Thursday, 19 January 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
National Spatial Strategy
3. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans to reform the national spatial plan; if he will confirm media reports that he plans to designate a number of economic gateways and hubs in his new plan and focus these designations solely on cities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2285/17]
Media reports over Christmas indicated that the Minister's replacement for the national spatial strategy will centre on cities as growth areas. That would not accommodate many regions, for example, the midlands and north west. In recognising the strategy's potential, the Mahon tribunal wanted it placed on a statutory basis. There is a review of the capital development plan, but surely it should not be undertaken in isolation when we do not have a commitment on the national spatial strategy or its successor? They should be undertaken in tandem so as to ensure that those regions are central to a new capital development plan.
I welcome the opportunity to provide clarity on this issue because there has been some media coverage, particularly in the north west, that is inaccurate. Comments were made by the chief executive that were not accurate either.
In a few weeks' time, we will launch a consultation process around a new national planning framework, called "Ireland 2040 - A National Planning Framework". There will be extensive consultation in different parts of the country, including the north west and midlands. On 2 February, we will publish an issues paper to start that consultation and get the conversation going. It will then be up to various parts of the country to outline where they want to see their regions, towns, rural counties and so on going in the next two decades. Hopefully, we will have finalised a new national planning framework by early autumn after a series of extensive consultations with all stakeholders who wish to be involved.
Nothing is cast in stone. Although the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, will outline his plans for the new capital plan, I would be surprised if the work on the new national planning framework did not impact on Government decision making in terms of how we prioritise spending.
I thank the Minister for his response. Will he further elaborate on the timeframe for the consultation process and the review of the national capital development plan? I can only speak for my own area, but I am sure that the same applies in the likes of the north west, including Sligo and Letterkenny, and in Shannon in the west. Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore are interested in developing our region, which is best placed as a growth centre, so that benefits might accrue to it in its entirety.
With regard to its potential, that can only be realised in the context of a national spatial strategy and a national development plan which recognises both and works in parallel to one another, allowing infrastructural deficits to be addressed as well as deficiencies in other areas. It is imperative to address the deficiencies in infrastructure and other areas in order for the potential of those areas to be realised. Both the national development plan and the national spatial strategy must be singing off the one hymn sheet in order for various hierarchical regional development plans thereafter to achieve the potential based on their inclusion in the two plans.
This will be the most ambitious attempt ever by a Government to plan for the development of the country in the medium to long term. We are planning for Ireland in 2040 when there will be an extra million people and twice as many over the age of 65. We must accommodate that growth, expansion and opportunity through a combination of a new city strategy as well as a very progressive strategy for rural areas and ensuring we maximise the potential of regional development in various parts of the country. It will be a complex and ambitious attempt by Government to plan in a much more long-term way, which will then impact on everything from county and city development plans, industrial policy and investment policy in terms of capital investment. That is what we are attempting to do and it will not be a case of there being one for everyone in the audience. We will try to ensure that every region has the capacity to fulfil its potential in the context of a national plan.
We will launch the plan on 2 February in Maynooth University and we will then have an initial consultation until around Easter. We will try to introduce a pre-draft, as it were, and then have a second consultation process when people can consider and comment on the draft. We will seek to try to finalise it around September to October at which point it will come to the Oireachtas for approval. This will not simply be a Government document and commitment. We will look for the endorsement of the Oireachtas as a whole so that, in effect, we have a national plan in terms of the direction in which we want to take the country between now and 2040, which is why I hope all parties will contribute in a very significant way to putting together the overall plan.
I do not necessarily want an approach that involves there being something for everybody in the audience, but what I do want to ensure, which was very evident and obvious during the course of the election campaign last year, is that we have an Ireland for all. We do not want an Ireland for the cities or for Dublin and Cork, we want an Ireland for all. The best way in which we can help the regions is with a spatial strategy that allows those regions the potential to grow, expand and provide for those who live in them to stay living them and perhaps for others to move into them. It is imperative for the Minister to indicate here and now that any review of the national development plan or the national capital investment plan is done in parallel to a procedure which either reaffirms the basic principles contained in the existing national spatial strategy or at least one which reflects a new spatial strategy which can be called whatever the Minister wishes thereafter. I wish him the best of luck with it. It is in all our interests that it is successful. I am adamant that the regions need every possible support and commitment contained in both the capital investment plan and the spatial strategy in order that they can work together, and thereafter, the regions, the local development organisations, county councils, local authorities and industry will strive to meet the demands placed on them and on the Government in order to further regional development.
I am fully committed to ensuring the regions are very much part of this plan. The problem with the previous national spatial strategy is that it has not come to fruition. It has not even come close.
A total of 20 towns were earmarked for growth. They were to be the 20 fastest growing towns in the country and not one of them is in the top 20 towns in terms of growth since the national spatial strategy was put in place.
Even though there was some good thinking in that plan, it was not followed through in terms of ensuring the aspirations of the national spatial strategy were met by means of the hubs and spokes and regional drivers of growth. It was good thinking but it has not come to fruition because of the dominance of Dublin in particular in terms of its magnetism for job creation and population. We have seen enormous growth in many towns and villages where that was never planned for and we must ensure that does not happen in the future. I agree with Deputy Cowen that this time around we need to make sure that we have, in effect, a new spatial strategy and a new national plan that will ensure we drive investment, growth and opportunity into all parts of Ireland. The process we will go through to get us there will allow us to achieve that.