I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Michael Finneran, to the Seanad.
National Spatial Strategy Report: Statements
I thank Members for the opportunity to outline the background to the rationale, content and recommendations of the national spatial strategy update and outlook report 2010. The national spatial strategy was published in November 2002 as a high-level 20-year national planning framework to guide the achievements of more balanced regional development to long-term planning and infrastructural investment. Implementation of the national spatial strategy takes place at three levels: nationally, by informing and influencing other national plans and strategies such as the National Development Plan 2007-2013; regionally, by setting the strategic planning context for regional planning guidelines which in turn integrate and co-ordinate the city and county development plans of the local authorities; and locally, through city and county development plans and local area plans and the actions of local authorities, Departments and agencies at local level.
In the early years of implementing the national spatial strategy, Ireland continued to develop rapidly in terms of economic growth, population change and physical development and the strategy helped to set Ireland on a new development path that is more strategically focused and plan-led than in the past. Building on the adoption of regional planning guidelines that covered the entire country for the first time in 2004 and the issuing of statutory ministerial guidance on the preparation of development plans, development management practices and sustainable rural housing, there were strong indications that this plan-led focus was beginning to have a real effect on planning policies and practices at a local level.
Since late 2007, however, and in tandem with a wider global economic downturn, Ireland has faced renewed and serious economic challenges and is now operating within tough budgetary conditions and fiscal constraints. The Government's strategy for economic recovery outlined in the policy on building Ireland's smart economy identifies the fundamental importance of returning to export-led growth. To achieve this, addressing Ireland's overall cost competitiveness relative to competitor countries is critical. At the same time, prioritised and strategic investments to pump-prime the potential of the regions is vital to positioning them as key contributors to Ireland's overall national growth when the current difficult economic cycle ends.
In these challenging economic times, therefore, spatial planning frameworks such as the national spatial strategy are even more relevant and important in maximising the long-term value of investment of increasingly scarce public funds. Regions are critical in creating a good place to live and to do business and spatial planning plays a key role in setting the framework for delivery of competitive and attractive places.
Taking account of the fact that implementation of the national spatial strategy is approaching its midway point and of the changed economic and other circumstances since its publication eight years ago, my Department has prepared the national spatial strategy update and outlook report 2010. The report has two main functions. First, it examines what has been achieved to date and what can be learned from implementation to date. Second, the report sets out a revised implementation framework aimed at maximising the spatial planning and regional contribution to economic recovery and long-term national competitiveness and sustainability.
The national spatial strategy update and outlook report is, therefore, a critical appraisal of progress to date and an implementation roadmap for the near to medium-term future. It is important to recognise, however, that it is not a review of the policy rationale or structure of the strategy. In preparing the 2010 update report, my Department undertook extensive analysis of relevant national and regional demographic and economic data as well as data and reports from central and local government, regional authorities, State agencies and academia. Throughout the drafting, we consulted key stakeholders and policy informers, including key Departments, namely, the Taoiseach, Finance, Transport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, and Education and Skills; regional and local authorities; the enterprise agencies, including Forfás, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development; the National Competitiveness Council; the Economic and Social Research Institute; the Western Development Commission; the Northern Ireland Department of Regional Development and other relevant cross-border bodies; and eminent academic experts.
In addition, as part of the consultation process, senior officials from my Department's planning division addressed the Oireachtas joint committee in June to apprise the members of the purpose, analysis and actions arising from this work, and some useful points made at this session, in particular on the importance of harnessing the potential of rural areas, were reflected in the final document. The Department's planning division also consulted extensively with other relevant areas within the Department, including water services and local government policy sections which have a significant policy impact at regional and local level. In light of these extensive internal and external consultations, I am satisfied the analysis and recommendations in the report are robust and realistic.
The report sets out an honest appraisal of what has worked well to date in implementing the national spatial strategy and what challenges remain. In terms of achievements it examines the three levels at which the national spatial strategy operates, as outlined. It states that, at national level, the national spatial strategy has facilitated significant strategic public infrastructure by helping to direct investment in areas such as transport, water services and waste infrastructure. These help to create the conditions for long-term sustainable growth. At regional level, regional planning guidelines introduced in 2004 have enabled better co-ordination and integration of plans at local authority level as well as identification of regional investment priorities. At local level, many of the authorities and agencies at gateway and hub levels have worked to encourage a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to their development, aided by public and private investment, and successive Ministers have pursued appropriate alignment of plans at national, regional and local levels by commenting on and on occasion requiring such alignment.
I would like to outline briefly some of the more significant spatial planning trends in Ireland since 2002, which have informed the recommendations in the report. Significant employment growth has taken place in and around the gateways, hub towns and other strategic locations identified in the national spatial strategy. Population growth in some gateways and hub towns has underperformed, while smaller towns, villages and rural areas within a 50 to 80 km commuting range of major cities and towns have experienced significant population growth. Excessive and inappropriately located zoning and development have worked against implementation of national spatial strategy principles and priorities. Development-driven planning and urban-generated commuter settlement patterns are creating demand for uneconomic and inefficient infrastructure and service provision in suburban and extra-urban greenfield locations, while infrastructure and services in city and town centre locations becomes under-utilised. Development has become more dispersed and fragmented geographically, with greater distances between where people live and work. As a consequence, oil dependency has increased and greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are increasing more rapidly than from other sectors of the economy.
Notwithstanding our demographic growth and settlement pattern trends in the recent past, the percentage of people travelling and choosing sustainable modes of transport continues to fall. Urban sprawl, with the resulting car dependency and longer commuting times, is reducing the quality of family life and broader community interaction and social integration. It also contributes to increased obesity levels and other health issues.
Land-use trends are in some cases undermining the integrity of Ireland's key habitats and ecosystem networks and placing pressure on the quality of our water resources.
Notwithstanding the progress that has been achieved in some areas and at some levels, a number of implementation challenges remain. The report acknowledges that Ireland must have more sustainable development patterns. It is well documented that the tendency to date towards rapid growth in suburban and extra-urban commuter areas around the principal cities and towns, and more recently a shift in the proportion of the current levels of house building towards housing in the rural hinterlands around many cities and towns, must be addressed.
Our city and town centre areas must be invigorated and should be a major focus for significant future housing and employment provision. As drivers of economic growth, these areas need to be attractive to investment and play a stronger role in regional development and central policy objectives, such as the Government's smarter travel objectives. We must maximise usage of existing infrastructure and revitalise underdeveloped urban areas in need of regeneration. Also, more needs to be done to address Ireland's high level of car dependence and recent trends of increases in greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. Better national spatial strategy implementation can assist in this through both investment in public transport and sustainable travel alternatives such as walking and cycling facilities and greater emphasis on the delivery of more sustainable settlement patterns through regional and local planning policies.
