Seanad debates

Thursday, 5 December 2002

National Spatial Strategy: Statements.

 

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:

I welcome the Minister of State.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of the Environment and Local Government; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Tá áthas orm an deis seo a fháil teacht go dtí an Teach chun labhairt ar an straitéis spáisiúil náisiúnta. Ar ndóigh, tá luas na forbartha in Éirinn le deich mbliain anuas suntasach ach tá an dul chun cinn tar éis a bheith míchothram. Tá roinnt limistéir ag forbairt ar bhonn níos tapúla ná limistéirí eile. Tá barraíocht forbartha agus brú tráchta i roinnt áiteanna agus gan morán dul chun cinn ná forbairt in áiteanna eile.

Déanfaidh an straitéis spáisiúil náisiúnta cur chuig an nua don phleanáil le haghaidh fhorbairt na tíre amach anseo ar leibhéal náisiúnta, réigiúnda agus áitiúil. Is é atá sa straitéis ná frámaíocht pleanála 20 bliana don tír uilig.

Tá daonra an Stáit ag dul i méid. Ní mór dúinn tús a chur le pleanáil go straitéiseach anois le haghaidh daonra atá ag dul i méid de leath mhilliún duine thar na 20 bliain atá amach romhainn agus leis an bhféidireacht go bhféadfadh sé ardú i bhfad níos mó ná sin thar tréimhse 20 bliain. Tá áthas faoi leith orm nach bhfuil dearmad déanta ar an nGaeltacht sa phlean. Tá sin le feiceáil go soiléir.

I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on the national spatial strategy. The strategy, launched last week by the Taoiseach, is a 20-year planning framework as to how we match people, places and potential across the island of Ireland. The main objective of the national spatial strategy is to achieve more balanced development of the country, with a better quality of life for everyone, vibrant urban and rural areas and a better environment. We want continued economic and social development but with a better spatial distribution.

Some regions have not benefited as well as others from the enormous economic and social strides in recent years. If this is to change, policies must change and that is what the national spatial strategy is about. We need a range of integrated measures to support improved economic performance in the regions. Particularly to drive development in the regions, we need areas of sufficient scale and critical mass to attract significant investment and job opportunities. These areas will then offer attractive locations for investment in addition to Dublin. That is why the strategy proposals include a network of gateways.

Under the strategy, gateways will be important players at national level to stimulate growth in different regions. Strategically located hubs will lead development in their catchment areas and support the gateways. County and other large towns, smaller towns, villages and rural areas also have a role to play in promoting growth in their areas. The strategy is an integrated package of measures which, taken together, will deliver a more balanced regional development.

Dublin is our capital city and the main engine of economic growth. The greater Dublin area will continue to play a key role for the country at national and international levels. In international terms, it is our major player and a key driver of our economy. However, balanced regional development will only be achieved if we get more economic activity in the regions. To complement Dublin and to put in place substantial, enhanced prospects of attracting significant investment to the regions, the existing gateways designated in the national development plan – Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford – must be strengthened. Those cities must become stronger and more competitive and they need to achieve this in their own right. However, with improved physical connections between them, which would reduce travel time, they could co-operate with each other in offering other international scale locations in Ireland in addition to Dublin.

To drive investment further into the regions, the national spatial strategy designates four new gateways. These were selected on the basis of their strategic location and their potential to grow and lift development in their wider areas. It is significant and understandable that all are in the Border, midlands and west region. This reflects the need to strengthen the urban structure in that region. The new gateways are Sligo, Letterkenny – linking into Derry – and Dundalk. Each is an important urban centre in its own area.

Turning to the midlands, it was clear from a national spatial strategy perspective, and compared to the existing gateways, that none of the individual towns on their own would be likely to have the capacity to develop the required scale to function as a gateway and drive development of the region. However, the necessary scale and critical mass can be established through a number of towns working together. The strategy therefore provides that Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore will act together as a linked gateway. The three towns are reasonably near each other, are strategically located on or near national road, rail, energy and communications links and have complementary infrastructure and facilities.

The gateways are the main actors at national level. The strategy also designates hubs to support and extend the effect of the gateways. They are strategically located and also have the capacity to lead the development of their catchment areas. They take the form of either single or linked towns. This depends on location, size, population base and on the facilities, employment functions and services they offer, as well as their capacity for development. Linked gateways and linked hubs will require a co-ordinated approach to their development. This is a challenge to local authorities to adopt a new way of doing business. The linked hubs are Tralee-Killarney and Ballina-Castlebar. The other hubs are Cavan, Monaghan, Tuam, Ennis, Mallow, Kilkenny and Wexford.

Gateways and hubs are essential components for achieving more balanced regional development. However other towns, especially the county towns, also have a critical role to play. They must develop and strengthen their own areas as a focus for business, residential, service and amenity purposes.

The national spatial strategy also sets out measures through which rural potential and alternative employment opportunities can be developed in response to the major structural changes taking place in rural areas. These measures seek to build upon local strengths in agriculture, enterprise, tourism, local services, and land and marine based natural resources. Strong rural towns and villages are also essential components of vibrant rural areas and as a focus for local investment and economic activity, supported by rural development policies. The vision put forward in the strategy is of strong urban and vibrant rural areas.

This is the Government's framework for achieving more balanced regional development. The national spatial strategy is the result of objective analysis and consultation. It sets out the policies which will ensure that the regions of the country no longer lose population share while the greater Dublin area continues to expand. It sets out complementary and co-operative policies for the regions and will bring better job opportunities to the regions. The strategy represents Government policy on strategic planning and development.

Every agency or authority with responsibility for planning or for infrastructure programmes such as roads, water, rail and industrial development will be required to build the requirements of the strategy into their plans, strategies and regulations. The strategy will not be implemented through any single investment programme but through every investment programme. The benefits of this national approach will deliver more balanced regional development.

The strategy is about regional development and the key to its implementation lies in regional planning guidelines. Local authorities must begin work immediately to draw up regional guidelines and the Department of the Environment and Local Government will support them in this. In turn, the regional guidelines must be incorporated in city and county development plans.

The national spatial strategy will only be successful if all involved – Government, local authorities, regional authorities, development agencies and the private sector – work together to implement it. It will take a lot of work over the next 20 years to achieve its objectives but I am convinced it will deliver a better Ireland for all our citizens. It will bring a better spread of job opportunities, a better quality of life and better places to live.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. While I am broadly in favour of the national spatial strategy which has finally been launched – three years after it was due – I have major reservations, both of a national nature and, more specifically, in relation to my county of Longford that has a rate base of only 7% compared to 55%-60% in the Dublin local authority areas. This proves that Longford and many other midlands towns such as Roscommon, Carrick-on-Shannon and Portlaoise are starved of industrial and infrastructural development and deserved hub status to give them a necessary boost. Once again, the Government has conceptualised and formulated an idea which, although fine in theory, will constitute a miracle if seen through to completion. Given the pitfalls which befell the national health strategy – it has been dashed against the rocks of far reaching cutbacks – I am not holding my breath in this regard.

The ideals of the national spatial strategy are admirable. It is a 20 year plan designed to achieve a better balance of social, economic, physical development and population growth between regions. It is supposedly designed to help every place in every part of the country – no matter what its size or population – reach its full potential. Admirable sentiments undoubtedly, nonetheless I question whether this is all they are.

We know that every area has not enjoyed the riches of the recent booming economy and the growth of the last ten years has led to some decidedly uneven development. Regions have rushed to cash in with little planning and used the only resources they could muster indigenously. This has led to the rich areas growing richer while the poorer ones are stifled by their lack of infrastructure, educational resources, housing and medical facilities.

Regions such as County Longford have seen disappointment after disappointment and now, to cap it all, they are excluded from the strategy's designated premier towns. Designated towns are targeted for growth and development over the next two decades, while others have been left very much on the periphery of these necessary advances. I will do everything I can to prevent Longford being relegated in this manner. This is the third major letdown for the town in a matter of months. The natural gas pipeline was rerouted as a result of political interference, the Cardinal Health plant was deferred with the loss of 1,300 potential jobs, and now the town is to be neither a gateway nor a development hub.

Longford has been given the thumbs down in the strategy in terms of improved services and infrastructure. It has lost a huge share of investment from the NDP to other midlands towns. It will again be on the hind tit with regard to investment, roads, jobs, housing, sanitary services and health infrastructure, despite the fact that it has returned two Government Deputies, Deputies Kelly and Sexton, who were elected on the strength of the Government's delivery promises. What were they doing for Longford when the strategy was being drawn up?

Because of political considerations, three towns across two counties have been lumped together and given gateway status. This is another example of a Taoiseach and Government unwilling or unable to make the hard decision. Quite clearly, the midlands should have one gateway, supported by a number of hub developments.

Looking at the strategy as a whole, the policy of decentralisation has been needed for a long time and needs to be expanded. Plans to decentralise thousands of Dublin based civil servants and their Departments are central to the whole notion of spatial strategy as an alternative to gridlocked Dublin. Dublin needs continued growth and improvement. The strategy must seek to counter the city's outward sprawl by creating a compact city capable of supporting further growth in demographic and economic terms. The lack of foresight over the last five years has seen our capital city develop into a place where tens of thousands, particularly young people, live on the edge of the greater Dublin area. They can expect to spend up to four hours in traffic on gridlocked roads commuting to and from their homes, many of which have been built on flood plains and are liable to flooding. Planning scandals where homes were built on flood plains – thousands more are planned – despite contrary advice, compete with road chaos to paint a picture of a city crippled by its economic success.

I will bring whatever pressure I can to bear to ensure the decentralisation plan is implemented and that it brings about more balanced regional development, to which the provision of adequate employment, infrastructure, housing and public transport in the gateway towns is central. These towns need substantial investment to allow them to grow into self-sufficient centres with city status. Although negative in the short term, the recent slowdown in the economy is a chance for the Government to constructively plan development on the island that will ensure future investment is pumped around the country as a whole, rather than simply poured into a few key urban areas, as has been the case in recent years.

There are thousands of vexed and disappointed people throughout Ireland as a result of the strategy, of which the Minister got a flavour outside Leinster House yesterday. The protesters rightly feel that they have been let down by the Government which has promised so much and delivered so little. The regional and sub-regional input organised by the regional authorities and the regional assemblies was ignored. Likewise, many expert consultants and the various bodies which made submissions to this document were disgusted when they saw the plan. The Minister had his chance, but it is merely another chance lost.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. It is great to see a fellow Ulsterman here and I know the Department is in capable hands. I warmly welcome the publication of the National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020, it is about people, places and potential. Our people are the country's most valuable asset and all our planning should be about quality of life. I congratulate the Minister of State and the Minster for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, on the publication of this courageous and timely document.

