Quest for city status a sign of poor planning


Sir, – The (commissioned) academic support for city status for Drogheda would reward a planning pattern that has been the hallmark of Ireland’s economic failure. The use of the term “urban economics” in the article (“Adams backs city status for ‘prime spot’ Drogheda”, News, November 6th) appropriately describes what planning is, and through that lens Ireland is still a developing country.

This case broadly boils down to population and necessitates the incorporation of villages such as Laytown and Bettystown and rural environs so that Drogheda would then “technically” have a population like Waterford, which for some reason is the benchmark. Yet Waterford is denied similar licence that would increase its population by almost 40,000 people! Thin filaments of one-off housing connecting villages and their estates to Drogheda supposedly justify such a recognition. The argument minimises conditions in Waterford by exaggerating distances to places like Tramore to negate the substantial population of its hinterland. While Waterford’s relationship with its hinterland has a balanced settlement pattern seldom if at all found in Ireland that cannot be emulated by Drogheda due to its proximity with Dublin.

The so-called Laytown-Bettystown-Mornington (LBM) area is almost as close to Balbriggan as Drogheda, which underscores that Drogheda is dependent on San José-style 1950s sprawl to “make us bigger” and to pretend that this is not Greater Dublin. There are inconvenient truths such as Blackrock’s greater cohesion with Dundalk and higher growth rates in Balbriggan and Navan (Census 2016). Likewise, Tramore has an urban cohesiveness and dependency on Waterford that is only higher in Dunboyne (Dublin) and Caragaline (Cork). This is higher than Drogheda and LBM, while towns like Tralee have a much larger functional urban population than Drogheda. Drogheda does not stand out sufficiently as a primary urban area in its region when compared to Balbriggan, Navan and Dundalk, whose functional urban areas probably include areas Drogheda is claiming as its own.

The defined problem in Irish spatial planning is that cities which do have a primary status in their regions are a fraction of the size they should be. Even the former Soviet Baltic states fare better! Cork should be as large as Belfast, while Limerick, Galway and Waterford should be as large as Cork is now. Establishing Drogheda as a growth node would only fuel the unbalanced growth and congestion of the primate city (Dublin) and destroy the potential of the provincial cities and their rural hinterland. This above all else supports the case for Dundalk in the region .

But perhaps the biggest fallacy is the idea that Drogheda should be given a local authority status equal to Galway, Cork and Dublin when this status was removed from substantially larger urban centres like Limerick and Waterford in 2014. Apparently because Galway was granted borough status when it reached Waterford’s population in 1985 then this means Drogheda should have it now! Despite the underlying selective rationale being tenuous at best, it also ignores that no correlation between urban hierarchy and borough or city status in local government exists.

Transactional politics has made balanced development impossible in Ireland. The consequences are dire, and the homelessness crisis is just a taster. Social isolation on a huge scale (urban and rural) in ageing commuter belts with few sustainable communities being the main course. The National Planning Framework is the third and final chance to avoid this! To succeed we must ignore local prestige issues such as this. – Yours, etc,



The Netherlands.