The report identifies three main areas which must be addressed in the coming years in order that the national spatial strategy can better support more balanced regional development and also assist in national recovery and international economic competitiveness. First, the spatial policy dimension to all public and private investment co-ordination must be strengthened. The national spatial strategy and regional planning guidelines provide a coherent rationale for capital investment but we must improve existing arrangements for investment co-ordination and prioritisation between the capital investment activities of Departments and agencies and the planning and development activities of regional and local authorities.
Second, we need more effective leadership and strong governance models to drive the overall economic and physical development of the national spatial strategy gateways in particular and their wider regions. Delivering more effective governance under the forthcoming White Paper on local government, with a particular focus on gateways and regional authorities, is required.
We must encourage and promote the emergence of much more sustainable patterns of development by tackling the drivers for urban sprawl, maximising the opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions, while adapting to the emerging effects of climate change and protecting the qualities of our rivers, habitats and heritage. Key to this is effective implementation of the planning legislation reforms contained in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 which will bring about a tighter and more evidence-based fit between where future development occurs and how the necessary public infrastructure can be provided in such developing areas. Also, the soon to be completed review of the regional planning guidelines endorses these objectives and will set the template for forward planning in county and city development plans.
The Government has recently reaffirmed the national spatial strategy as its policy for spatial planning and balanced regional development. It has also endorsed the recommendations in the report on how better to implement the national spatial strategy and to maximise the contribution it can make to facilitating job creation and improving national competitiveness. The recent review of capital investment, which was approved by Government in July, has made provision for a gateway innovation fund of €200 million, to commence in 2012, which will provide tangible financial support for development projects within the gateways. The House will be aware that such a fund was originally provided for under the National Development Plan 2007-2013, and I welcome the Government's recognition of the need to continue to invest in our major urban areas and its commitment to boosting their future capacity and performance as drivers of economic activity.
One of the key lessons we have learned is that we must put in place robust and action-orientated monitoring systems to drive more co-ordinated implementation and review progress and challenges arising on a regular basis. To this end, my Department will be seeking nominations of senior officials from key Departments and agencies to participate on a refocused national spatial strategy implementation group, which will be tasked with implementing the recommendations in the report, particularly in relation to co-ordinated and prioritised capital investment under the sectoral programmes managed by those Departments.
In these tough economic times, we are not in the comfortable position where we can fund every piece of infrastructure and every service that we would like to. However, when we do have to take these hard decisions, it is important that we are cognisant of the wider implications of our policy decisions and that we provide, as far as we can, a coherent and joined-up strategy to optimise the return on the State's investment across different sectors. It is through the national spatial strategy that these decisions can be shaped and made as coherent as possible.
I again thank Senators for the opportunity to address the House on the national spatial strategy update and outlook report.
I welcome the Minister of State and acknowledge that this is an important debate on a number of levels. There is a need for the review and analysis of the national spatial strategy on the basis of my experience travelling outside Dublin through small towns and villages which are the backbone of our society. I notice repeatedly how quiet these towns and villages are at night, as well as the slow and steady drift of people leaving them to work elsewhere in the country or abroad. As I was getting ready for this debate, I was reminded of a book published on this topic in the 1960s by the late John Healy who was a journalist with The Irish Times. This famous book was entitled, No One Shouted Stop (The Death of an Irish Town), and in it he lamented the decline of community life and the population of many rural towns and villages.
It is a matter of enormous regret that we must have another discussion about how to sustain economic and community life outside the greater Dublin region. The Minister of State mentioned a number of reasons for this, the first of which is that the economic growth the country will enjoy again in the future will not be a zero sum game. Just because one region enjoys growth does not mean it will be at the expense of another part of the country. The experience of many other countries, for example, Finland, is that strong growth in the regions outside the capital city supplements growth in the region around the capital and does not happen at its expense. If we get to a point where there is a fair and an efficient allocation of resources throughout the State, which the national spatial strategy seeks to attain, this will maximise the welfare of the State and people, regardless of where they live, will have access to the opportunities we all want them to have.
The second reason it is becoming clearer the national spatial strategy is of such vital importance is sustainability. We are all aware of the paramount importance of sustainability which will only be achieved if there is integrated planning. Underpinning this is an acknowledgement that we cannot load more of the population into one region at the expense of others.
The third reason which is particularly relevant in our current circumstances is much of our planning and development policy in the past was driven by the fact the population was increasing so quickly. In recent years the population increased from 3.9 million to 4.4 million, the highest growth rate in the European Union. The increase in population generated economic growth and development throughout the State. That will not continue and the influx into the country is being replaced by a steady exodus. Last year, according to the Central Statistics Office, for the first time in recent history, the birth rate was ahead of the population growth rate generated by people moving into the country. This will place more pressure on towns and villages outside the capital city because the population growth they enjoyed spurred economic development, construction, retail development and so on, but that is no more.
For all these reasons, the review of the national spatial strategy and this debate are welcome. I am struck that many strategies are launched and not reviewed until new strategies are introduced to replace them. It is welcome that the review document provides a reasonably comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the previous strategy and where things stand. This is important because, as the Minister of State acknowledged, the two factors that drive development are public and private investment. We know to our cost that both streams will be more difficult to come by in the coming years.
While I welcome the review, it omits a number of issues which lead me and others to a more negative assessment of the current position than the review indicates. The ESRI described the national spatial strategy as "being largely aspirational, with few concrete measures. What is really missing is any adequate thought about what we are really trying to achieve and why". This theme is evident in the review in that it does not acknowledge flaws in the strategy regarding how Dublin has developed and how towns and cities outside it have not developed at the rate needed. There are three reasons for this. The decentralisation programme presented a great opportunity to ensure public service agencies were allocated more tightly to gateway hub towns and county capital towns. The conclusion of bodies which have reviewed the national spatial strategy and how it fits in with the decentralisation programme is that did not happen. It was a significant missed opportunity because one of the flaws in the strategy was it did not integrate economic activity and development tightly enough.
