Sligo to play key role as regional centre under development plan

Large hinterland and strong job sectors give Sligo ‘latent capacity’, framework claims

“As a regional centre, Sligo serves a large hinterland that extends beyond Co Sligo into surrounding counties,” the National Planning Framework states. Photograph: Istock

Sligo will play a key role in helping to develop the northwest under the Government’s 10-year National Development Plan, following its designation as a key regional centre.

“Sligo’s significance as a centre of employment and services is much greater than its scale in terms of population,” stated the National Development Plan launched in the town by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The document claimed to represent a “particular step change” for the Border counties and northwest, though there are mixed views on exactly what it means for the county.

The Cabinet’s visit was seen as both a coup in political recognition and an exercise in optics serving to distract from what critics consider a simple repackaging of long-standing development policies.


“That is why the NPF [National Planning Framework] explicitly recognises Sligo in the northwest fulfils the role of a regional centre,” it said.

In terms of specifics, the document identified work on the Sligo Western Distributor Road and, for health investment, the provision of Sligo Central Sterile Services Department and a redevelopment of the hospital.

“As a regional centre, Sligo serves a large hinterland that extends beyond Co Sligo into surrounding counties,” the NPF document said.

It said strong employment sectors, including pharmaceutical and engineering, higher education and health services, were indicative of a “latent capacity” for the county to enhance its role in the region.

Critical mass

“This can be achieved through building critical mass of population and further employment, in tandem with enhanced accessibility and quality of life,” the document explained.

“Given the importance of regional interdependencies, this must be in partnership with other places and institutions . . . a collaborative network approach to regional development extending throughout the North-Western Assembly region as a whole.”

However, as critics pointed to a lack of detail, the document acknowledged the need to prepare a “co-ordinated strategy” for the county to ensure the growth of sustainable investment.

Seamus Kilgannon, Fianna Fáil cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, said while there had been some concerns at draft stage, the majority of people on the ground were happy with what the development plan appeared to mean locally.

“To be fair we would have got some recognition that Sligo will be a growth centre,” he said. “There is positive information regarding the hospital – they are talking about developing another wing and there will be more beds.”

Indications of works to the N4 and minor roads were also welcome, he said, as was the potential for Sligo IT’s upgrade to a technical university.

“There is a lot more positive in it than negative. It’s up to all of us now to make sure the money is spent sooner rather than later.”

Not all of the reaction was so positive. Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said while the optics were great, the plan was a mere reworking of old ones.

“Other than a dot on the map and a name as a growth centre, there is nothing,” he said. “Obviously people were pleased to see the Cabinet coming to Sligo but put another way it is a stage-managed optic.”

Less urbanisation

The northwestern region in general, consisting of Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan, is identified in the plan as deserving "particular focus".

This was due in particular, it said, “to a historically lower level of urbanisation compared to other regions, proximity to the Border and risks posed by Brexit”.

There was a nod to Galway, Ireland’s “fastest-growing city” of the last half-century, and recognition that the policies could help settle a million people in the region by 2040, an increase of 180,000 on today’s population.

"Donegal is spatially unique within the island of Ireland, due to its extensive coastline and proximate relationship to Northern Ireland, " the report said.

"Addressing enhanced connectivity is a priority for this regional area as well as enabling growth and competitiveness to support the strong links that exist between Letterkenny and Northern Ireland."

While a co-ordinated strategy exists through the North-West Growth Partnership, the document noted a need to ensure Letterkenny and its environs had the same capacity to grow sustainably and secure investment in the context of the cross-border North-West Gateway Initiative.

For Cavan and Monaghan, there is a need to maintain “seamless cross-Border movement” to help leverage employment and create sustainable population growth, focused on the county’s towns.

"Enhanced connectivity would result in this area being strategically located almost equidistant between the Dublin, Belfast and Derry city regions in terms of time, as well as distance," the document stated.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times