Positive shift toward Ireland’s regions welcome outcome of National Planning Framework…Shannon Chamber

“The clear message emanating from the National Planning Framework (NPF) is the Government’s intent to create realistic alternatives to Dublin. This shows a determination to shift long-held patterns of working within regions rather than across regions. The proof will now be in the delivery”, said Shannon Chamber’s CEO, Helen Downes when commenting on the contents of the NPF and its associated National Development Plan (NDP) launched last week.


“The inclusion of the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) initiative in the NPF has already been welcomed by Shannon Chamber as a member of this group and, having reviewed the Plans overall, there are so many other positives to be taken from them,” Ms Downes said.


“The fact that the NPF empowers each region to chart its development but linked to the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES), the next phase in the NPF process, is welcome. However, as pointed out in our submission to the RSES, we would hope that this new way of thinking, evidenced in the NPF, will continue at RSES levels.


“These next set of strategies must look beyond administrative boundaries, recognise economic zones of influence and see, for example, Shannon as an economic engine in its own right but also a core part of the Limerick/Shannon/Ennis/Galway core of the Atlantic Economic Corridor.


“We welcome the reference to the metropolitan area strategic plans (MASPs) in the NPF and the fact that Shannon, through the airport and the town, will be a contributor to the Limerick area MASP.


“Shannon, with a special economic zone, an international airport, an enterprise hub and, a living town, generates economic impact far beyond that of towns of a comparable size. It is Ireland’s first and only new town of the 20th century; has a population of 9,750 based on formal boundaries but, in reality, is greater than 10,000 people with a diverse, multi-cultural and strong community. 10,000 people work in the industrial, airport and commercial zones meaning that the average ‘working’ population of the town on a typical working day is close to 20,000. Shannon has the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) cluster outside Dublin with 120+ companies generating circa €4bn in merchandise exports with international services exports additional to this. It generates €15m, or 28%, of annual local authority rates income in Clare and, it serves as the international gateway to the Atlantic Economic Corridor and Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.


“It is therefore essential that future plans for investment in Shannon, which will be taken into account at RSES level, are based not on a population threshold of 10,000 but on Shannon’s strategic importance as a Special Economic Zone with an airport, a multi-sectoral enterprise hub and a living town linked to Limerick, Ennis and Galway at the core of the AEC.  


“We have recommended that the Southern Regional Assembly should prepare its strategy in conjunction with the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) taking account of the interdependence between the two Assemblies in the Atlantic Economic Corridor,” said Ms Downes.


Commenting on the growth of cities, including Limerick, in the NPF, Ms Downes said that this was good for Shannon as, having a city of scale in close proximity to an economic zone of scale will enhance the region’s attractiveness as an investment location.


“Improving access between key centres of growth along the south west corridor, rather than constantly looking towards Dublin for motorway connectivity, should serve to create a viable alternative to the east coast. The supply of adequate housing stock will be an essential part of this process.


  “Improving broadband connectivity is the missing link in optimal regional connectivity. An increasing number of companies are looking towards facilitating home working by their employees to reduce their dependency on travelling long distances to simply be ‘in the office’. The lack of dependable broadband in many areas is a deterrent to this aspiration,” added Ms Downes.


Referring to the National Development Plan, the road map for the implementation of the NPF through to 2027, Ms Downes welcomed the fact that the implementation of the Plan is to be monitored and reviewed regularly; that an independent Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) and, a new public body, the National Regeneration and Development Agency, will form part of this process.


“Any plan that contains over 70 objectives requires monitoring for its effectiveness, otherwise it is just seen as words on paper. The Government’s intent, to create a new and better Ireland, where each region works to its strengths, is evident. Stakeholders, including Shannon Chamber, must now take responsibility for its delivery. The ultimate gains are self-evident: better infrastructure; better connectivity within and intra regions; strengthened rural economies and communities but more importantly, a new form of collaborative planning and delivery that permeates at all levels, between the various government departments, agencies, State owned enterprises and local authorities.


“Our collective hope now is that the focus on facilitating sprawl through lack of cohesiveness is a thing of the past. These Plans simply have to deliver positive outcomes; where the strengths of each region are optimised to their fullest potential and where we attain the balance in population and economic activity that this island needs,” Ms Downes concluded.