The second reason, as acknowledged, was the decision a number of years ago to suspend the gateway innovation fund amounting to €300 million. The Minister of State has stated the fund will be restored, with an allocation of €200 million. That is lower than the original commitment, but this is understandable in these times and the fund will commence in 2012. Nonetheless, the target was to have the fund up and running and implemented as part of the National Development Plan 2007-2013. I welcome its restoration, but it will only be available at the end of the period of implementation of the NDP. If it had been launched when money was available and the Government had more flexibility to allocate resources, it could have a made a significant difference to the implementation of the strategy.
The third reason is the legacy of overdevelopment. Reference is made time and again to the awful phrase, "ghost estates", and the awful impact they will have on communities. It is matter of huge regret to me, as a former member of a local authority, that we arrived at a position where this happened. The effect they will have on our ability to deliver a sustainable strategy will be fraught and difficult.
I have a number of suggestions to make on how the strategy could be amended and developed. When we review a strategy, it is not sufficient to only review its implementation, it is also appropriate to review whether the strategy is correct and whether additional choices can be made. I would like to address two issues. The first is to figure out the exact definition of a gateway town and region. The plan defines spatial strategy in terms of the delivery of physical infrastructure such as transport, utilities and so on. We need to find a way to integrate our industrial policy far more firmly into our spatial strategy and acknowledge that unless we have the economic activity in our gateway towns, cities and regions, it will not allow our physical infrastructure to be developed and it will not allow the development take place that will ensure a spatial strategy will be sustainable.
The second area is in respect of local government and governance strategies and systems outside of Dublin. We need to find a way of strengthening our regional authorities to provide a counterpoint to an over-centralised decision making process which leads to the allocation of resources in a way that does not fit in with the national spatial strategy. Those two changes would go a long way towards delivering the sustainable development of the country, which is what we all want.
I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words on the national spatial strategy which has been in place for a number of years. The National Development Plan 2007-2013 proposed a number of major developments around the country. Many of these developments have been put on hold due to financial or other reasons. People often forget the changes that have taken place in Ireland in the past three or four years. Senator Donohoe mentioned ghost estates, but these ghost estates were created because people were supplying houses to meet the demand at the time.
Owing to the economic downturn, people were no longer in a position to buy these houses and many people had joined a social welfare queue, which is part of our problem. We have to look at the consequences of this for the national spatial strategy. People who are dependent on social welfare will not be in a position to acquire homes. It is not in their interest to acquire them because of the way the social welfare system treats those who are in rented accommodation, or do not own their own homes.
Some parts of the country have been left behind in the spatial strategy. There are regions that do not have broadband and which do not have many of the other services necessary to develop our communities. People will then end up living in areas they did not choose and the result is that communities will suffer and might become unsustainable. That worries us all. We see it happening where communities in parts of rural Ireland are starting to lose post offices, teachers in schools and various other services that have been taken for granted for years. One example of that is the disappearance of rural pubs in the past five or six years. It is another service that is taken out of the community. Rather than having a drink locally, people now have to travel if they want to go to the pub. We often talk about sustainability, but we cannot go to the pub without a taxi to take us home. That has an environmental cost.
While we have a national spatial strategy, it is important to sustain our local communities, especially in rural Ireland. Certain groups are trying to force people to live in urban areas. Many of these urban areas do not have the necessary services available to them. For example, there is a shortage of school places in Dublin city. Some of the hubs and gateways that were originally proposed have not developed to the extent that was proposed. Some designated towns were supposed to double in size between the introduction of the spatial strategy and 2020, yet their populations have decreased. This is having a major effect on the overall strategy.
Many parts of this country have good infrastructure, but they are not developing, mainly because the incentives may not be there for them. We are lucky in my part of the country because we have a very good train service, which was put in place in the past few years and which has resulted in more people using the train on long journeys to Dublin. However, some roads have not been developed fully. The N4 after Mullingar has not been improved to the necessary quality, not just for the people who use it, but for environmental purposes as well because there would be less fuel consumption if the standard of the road was improved. People do not seem to look at these things, but at the end line. There is a need for a total review of the upgrading of our roads and rail services.
Regional airports will become a major bone of contention in the future because funding from the Government or the European Union may not be available. If we are going to ask people to use public transport and get from A to B as quickly as possible, they will want to use these regional airports. I heard comments that the future of Knock Airport was questionable. The numbers of people provided a service by that airport far outweigh anything that people ever dreamed of initially. It now provides a service for people in the west who had to drive to Dublin, Shannon, Cork or Belfast to get to an airport of international standard. This shows that regional development can be of importance.
The strategy also mentions regional planning guidelines. Some of the planning guidelines that have been brought forward in recent years are anti-rural and will affect our smaller communities. We all know of towns and villages that provide good sewerage, water services and transport services. However, in some cases people are forced to move from those towns and villages because they cannot get planning permission. They can be forced to move because they do not come within certain criteria and are not entitled to live in these areas. This is very worrying. In some parts of the country it is impossible to give a member of one's family a site to allow that person build a house. That is wrong and should be dealt with to ensure people who want to live in communities are given the opportunity to do so.
Decentralisation has been mentioned. Some may say decentralisation has been a disaster. If anybody wants to go to Carrick-on-Shannon and ask the people who were decentralised to offices of the Department of Social Protection, they will say it was the greatest thing that happened them in their lifetime. Many of them had lived in Dublin and worked in the Civil Service for 20 or 30 years. Those who moved say they have a much better quality of life, with better services, a less stressful life and have every amenity available to them within five or ten minutes. It is the same for any of those who have moved under decentralisation. It may pose problems particularly for senior civil servants, but people should be given the opportunity to move and the programme should be brought back into full force again. While some claim it has been a failure, the way to find out whether something has been a failure is to talk to the people who have moved who will answer the question very positively.
We need to consider other forms of sustainable development, including energy sustainability which is now coming into focus. We now find that those who talk about sustainability are in many cases those who lodge the objections to green projects. They will be shouting from the two sides of their mouths, one day talking about production of green energy and the next day NIMBY, not in my back yard, comes into play very quickly. The ESB will also need to be tackled to allow small generators access to the national grid rather than having to wait between two and five years for connection. This attitude is wrong and will not help the sustainability of any of our communities. It would also bring good jobs, although not large numbers of them, and help to sustain communities.
As one who lives close to the Border, I recognise there is not great sustainability of Border communities. Infrastructure, including hospitals and third level facilities, is being put in place but is not open to the wider catchment area and is cut off by the Border, a matter that needs to be addressed.
When considering the national spatial strategy we should ask how we maintain our communities. How can we ensure the country develops throughout and not just along the eastern seaboard and around our major cities? The only way is to have a bias in favour of developing smaller towns and villages to ensure they will be sustainable in the long term. If the national spatial strategy is to be successful, it must have regard to the needs of the communities that are to be served rather than looking at the ideal situation in theory which does not work in practice.