For too long we have spoken of the need for an equitable spread of economic activity and the over-concentration of the population in the greater Dublin area. Until now, we have done very little about it in real terms. Quality of life in the capital has decreased and much human capital is lost in traffic jams, queues and long delays. This strategy faces up to the problem and moves in the right direction.

I particularly welcome the inclusion of Cavan and Monaghan as hubs. I also welcome the status given to the necessary east-west link from Dundalk to Sligo via Carrickmacross, Cootehill, Cavan and Enniskillen. For over 30 years the Border region has languished in the shadow of the Northern Ireland conflict. Cavan embraced the self-help concept many years ago. The population of the county increased by 6.6% in the inter-censal period – the second highest in Connacht-Ulster – and is testament to our success.

Much needs to be done to shore up society in our less populated areas. This document has given hope and expectation and will elicit positive responses at local level. I am pleased at the approach to residential development in structurally weak rural areas. I am pleased with a sentence in the document which states that in general any demand for permanent residential development in these areas should be accommodated as it arises, subject to good practice in matters such as design, location and protection of the landscape in environmentally sensitive areas.

The designation of hub centres in the BMW region provides a real opportunity for the delivery of the economic arm of the peace process. The Government should set an example and vigorously embark on a decentralisation programme which gives employees a full career structure at their new location. Given modern technology and communications, it is unnecessary for many thousands of civil servants to live in traffic queue exasperation, while contributing to the traffic problems in Dublin City. Those people should try to find a better quality of life in the hidden parts of Ireland. They should find facilities for themselves and their families which are worthy of the contribution they make to the development of the nation.

A plan remains a plan on paper only unless there is a commitment of financial and other resources to make it happen. This plan has generated an air of expectation which must be delivered on. I was impressed by the sincere commitment given by the Taoiseach, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Gallagher, on the day this document was launched. They pledged that it would be made work. I assure the Minister of State that towns, such as Cavan, will reciprocate with a positive approach and a commitment to make the plan work.

Many of our brightest and best educated young people are migrating to the greater Dublin area because that is the location of the high technology industry. This plan and modern communications offer them the opportunity to find employment in their own areas where they can be closer to their families and help to stabilise the communities from whence they came. They will enjoy greater opportunities for affordable housing, greater access to recreational facilities and their children will have greater access to schools. They will also avoid the traffic jams which have bedevilled our lives in recent years. This plan will not be delivered immediately, but we must embrace it and start laying and expanding the foundations on which it was built.

We have had a glimpse of what can be achieved in recent years. Having glimpsed the new era and reflected on its advantages and disadvantages, let us ameliorate the disadvantages and grasp the advantages charted in the spatial strategy. Shifts in population must be tackled if we want to maintain a good quality of life. We all have better things to do with our lives than to sit in motor vehicles with fumes coming from both our exhausts and our ears, while our quality of life goes down the drain.

The document has got the balance right in terms of the selection of gateways and hubs. The rising tide of opportunity should give a new sense of belief to all our communities. Perhaps the most important initial impact will be the sense of relief and recognition of opportunity. There is a new confidence in our nation and a new expectation. The commitment by the Government to make the plan work will open our eyes to the opportunities now coming into focus. We must all endeavour to make it work. That will happen with the leadership of the Taoiseach, the Minister, the Minister of State and the Government. It is probably the most important document for the future of rural Ireland since the foundation of the State. I thank the Minister of State and his colleagues for their courage and foresight in bringing it forward. I assure him that we are committed to making it work.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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I welcome the publication of the spatial strategy. I echo the comment by Senator Wilson that it is probably one of the most important documents to be published in recent years. However, it is a pity it is at least ten years late. The pace of development has been so fast in the past ten years in some parts of the country, particularly in Dublin, that fundamental mistakes have been made in the absence of planning which will be difficult to reverse.

As regards the identification of hubs, gateways and connected hubs, it seems that whoever made the decision suggested areas which are already becoming hubs. The document is following areas, rather than identifying them. I cite the example of Mullingar, Athlone and Tullamore which have improved greatly in recent years due to excellent foresight and development by local authorities and industry. Instead of moving forward, the spatial plan seems to be going backwards. The thinking behind it is skewed and there are major issues about its implementation. However, I compliment those who worked on it because it is an extremely valuable document in terms of the level of research, the presentation of the material and the information it contains.

The spatial plan should be studied with another document I received this week, the preliminary census. While preparing for this debate, I studied the figures for population increase and the identification of hubs and gateways. We are all aware that the major population increase in recent years has been in the greater Dublin area. The population in Kildare and Meath increased by more than one fifth between 1996 and 2002. The population in Westmeath increased by 13.8%, in Wexford by 11.7%, in Laois by 10.9%, in Louth by 10.5% and in Carlow by 10.2%. That reflects a widening of the Dublin commuter belt beyond Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. That supports my argument that the extraordinary population increase in these areas has happened on an ad hoc basis. The houses and estates have been built and people are living in them and commuting to Dublin. We will not change that by publishing a spatial plan. However, will we make it any better? How will we make it better?

It is not satisfactory for people to commute from Kildare, Meath, Laois, Carlow, Portlaoise and Dunshaughlin into Dublin. It is not good for them, for their families, for the economy or for the infrastructure. How will we deal with that? I now take the train to Dublin because I want to take at least one car out of the traffic congestion and I want to support public transport. I met a man 18 months ago who gets the train from Portlaoise to Dublin and he asked me to tell those making the decisions that the only place he could afford to buy a house was Portlaoise. He is like many thousands of other people who commute every day to Dublin. We have failed people as a result of our lack of planning. I know a number of people who commute every day from Nenagh and Thurles to Dublin. That is a strain on them and their family resources. It would be worth measuring the cost not only to them but also to their communities and the local economy.

The major challenge of the spatial strategy is to find out how we are to deal with that. Will we succeed in creating economic centres sufficient to attract investment from the overpopulated capital and its belt to the hubs of Shannon-Ennis, Mullingar and the other areas identified? It will not be easy to make that happen, particularly when the critical mass of inward investment remains in a limited number of areas.

This brings me to the second major point I wish to make. What will be the effect of the spatial strategy on an area which is not identified as a gateway or a hub? I read the strategy last week when it came out in summary form and the first thing I noticed when I looked at the accompanying map of Ireland was that County Tipperary had become invisible. It is barely referred to in the spatial strategy, despite the very fine submission by the local authority making a strong case for the connection, as a hub, of Nenagh to Limerick. That did not happen and, as a public representative in north Tipperary, I have serious concerns regarding the effect it will have on our county. By identifying the Limerick-Shannon area as a gateway and making Ennis the hub, we fear this will create a magnet for Government investment, foreign direct investment and the roll-out of infrastructure such as broadband technology, while Nenagh and north Tipperary become the poor relations.

I have already had discussions with Shannon Development with regard to this matter. North Tipperary has suffered very seriously from job losses in recent years and I am concerned that the company will be unable to continue to make the area a priority in terms of investment and ensuring we get our share of employment creation. There is a clear need for that. Thurles has a third level college which is a state-of-the-art facility, linked through high-tech cable to all other centres around the country as well as to the technology centre being built across the road. That is being built as a development centre linked to the college to mirror the success of the Shannon Development business park beside the University of Limerick, which is working extremely well, as is the one in Tralee.

If Tipperary is not on the priority list for development through the spatial strategy, how will we argue for investment? We must be made a priority if we are not to continue losing jobs, while ensuring we receive foreign direct investment. It is over 20 years since an overseas company located in north Tipperary. This week, further bad news comes from Roscrea where the former Antigen plant, now known as Miza, continues to experience great difficulty. There are very serious questions about its future. These come after the closures of the Aventis pharmaceutical factory in Nenagh, the GMX factory in Thurles and the Offray Ribbon factory in Roscrea. The list of closures is not accompanied by a list of replacements. We have argued strongly that the IDA should get its skates on to ensure that industry is brought to our towns, but our great fear is that our absence from the new map of Ireland means we will be kept behind the door when investment is given out.

I support fully the idea of up-front, advance infrastructural investment. It is not good enough to wait until broadband needs to be rolled out, a railway line needs to be upgraded or a road has to be built, which is what we have suffered from for too long. We have not worked ahead. However, in welcoming the idea, I express the fear that the mid-western towns identified in the strategy for development will be the ones which see advance investment put them in pole position for future growth while leaving the other areas behind. Alongside this, a strategy needs to be developed for areas like north and south Tipperary. While that it is referred to in the document published last week, it is not detailed to the extent I would like.

Where do counties which have now been pushed to the periphery fit into the overall scheme of things? Given that north Tipperary has huge tourism potential, will priority be given to investment in that regard? That would go some way towards correcting any imbalance created by the magnet effect of the hubs and the gateways identified in the plan. That needs to happen and I will call on the Government to ensure that it does. I assume one must accept the conclusions and recommendations of the report as a fait accompli, but if the Government intends to proceed in this way, I wish to know, as a public representative for north Tipperary, how it intends to ensure a Dublin effect is not created in the mid-west. How will it prevent overdevelopment of the Limerick-Shannon area and the worsening of the traffic problems already evident there? How will the drag effect be countered?

I congratulate Ennis on its good luck in being identified as a hub and I question the reason Nenagh was not identified as even a sub-hub of the area, given how similar the two towns are. In my discussions with Shannon Development I asked how this plan will link into strategies being developed by State agencies. We are very lucky to have Shannon Development working in our region; it is unique, as the Minister knows, and it has done and continues to do extraordinarily good work. One of the body's developments was a potential Atlantic corridor from Limerick to Galway to Sligo with investment in rail and airports, but it seems to have disappeared overnight. Are State agencies such as Shannon Development expected to fall in with the spatial strategy and will discussions take place at Government to link their plans with it? Will we have, to use a phrase from across the water, joined-up Government with regard to the strategy? I would like to hear more specific detail as to how this will be implemented and I wish to know if the hubs and gateways identified will be on the priority list for decentralisation. Is there any truth in media reports of last weekend with regard to this?

I welcome the publication of the report. It is late, but we have it and we should get on with it.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with Senator Ormonde.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Fianna Fail)
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The fact I noticed straight away about the document is that it continues the theme, used some time ago, of putting people first. I welcome that. After people come places and then potential. The requirement for a spatial strategy is a clear indication that the policies pursued over the last number of years have succeeded and the growth in the main urban areas, while not without drawbacks, is preferable to the dark days of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when urban decay was rampant and the unemployment rate at its highest. Again showing foresight, the previous Government, while framing the national development plan in 1999, recognised that strategic planning was required if any progress was to be achieved on the issues raised every day at advice centres and doors throughout the country, such as traffic congestion, housing and environmental issues in urban areas, depopulation, lack of employment opportunities and falling farm incomes in rural areas.

