Project Ireland 2040 will accelerate regional economic imbalance – Limerick Chamber CEO

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Project Ireland 2040 will accelerate regional economic imbalance – Limerick Chamber CEO

Plan announced on Friday ignores Mid-West and Shannon Airport’s capacity to rebalance national economy

Missed opportunity will be regretted for generations to come

Tuesday 20 February 2018:  Limerick Chamber CEO Dr James Ring has said that Project Ireland 2040 is worrying confirmation of the Mid—West’s lack of political influence at national level.

Welcoming a number of elements in the National Development Plan/National Planning Framework, most notably the M20 to Cork and Limerick to Foynes road, Dr Ring said that deeper analysis of last Friday’s announcement suggests that the region’s capacity to help address current economic imbalance on the island has been largely ignored in the plans. This, he said, is a missed opportunity.

While acknowledging the influence of Minister Patrick O’Donovan in advancing the region’s case in relation to some of the positive elements, not having representation at the cabinet table is very much apparent in Project Ireland 2040’s outcome for the Mid-West.

The Chamber CEO, however, stressed that central government failure to capitalise on the region’s potential would not stymie the collective ambition and determination in the Mid-West.

“Now that the level of fanfare coming out of Sligo on Friday last has down, we’ve had an opportunity to more clinically assess Project Ireland 2040.  The conclusion is, unfortunately, that it is going to do very little, if anything, to reverse the massive economic imbalance on the island of Ireland.  The key objective is to create a new Ireland with opportunity for all but the reality of what we have seen is that it is going to create a lot more opportunity for those in Dublin and the Greater Dublin Area in particular  than the rest of the country. 

“Having the launch in Sligo was a tacit admission that the draft National Planning Framework had ignored the North West.  But if there’s an example of how we should not be thinking that all will be suddenly well, it is the North West.  If the authors of this plan were real about balanced regional development they would be connecting Sligo with Longford by dual-carriageway, not Longford with Dublin, as provided for through Mullingar in the National Development Plan.  Sligo is 30km closer to Longford than Dublin is and needs the critical mass that Longford would help build.  Yet the Project Ireland 2040, in extending a dual carriageway from Mullingar to Longford, will only provide for the Greater Dublin Area to suck more of the country in.”

With regard to the Mid-West specifically, he said:  “This region has been one of the great torch-bearers of the recovery, largely due to an unprecedented confluence of positive change across various and key stakeholder organisations and institutions.  We have not alone seen houses put in order but very coherent plans put in place and the result has been record job growth and investment.  The Mid-West has shown the way forward in many respects but Project Ireland 2040 has more or less turned its back on it.

“There are a number of key projects detailed for this region in the National Development Plan but, by and large, these were already announced.  It’s the spirit of change that is decidedly lacking.  A major problem is the population cap that has been put on our region.  We have a lot more ambition than Project Ireland 2040 gives us credit for. 

“Another major concern is how the plan fails to support airports outside Dublin. In the past five years passenger numbers coming in and out of Irish airports grew by almost 11million but 95% of those were accounted for through Dublin Airport.  This flies completely in the face of a key objective of the National Planning Framework, which is to ensure 70% of the projected 1m population growth to 2040 is outside Dublin.  

“Shannon has plenty of extra capacity and its growth over recent years has mirrored that of the regional economy, which is no coincidence.  This is an invitation to government to support Shannon and other airports in the regions but despite this, Project Ireland 2040 fails to come up with any proposal to try and steer even a small percentage of Dublin Airport’s monopoly away.  Reduce Dublin’s share to 80% and that would mean over 1.5m extra passengers to the rest of Ireland’s airports; this would be a game changer.  Not alone does Project Ireland 2040 fail to do anything to spread aviation growth but the only airport with capital investment identified is Dublin, through a second runway, a metro link and a new control tower.  That’s a total investment worth somewhere in the order of €3.5billion.”

Mr Ring concluded that the NPF, whether intentional or otherwise, is merely going to preserve the status quo.  “It looks very like it is not going to change anything.  We started the process full of optimism as this was a chance to make a real difference, to introduce some really smart initiatives to prioritise national growth through the regions and ease pressure on Dublin in the process.

“If Project Ireland 2040 is delivered on, the choices for this and future generations as to where they work and live are likely to get even narrower  but we won’t be deterred by this in the Mid-West.  We press on regardless. It is a huge missed opportunity and one that, for this region in particular, confirms the lack of political influence we have.  We have begun to experience life after Michael Noonan at the cabinet table.”


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