I welcome the Minister of State and I am glad we are having this timely debate. While supporting the broad objectives in this updated outlook, the Government's record in implementing the 2002 strategy is not great. I will give credit where it is due in that we have come on in leaps and bounds with the road network and particularly the motorway programme. It has been more expensive than we had hoped when the projects started, but the main roads are all now in place, which has helped to make the island a smaller place, not just for tourists but also for business people. However, growth and development in the regions have been disappointing and are unlikely to happen under the Government, which makes me question the targets being set.
An example is rural broadband, which is a major problem, not just in my county, Meath, but throughout the country. Many rural areas are still without access and every week. I hear from people who are unable to access services in the Internet because they are still stuck with dial-up services or extremely expensive satellite services. It is impacting on the ability to work from home and therefore on the setting up of rural businesses. It is also affecting their ability to continue with lifelong learning or even adult education. This is maths week and Engineers Ireland in support of people studying applied maths and ordinary maths for their leaving certificate has put tuition material on its website www.engineersireland.ie. However, it is of little use to those living in a rural area without broadband. Such an example highlights the lack of broadband services in rural areas. I urge the Minister of State to make representations to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, to ensure the national roll-out of rural broadband takes place as soon as possible. We heard that it was meant to be complete by the end of this year but it is still some way off. The Government needs to take the issue seriously as other countries have done. It is unacceptable that so many rural areas are without broadband access.
The level of job creation through foreign direct investment has been disappointing. From 2005 to 2009 just one company set up in County Meath, even though the Celtic tiger was in full swing during that period. It is hardly a success story and more work is needed in that area. My party is working hard to promote jobs nationally and locally and I will be holding a series of seminars in County Meath in coming weeks to try to encourage growth in areas such as agri-tourism, heritage and green energy, which my county is very capable of supporting. The intention is to get some clear and concise ideas from these seminars on how to create more jobs in the area and increase the number of businesses in the area.
To encourage urban and rural development it is important to have a stock of zoned land in order that incoming businesses have somewhere to locate. That land should be developed first rather than rezoning additional land. It would be foolish to rezone additional land when so much land is zoned for industrial use particularly in the commuter counties. Pressure to rezone cheaper agricultural land still arises and many of us get regular representations from landowners and developers who want additional agricultural land rezoned. We need to stand up to that pressure and I appreciate the efforts the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is making in this regard. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 gives the Minister greater control of planning and rezoning strategies for the counties. However, many local authority representatives were distraught at the lack of communication and consultation from the Department on the Act. They believe the Minister's attitude has been very patronising and has undervalued these councillors. As a result they have a very negative impression of how the Act will be implemented and the Minister needs to do considerable work on liaising with local authority representatives. As someone who served as a councillor for many years I know that some councillors have made suspect decisions. They include members of all parties, including the Minister's.
Not the Green Party.
If the Senator looked at some previous Green Party councillors' records, I believe he would retract that statement. I can give clear examples of that having happened. I do not believe any party can claim not to have had some members who have rezoned irresponsibly because I have seen them and know that to be the case. In understanding how that might have happened, we must recognise that many new councillors are elected because of their expertise in areas such as health or education, and may have had no experience in planning. When they get into office they need to learn very quickly because they are thrown into preparing local area plans with very little help or advice. As the only advice they are likely to get is from a developer or his agent, they are seeing only one side of the coin. I would like to see the Department take a proactive role in this area and examine ways of increasing the planning knowledge, especially of new councillors when they first get elected. Many new councillors from all parties were elected only last year. I would like to see the Department working with these councillors to improve their knowledge of the planning system to ensure we do not repeat the same mistakes. I do not doubt people's motivation but it is clear that bad decisions were made along the way for whatever reason.
On this specific plan, the decentralisation strategy has been mentioned. That was intended to be the mainstay of the national spatial strategy and we can see it has failed on many levels. I take Senator Ellis's point about specific instances of success. Carrick-on-Shannon was one, but I am aware there are also instances of failure in respect of the plan. Any independent assessment of this position would have to conclude that this has been a failure. This raises the question of whether decentralisation will ever work. I believe it undermines the document produced early last week.
There was a promise in the Government's 2002 general election manifesto that it would continue with the decentralisation of Government offices and agencies. It has not happened successfully and therefore the Government will have to forgive me if I take its current proposal in this area with a grain of salt.
The national spatial strategy was intended to build the strength of all regions and it is clear, certainly from my own county's experience, that this has not been the case to date. We must be more effective and funding is likely to become a problem. If the Government is serious about this strategy, I call for the gateway development fund to be reinstated. It is important that is in place if we are to ensure the proposals contained in this paper are put in place.
We often hear promises about what the strategy will mean but we need to see action and delivery on those promises. I welcome the document and the opportunity to speak on this issue. In essence, we are supportive of it, but I have some doubts about whether we will see the implementation of the proposals contained in it.
The Minister is welcome. In 2002 I recall large towns throughout Ireland holding their breath wondering if theirs would be chosen as a gateway, the general welcome it received in my own town when it was chosen and the dismay in towns elsewhere that theirs was not. There was the compensation of being chosen as a hub and if a town was not so chosen, it could be something else.
At the time I was critical of the fact that the people who compiled the national spatial strategy did not keep their nerve and identify a series of large gateways that would act as a counterbalance to Dublin's overwhelming gravity in terms of how it brings in people, economic activity and wealth and allows very little of it back out. It is a very large city relative to the size of the country, and the national spatial strategy was intended to counterbalance this. It has not succeeded. I am being critical and clear-eyed but I believe there is much that can be taken from it that will help it succeed into the future.
I want to pick up on Senator Hannigan's point that decentralisation was meant as the mainstay of the national spatial strategy. That is a misunderstanding of both policies. It was widely recognised at the time, even by the champions of decentralisation, that it was running counter to the national spatial strategy's end game and that one policy was constantly at loggerheads with the other. We have now dealt with that position in a clear way. I commend the Department and the Government on doing that in regard to the decentralisation issue but to suggest that they were in any way complementary or that one was meant to underpin the other is a gross distortion of what happened. Decentralisation has not helped develop the kind of critical populations we need to be able to invest in a strategic way in large centres, for instance, to generate the kind of industrial policy Senator Donohoe rightly identified as being a key outcome from this strategy if it is to be deemed a success. That is not to say — I am addressing Senator Ellis — that the people in Carrick-on-Shannon have not benefited from decentralisation. They have and it has been a huge success. I know it well. I have seen the town transformed by it and decentralisation has worked for Carrick-on-Shannon, but because it was not overlaid on the key objectives of the national spatial strategy, the two were at loggerheads until recent announcements on decentralisation.
