one-off housing in rural settlements. We need to be careful where we are heading. It is no use stating that we cannot continue with the status quo. We say we cannot hold to the status quo, yet we proceed down the same track of more of the same. The real decisions must be made, and these decisions concern the way in which we develop our rural areas. Our local authorities must have a major input into this, as must our communities, and there must be greater and greater consultation.
When I think of rural development, I think in particular of the airports in rural Ireland that were provided at a time when not much funding was available. I think of Donegal Airport in west Donegal, one of the top ten most attractive airports in the world into which to land, with two regular flights to Donegal. Donegal Airport cannot and will not survive if the Government decides to change in any way the public service obligations. I think this will happen in the case of Kerry Airport as well, but we will look at that very closely. These airports are important and they will become more important because of the oil exploration happening in the north west of the country.
I refer to the smart growth fund provided for in the framework to support strategic growth in renewables in underutilised parts of towns. This must also help growth in rural areas. I am pleased that connectivity is very much part of the plan. Connectivity must connect internationally and nationally. With regard to most rural and remote areas, if broadband is rolled out, as is the plan, although I think it is being pushed back, it should get into every town and village in this country. We are told that, as a result of this plan, there will be 600,000 extra jobs based on the knowledge economy. They do not all have to be in the cities or larger towns. They can find their way out to the most rural towns. This will help to improve the opportunities to have global companies in the regions. We have many of these in the country. I think of those in Donegal, specifically Randox in my own town of Dungloe.
All of us could do with more time but mine is limited. We should concentrate on a necklace of marinas around the country. It would attract so many who are interested in leisure tourism. It could start in Donegal and find its way down through the west and right around the coast. This would attract jobs to the most rural and peripheral parts of the country where there is no other source of job creation.
Does the Minister of State wish to respond briefly?
I might as well take a stab at it. I thank all the Members of the House for their valuable, insightful contributions to the discussion. As many of them have acknowledged, this is one of the most important issues that this Chamber will consider. We will set down the vision, the ambition and the implementation plan as to how we see our country growing over the course of the next 20 years. I refer to this as the business case for investment in this country over the next 20 to 25 years, which is important. Deputy Gallagher is right to say it affects every Department and every agency. That is why the working group working on this has from the start, certainly from early 2017, brought together all Departments and all agencies and even beyond to ensure we get everyone's view and buy-in to this. This is important from the point of view of implementation.
While the plan is lovely, has great ideas and aspiration and is visionary, many Deputies asked whether it will happen. We have seen plans in the past that have not happened. This time we are trying to get the commitment from everyone to buy in to this. That is why there has been so much stakeholder consultation, a lot of discussion around the country and a kind of travelling roadshow. Even around the table, all the key decision-makers are there because we need them to buy in to this. That is exactly why we are having this debate tonight and why the committee has taken on the role of compiling everyone's issues around this. We have sought to bring together both Houses of the Oireachtas to feed into the document because it is so important that we get this right and we want to follow through on it.
Deputies questioned earlier whether the Government would follow through on this plan. I ask them to look at the plans we have brought forward over recent years that we did follow through on, for example, the Action Plan for Jobs, including the regional action plans which are making a difference and driving jobs out into the regions. Some 70% of the jobs created last year were in the regions. The Action Plan for Jobs doubled its target. This is way ahead of expectation. While we accept the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is not enough to fix the problem, it is tracking its plan and is doing exactly what it set out to do. We do stick to our plans. The national planning framework, Ireland 2040, will stretch across many Governments. God knows who will be in them. We hope they will stick to this strategy and to the plan. It is for the benefit of our country that we get by, invest properly in key areas, achieve that regional balance and protect rural Ireland, saving it in some places and restoring it in others. We must drive that forward while building up our cities for the engine to be able to serve those rural areas too. It is key that we get that right.
The decisions we take now as to how our cities need to grow and how we revitalise our rural areas, protect our heritage and environment and provide a sustainable society and legacy for our children all have at their core the objective of improving our quality of life and preparing us for a better and different future.
Listening to the many impassioned contributions from Members, understandably promoting their own areas, it strikes me that if we built a framework solely on the basis of everyone's local ambitions, we would fool ourselves again into planning for wholly unrealistic growth prospects. While Deputies all commented on the national position, they also referred their own areas and what they wanted in terms of housing, development and so on. That is not really what we are trying to achieve here. Our country learned a very expensive, €64 billion lesson from an economic crash that was fuelled by what happened in the areas of banking and property speculation and that led to a lost decade. We must continue to learn from that and ensure that we make proper plans into the future. If we added together the ambitions expressed for all the cities, all the towns, all the villages and all the rural areas during this debate, we would be talking about a country with 10 million people or more. The plan in this document foresees a population of 8 million across the entire island, including the North. This is simply not credible, nor a basis for prudent investment. We would be fooling ourselves again. It is important that we focus our submissions on the national picture and that people take time in the weeks ahead to get involved during the consultation period. We need to realise that not every town or village can take more. There is a balance to be struck in terms of sustainable development, with some towns and villages needing more to make them sustainable. We are trying to concentrate on key areas where we can provide services.
Many speakers referred to issues such as light rail systems in cities like Galway and Cork. While these are achievable, there has to be a critical mass of people to use them. That is what we are trying to achieve. We have to make sure we give people the option to live in rural Ireland, and that is in this plan. Some people have concerns and we are trying to address those. I represent a rural area and an urban area - and I live in a rural area - so I understand the concerns. That is not what this plan is about; it is about recognising that if our cities are going to compete on an international footing, if Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford are going to make an impact in the world and win investment and job creation, they have to be at a certain level and they have to have a critical mass. With that comes proper additional services like public transport. We know that if we want to service Galway properly, the city would need to spend up to €900 million on infrastructure within the city to provide for transport. That is not going to happen unless there is condensed development, using every bit of space in a clever and wise way. That is for people who want to live in cities, and there are still plenty of people who want to live in rural areas and smaller villages.