The national spatial strategy is a 20-year programme to enable every place, rural and urban, reach its potential, no matter what its size or location. It recognises that regions have different roles and requirements. It seeks to organise and co-ordinate these roles and needs in a complementary way. It is about making regions competitive according to their strengths, not one against another. It is about ensuring a high quality urban environment as well as vibrant rural areas.

The strategy defines the characteristics of successful areas such as Dublin and Cork and other major cities and, at the same time, recognises the imbalances which have to be overcome. It also recognises that strong towns and cities are an essential element of the success of the regions and that we must build on these strengths in order to develop the country as a whole in an efficient and holistic way.

In planning ahead we have to start somewhere. We have all heard the arguments in respect of areas which have been left out or included. The strategy sets out the framework for a more even and fairer spread of the many benefits we have achieved in recent years across all sections of society. Everybody should benefit equally in our economic development. The strategy suggests a national framework of gateways and hubs, evenly spread throughout the country, north, south, east and west. This framework will influence Government policy on strategic planning and development as well as every other authority with responsibility for planning. It aims to promote a better spread of job opportunities, a better quality of life and better places in which to live for as many as possible.

As a fifth generation Dubliner, I have seen the changes which have taken place in the city, most of which are welcome. However, the city has grown and spread at an enormous rate. This has had a number of effects, perhaps the most visible and tangible of which is the congestion regularly experienced on the roads. Another is the cost of living accommodation within the city. Both are as a direct consequence of economic development. I have heard it said numerous times that it is a sign of the times – some houses have two cars while others have more. The property market has boomed due to competition and prices have spiralled upwards.

The strategy, while recognising Dublin's role as an engine of national growth, which has driven much of the country's economic success, also takes on board the particularly heavy burden of development pressures on the city and surrounding areas. I agree with its description of Dublin having become a dispersed city where population continues to increase. It stood at 1.5 million in the last census. This growth requires planning and a strategic approach to manage this level of population growth effectively. On the basis of recent trends, up to four fifths of the population growth in the State could take place in the Dublin region or in adjacent areas over the next 20 years and could possibly reach 2.2 million. It is predicted that the number of cars on our roads could double in the 20 year period from 1996 to 2016. These changes need to be managed and planned for.

I compliment the Minister of State, the Minister and the Department on the production of the strategy. The process of consultation used was second to none as is evident from the large number of submissions received, over 250, from a wide range of concerned bodies and individuals, all of whom were given every consideration in the framing of the strategy. Advice and input were garnered from a wide range of experts and professionals in this area, at home and abroad.

The budget, announced yesterday, will deal effectively with immediate economic requirements, but we need to be far-sighted. The long-term visionary approach taken by the strategy will help to sustain the economic grains achieved while, at the same time, ensuring a fair and balanced spread of future benefits. Balanced regional development, continued social inclusion and strong economic and environmental policies should all support the aims of the strategy and ensure Ireland's place in Europe and the wider world for many years into the future.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Brady for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Minister of State and thank him and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for bringing forward this excellent document into which much time and effort has gone. It is a fine spatial strategy with which to shape the country. We have to start from the point at which we are at.

I can only speak from the Dublin perspective. There is traffic gridlock while the city is over-populated. Opportunities are being lost because many cannot get into the city while many hours are wasted in travelling to and from work. The key words coming through are: people, quality of life, job opportunities and spread. The strategy incorporates these concepts into the future planning of the country's development with a view to adopting an integrated approach to how people can best follow a way of life that complements them and their families while availing of job opportunities where they choose to live rather than being forced to travel for hours each day to and from work.

I welcome the framework document which covers a period of 20 years which I hope is the maximum period in which it will be completed. We are now beginning to shape up the future. The concepts are in place in terms of the gateways and key areas. From these key areas how can we stimulate and spread growth to the hubs? We must get the people out of Dublin where we have our business parks. Many young people come to me and say they want a job but not in Dublin where they cannot afford to buy a house. Supply and demand are top heavy in Dublin and must be spread. There is traffic gridlock, floods and a concrete jungle, all of which have a huge impact on the environment. There are no open spaces or greenery. Unless we call a halt, there will be no green belt left between urban and rural areas. It is important, therefore, that this document be implemented immediately to enable a redistribution of wealth and people to all areas of the country. It will do just that.

I thank the Government for its foresight and vision in planning this document which has been a long time coming, since the 1960s. Now that we have it, let us make it work. We have to make it work because it is the only way forward. There must be growth centres in all corners of the country. These must be the prime locations from which to branch out. We must have our business parks and job opportunities. Our planning must be right in order that everything will come together in a proper integrated way which allows for infrastructure, hospitals, schools, roads, etc.

We have to start thinking this way. It is not possible to implement a policy unless it has been planned. This is our opportunity to implement the strategy. If we think something out first, it will work. If there is a natural process, we can make it work. It is something real, not gobbledegook. It is all about quality of life. I am a realist in the way I think. I want to ensure a quality of life where people can choose where they want to live and will have job opportunities rather than being forced to commute two and a half hours to and from Dublin each day. No Government, no public representative would want this. No public representative would want a concrete jungle which is what the city is. What is needed is an integrated action plan for housing schemes so that people moving into particular areas will have a good quality of life.

I welcome the strategy. It is a golden opportunity for us to focus on the implementation of a plan arising from this visionary framework. We have the concept and vision. Let us move forward and distribute jobs throughout the country, through the gateways and the hubs. I wish the Government success with the implementation of this programme.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. As a man from the western half of the country, I hope he understands the necessity to implement the strategy.

The document is rich in aspiration but the timing of its launch is unfortunate. It was held back and postponed by the previous Minister because he feared fallout in regard to popularity. There would have been an onus on him to identify the hub and gateway towns but he would not do that in the run up to an election. The new Minister has been forced to launch the document at a time when there is no money.

The national development plan, which is now in tatters, was launched some years ago. This morning it was announced that the NRA will invest additional funding into roads infrastructure. For what is that additional funding earmarked? Will is be put towards the completion of projects already at an advanced stage? When those projects are completed, there will be no further projects. All of those projects due for completion are in the east – in the environs of Dublin, northwards towards Drogheda and Dundalk, southwards towards Waterford and in the areas in between.

Will the Minister of State indicate what is planned for the BMW region? It may have one project – that relating to the road from Ballinasloe to Galway city – advanced in the next two years. That is the only project that will go ahead under this plan. The bypasses for Loughrea, Ennis and all other areas in the region have been cancelled. This major 20 year plan is being launched in an environment where schemes that would accelerate its implementation through the putting in place of infrastructure are being withdrawn. We have no money and the plan does not indicate that funding will be made available.

The health strategy, which was launched at this time last year in a blaze of glory, is also in tatters. Not one meaningful aspiration in that plan has been put in place because there is no money. In that context, it is a mystery why we are now launching this strategy.

Senator O'Meara mentioned the situation in regard to development at SFADCo. It is important that we take into account the situation over the past 20 years when every development went to four main areas. Dublin got the lion's share and Cork, Galway and Limerick got the rest. What development took place apart from that? IDA Ireland, which was responsible for directing development into areas of need, has failed miserably outside those four areas. It was good to have job creation in the high technology, medicare and other areas. However, outside the progress in those areas, we have failed.

We have been informed that the spatial strategy is the solution to the problem because it identifies the gateways. This is not the solution. It is laughable that Dublin is identified as a gateway. The idea of the spatial strategy should be to move away from Dublin and to stop the city, as has been the case heretofore, expanding.

Now we come to the matter of the hubs. I welcome the fact that Galway has been identified as a gateway and Tuam as a hub. The difficulty is, however, that this copperfastens IDA Ireland's policy of neglect of other county centres. Ballinasloe is a classic example. Mullingar, Athlone and Tullamore are said to be ideally located beside one another for the creation of a new gateway centre. Ballinasloe which is nearer to Athlone than either Mullingar or Tullamore is left isolated. Ballinasloe in east Galway is now isolated from the Galway city gateway, on one hand, and the Athlone, Mullingar, Tullamore gateway, on the other. It will be left derelict between the two areas.

What will happen to the towns that have been neglected in the past and are now outside the hubs and gateways? I would appreciate an honest reply to that question. The Tánaiste came to Ballinasloe, on the occasion of the closure of its flagship industry, AT Cross, and stated that she would establish a task force to bring new industry to the town. What will happen to that task force now? Will it be a case of pulling in all directions? Are we serious about using the hubs and gateways as a focus? What about the towns not identified as hubs or gateways?

The Minister of State indicated that the other places will survive as areas of amenity. We are concerned about that. The centre of statistics report on the census clearly shows that the eastern part of county Galway is unique among rural areas. For the first time there is a decline in the population there. There has been a consistent decline in population in east Galway from the border with Mayo and Roscommon in the north down along the River Shannon to the Clare border. In one instance, there has been a decline of 27%. This will be exacerbated by the spatial strategy.

One matter about which local authority members are concerned with regard to county development plans is the use of the word "sustainable". Planners say that they cannot justify the development of isolated rural housing because it is not sustainable. The spatial strategy is quoted as the Bible in this instance. We cannot accept that. Galway County Council was the first local authority to bring forward a new county development plan under the new planning Act. In Galway, a county development plan which would have been ruinous was proposed to the council which had to go to the extreme of hiring consultants to give guidance on amending it.

Statistics show that east Galway is already ruined and that its population is in decline. It is sad that today's edition of The Irish Times contains an article which describes how An Taisce has decided to root out and sack members who expressed opinions contrary to those of Mr. Lumley and other members. There is something seriously wrong with the attitude of an organisation that is hell bent on making rural Ireland, in its entirety, an amenity area. The Government has a responsibility to approach that organisation, as a prescribed body under the planning Acts, and advise it to change its stance for the sake of rural areas.

The Government has indicated that a decentralisation programme will commence within the coming months. I urge the Minister of State to consider the position of Ballinasloe which has been left out of the loop, the hub and the gateway, even though it is on a national primary route. In that area, infrastructure is being dismantled rather than created. Ballinasloe should be seriously considered as the location for a Government Department under the Government's decentralisation programme. The latter is absolutely essential in order to stop the current decline in what was a prosperous rural community in east Galway. The proposed national spatial strategy will only exacerbate that decline unless the Government changes its approach. Nowhere in the strategy is any safeguard or hope offered in that regard.

In addition to the Government's failure, IDA Ireland has also been totally remiss in not taking advantage of opportunities that were available. Despite the Tánaiste's visit to the area, and her promise of replacement jobs and the establishment of a task force to highlight the industrial needs of Ballinasloe, nothing has happened. That state of inaction now appears to be set in concrete.