The outlook takes account of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves. The O2 document was very much a child of its time. It was based on the prospect of ongoing economic growth, the idea that the boom could be based on land zoning and development and that this of itself would create the population centres we desired. We have seen that that kind of strategy has failed. An economy based on development and construction could not last. It came to a sudden and very costly halt for all of us. We have now turned our attention, rightly, to a different kind of economy, what we are calling a smart economy, that is not based on construction. It is hoped construction will have its role at approximately 10% of all economic activity but not the 25% it reached in the past.
For this new economy to work we need critical population size in the north west, the north east, Dublin, the west, the south west and the south. That would be it. We cannot do much more with our population other than to try to focus investment in a small number of centres where we can build the critical mass of skills and investment in terms of energy supply. The road network is in place now and it is a huge help. It will be vital to overlay that with better public transport, both inter-urban and intra-urban, but there is only so much we can do. A failing of the original document was that we tried to do too much by keeping every large and medium-sized town happy.
Proof of the pudding in that regard is the fact that 48% of all urban growth since 2002 has taken place in towns with a population of less than 10,000 even though towns of that size capture only 24% of the urban population. Forces other than the national spatial strategy have been at work that have led to urban populations growing other than where we planned for them to grow. This has occurred mainly because the large cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Waterford have attracted populations since 2002. They have not bedded into the fabric of the towns but instead are located as outliers in towns that are sometimes within striking distance but sometimes can be very long commutes from those towns and cities. As a result, the average car in the Republic does twice the mileage of the average car in Britain and throughout Europe. It is a striking statistic. I do not have the exact figures, but I know it to be the case that the amount of commuting created by the planning patterns we have allowed to develop is far in excess of British or European averages. That is not good news and it is not sustainable.
I said last week that the word "sustainable" was often used as a buzz word but few people have a grip on what it means. It is a plastic word in many ways and can mean what we want it to mean. I have heard it used in that sense many times. There is a touch of Alice in Wonderland about it. What we do understand, however, is the meaning of the word “unsustainable” because we have experienced it.
The country finds itself in the most critical time economically and in terms of social provision and so on than we have ever faced in the past. In budgetary terms we are faced with a massive challenge. Much of that is because of a belief — I am not saying it was done maliciously — that the growth could continue, that assets would be worth more next year than they were this year and that, therefore, the basis for lending into the economy was sound. As we have seen, it was not and we will be paying for the excessive lending for a long time to come.
This plan should be combined with the new Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, which I understand came into effect last week. It requires local authorities not to have reference to superior planning documents but to adhere to them, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, has indicated that local authorities that do not do so will face funding cuts. That is the kind of language local authorities understand, especially in these straitened times.
Senator Hannigan is correct that there is a degree of dissatisfaction among councillors, as I am well aware, given that I was one until very recently. For too long local authorities have been able to get away with references to superior planning documents while not taking a blind bit of notice of them when it came to voting on the night. We can see what has happened. Therefore, a more stringent approach is required, including better legal adherence in local area plans to county development plans, in county development plans to regional planning guidelines and in regional planning guidelines to the national spatial strategy. We have now provided for this in the new planning Act.
The gateway innovation fund, originally of €350 million, was meant to provide an investment stimulus for gateway towns. On the capital spending review, it was recently announced that this fund might be reinitiated in 2012 to the tune of €200 million. I know the original plans cannot be fully funded and that the applications made were, in many cases, very elaborate and ambitious. However, many also involved the building of eco-villages and large sustainable housing communities. Many of these obviously have to go, despite the aspirations being noble and exciting; I was excited by some of what was submitted by applicants at the time. However, we need to be careful how the €200 million will be allocated and ensure it will be allocated in a precise way to the gateway towns in a way that will underpin sustainable economic development, jobs in sectors that we know will last the pace and help to deliver a smart economy to keep our graduates here for good and not cause the brain drain that is threatening us. The fund has a very important role to play in that regard. If we can have a surgical strike within the gateway towns with projects that will keep people in towns and cities to allow them to grow and have critical mass that, in turn, will generate new services, it will have been money extremely well spent. It begins in 2012, before which a great deal of thought needs to be put into it.
I welcome the observation made within the plan that the regional development strategy for Northern Ireland and the national spatial strategy ought to lock into each other to find out where there are commonalities and opportunities for common service delivery. While that may sound like gobbledygook, what I mean is that if a hospital is needed in the Letterkenny-Derry or Dundalk-Newry corridor, the two areas explicitly identified in the document, it should be provided on the basis created by the two sets of planning guidelines to come up with a logical conclusion. I do not care on which side of the Border the hospital would be located as long as it served the region. In my case, there is a proposal to build a hospital which has really been designed to serve areas on the rim of Dublin, not the eastern border region, the natural alignment for the people living in the area. I welcome the fact the two plans will begin to spot opportunities for strategic investment, particularly in the areas of health care, education and transport.
I thank the Minister of State for his attention.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for attending. This is an important debate in that the national spatial strategy was published with great fanfare. Undoubtedly, its implementation presents a huge challenge, given that we now exist in a different world from when it was launched eight years ago. What have we achieved since? We can see tangible results in the case of the Cork-Dublin motorway, while Senators have referred to other developments. This is to be welcomed, although one could argue motorists are paying for it through the payment of tolls. There is a proposal which I hope will not be implemented that further tolls be introduced on the Cork-Dublin motorway and the M50.
The commitment to the regions is very important. To be parochial, County Cork must be the major driving force in the promotion, development and expansion of commercial life, as Cork Chamber of Commerce put it, but also in the creation of sustainable communities in the south. There are nearly 1,000 businesses and 82,000 employees in the Cork Chamber of Commerce area, an indication of the potential of Cork in providing a great business and investment opportunity. However, it is not all about money or funding. There must be a clear and meaningful commitment to the devolution of power to local and regional authorities. This will require consensus — the buzz word in Irish politics currently — but it will also require political will.
In a fine speech Senator Dearey referred to the axis in his area between north and south. As a Corkman, I have a major worry that we are taking about an axis between the north and east or west to the detriment of the south, by which I mean Cork. I very much welcome the realignment with our fellow citizens in the North. However, this cannot be done at the expense of the southern region. If we are to encourage investment and entrepreneurship in the creation of jobs, it is critical that the Cork and Munster region is vibrant. This will require support for the airport and sustainable transport links and mean setting and meeting targets.
