Speech by Jan O’Sullivan TD on the National Planning Framework
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. I also took the opportunity to send in a submission, on behalf of my party, in the earlier consultation phase. This has been going on since 2014. It is a long time and there have been many meetings around the country. There have been opportunities for submissions and consultations.
I ask the Minister of State present and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, whether they would consider extending the time limit for submissions on the meat of the plan before 3 November. While the previous iteration was very general, and contained a lot of good aims and asked a lot of questions of those making submissions to which we responded, it is only now that we have the substance of the plan. The timeframe within which to make detailed submissions is very short.
I attended a briefing for Deputies and councillors in my local authority last Friday, and I understand there was a similar briefing in Dublin earlier this week. I presume this is happening around the country. A very short time is available to take in what one has heard in a briefing and write a submission. I intend to meet the deadline on behalf of my party and to make a separate submission on Limerick. There will be a regional submission from my area involving different counties, Shannon Airport etc.
It is a very short time for those who have genuinely engaged with the process. I ask that consideration be given to extending the time period. After all, the process started in 2014 and this is the end process. In a way, this is the period for which more time is required because we are now dealing with what is going into the plan.
I welcome the general ambitions and intentions of the plan. I understand it is linked to the national investment plan, which we need to see as quickly as possible. There is a hierarchy of plans, and regional assemblies, local authorities etc. will operate and develop their programmes within the overall context.
I have concerns about the detail of the plan, in particular regarding balanced regional growth. There is an ambition to deal with the issue, but clearly Ireland is a country which is one of the most imbalanced in the European Union in terms of the eastern and western parts of the country. I cannot see anything in the plan which will change that.
It is expected that 50% of the growth will be in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, which is fair enough. I support that. Approximately 30% more of the growth will involve larger towns and there will be smaller levels of growth in rural areas. There is a logic to that. The cut-off point of towns with a population of over 10,000 should be staggered. There might have to be a cut-off point, but some large towns, such as Drogheda and Wexford, could increase substantially. Others are just below the 10,000 cut-off and have a lot of potential. I would not like there to be a fixed figure.
My main point is that if each of the cities doubles in size that will not change the balance. Dublin and Cork will still be much bigger. Each of the regions is projected to grow by almost the same percentage over the period involved. The east and midlands now comprise 49% of the national population, a figure which is projected to decrease to 48% by 2040. The northern and western regions comprise 18% now, which is projected to be 17% by 2040. The southern region comprises 33%, which is projected to be 34% by 2040. In effect, that is not a change. Rather, it is the status quo.
I would like to see a lot more ambition for cities and towns, aside from Dublin. The Dublin area is sprawling and extends out to various counties. As the Minister said, people are commuting for very long periods.
I will concentrate on Limerick because I know it best. A city like Limerick has the potential to grow significantly. I have nothing against Cork, but it is described as a major urban centre in Ireland. It is stated that the city has positioned itself as a emerging medium-sized European centre of growth and innovation, and building on this potential is critical to further enhancing Ireland’s metropolitan profile. There is no such vision for Limerick, Galway or Waterford, all of which are described as urban centres and important in the context of their region. There is no description of “major” for them either now or for the future. There is room for a lot more ambition for other cities and some towns. If we do not do that, we will be back to where we are now.
2040 is a long way away. We need to think about what things might be like in 2040 and the potential for growth. There is significant potential for growth in Limerick. We have a university, an institute of technology and an international airport on our doorstep. We have had a lot of success with inward investment. There is an ambition in the city. People like John Moran have written articles about this and others share that ambition. We want to be involved.
In the briefing I attended last week, strong disappointment was expressed that there is not more ambition for Limerick. What are described as growth enablers could be stronger. There is no mention of the northern distributor road, which is in the pipeline. A faster rail link for Cork is mentioned but the report is much less strong about other cities.`
The is greater potential in the ports outside Dublin. There is a reference to that fact in the framework but perhaps the wording could be stronger.
There is already spare capacity at Shannon Airport. There is a great deal more scope to maximise the potential of Shannon Airport. All of these things would facilitate a city such as Limerick. As already stated, the same probably applies to Galway and Waterford. Cork has already been identified as a centre that can grow significantly. We need to be far more ambitious for areas outside the greater Dublin region in order to achieve that kind of balance. That is the main point I wanted to make in the context of the framework.
There is a level of ambition regarding housing, particularly, as Deputy Ó Broin noted, the potential that exists in the context of vacant units. I agree that there is a much higher level of vacancy in Ireland than in other countries. There have been some indications that there will be a policy, long-awaited, in respect of vacant housing. It is the one pillar of Rebuilding Ireland in respect of which detailed plans have not yet emerged. There is room for development in this area.
There was a report on health and the health service in the media this morning. There is a section on health in the framework which deals with the issues that will arise in the future. There is a real concern that a significant dilemma is going to arise in this area. There is a population projection available which is higher than the 1 million referred to in the plan. This may be a statistic that will need to be revisited.
On environmental issues, there are very good targets and ambitions in respect of climate change, a sustainable environment, etc. However, what we will need to see is an indication of actions which will ensure that these ambitions are achieved. I refer here to issues such as carbon mitigation and sustainable transport alternatives. These could be more specifically addressed in the plan.
Finally, I welcome the fact that maritime-offshore issues are very much addressed in the framework. For a long time, we have neglected that area of planning in Ireland. I note that there is legislation under preparation in that regard. It is important to recognise that we live on an island, that we are surrounded by a great volume of water and that there is huge potential in this area.