Derry called both city and ‘city region that crosses the Border’

Derry-Donegal region must work in sync on Brexit, Ireland 2040 conference hears

Derry: It is  a ‘city in the Republic and a city in Northern Ireland, and must be planned for on those levels’.

Derry: It is a ‘city in the Republic and a city in Northern Ireland, and must be planned for on those levels’.

 

The consequences of Brexit must not be allowed to disrupt plans for the future of the northwest of the island, an all-Ireland planning conference in Derry has been told.

Instead, the “city region” of Derry and Donegal must work together to exploit any opportunities that arise after Britain leaves the EU, said Alastair Adair, vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster.

The Ireland 2040 seminar, run by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development, is one of a number of meetings to debate the Republic’s latest national planning framework.

Launched last month by Minister for Planning Simon Coveney, Ireland 2040 considers how Ireland’s population will develop – and the infrastructure, jobs and services it will need – over the next 20 years.

Derry, as the island’s only cross-Border city, is a unique case and should be regarded as such when considering future planning, said John Kelpie, chief executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

“It’s not just the city region that crosses the Border, it’s the city itself, as we have urban population settlements that abut the Border,” he said. “Derry needs to be treated as the fourth largest city on this island, not just as the second city in Northern Ireland.

Sensitive politics

“It is most definitely a city in the Republic and a city in Northern Ireland, and it must be planned for on those levels,” Mr Kelpie stressed. “The politics in all of that are clearly sensitive, and we will certainly be respectful of that. But we are disrespecting the Border in terms of spatial planning and we are disrespecting the Border in terms of economic planning.”

Nearly 30,000 people cross the Border every day. On the Derry-Donegal line, 40 per cent of those crossings are made by people who live in Donegal but work in Derry – more than six times the percentage of those who cross the Border for work anywhere else.

“Brexit will have a very significant impact on Donegal,” said county council chief executive Seamus Neely. “The region operates as one economic unit, and we want to speak with one voice for the northwest.”

What’s vital for Donegal, he said, “is that the free movement of people and goods across the Border is kept open, and that people can still travel across the border for education and to work”.

Existing collaboration between Derry and Donegal was cited as an example of best practice that should be followed elsewhere.

“The way the island works is not limited by administrative boundaries,” said Fiona McCandless, chief planner with the North’s Department of Infrastructure. “That’s not the way people live and work. We are in a very particular geographical situation in Northern Ireland, and Brexit is an opportunity to look at that and exploit it in different ways.

“This is a catchment area of 400,000 people,” she said, “and the key is to invest in infrastructure to progress growth.”

Missing links

According to Ibec regional director Terry MacNamara, the “critical missing links” in road infrastructure needed to be filled. “The A5 Derry to Dublin link, and the completion of the N4 Dublin to Sligo, along with the associated works along the N14 and N15 in Donegal. These are essential issues which must be developed in the national planning framework.”

The Ireland of 2040 will have an additional one million people, and planners propose to absorb this extra population by expanding “city regions” such as Derry and Donegal, the conference heard.

“Business as usual won’t cut it,” said Niall Cussen, principal planning adviser with the Republic’s Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. “How prepared would we be for a scenario whereby maybe three-quarters of that extra population would settle around the Dublin area?”