In his excellent remarks Senator Donohoe referred to broadband, as did Senator Hannigan. It is not good enough in 2010 that one cannot access broadband not just in rural Ireland but also in parts of Cork city. How are we to be taken seriously in developing business and creating jobs in the region if people cannot access broadband?
I appreciate the difficulties we all face politically, but we need a stimulus to drive the economy, create jobs and give people hope and optimism. However this can be found, it must be found. I do not necessarily subscribe to President Obama's philosophy, that, as someone said yesterday, one could find billions of dollars in the Grand Canyon as a consequence of his two years in power. On page 28 of the strategy it is acknowledged that Cork City Council and Cork County Council adopted the Cork area strategic plan, CASP, in 2001. I was a member of the relevant group for what was a land use and transportation study and which outlined a very good strategy for metropolitan Cork. At the risk of annoying my county council brethren, it makes a strong case for the expansion of the Cork city boundary.
Although I accept I am being parochial, if we are to consider the development of the Cork region, the use of the gateway innovation fund, to which Senator Dearey referred, will be required. There is a project in Cork encompassing the eastern gateway bridge to the docklands which will be one of the principal drivers in the regeneration of Cork city and was included in the 2007 development plan and national spatial strategy. It involves the use of 160 hectares of land with the potential to bring 22,000 people into the city, create residential units, including social and affordable housing, and create 27,000 new jobs. While I admit the project was proposed before the collapse, we must have an aspiration and hang our hats on hope.
One of the biggest mistakes made by Government prior to the collapse of the economy was not to prioritise the regeneration of the Cork docklands. That is regrettable and the blame for it must be apportioned across the board. Private investors were willing and ready, but the Cork docklands report was not published. We had procrastination from Government and now the people of the Cork city are moving out to suburbia. The result, and the Green Party has a role to play in government in this regard, is that there is an increase in traffic congestion and people live in high density housing with few amenities or services provided by local authorities. What is provided comes from voluntary and sporting organisations. Parents, workers and their families are stuck in their cars longer and the quality of their lives deteriorates. We end up with traffic gridlock as people converge on the city from Grange, Donnybrook, Frankfield, Douglas, Carrigaline and Bishopstown. I accept Senator Dearey's bona fides, but if the Green Party is serious about creating sustainable communities, we must have sustainable public transport and be serious about taking cars off the road. However, Bus Éireann is cutting back on services and reducing the number of routes and buses.
The N28, the Cork-Ringaskiddy road scheme, is more important now than ever because the Port of Cork proposes to move to Ringaskiddy. The local residents at Ringaskiddy rejected the proposal at the oral hearing because of the unsuitability of the N28 road infrastructure. If we are serious about connectivity and the ability to attract international businesses such as pharmaceutical industries, we must upgrade the N28. The Cork area transport study proposes a modern bus rapid transit system, suggests reconfiguration and expansion of our bus services and puts in place new traffic management structures. We must consider giving more autonomy to local regions in the area of public transport, but perhaps we can come back to this later.
The Minister of State and Senators Dearey and Donohoe referred to the role of the planning authority. We need to examine the role and functions of the planning authority and its relationship with those across the spectrum of special interests. A White Paper is due on local government, but we need to be ambitious and move beyond the 20th century view of local government. Let us be controversial, but at the same time let us be sensible. We can change local government and give it more power. We can make it exciting and meaningful and give councillors a greater role. We can create better relationships between managers and developers and change the whole playing field. The provision of a directly elected mayor for the city of Dublin is not reform of local government. Reform is more than this.
I hope we use the national spatial strategy to see Cork as the driving force for the regeneration of the south. It is the engine that can propel us forward and has potential. However, that requires commitment from the Government. I hope the gateway innovation fund can be used to develop the eastern gateway bridge.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Killeen, and thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, for his contribution. I found it interesting to listen to Senator Buttimer. It is rare to hear him speak at a broadly monotone level as usually the volume at which he speaks rises and falls. However, he made some pertinent points.
Do I sense consensus?
Exactly. Consensus is essential.
Senator Carroll should not get Senator Buttimer going.
The implementation of the national spatial strategy is extremely important for the country and the regions and for County Louth from where both I and Senator Dearey come. Great work has been carried out on improvements in infrastructure, transport and on creating sustainable development and economic growth in Louth, but often we wish some elements were done in a different way. It is time we are seen in the international arena as supporting innovation, knowledge and entrepreneurship across the regions and that Dublin is not seen as a kind of hoover that sucks in much of the economic activity without giving out much of it.
I am passionate about and intend to work on the quality of life issue. When I was working in Dublin, I found that having to sit on the floor of the train daily as I travelled up and down to work did not offer much quality of life. This is not the type of legacy we want to leave to others working in Dublin or other regions. Drogheda, my home town, lies along the Dublin-Belfast economic corridor and has been identified as a primary development centre. As mentioned, such titles, whether gateways, hubs or primary development centres, were applied to towns to make them feel loved. However, if the town was not given gateway status, the title actually took away from the effectiveness of the national spatial strategy.
Senator Dearey referred to the Northern Ireland development plan, but I would like to focus on the greater Dublin area regional planning guideline. This plan covered the region as far as the border with Louth but then stopped. The national spatial strategy gave Dundalk gateway status and then we had the Northern Ireland development plan. These three plans affect the north east, but while they are back to back with each other, they are not integrated and all take different directions. This takes away from the development of the north eastern region. The Louth economic forum, with which I had some interaction as a councillor and more interaction since I joined the Seanad, is developing a nine-point plan for the creation of sustainable jobs in County Louth. The forum has focused on the point that Drogheda has a greater population catchment range within 60 km than any other part of the country, even greater than that of Dublin. This should be highlighted.
I am concerned that otherwise Drogheda will just become a dormer town for the Dublin metropolitan area and miss out on the sense of self-sufficiency it should have due to its high population base and other important advantages. I fear that Drogheda, as the largest provincial town in the country, will be squashed in between two or three plans and will not be integrated into any of those plans. Both Drogheda councillor Frank Maher and I feel that Drogheda should be incorporated into the greater Dublin area regional planning guideline and I urge the Minister of State to take that message back to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran. If we continue along the path of keeping the plan to Dublin because it has Dublin in its name, we will miss out. As Senator Dearey said, even when we look at the plans for Dundalk and the Border area, a hospital, school or shopping centre may not be incorporated into the region's plan just because it is on one side or other of the Border. These areas lose out as a result. The Drogheda city status campaign is being launched tonight. I got into trouble for saying at a public meeting that if Drogheda is granted city status and nothing else happens, then it would be a missed opportunity. City status would benefit Drogheda and the national spatial strategy is essential in this regard. While I look forward to attending the launch of the city status campaign website tonight and give it my full support, I want to see meat on the bones rather than just a website being launched without any follow-up.