Michael Brennan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher. I congratulate all concerned on the production of the national spatial strategy and on the extensive consultations which have taken place over the past three years throughout the country with local authorities, voluntary and professional organisations and members of the public. Never in the history of our country have we had so many plans, all of which are vital to our future development, on the table. I refer here to the national spatial strategy and the national development plan. We are very proud of what has been achieved to date and it is in all our interests that progress should continue in the coming years.

I have no doubt the national spatial strategy will bring benefits across the board, including to large and medium sized towns and rural areas, by encouraging more balanced regional development. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Irish economy transformed itself, developing and strengthening much faster and further than anyone anticipated. While not confined to Dublin and the larger urban centres of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, this prosperity was concentrated in those areas. In Dublin, development has been so intensive that the city has become severely congested in terms of investment, population growth, housing construction, transport and traffic. Some 77% of national employment is based in the Dublin area. Outside the five city areas to which I refer, the proportion of total population has fallen to 40%.

When implemented, the national spatial strategy, will encourage people to move out of the cities and return to regional locations. It will also counteract the imbalance of development between regions. Rural areas have nothing to fear from the national spatial strategy. The gateways and hubs will act as the engine of development, driving the economy forward. Gateway development must not be at the expense of rural areas, which must benefit from simultaneous investment.

The agricultural sector is still one of the more important components of our economy, although direct employment in that sector is falling. The national spatial strategy must include measures to support the agricultural sector and provide alternative sources of employment to sustain rural communities.

The vision of the national spatial strategy is for strong urban areas as well as vibrant rural areas. As centres of economic growth, large towns will need to provide a broad range of employment and services in education, health care and child care. Transport and easy access will also be essential. The strategy also aims to enhance the attractiveness of our larger towns as places where people wish to live and tourists wish to visit. The planning to which the Minister of State referred is central to that process. Planning for those larger towns will have to be of an excellent standard, including compact physical planning, public transport and green areas. The strategy will also present many challenges for our planning system. It is vitally important to ensure that there is a coherent relationship on planning issues as between regional and local authorities. That aspect must be tackled at a very early stage. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify the role of regional authorities in that regard.

The foresight of the national development plan has been extended to the national spatial strategy. The strategic rail report, which is currently awaited, will be a vitally important element of the national spatial strategy. I look forward to development based on the Limerick-Shannon gateway with Ennis as a hub. Small towns and villages must also be catered for in this development.

I again compliment all concerned on bringing forward the strategy. I wish it every success.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I welcome this initiative by the Government. This is my first opportunity to welcome the Minister of State to the House in his current role. As an old compadre, I wish him well.

Most Members come from rural backgrounds. I have a dual concern about the national spatial strategy. The strategy is hugely important because of the fact that we must focus on developing areas. Gateways and other centres are only important as part of a whole. How will the rural part of the Minister of State's county of Donegal and the back end of Kerry fare in this process? People, regardless of where they reside, must be assured that they will have the opportunity to live full lives and make full contributions.

It would be a major error if the debate merely centred around the coldly political aspect of which towns are chosen and which ones are not. That often tends to happen when we approach matters from a bureaucratic point of view. The approach should be on the basis of considering representative examples from different parts of the country and different sections of the community. For example, what are the factors which contribute to the number of hours it takes to travel from Belmullet to Dublin? What improvements are required in roads, broadband technology and other areas of infrastructure to address the disadvantages of more remote areas?

One of the issues to be considered is the implication of moving away from public responsibility for certain matters. Broadband is one such example. In terms of the spatial strategy, if we are to ensure that people can live where they desire and still make a contribution, broadband is an essential facility. Fifteen years ago, there would have been no doubt regarding to how we would deliver broadband. This would have been done through the P&T, as it was then called. Now, however, because of the European agenda, we have agreed to the introduction of competition and in the process we have created a duopoly with a degree of price control as strong as ever.

The position is similar with regard to electricity supply. The spatial strategy must include provision for all the essential back-up for development centres and local areas. Who will provide that back-up? Having divested ourselves of national responsibility for the provision of such facilities, we now find that the State and the taxpayer have to pay for it all over again. There is something wrong there. Apparently the State could not afford to do it or was not in a position at that time to make an investment. That is a difficulty which we should examine. We also need to look at the planning legislation in terms of spatial strategy.

The Minister will be well aware of the need for a proper power line in his own county. The proposal to take the power line from Roscommon to Donegal was opposed every step of the way by all sorts of groups. In a democracy people should have the right to object and there should be due process, but this has been taken too far. There are now so many objections to natural development that it cannot take place at all.

I have no axe to grind, but I have had rows with An Taisce about its Luddite approach to single house rural development. If hamlets and villages are to retain their life we must be very careful, practical and conservative in our approach. The best way to protect nature and the environment is to have people in it. The people who care most are those living in a particular area. It is a fact of nature that if you take a person out of their environment and put them into another environment they never properly adjust. The grey squirrel, which has got rid of all the red squirrels in Ireland, is a classic example of a mammal which was taken out of its own area. The same, in a different way, applies to human beings. The person who went to the local school, who knows the local patron saint, the local pattern day, is part of the local football club and is part of a second or third generation has a commitment to the area. It should be possible to ensure that any spatial strategy takes account of that.

I appeal to people from all parties to take this issue seriously. There is nothing more important to maintaining life in rural Ireland than the single house development. I would be the first person to object to inappropriate development, but there are hamlets, houses and places where there were houses before. It can be done, particularly with the development of sophisticated bio-systems. Some of the previous difficulties no longer arise. We need to be brave enough, and politicians lack this courage, to stand up to people like An Taisce without appearing to be Luddites. We do not have to agree with their every view just because they are perceived in a certain way by society. I defend their right to be there and they are generally right, but not always.

A spatial strategy should not simply focus on urban areas, it should include all of the regions. In the past six months I talked to someone who wanted to invest in Letterkenny and who had a market in that area, the north-west of the island. He wanted to have two premises, one in Derry and one in Letterkenny. He could not do it. He had to put the whole operation into Derry where he had broadband, ISDN and everything he needed within a couple of weeks. It was not just that it would take longer in the Minister's county, but he could not get it at all. There was no likelihood of ever receiving it. These are the kinds of difficulties which exist. Spatial strategies will not succeed if the infrastructure is all wrong.

Included in this is the development of a rail network. I support the Leas-Chathaoirleach on this. He also takes the broader view that it involves not just the line to Ballybrophy but all of them. We need creative thinking in Government and courageous leadership in politics. It can be argued that certain rail lines will never make money. There are two errors in that argument. First of all, it does not take into consideration the displacement costs involved in putting people back on to the roads from the railways. Also, it does not take account of what would happen if we invested in the railway, created a market for it and marketed it. Nobody would drive from Sligo to Dublin if they had a proper train service which left every hour. That should be part of any spatial strategy.

If I walk into the central station in Brussels and ask the time of the train to Amsterdam, the answer is always very simply given. It is just "seven", "16" or "24". These are not the lotto numbers. They are the number of minutes past the hour that the train leaves because it leaves every hour, for example 1.20, 2.20, 3.20, 4.20 etc. That is the kind of service we need, where you do not have to look at a timetable and you can get a taxi to the train station knowing that within an hour you can catch a train. I believe that if that was the situation for six months, and we did not have the nonsense of the whole train system closing down at eight or nine o'clock in the evening, we would have a far better country.

I did a check recently and found that the last train from Galway to Dublin leaves at 5.55 p.m. which means that you cannot go there for a day's work. The last train from Westport to Dublin leaves earlier than that. The last train from Tralee to Dublin leaves before six o'clock and the last train from Cork to Dublin leaves about seven o'clock. If you take the lifestyle of the Members of this House, we tend to do much of our business after tea. We go to funerals, meetings and meet people who are coming from work. We might be finished in time to leave for home at 7.30 or 8 p.m. We have to drive there and back every time. I was looking recently at the mail delivery and train times from Dublin to other parts of Ireland 50 and 100 years ago. They were better then than they are now. Infrastructure is a hugely important aspect of spatial strategy.

We should not distinguish between people who live in remote single houses, hamlets, villages, small towns, large provincial towns, urban centres or large cities. They all have a stake in the country and can be accommodated within the spatial strategy. The last thing we want to do is create competition between people on the basis of where they live. We need to put in the infrastructure. I do not believe that any member of Government would agree with the idea of breaking the Limerick-Sligo link at Athenry, as was done recently. No thinking person would do it. It is like closing the Harcourt Street line 50 years ago or like people 30 years ago who talked about filling in the canals and building roadways over them. It is short-term thinking.

The good thing about the spatial strategy is that it exists. It does not matter how much we disagree with it. If we all focus on it we will get it right eventually, especially if we listen to each other. I appeal to those on the Government side to listen to my colleagues on this side of the House. We share similar concerns. Governments will come and go, people will cross over sides. We need to leave a legacy to rural Ireland, in particular, where people can have a quality of life that matches that in any part of the island. I hope this debate will continue.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister. Everyone broadly welcomes the concept of the national spatial strategy. It contains a message to anyone, to Dublin-based Departments, agencies and so on that there is more to Ireland than the greater Dublin area. I am not anti-Dublin in any way. I have lived and worked here most of my working life. The development which has taken place here is wonderful, instead of the shabby genteelness and poverty of 40 years ago that I remember and to which those on my right referred. It is moving up the league table as a vibrant and successful city with many facilities.

Somebody wrote that the 21st century will be the century of the city state and Dublin is our candidate for that status. It is not a question of stopping the development of Dublin but of slowing it down, as much for the sake of the city itself as for the rest of the country. Development and success need to be spread around, not just within a 30 or 40 mile radius of Dublin but to all other parts of the country. It has been mentioned that it can take two and a half hours to commute into Dublin. Those affected by such difficulties should, where possible, avail of public transport. It does not take as long to get into Dublin by train or on a bus that travels along a bus corridor.

One of Ireland's advantages is that it is a reasonably compact country – it is not exactly a square, but it is not too far from it – so it should be possible to implement a successful spatial strategy here. I accept that, in the first instance, the proper emphasis of the spatial strategy is on the Border, midlands and western region because parts of that region have suffered from considerable depopulation. The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, will understand the problems of other parts of the country as there is neither a gateway nor a hub in south-west Donegal. On the other hand, his constituency is near Sligo and Letterkenny, both of which are mentioned in the spatial strategy. When I was on the Seanad campaign trail earlier this year, I was struck by the excellence of the road between Sligo and mid-Donegal. A similar standard of road between Tipperary town, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir would make life much easier.

