The national spatial strategy, or NSS, was published by Government in November 2002. The strategy is a 20-year planning framework designed to enable every part of the country to achieve its potential. The strategy aims to promote a dynamic urban and rural structure throughout Ireland through a set of interdependent spatial policies which focus on five main elements: a stronger, internationally competitive greater Dublin area; strategically placed gateways leading the delivery of a more spatially balanced Ireland; hubs, which link the capability of the gateways to wider areas; other towns capitalising on their local and regional roles; and diversified rural communities with enhanced access to employment opportunities. In adopting and publishing the strategy, the Government stated that it would take full account of the NSS in moving forward the progressive decentralisation of Government offices and agencies.
The decentralisation programme takes account of the NSS, but the Government also had to take account of a wide range of other factors in selecting suitable locations for the new decentralisation programme announced in the budget. Those other factors included the core business and nature of the relevant Department or agency, the location of their customer base, the location of existing decentralised offices, the desirability of clustering a Department's decentralised units within a region, the importance of respecting the scale and character of locations regarding their capacity to absorb the new jobs involved, the existence of good transport links and the general infrastructure capacity in the locations selected.
In addition to gateways and hubs, the NSS identified the need to strengthen the county town and large town structure and the need for a renewed emphasis on the potential of small towns, villages and rural areas. The strategy envisages that county towns and other medium-sized towns would continue to play important roles as "local capitals", developing their enterprise and service functions and continuing to provide opportunities for employment both in the towns themselves and in related smaller towns, villages and rural areas. The relocation of public service employment to many of those towns will help to underpin the important role which many of them must continue to play into the future.
The Government is strongly committed to the implementation of the national spatial strategy and has put a wide range of measures in place at national, regional and local levels aimed at achieving the strategy's objectives of more balanced regional development through a better spread of economic activity, population and employment growth.