As other Senators said, gateway status was announced in 2002 as being the panacea for many towns and cities. Politicians at local and national level were all hoping to have their area included as this status would allow for regional development. Dublin is such a powerful weight on the east coast that it could almost topple Ireland into the Irish Sea. The western and southern areas are missing out as a result with regard to the spatial strategy. Some radical action needs to be taken, even considering moving the capital city to the other side of the country. I do not mean that Dublin should be penalised but investment should be focused on enhancing the west coast, Galway, Athlone and Limerick to create true national regional development. I have passionate views on this subject with regard to my own area.
I said at the meeting in Dundalk last Monday night that Ireland's agriculture, tourism and heritage sectors were its great strengths. I refer to the Annagassan Viking find which shows that the north east could be transformed by this find. Drogheda is missing out on opportunities to make it a tourism hub. We should look at what we can do ourselves rather than complaining that a Minister is based in another town or area. I have invited the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Mary Hanafin, to visit County Louth at the end of November to see how tourism can be developed. The Minister is planning the development of walking trails and the north east is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I welcome the additional funding announced today by the Taoiseach and the county enterprise boards throughout the country to develop micro-tourism and micro-businesses. We need to focus on these areas.
Older business people are inclined to avoid the smart economy but the challenge for all politicians is to explain what is meant by the term. It means working more efficiently and in a smarter way, whether it is the business person dealing more effectively with waste management or the farmer managing the work of milking or dealing more efficiently with energy use and costs. It may be a case of considering other suppliers as competition has delivered great price savings. When I opened a constituency office I moved to another electricity provider and made a significant saving. We also need to re-examine local rates because many rates were struck at a time when prices were high.
Senator Dearey and I were county councillors when the Louth County Council development plan was drawn up. Drogheda Borough Council held its meetings every Monday to try to tie down the plan. These development plans are a realistic effort at regional development. My main point is that we have to look at the greater Dublin area regional development plan and guidelines, the national spatial strategy and the Northern Ireland development plan. They should all be overlapping rather than all going in different directions.
I wish to add my tuppence-worth to this important debate. I am surprised many of us rural Senators are not beating down the doors to challenge the Dublin Senators. The debate has highlighted the difference between the situation as it was and as it is now. I do not believe there is a difference. The goal of the national spatial strategy was to spread the development and increase the economic potential of the country in a fairer way in order that all the island would benefit from development rather than having everything centralised in Dublin, Cork, Galway or any of the other major towns that are always mentioned as being south of the Dublin to Galway line. Those of us in Donegal were quite excited to see there would be a real gateway and an aspiration — it is important to aspire to a goal — for a Derry to Letterkenny axis. This would have stopped all the nonsense that prevented common sense from intervening as it would ignore the Border in the interests of common sense, economic, health and infrastructural development. This is still as aspirational as it was in 2002 and perhaps even in 1902. Some have been quite negative in saying nothing has happened since. I believe there have been achievements in my area of the north west.
I note the level of co-operation in the development of North-South partnerships within the North-South Ministerial Council. This day last week I attended the first North-South parliamentary forum in Newcastle, County Down. Members of the Legislative Assembly from all parties met Members of the Oireachtas and discussed sensible issues such as agriculture, the impact of Europe and grassroots issues which are very important to our areas. It was very satisfying to note that reality was breaking out. If we continue to develop plans and to act on these, our self belief and status will improve and there will be less attention paid to those who seek to destabilise the current peace process. The spatial strategy and the development of that corridor from Letterkenny to Derry is very important.
Senator Hannigan also alluded to the fact that decentralisation was the core of the national spatial strategy. If that was the case, we would not have had decentralisation in Buncrana. Between €27 million and €29 million was spent in Buncrana on a decentralised social welfare office which was a consolidation of the existing social welfare offices and which accommodated the Garda station. Some people might think I look as though I have been on a sun holiday, but I can confirm that my most recent sunburn occurred on Monday in Buncrana. We are optimistic people in County Donegal and things are not as bleak there as they seem to be in Dublin. The opening of the Garda station took place outside. The Garda band was there and the speeches took place outside. Our biggest problem was that anyone in short sleeves was sunburned. It is different up there and we aspire to keep it so.
Decentralisation has worked for us. It is a status symbol and has generated a sense of self-belief. We will use that as a catalyst to bring in other businesses. It is an important criterion when people consider investing in the area. We have Government jobs that have the potential to allow people to move back to Country Donegal or to come from outside the county to it. People have the potential to see their children enter the Civil Service and for them to have a career path in County Donegal. I welcome the fact that gateway funds will come back again. One can have plans and action but ultimately one needs funding to make matters realistic.
Other matters do not need money initially and much work can continue. I return to trying to get the north west kick-started more quickly. There is a north-west Milwaukee festival, a major event in Milwaukee that brings tens of thousands of people to the area. People from Milwaukee will be coming to the north west next year and the festival will be based between Donegal and Derry. We hope to bring in many tourists. Derry was announced as the stopover for the Clipper Round the World Race and it was also named as the city of culture for 2013. Such events mean we must work together as a gateway. We must be in a position to maximise the spin-off and overspill from these Derry events. Much planning must take place at village and town level. I have been working in my home town to galvanise people because many events are taking place but people must pull together to market the event. That filters up from the ground in the ability to say "Yes, we can", a phrase that is borrowed from Bob the Builder rather than President Barack Obama. That can influence Government in order that when other funding is in place, we can get our share because we have identified priorities.
I welcome money for the county enterprise boards. Donegal County Enterprise Board received €170,000 and has identified the potential for 30 jobs. It is not a case of aspiring without something to underscore the aspiration. These are real jobs and I would like to think we will continue to be focused on how we deliver funding.
We still have issues with basic infrastructure such as water, sewerage and broadband. In my area we pay the television licence fee, but some do not receive coverage. It is fine to identify locations where there will be substantial investment, but we must continue the work done under the Department for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, as it was known, which was under the stewardship of Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív and is now led by Deputy Pat Carey. It is accepted that big money must go to the big locations but there has been some great activity in the rural communities in terms of work with CLÁR. Innovation and great foresight has taken place in this respect.