I wish to speak about the south-east, a region which has been historically quite well-developed as a consequence of its prosperous agricultural lands. Agriculture, however, is no longer a sufficient engine for growth. I have become quite attached to County Clare in recent years because my son-in-law comes from there. A member of his family informed me that Tipperary has traditionally tended to look down on Clare in terms of the ancient hurling rivalries between the counties, but it could be said that Clare now looks down on Tipperary in economic terms. I am not sure if Senator O'Meara would agree with that. The Shannon and mid-west region was the pioneering development region of this country following its independence and retains considerable strength. I agree with Senator Ulick Burke that there is an early need for an Ennis bypass.

North Tipperary is in the Shannon region, but west Tipperary is in the south-east region. I recently drove 60 miles to Waterford for a briefing on the spatial strategy as it pertains to the south-east. Limerick, which like Waterford is a gateway, is only 25 miles from west Tipperary, but it is part of a different region. Far more people from west Tipperary work in Limerick or Shannon than in Waterford. I hope that one of the benefits of the national spatial strategy will be that borders between regions will become more permeable. Towns on the edge of regions do not always receive the attention they deserve and they may relate to large towns on the other side of the regional border. County Tipperary, as Senator O'Meara said, does not provide a hub or gateway under the spatial plan. This has caused a good deal of surprise in Clonmel, a town of critical mass and the largest centre, in terms of population, not to be included under either category.

The concept of gateways must be taken seriously. As I said at the meeting in Waterford, a gateway must not allow everything to get stuck in it, but must be the point at which regional growth commences. I agree that we should emphasise zones and corridors, as the strategy suggests with its triangle of Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore. Similarly, the Dublin-Belfast corridor contains a gateway in the form of Dundalk. It is important that we interpret certain terms correctly. Clonmel is more than a county town – it is an important industrial town that has been very successful in attracting industrial development. The status of Clonmel should not be changed by the spatial strategy, which will have to be complemented by a decentralisation programme.

I do not see the strategy and the programme as identical, although it is obvious that some decentralisation will go to development hubs. There is a case for decentralisation in many towns that do not attract much industry, but that are good candidates in terms of communications and other amenities. Tipperary town and Carrick-on-Suir are good examples of such towns in my constituency and Thurles and Longford are good examples elsewhere in the country.

We must not lose sight of the long-term nature of this plan. As an Opposition Senator pointed out, it is easy to produce a good plan this year, but it should not be forgotten next year or the year after. There must be an ongoing commitment to the strategy, as there should be to the RAPID and CLÁR programmes that were announced last year. I assume the spatial strategy complements, rather than supersedes, the two programmes to which I referred. It is essential that funds are provided to put flesh on these plans over time.

I do not entirely agree with Senator Ulick Burke's point about the national roads programme, as €1.25 billion has been allocated for it and other projects will come on stream when those under way have been finished. Rail connections will have to be maintained if the spatial strategy is to mean anything. The line between Limerick, Waterford and Rosslare should be extended to Galway. A Senator mentioned that the last train from Nenagh each day leaves at about 4 p.m. Investment in rail freight is needed to relieve the pressure on some of our roads.

The issue of housing policy was raised by Senators on both sides of the House. I regret the dogmatic views coming from An Taisce and other planning organisations on the matter. I was approached to join An Taisce when I was very young and I am glad to say that I did not take up the offer.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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An Taisce would not be doing what it is doing if the Senator had joined.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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A great deal of An Taisce's thinking emanates from south-east England. I can understand why one would not favour one-off housing in south-east England, where there is enormous over-crowding and a tremendously large population. Such ideas, however, are totally inappropriate for a country like Ireland. If one flies over Ireland and ignores the greater Dublin area, one will notice that we have masses of space.

I accept that people should not be allowed to build in inappropriate places or erect ugly buildings that can be seen for tens of miles around. There must be proper planning. I also understand the argument about the higher cost of servicing houses. We live in a free country, however, and if people want to live in rural areas they should be allowed to do so. Many farmers find it quite difficult to make ends meet and if they can survive for another while by selling a plot of land, provided it is not in an inappropriate place, why should they not do so?

I welcome the strategy. I hope it will be implemented in a sensible manner that is fair to all of the places concerned, regardless of whether they are specifically named as development hubs or gateways.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, to the House and congratulate him on his well-deserved appointment. Even while he was in Europe local issues always had a place in his heart and he never left Donegal out of the picture, which is much appreciated. A good decision was made in appointing him Minister of State.

From his European experience, the Minister of State will understand that calls have been made to consider models of regionalism under which power is brought back to the people of a region. He should carry that through in his current post. The north-west is a natural region. When I refer to this region, I do not mean only Donegal but the area that encompasses Tyrone, Derry, Fermanagh, Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. I have never considered that this area is divided by the Border. When we talk about the Border, we sometimes overlook the co-operation that has been exercised in that region. In order for a small county like Donegal to survive on the periphery, it must co-operate with places such as Derry.

There is a committee in the area called the European Regional Network for the Application of Communications Technology, ERNACT, with which the Minister of State will be familiar. Derry and Donegal co-operate closely in terms of IT and former Senator Paddy McGowan used to sit on the committee. Since 1990, this innovative committee, which has come up with some great ideas, has drawn down about 13 million ECU for cross-Border co-operation and programmes.

Senator O'Toole referred to a company that was trying to get into Letterkenny and Derry and which finally established its operations in Derry because no ISDN or broadband facilities were available in Letterkenny. ERNACT has always proposed that we set up a digital hub that would straddle the Border. Rather than thinking in terms of having to choose between Derry and Letterkenny, we should look to the expertise and opinions of this committee.

I have sat on the ERNACT committee for the past three years along with Sinn Féin's Mr. Mitchell McLoughlin. That is where the real cross-Border discussion takes place. It is not the sort of rubbish Sinn Féin comes out with on the national airwaves about wanting the Six Counties back and other such propaganda. Mr. McLoughlin sat on the committee with me and we co-operated for the good of the north-west region. I sometimes criticise party politicians for using the Border to gain votes. We should use it to benefit our communities in an economic and social way.

The BMW region is an Objective One region and was established simply because it needed investment and funding from Europe. We do not give it enough autonomy. I appeal to the Minister of State to consider giving it more autonomy because, otherwise, the spatial strategy will not work. It is a mechanism for filtering money and we must give the region the respect it deserves in keeping with the European model of regional autonomy.

The Western Development Commission was hoping to obtain €8 million this year, but it only received €2 million. Its remit includes counties such as Clare and it covers the entire western seaboard from Donegal. This group is trying to come up with innovative ideas in the areas of agri-tourism and organic farming in order to help in setting up local industries. However, its funding has been reduced. We should make sure we keep our eye on the ball in terms of funding groups of this nature.

I welcome the designation of Letterkenny as a gateway town in this aspirational spatial strategy. However, it is not just a matter of writing it down on paper. The Minister of State knows that as one travels to west Donegal it is virtually impossible for one to get through when one passes over the mountain top on the N56. It can take one up to 20 minutes to travel nearly 2 km into Letterkenny in the morning. There is no point having a gateway if the necessary infrastructure is not in place.

I appreciated the debate we had at a meeting of Donegal County Council during which the Minister of State said that money for the roads programme was being increased. However, I am concerned about National Roads Authority funding. Donegal would be glad to receive €22 million this year and could survive on €9 million. Instead, it looks as though we will only get €5 million. We must also keep our eyes on the ball when dealing with the NRA.

Carrickfinn Airport must be included in the national spatial strategy. Even though I live in Donegal, I only visited the airport for the first time on Monday morning. Although there were no flights going out, I was impressed with what I saw. We should consider the Carrickfinn and City of Derry airports as two ways of promoting the region through regional aviation. In Sweden, tireless work has been done to promote regional aviation. The Swedes have removed cars from their roads by subsidising internal flights. We should engage in further promotion of internal flights. If Letterkenny is to be a gateway, this must happen in tandem with its development.

There is no point in having planning laws which encourage people to live in the country if they have to travel into Letterkenny each day. There is no reason that we cannot have small businesses in Kincasslagh, Milford or Fanad. I have always promoted cottage-type industries. People think these involve basket-weaving, but cottage industries can also involve, for example, information technology. People in rural areas can operate their own businesses. This is something we must consider in relation to the spatial strategy.

In the past I publicly criticised IDA Ireland, which has failed the peripheral regions of Donegal on the basis that it is following a model of trying to attract large-scale industry to places such as Milford. It is still trying to attract large-scale industry to the former Fruit of the Loom plant. If IDA Ireland is successful in that regard, I will welcome its achievement. However, we should be concentrating on small units of indigenous industry and working from the bottom up, rather than waiting for investment from the USA for peripheral regions.

I welcome the aspirational aspects of the report, but it will come to nothing unless we put in place the necessary resources. I am confident about following the model described. It is parochial to welcome the designation of Letterkenny as a gateway town, but it has always been a gateway in terms of the Derry-Letterkenny link.

I welcome Senator Mansergh's assertion that the Border should become more permeable and I am sure Senator Wilson, who comes from the region, also agrees with it. Let us use the Border for everyone's benefit by incorporating it into the spatial strategy.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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This is an important issue. While I welcome the report, its detail and vision, it is overdue. We are grappling with the problems created by success. Had we looked at them earlier, some of the major problems might not be quite so great.

It is evident from the number of groups and individuals catalogued in the index that many contributions were made to the document. The degree of expertise from local, regional and national level is striking and has had a positive influence on the final report.

We are not good at establishing priorities. That was evident this morning. We have an attitude that there must be one for everyone in the audience. Every town wants the IDA to put an industry in place. While that is understandable, this outlook must change, there must be a scale of priorities. This document sets out such a scale.

So far, we have concentrated on the economic aspects, but the document also deals with quality of life, something that has been overlooked in the debate. In our success we have sacrificed it. Quality of life has deteriorated. The document sets out the need to build a strong economic, social and environmental position.

It is great, however, that we have to grapple with the problems caused by success. It is much better to have those problems than others. I was invited to the Humbert Summer School two years ago to address the issue of the downside of economic success. Everyone had an horrendous tale to tell about the effects of that success on personal interaction and community support. On the way there I went through Charlestown when I remembered the book, The Death of an Irish Town, by the great journalist, John Healy. As I passed through I noticed they were building a housing estate. Ten years ago people would have laughed at the thought of a housing estate being built there. People were fleeing to America and elsewhere. Now they are coming back. I went into Westport where the congestion was almost as bad as parts of Dublin, but it was great to see cars there. It meant people who lived in remote areas who had to walk to draw the dole were now driving to a job. We do not emphasise this enough. RTÉ is particularly prone to this, it never concentrates on any positive aspects of success.