The national planning framework is very strategic and it does not and should not get into every little detail. The national has called it right in settling what are often competing and at times conflicting aims between our regions, cities and wider rural areas. Some Deputies stated that we need to address the balance of development between east and west in favour of regional cities, towns and rural areas. Others remarked that people living in Dublin may continue to do so and that we cannot limit that or stop that, which is right. That is not what we are trying to do. We do not live in a command economy. This is not a location where we can order people to move. People make choices to live, work and invest on the basis of many influences, including choices made regionally and locally about where to focus, where to prioritise and what sort of places we want now and in the years ahead. It is about giving people the choice, the option. Many of those we represent do not have that choice and have ended up living with their families an hour and a half or two hours away from their job, which is not what we want. We want to ensure that if people want to live in a rural area, they can do that in a sustainable way. If they want to live in a city, we want to ensure that city will grow in a sustainable way and have the services they need to live in that city.
The national planning framework is not about parish-pump politics or a one-for-everybody-in-the-audience approach. Our citizens expect that their politicians will take the long-term view and make the right decisions in their overall strategic interests. This is our collective responsibility, as national politicians, not only the Government but elected members across the system. I am glad so many Deputies spoke in this debate, in particular those from Fianna Fáil who were lined up today to speak, one after the other, which is great to see. This is meant to be a full parliamentary document, not just a Government document. We are glad to have the involvement of others.
We must take the lead, show the way and set a clear but straightforward policy context for the supporting State structures at central, regional and local levels in order to make the national planning framework happen through consistent regional spatial and economic plans, as well as development plans at local and community level. A key part of this will be the regional plans that will be brought forward in 2018. It is key that everyone has an influence on them before the roll-out in 2019 of the local development plans.
There were some erroneous suggestions made in respect of the national planning framework leading to a capping city or town and village development - for example, in my own county. This is simply not the case and it is mischievous to suggest it. Some Deputies from the same county have a conflict of views on this matter. It is not about limiting the ambitions of any one county, city or town. Some of the targets set under the national planning framework for regional cities are hugely ambitious. If we take Limerick, for example, its growth rate has been effectively flat for the past 30 years and Government wants it to grow by 50% in the next 30. In my view, that is an ambitious target but I hope it can be achieved. If it is, Limerick will be in a position to go beyond that. This is not to cap or to limit but to guesstimate where this could go, and to put the plans, infrastructure and investment in place to make it happen.
The Government also wants rural villages and smaller towns to thrive. Everything in the national planning framework supports that, from commitments on rural broadband to transport connectivity, smart growth initiatives to turn around dereliction, and so on. That is what we can achieve. It was asked whether we will facilitate people to build at the edge of villages and towns. We can do that in a proper, co-ordinated way where there are services and use the brownfield sites. However, there are many small towns and villages where people choose not to live because a site would cost too much. We had plans in the past where the idea was good but we did not back it up with proper land management strategies, and those sites ended up costing a fortune. Why would one give up on a free site to go and pay €100,000 for a site somewhere else? We are going to have an impact. The State will be involved in real land management issues, which is something we have to consider funding. In this document, we raised the question of whether we are willing to go there. I think we should and I think most would agree with that.
Many Deputies said they would like to see more detail in the national planning framework. They must realise that this is a framework and that it needs follow-through at regional and local levels. We cannot have all the detail here today because that would defeat the purpose and the document would probably end up at 1,000 pages, which is not what we want. It is not that we are against writing 1,000 pages but it would not achieve the end result and we would be accused of making it too top-down in nature. We want people to buy into this at a local and regional level, as well as at national level.
From my perspective, there is actually a lot in the draft framework document but, behind all the detail and analysis, there are probably four key principles. One is better strategic planning for our cities, including Dublin, as our capital and key international driver, so we continue to make that impact and win investment. That investment wants to come in to key areas where talent is located. Naturally, there can be follow-on investment from that in all the other cities. The second principle is growing Ireland’s four other cities significantly. Investing means investing in our regions. We represent different counties and know it is about having the talent and access to people. That is why Galway has done so well in the area of medtech because it has become that hot spot for that sector. Regions can bring certain skill sets to this that we can drive forward. The third point is addressing connectivity to and opportunities within Ireland’s regions and rural areas. This is key. If rural Ireland is to survive, we have to connect it, a point many Deputies have raised. We have to do this in a sustainable way while making sure the connections are there so businesses can thrive and people can open a business or rural enterprise and make it sustainable, and continue to grow their area. The fourth is securing more compact forms of development to reduce sprawl and to provide more choice. If someone is from a rural area, they do not want the town to grow out to them. They want to have the choice to live in a rural area and they want the town to grow up in a compact way, not to be getting closer every day. If we manage this right, we can achieve both as best as we possibly can.
We know the statistics. We have to cater for an extra 1 million people in the years ahead. If we plan this right, that should bring with it an extra 600,000 jobs and 500,000 houses. Now is the time to think about it and to plan ahead for ten to 20 years' time. I am glad Members were interested in contributing to this debate. I want to reflect on the contributions, particularly from Fianna Fáil Deputies, who have stressed the need for more consultation time. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has announced that an extra week will be allowed. We had planned to close the consultation process on 3 November next but there will be an extra week to give people more time to buy into this and to get involved in the conversation. I had a bit of a row with Deputy Kelleher because we have had this open for discussion since last February through different channels. It is only when we get to the draft document that people want to get involved and to focus in. There is now the extra week. November is going to be a busy month. I ask Deputies to take time to get involved because this relates to everyone's future.