Coveney sets out national planning framework for next 25 years

Minister says most difficult thing about development plan ‘will be the politics around it’

Simon Coveney: he warned three-quarters of the projected population increase of more than one million would be focused on Dublin and the east coast unless action was taken

Simon Coveney: he warned three-quarters of the projected population increase of more than one million would be focused on Dublin and the east coast unless action was taken

 

The credibility of a new plan that aims to spread development towards regional cities will be undermined if there are too many political compromises to get it through the Dáil, Minister for Planning Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney on Thursday set out the national planning framework which will attempt to map out the State’s population growth over the next 25 years.

He warned that three-quarters of the projected population increase of more than one million would be focused on Dublin and the east coast unless action was taken such as driving the growth of regional cities like Galway, Cork, Limerick and Waterford

The plan, called Ireland 2040, is now open for public consultation, and Mr Coveney will travel around the State holding townhall-style meetings on it before a final document is put before the Dáil in advance of October’s budget.

The Government is likely to have to agree to some changes sought by the Opposition to the main aims of the plan.

Mr Coveney said the consultation period could throw up other scenarios, such as the possibility of Sligo becoming a city over the next 25 years and a driver of growth in the northwest.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said that focussing on cities could leave other areas underdeveloped.

Political interests

Speaking as the plan was announced at Maynooth University, Mr Coveney said the “most difficult thing in this plan will be the politics around it”.

“It’s made even more difficult because we have a minority government situation. What may happen is that parties in Opposition say ‘we will only support this if you deliver X, Y and Z for us out of political interests’.

“If that happens it starts to undermine the credibility of the whole thing. I will be appealing to colleagues to try to make decisions based on evidence, on expertise, as well as politics, in terms of what people and communities are looking for.”

Mr Coveney said he would take a similar approach to the planning framework as he took to his rental strategy before Christmas, when he took on board some suggestions from the Opposition but did not agree to Fianna Fáil demands to cap rent increases at 2 per cent in certain areas. The plan capped rents at 4 per cent per year in so-called “rent pressure zones” for three years.

“We said ‘sorry, we have gone as far as we can go’. We’ll take the same approach here. We try to do what’s right.”

Key questions

Mr Coveney outlined a number of “key questions” to be addressed during the consultation process, such as what the national infrastructure priorities are and what places the majority of people will live and work in.

Also speaking at the launch, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said more facilities, such as rehabilitative places, hospitals and schools, would be needed over the period to 2040. “These are massive infrastructural requirements for the next 30 years. And we are not geared for it now.”

The strategy was welcomed by organisations such as Ibec and the Small Firms Association.

“The Irish economy is in recovery mode, but not all parts of the country are benefitting equally,” said Ibec’s Fergal O’Brien. “The new national planning framework has the capacity to address this imbalance, and it is an essential policy component for the development of both our cities and regions.”