There is a pull to the centre. People ask the reason Dublin should be a gateway. It has an international airport and a port, and is a gateway by definition, although we must deal with the resultant sprawl. In the plan there are gateways, hubs and primary development centres. In County Kildare, Newbridge, Kilcullen and Naas are primary growth centres, a triangle that is grappling with the difficulties caused by development and the influx of people who come because property is cheaper. They then commute to Dublin every day. This has a negative effect on community spirit because they get home at night exhausted, go to bed, get up in the morning, send the children to school and are then gone. The strategy deals with this.

Resources are critical for infrastructure, but there are many aspects of the report that do not require resources, they just need willpower. If there is an over-arching policy for planning and development, it does not need resources, it just needs the local planning authorities to implement it. The plan speaks of fitting policies and programmes to the needs of the strategy. This can be done without resources. If the document is adopted and abided by, it will be very helpful.

It is accepted that there must be a critical mass of inward investment. Places with sophisticated levels of infrastructure are sometimes needed. Someone who is going to make a significant investment in employment will seek a place with a third level institution and the attendant backup. If I was a multinational businessman coming to locate in Ireland, that is the sort of place I would seek. Such places do not have to be in the east, although the statistics show that only four towns in the west have a population greater than 10,000. The Western Development Commission was referred to. I analysed one of its early reports and it made a significant concession in that it was the first body which accepted that priority locations were necessary within the west if industries were to be attracted.

I agree with Senator Mansergh. There is an unhealthy fanaticism at large within a certain group in An Taisce. They present those who oppose them as being totally in favour of random urban sprawl and ribbon development. Nothing could be further from the truth. It comes back to the glorious fact that we have an expanding population and people now want to live in the countryside. I was in Killary during the summer where before the famine 600 people lived per square mile. If there are ten per square mile now, it is an achievement. There are houses that are totally inappropriate, but there are also people coming back to the local schools, churches and pubs. This should be celebrated.

It is wrong that there are people living in comfortable, middle class, urban surroundings, with a good quality of life, who want us to live in poverty out in the sticks. They want to see a rural zoo at the weekend, a pleasure garden for them. What about the people who live there? Do they have no rights? My son is getting married and I applied for planning permission to my local authority. Thankfully, it was granted, but I was dreading An Taisce descending upon me and telling me my son should not live on the land we have farmed for four generations. It is outrageous. It does not have the right to do so and someone at a very senior level should tell it so.

In County Kildare we are dealing with the problems of urban sprawl. Members of the local authority went to enormous pains to ensure the conditions were extremely restrictive in regard to who could build in rural areas. Councillors made huge efforts and a consensus, which was very restrictive and was confined to people with a functional need to live in the area – for example, members of farmers' immediate families – who work on farms, etc., was reached. In spite of this, there was an almost blanket referral of planning permission applications to An Bord Pleanála. Some of these were upheld, while others were not. I do not dispute the right of An Bord Pleanála to make these decisions provided it provides an explanation for doing so. We will return to that issue next week.

My final point refers to the infrastructural issue, which I raised during the budget debate last night. We feel we are somehow not up to scratch in international terms or that, unless we have a motorway, we are somehow inferior. We appear to think we must have a motorway to Waterford. The National Roads Authority's figures in regard to traffic flows, even when projected to 2020 on the basis of our increased car ownership, do not justify the construction of a motorway.

People need to be able to drive within the legal speed limit as quickly and efficiently as possible from one place to the other. We could build an awful lot of roads if we did not have a motorway from Dublin to Waterford and instead had a good road that bypassed all the bottlenecks. If there was a bypass round Carlow town, Castledermot or Thomastown and a good class highway was put in place, people might only lose five or ten minutes on journeys. At present, one might be stuck for an hour when one reaches Goffs on the dual carriageway, but that is another story.

I do not understand why we must have motorways when high quality dual carriageways would serve just as well. I drove from Bordeaux to the south of France in September and I never travelled on a motorway. There are motorways from Bordeaux to Toulouse, but I did not find them on the north-south axis. I drove on high quality regional roads that were well paved. In towns, parking was properly controlled. We drove through towns without any difficulty and we reached our destination quickly and easily. We need to reconsider some of our fetishes about roads.

I agree with the comments about rural areas. The relationships between rural areas and the nearest settlements, between those settlements and towns, between the towns and hubs and between the hubs and the Gaeltacht are specified in the report and a model is provided. The report is good and I hope it will serve as a template for future planning and development.

On the question of quality of life, we should give some consideration, on the basis of the contents of the strategy, to these issues and they should be given equal prominence to economic and other issues. Social issues should be the given the highest level of consideration and the policies brought forward should mesh with what is in the report.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I cautiously welcome the report, which is long overdue. I take issue with some speakers who said we are all parochial and that we all want our own town or village included. I come from County Roscommon which is bordered by counties Longford and Leitrim. While there are 23 gateways and hub towns specified, I am horrified that there is not one gateway or hub centre in Leitrim, Roscommon or Longford. That suggests that I come from a rural area and that people in north Roscommon should move to Sligo, that people in south Roscommon should move to Athlone, that people in Longford should move east and that people in Leitrim should move to Cavan, God help us.

It has been stated that there is no need to object to power lines between Carrick-on-Shannon and the north-west. I do not believe we have considered the fundamentals involved in distributing energy throughout the country. Gas is being brought ashore on the west coast, but it does not go directly to Dublin. It is piped from Mayo to Galway, on to Athlone – where a former Minister lived – down to Clara, up to Mullingar and over to Dublin, while areas in the west are being omitted.

I accept that power, particularly electrical power, is needed in the north-west, but there is a new theory that gas should, perhaps, be brought to Sligo. There are small generating stations that could generate sufficient power for towns such as Sligo. It has been proved in Europe and the US that this is efficient, but we do not seem to embrace new technology. All we want to do is erect power lines. When people object they are seen to be objecting to progress. However, these individuals have fears about many issues such as, for example, the laying of underground cables. These people did not object for the sake of objecting, they arrived at different solutions in terms of the provision of power supplies in the north-west. However, the report did not address this matter.

I take issue with An Taisce, but we should not just place the blame on that organisation. There is a group called Friends of the Irish Environment which has caused more trouble in the west and in rural areas than anyone else. At least An Taisce is honest about it decisions, but Friends of the Irish Environment is a sinister organisation. It has brought files from Roscommon County Council and many county councils to An Bord Pleanála, just for the sake of doing so. I know of young couples who legitimately obtained planning permission but, unfortunately, they had to wait six, seven or nine months until cases brought by Friends of the Irish Environment were heard by An Bord Pleanála. I do not think this is fair and the gloves must come off in terms of how we deal with bodies such as An Taisce and, in particular, Friends of the Irish Environment.

Allegations can be made on the Internet and in the newspapers about councillors whose right and duty it is to draw up county development plans. My county council and others have spent more than two and a half years working tremendously hard on these plans, but these people can make allegations and get away with it. We must take these sinister groups to task at a higher level, otherwise they will stymie rural regeneration, particularly in terms of housing construction in the countryside. When I grew up, a village was made up of a few houses which looked out on to what was called a "street", even though there was no public lighting on it and it did not resemble what we would now define as a street. If people do not live in rural areas, we will not keep the towns and villages to which I refer alive.

I served as President of the Boyle Chamber of Commerce and I am aware that it all comes down to dealing with economies of scale. Boyle is on the periphery and, unlike most towns, it is not deemed to be a "county town".

I am amused by the concept of corridors. The last corridor that was put in place ran from Donegal to the south-east. If I travel from Donegal to the south-east, I drive through Sligo, Boyle and Athlone, on a very fine road network. Unfortunately, when the new corridors were being drawn up 12 years ago, the corridor in question was designed to run from Donegal to Sligo, Sligo to Galway, Galway to Limerick, Limerick to Cork and Cork to Rosslare.

We have been informed that we must tighten our belts in the interests of the country. If the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, wants to travel from Donegal to the ports in the south-east along the new corridor, he will have to drive down the N4 to Boyle and take the N61 through County Roscommon to Athlone. The road surface is generally good and only about 14 miles of it require upgrading.

I smiled also with regard to the National Roads Authority and the N4, which is a tremendous road. However, at Hughestown an investment of €1 million for the development of the road was stopped. The work will not be completed for four or five years because the money has been taken away. The plant and machinery were in place and it only had to be finished. Accidents now happen in the area because traffic moves from a good to a bad road for half a mile, then back again to a good road. That lacks common sense and must be addressed. The strategy tries to do so, but I am concerned this will not be addressed.

I welcome the plan with regard to rail links. As Senator Mansergh said, rail services are needed from Sligo and Galway to Dublin once every hour. I should be able to travel to and from the west regularly. It took me two hours to get out of Dublin last week but only an hour and a half to travel the other 100 miles home. Nobody can continue like this. It should be the Government's intention to subsidise rail travel in order that it can be used. Most want to use railways but cannot because they do not fit into the timetables.

Ryanair has revolutionised air transport. Why is it not subsidised to move into airports at Knock, Sligo, Galway and elsewhere? Why must I travel to Dublin to get a cheap flight? Why are people in the west discriminated against with regard to flights? Ryanair flies from Dublin to Stanstead, but it costs up to €150 for me to fly whereas the same flight can be had for €70 from Dublin. The Government should subsidise Ryanair to fly from every rural airport. The company does a good job. I proposed in the House last week that Mr. Michael O'Leary be a nominee for Bord Fáilte if the Minister is to make any nominations.

I welcome the comment of Senator Dardis that housing estates be built in places like Charlestown in the west. However, the veneer must be looked through. Houses are being built, but there are no middle income families moving into them. The people concerned are not in Berlin or Boston but still in Sligo, Dublin, Galway and elsewhere. There are not the economies of scale necessary to bring them back.

A cycle has continued since the 1960s in my town and throughout rural Ireland. If it is not addressed, towns such as mine will not survive. People went to England and came home at about age 40 to raise their children. I went to school with those children and when they reached the age of 18 years, they left. They have also come home at about age 40 and are now raising their children. Nobody notices or understands this cycle, but it is happening. It is thought great when the people concerned come home, but unfortunately 22 of the most productive and progressive years of their lives have been lost. They have built a life for themselves elsewhere and only come home to retire. This is happening and is not being addressed.

A man working with an agency once said to me he would puke if he saw another report or feasibility study. The only way to deliver a future to rural Ireland is with 10,000 decentralised jobs which should not go to areas which have already been targeted but to areas that have not been and from where many have gone to work in Dublin, Athlone and elsewhere. They should go to my county, Roscommon, and the many like it, although my calls have often fallen on deaf ears.

Jobs should not be given to just one part of a county. Parts of my county such as Ballaghadereen, Castlerea, Strokestown, Boyle and Roscommon town could be radically changed by the decentralisation of part of a Department such as the Department of Agriculture and Food. A cluster-like development could be set up in a county. Workers should be able to move from one area to another for promotions and not have to return to Dublin. They should be able to live in and move around a county.