There is no place better to study for potential than the area between Donegal and Derry. There is great potential in health co-operation. We must keep telling people that County Donegal was always pulled into meetings when it seemed cross-Border funding was available. County Donegal was the notional co-signatory on many applications. Now, we are not the added other but are the co-financier, the co-decision maker and the people who drive the issue in a co-operative fashion. That is why it is important cancer services and health developments undertaken between Altnagelvin and Letterkenny are sold to the people as being of equal access rather than being accessible if there is spare capacity. Ministers have been saying this but they must continue to do so.
I welcome the access to the North provided by the N2 and A5. We do not have the motorway that everyone has but we have a dual carriageway and a commitment from the Government that it will continue to co-fund this development with the Executive in the North. I hope nothing will derail the process.
Speaking of derailing, I hope to see a direct train from Dublin to Derry. There is no reason a train should not run. The railway line is in place, as is the train service, but we need investment to upgrade the track from Coleraine to Derry. The public service obligation for the flight from Dublin to Derry is up for renewal, like every other public service obligation. If we are serious about the spatial strategy and intent on giving everyone a fair share on the island of Ireland, we need the public service obligation to be maintained at Derry Airport because between 48% and 52% of people using the airport are from Donegal. It is serving us very well.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute briefly on the debate on the national spatial strategy. I listened to much of what the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, had to say, especially on the consultation that took place in the current round. I am surprised to note that the spatial strategy dates from 2002. I thought it was more recent. It has aroused a certain level of debate and concern in rural constituencies, such as my own, and in urban areas. It was interesting to hear comments and contributions from various speakers, coloured to some extent by the experiences of their regions and local authorities. There is an acknowledgement on all sides of the House that the fundamental philosophy underlying the spatial strategy is sound. While doubts were expressed about the efficacy or, more particularly, about the manner in which it was implemented, there is acceptance of the need for a spatial strategy along the lines of what we have. Some of the major investment decisions have been made by taking account, at a minimum, of the existence of the spatial strategy and the fact it determines to a considerable extent how this works out.
These debates provide a useful form for Members of the House to have input. As a Member of the Oireachtas, one is sometimes struck by the level at which debates on these issues are conducted remotely from Parliament. This provides an opportunity for Members to have a direct input and to set down their considerations. An Oireachtas joint committee was briefed by the Department on this matter and came up with responses that are sometimes much better when directed by the de facto specialists owing to their membership of the Oireachtas committee.
Some of the key points raised in the debate concerning the purpose, direction and implication of the national spatial strategy are important and should inform the future direction of the policy. There is a perception that the national spatial strategy is exclusively about gateway cities and hubs. That feeds into the view, common in parts of rural Ireland, that it works against the growth and development in rural areas.
It behoves all of us to address this misconception. First, to establish that it is a misconception and to address it in terms of ensuring that the growth of the hub and gateway cities is done in such a manner as to benefit the rural hinterland and also not to undermine the potential of the rural hinterland to achieve its own level of development. The strategy is not just about growing the gateways and hubs to the detriment of all other areas. It is about maximising the potential of all the regions, urban and rural areas, to the benefit of all inhabitants and the country as a whole. It is also about sustaining and supporting rural communities. The strategy includes key policies and principles to enable rural areas to develop in a sustainable and balanced way. Sometimes the short version of the spatial strategy overlooks all of this.
Rather than dismissing the strategy, the key question should be how we can deliver better and more consistently on its objectives. For example, in the executive summary as well as the main body of the report it states:
There is scope to better harness the potential of rural areas and create new employment therein, particularly in the sustainable use of indigenous natural resources in agriculture and agri-business, forestry, fisheries, renewable energy and tourism sectors, but also in other areas such as knowledge-based or creative sectors, which are not location-critical. All such strategies and initiatives will require practical support at all levels of Government, State agencies and the private sector.
Part of the argument on the strategy is that we need to ensure the part set out in the report and the executive summary is also given balanced and equal treatment.
A recent report by the National Competitiveness Council reinforced internationally accepted analysis that strong cities make strong regions. Having a vibrant, progressive and growing urban core is critical to supporting the wider region's economy — the corollary is that without a strong regional and urban focus, the surrounding rural areas will suffer in terms of lower economic growth and less opportunity to develop sustainable rural initiatives. As a nation focused on getting back on its feet economically, we cannot afford to let that happen. However, it should not be said that growth cannot happen in rural areas. What we need to do is manage the significant pressures that have arisen in recent years on unplanned and dispersed commuter-driven development, for the most part generated by displaced urban demand, that does not provide a sustainable basis for rural towns and villages to create vibrant communities.
Regional planning guidelines which are adopted by the elected members within each region are the linchpin between the national spatial strategy which sets the broader strategic planning framework at central government level and local planning which sets the local context for development planning and development management. The new and updated regional planning guidelines, the last of which is scheduled to be adopted next week, and the 2010 national spatial strategy report both recognise the integral link and need for balance between growing those larger urban areas that have capacity and infrastructure already in place to grow, and facilitating development in more rural areas.
However, the regional planning guidelines do not state growth should not happen outside of the gateways or hubs — what they are aiming to do is assess and guide on a regional and county by county basis how we can best manage future growth, both within the region itself and across the country as a whole. Past planning mistakes where large suburban-style estates were built on the fringes of small settlements and where long-distance commuting was facilitated should no longer be allowed to happen. What we want to see is more sustainable patterns of growth that will enhance rural communities and create successful and cohesive rural areas.
Another key message from the national spatial strategy report is the importance of prioritising and co-ordinating investment. The report highlights, from a spatial planning and regional development perspective, the key areas for continued investment in the stock of Ireland's physical and social infrastructure, namely, supporting employment and a return to an enterprise-led smart economy, completing a sustainable transport network, building on sustained investment in recent years, promoting environmental sustainability with sustained investment in water services and energy efficiency together with habitat protection as a particular focus, delivering sustainable communities through sustained investment in regeneration of existing disadvantaged urban areas, catching up on infrastructural deficits in areas that have developed rapidly in recent years, and harnessing the potential of rural areas, including a more diversified rural economy and the potential of such areas to develop productive local economies, and to deliver sustainable energy alternatives towards a less carbon intensive economy. Now that the report has been published, it is time to get on with implementing its key actions. The Government looks forward to the continued support of Members of this House in that respect.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 October 2010.