If the national spatial strategy is adopted, I fear the county system as we know it will change and there will be a redrawing of boundaries. Counties such as Roscommon will not survive. Parts of the county will be included in Sligo, south Roscommon in County Westmeath, east Roscommon in County Longford while Mullingar and west Roscommon will be lumped in with counties Mayo and Galway. While I welcome the report, I recognise the flaws in it.WP leading adjustment

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I have some brief observations to make as I have been, and should be soon, in another place. While I welcome the national spatial strategy, I have some reservations about its implementation, which is where the real problem lies. Nobody can argue with the fact that there is an enormous imbalance between the population in the greater Dublin area and elsewhere. Greater Dublin is now taken to include counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, to which so many dormitory towns are spread out. Its population is over 1.5 million in one large conurbation, almost 40% of the national total, which indicates a high level of imbalance with all its attendant problems.

It is astonishing to me, having grown up in the late 1940s and 1950s when places like Athlone and Boyle were remote, that people now commute from Mullingar and Arklow. There must be something wrong with is. It is obvious that the balance must be redressed and jobs brought back to the areas concerned, if possible. The Minister will know, as Fianna Fáil is a very pragmatic party, that there are great difficulties in managing or controlling an economy or country. It is difficult to direct people where and how to live because they tend to vote with their feet.

It is interesting to note in this regard that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuiv, has apparently won his battle to allow once-off housing developments in a strict manner in the countryside. This goes against the policy suggested by those behind the national spatial strategy. I sympathise with some aspects of what the Minister has said, but it is intolerable that farmers can make their income simply from speculative development and the sale of sites for bungalows. They find various ruses such as claiming a development is for their children when often it is not. There was a classic example of this type of freeloading in the west recently – I believe in Sligo – where a Traveller was accommodated on land given to him for £1 and then sold it for £300,000. More power to him. He was, if the House will forgive the expression, a cute hoor in doing so. However, too much of that kind of thing leads to distortion.

The strategy is an attempt to manage the situation and spread out population and jobs. While the intention is admirable, will it be acted upon and implemented? The Buchanan report came out some 30 years ago. It clearly said Dublin would become even more overloaded unless energy hubs were developed in provincial cities such as Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and so on. That was never done because the politicians lost their nerve at the last minute. They did not want to concentrate resources in a limited number of places because everybody wanted a piece of the action. It looks to me as if that has happened again because, instead of limiting the number of places where really significant resources can be put in, there is a wide scatter effect which is dangerous and could inhibit the entire strategy.

I do not always agree with Mr. Frank McDonald of The Irish Times, but he likened it to Henry IV of France who offered his subjects a chicken in every pot. There are plenty of pots but not enough chickens to go around. The Government would have been wiser to stick with four or five towns, at least in the initial stages, where decent investment could have been made. It must also be sensitive to the nature of Dublin.

The report's authors say that, if all kinds of employment are artificially pushed out of the Dublin area, it may make the entire country uncompetitive. It will be found that competition is not between Dublin and Athlone but between Dublin and Glasgow and Glasgow may win out because it has made greater investment in infrastructure.

I am quite amused by gateways and hubs – there are far too many of them. I was in my native tribelands in the bogs of County Laois at the weekend and travelled through Monasterevin. It was an exceedingly unpleasant experience, not because of any intrinsic disadvantage of Monasterevin but because of the appalling traffic. I laughed when I saw the sign outside the town stating "Monasterevin – twinned with Bulgaria". Most other places are twinned with little towns in Brittany or Normandy but Monasterevin obviously sees itself as a gateway.

I listened with interest to my colleagues who aired their grievances about the plan. This is one of the difficulties with this type of spatial plan. Everybody wants to have his or her constituency included, but it is not practical. A town must have a critical mass of population in order to sustain the investment in education, infrastructure etc. It cannot happen in every area.

It is important, even in these difficult economic times, to continue to invest in infrastructure, particularly the road and rail networks. If, for example, goods are manufactured in Athlone and it proves impossible to transport them to an exit port, the plan will be strangled before it begins. If anything, it makes investment in the road and rail networks more important than ever. I am glad construction of the Dublin Port tunnel appears to be satisfactorily under way. I hope the Government will have the nerve to address the need for an underground railway in Dublin as it is only thing that will relieve congestion in this city.

I wish the Government well in implementing the strategy. As several commentators have observed, the analysis of those who put it together is superbly detailed and precise. I am not convinced the Government has been able to take the necessarily firm line on some of the measures. I hope to be proved wrong, but it seems the country's resources are being spread too thinly over too many areas. This is not being done for reasons of sound strategic planning but because of the culture of clientelism. Every Member wants part of the action in his or her constituency, which is very human and understandable. While I was in County Laois, I heard much moaning and caterwauling that Portlaoise had not been included. While this is understandable, even my friends and connections in my beloved County Laois must put up with it. This is stage one. If these hubs and gateways work, they will lift the entire country. I only fear that we may have spread our resources too thinly.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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I want to correct something Senator Norris said about Monasterevin being twinned with Bulgaria. I think one will find that it is a host town for the Bulgarian athletes participating in the Special Olympics. I do not think Monasterevin would be ambitious enough to twin with a country.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The sign did state it was twinned with Bulgaria.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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That is happening in every host town.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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While it is wonderful that it should do this, I found the sign to be very funny.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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I agree with much of what the Senator said. At the launch of the national spatial strategy, the Taoiseach said: "It is a 20 year strategy designed to enable every place in the country to reach its potential, no matter what its size or what its location". While this is a laudable aspiration, is it realistic? I see the gateways as the premier division and the hubs the first division. I am not sure where that leaves the areas that have not been included. While the plan had a long gestation, I could understand the reason the Government delayed announcing it until after the general election. Areas that have not been included as gateways or hubs are resentful and indignant. The industrial stimulus and infrastructural improvements will happen in specific locations.

The strategy must be looked at in the context of the national development plan which was launched three years ago and planned to spend €50 billion by 2006 in transforming the country's infrastructure. In the context of the budget, the recent Estimates and the imminent accession of new countries to the European Union, from where is the investment going to come? We still have a huge infrastructural deficit. We now know what has happened to parts of the plan. The strategy needs finance and massive investment to provide infrastructure. All we now hear from the Government regarding future economic policy are cutbacks. While it may have been exciting to launch the plan, I wonder how it will materialise.

Most areas are finding it increasingly difficult to secure industrial investment. While we will be pleased to welcome the accession states into the European Union after 2004, we will all be concerned about mobile inward investment which is getting more difficult to secure. It will be even more difficult to secure after 2004 as eastern European countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Poland will prove very attractive to the type of investment we were attracting from the United States. Very few German companies have established in this country since Germany was reunited. While industrial development will be required, I doubt if the finance will be provided for infrastructure.

I am a member of Limerick County Council. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has championed rural development. Sometimes we talk as if one-off houses are not built in rural areas, yet of the 50,000 houses built in the past two years, 36% were one-off in rural locations. This does not suggest that rural Ireland is in decline. Planners are often criticised about decisions. However, they must be sensitised about planning decisions in rural locations. It would be a contradiction if the water supply was polluted, while a large number of one-off houses were built in the countryside. Planners must be conscious of high water tables and the threat of water pollution. We often get involved in arguments with them, but they are probably criticised unfairly when trying to do what is best for the common good. Rural Ireland is not dying which is evident from the dramatic increase in the number of one-off houses in County Limerick. We welcome such an expansion.

As regards decisions made about the plan and infrastructure, I hope the Ministers engage in a think tank. I often wonder about coherence. It seems contradictory to announce the plan after announcing the closure of railway lines such as those between Limerick, Waterford and Rosslare and the Athenry railway line mentioned by my colleagues from the west. We say we want to maintain the current level of rail freight, of which Iarnród Éireann will examine the economics. It may have to make a financial decision under pressure from the Government of the day which may mean closing railway lines which are losing money. That would be a retrograde step. If people set up lead or zinc smelters in this country, they will decide to transport their goods by road rather than by rail for economic reasons. While they should be given every financial encouragement, the planning conditions should stipulate that the material must be transported by rail. That would stop our roads from being clogged up with huge trucks, as happened in the Galmoy case. Freight was transported by road to Cork, although a spur line from Thurles railway station, only eight miles away, would have made it viable to transport it by rail. I am talking about the Lisheen Mine development.

There is a lack of coherence among Departments. It is like a jigsaw with pieces scattered in every direction. We have a national development plan and a national spatial strategy. All parties must pull together and outline a coherent plan rather than working on an ad hoc basis. I hope this happens.

IBEC criticised the national spatial plan because it created too many hubs and gateways. How can it be spread across the country? Will the Government manage to get people out of Dublin around which our road network has been developed? The Dublin commuter belt has been extended to locations such as Carlow, Mullingar, Rochfortbridge and Delvin because of house prices in those areas. We must improve our road network.

The Minister for Finance has said for the past three years that he will make a decision about decentralisation early next year. I hope that when he makes that decision, he will not focus on the gateways and hubs to the detriment of other areas such as Newcastlewest, Kilrush and Listowel which put forward a composite proposal for decentralisation. Given that these areas do not have the engine of industrial development, decentralisation would help to revitalise them. I hope the Minister will look favourably on the proposals and make a rational decision.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte mhór roimh an Aire. Tá mé cinnte go n-aontóidh sé liom gur ábhar an-tábhachtach é seo le plé inniu.

I welcome the debate on the national spatial strategy. I regret it took a long time to publish it and that it was not published before the national development plan, which would have been a more logical and common sense approach. While I apologise for being cynical and sceptical, given that we are behind schedule and over budget in the context of the health strategy and the national development plan, I wonder if we are getting worked up about nothing in relation to the national spatial strategy. I hope I am wrong.

It is an understatement to say people in Carlow are furious about the national spatial strategy. While I understand every town cannot be given hub or gateway status, Carlow was badly treated. It was completely left out of the equation. It confirms my belief, which I mooted during the general election, that Carlow is no longer in the south-east. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, confirmed that it is now part of the greater Dublin area. It has more in common with Kildare, Athy and Portlaoise than with Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny. Perhaps the strategy will give us the opportunity to look at the region which includes Carlow, south Kildare and Portlaoise. If Carlow is taken out of the south-east and put into that region, it might be able to develop.

Carlow has been completely ignored in the south-east. This was brought home to me when the Waterford strategy was launched by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, before the general election. A circle was drawn which stopped just below Carlow. Borris was included as an afterthought. As far as the people of Waterford are concerned, the only part of the south-east which is important is Waterford and a bit of Kilkenny. Carlow is the poor relation. That was blatantly obvious from the diagrams in the report.

I am concerned about Carlow being in the greater Dublin area. While I accept and agree that it has more in common with Dublin than Waterford, I hope we will not be left on the fringes. I welcome the fact that we are included in the greater Dublin area because we will not be treated any worse than we would have been if we had remained in the south-east.

I know the strategy was published last week, but when was the final decision made? Is the rumour correct that Cavan was added at the last minute after intense lobbying? If that is true, my local counterpart in Carlow has serious questions to answer because he said the strategy was decided before the general election. If that is the case, the Government has serious questions to answer about the reason it did not publish the strategy before the general election and waited for six months afterwards? Did the fact that Carlow did not have a hospital work against it in terms of its non-selection as a hub? Surely the Minister of State will agree that Carlow is in a strong position in terms of obtaining one of the two diagnostic centres earmarked under the health strategy. Carlow is one of the fastest growing counties, but it lacks facilities for proper medical care.

Carlow has a new business park, a new industrial development association, with which IDA Ireland is involved, and €13 million has being spent on infrastructure on the outskirts of the town. These are very welcome developments. Like many in Carlow, I am concerned that there could be a negative impact on these developments given that, under the national spatial strategy, IDA Ireland will be breaking its own rules if it brings industry to the town. IDA Ireland should be directing it towards the hubs and gateways, but that will not happen. Will the Minister of State clarify the matter? Like other places, Carlow needs industry but it has been forgotten in recent decades. Will the fact that Carlow is not a hub or a gateway impact severely on the new 70 acre industrial park and the infrastructural improvements which are almost complete? As yet there are no tenants and that is a serious concern to local people.

Carlow Institute of Technology is one of the best in the country and runs more degree courses than its counterpart in Waterford. However, the latter institution has been trying to undermine the former at every opportunity of late. Waterford Institute of Technology will be upgraded to university status under this strategy. While that is welcome, will it happen at the expense of Carlow?

Kilkenny is a hub town which does not have a third level institution and I am terrified that it might obtain one. I would not be in favour of that. Before the general election, Deputy Hogan and I urged that instead of competing we should pool existing resources. While Carlow has two third level institutions, Kilkenny is far ahead of us in terms of health and it makes more sense to take a complementary rather than a competitive approach. If we took the latter course, we would end up with worse services in the area in general.

Last week it was announced that towns which were not given hub or gateway status would be considered for decentralisation. That was denied afterwards. Will the Minister of State clarify whether a town which is not a hub or a gateway will be automatically ruled out in terms of the decentralisation of Government Departments? Carlow is being informed by Ministers on a daily basis that it is ideally suited to decentralisation, but nothing is being done for us. I am concerned that all we will get out of the national spatial strategy is a motorway which will go through the county but which will be of no benefit to it. Such a motorway would be more beneficial to Waterford and Dublin.

A motorway is only the first step in a larger process and I hope it can be used to improve the infrastructure of the country and to attract industry. Before the election, the Progressive Democrats in south Kildare described the motorway as a complete waste of money in light of current economic circumstances and said it would not be built. Will the Minister of State clarify the position? These are serious questions to which people in Carlow would like answers.

Over two years ago the Irish Academy of Engineers recommended Carlow as a gateway town and people cannot understand why it was ignored on this occasion. I ask the Minister of State to explain the steps the Department will take to rectify these circumstances to ensure that towns like Carlow do not end up becoming dormitories, with people living in them who are not from the area and who do not want to be there. Such people live in these towns only because they cannot afford houses in Dublin. If it achieves only one thing, the national spatial strategy should resolve the huge problems of Dublin. If it does not do so, towns like Mullingar, Carlow and others within a 60 mile radius of Dublin will be badly affected. I was amazed at the steady stream of cars on the road when I travelled to Dublin at 6 a.m. the other morning. It was in evidence again in the evening and that raises serious issues about quality of life.

I thank the Minister of State for being in the House. I hope my contribution will highlight some of the issues causing grave concern to the people of Carlow.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the spatial strategy, the introduction of which I welcome. However, I agree with Senator Browne that it is a pity it did not come a little earlier. The delay in publishing the strategy until after the general election rather than, as promised, before it has led to even more cynicism among the public. I concur with what Senator Browne said about publishing the strategy after the national development plan. It would have been more logical to have the strategy first in order to put a framework in place for the spending of funds.

This is a worthy strategy document and 99% of its contents must meet with agreement. As a representative of the south-east, however, there are a number of areas about which I am concerned. On the Order of Business this morning, I raised the matter of the roll-out of broadband in the south-east. In that context, a very interesting paragraph in the spatial strategy, which states that broadband facilities should be available in all regions within three years, is of relevance. If this morning's newspaper report that the south-east is not to obtain broadband within that period, the strategy document is not correct. We were told that the Serpant programme, which was to be put in place by the south-east regional authority, has been put on hold indefinitely because of lack of funding. This despite continuous assurances by the Government before and after the election. Before the last election the Minister for Public Enterprise, who is now the Leader of the House, promised that the 19 broadband network programmes committed to would be carried out. I am disappointed by what is another cutback by stealth which flies in the face of what we have been presented with in the national spatial strategy.

Senator Browne referred to a number of issues that are of great importance to the south-east. Section 3.7 of the strategy concerns transport and one of the regions to which it refers is the south-east. Particular emphasis is placed on public transport and road infrastructure and it is quite clear that the national development plan, in respect of the new M9 from Waterford to Dublin, is running considerably behind schedule. On local radio last week, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government condemned objectors to the road in Kilkenny and said they were delaying the building of the road when it is clear the Government is at fault for squandering the money that should have paid for it.

It is not long since the House held a debate on rail transport. CIE is proposing that a number of railway lines in the south-east be closed, including the Rosslare-Dublin line and the Rosslare-Waterford-Limerick line. In the context of the spatial strategy, it is important that the interurban route between Dublin and Waterford and the internal regional routes be retained and upgraded rather than closed. If the spatial strategy is to be successful, which we all hope it will, the rail links that are in place should be maintained.

The spatial strategy contains an extensive reference to forestry. However, this flies in the face of the recent fairly drastic cutbacks in the Book of Estimates in the forestry budget. The figures released appear to suggest only half the amount of forestry planted this year will be planted next year. This is another example of the detrimental impact of the current fiscal position on the implementation of the national spatial strategy.

I welcome the publication of the strategy but I have a reservation, as expressed by Senator Browne, about the non-inclusion of Carlow town, which is expanding rapidly. As one who drives through Carlow to get home I am aware of the level of growth which has taken place there in recent years. Given the strong links between Carlow and Kilkenny, provision could have been made to include Carlow town as part of a gateway or a hub.

While the spatial strategy is welcome I am concerned about the current financial position due to the mismanagement of public finances and the severely detrimental impact this will have on its implementation. While we could have done with the spatial strategy five or six years ago, nobody could have foreseen the boom of recent years. Since it has been published it is important to implement it. I hope the Minister for Finance and his Government colleagues will allocate the necessary resources to ensure the implementation of the strategy because it is vitally important for the future of the economy.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of the Environment and Local Government; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a chur in iúil don Teach, a thug am dom féin agus do na Seanadóirí labhairt ar an gceist thábhachtach seo. Gabhaim mo bhuíochas do na Seanadóirí go léir a ghlac pairt sa díospóireacht ar ábhar atá tábhachtach don tír go léir, idir Bhaile Átha Cliath agus an ceantar thart ar an gcathair agus do na réigiúin ach go háirithe.

I thank the House for deciding to devote this afternoon to a debate on the national spatial strategy. Anyone who reads the strategy will realise it is a culmination of many years of hard work. It was not decided on and discussed at length only within Departments or interdepartmental committees. There was an opportunity for many to become involved by way of submissions. It is gratifying to look at the number of submissions received from local authorities, the county councils and town councils, and from regional assemblies, one from the BMW region and the south and east region, the institutes of technology and the chambers of commerce. Everyone who has an interest in regional development had an input to the strategy. Irrespective of what decision the Government made it would not please everyone. It had to be objective in its view and took its decision in the best interests of the country. The gateways almost created themselves because of the critical mass.

The whole country will benefit as a result of the spatial strategy. It is important to reiterate the principal objective of the national spatial strategy. Its purpose is to achieve a balanced development of the country together with a better quality of life for all our people, more vibrant urban and rural areas and a better environment for all. We want to ensure all regions continue to benefit from the economic growth and success which has been created by the previous Government and will be continued by this Government during the next five years.

To ensure continued economic and social development there should be a better spatial distribution throughout the country. The spatial strategy has a number of key messages, one of which is the better spread of job opportunities. It will continue to sustain Dublin's role because, regardless of the part of the country we come from, we must realise Dublin is still the engine of the economy. However, we want to strengthen the drawing power to other areas and to bring people, employment and services closer together. This document is about people, places and potential. It will ensure a better quality of life and less congestion in the capital city. We hope there will be less long distance commuting to and from places of work and that there will be better access to health, education, leisure and various other services. In short, it will create a better Ireland, a better place in which to live. We will have a coherent national planning framework and ensure care is taken of our environment. I shall refer later to the one-off houses. I appreciate that matter as much as if not more than anyone here. The strategy will make the most of our cities, towns and rural areas.

The strategy includes a pioneering and comprehensive analysis on how Ireland has developed in the past 20 years. It is based on research and public consultation while processing and preparing the national spatial strategy. International evidence shows that to achieve balanced development, strategic places must have the appropriate population size and mix of development which will trigger the critical mass to drive development. I come from one of the more peripheral parts of Europe. While we would all like to have a gateway in our town or village we must be realistic. I will be parochial for a moment – and that is not new for a politician. Living on the Atlantic will be of benefit in regard to the greater Derry-Letterkenny area. There is no plan to suck everyone inside the circle, whether to Letterkenny, Sligo, Dundalk, the triangle in the midlands or any of the other cities included in the national spatial strategy. All towns and villages will benefit as a result of the strategy.

The rural areas will play to the various strengths. The spatial strategy emphasises that to achieve balanced regional development critical mass at the gateway and hub level must be complemented by other towns and villages growing to their potential. Towns and villages will better support their local, rural and urban, populations by becoming the focus of investment, economic activity and housing development. Dublin is an example of how this happens. Developments in Dublin have brought benefits to all of the surrounding areas, including the counties around it. Counties Meath, Kildare, Wicklow and Louth have all benefited. Areas in gateway regions will benefit in similar fashion. Gateway benefits to surrounding areas will mirror those Dublin has brought to its surrounding areas.

The strategy will be driven by the Government which is totally committed to its success. Some Members suggested it should have been in place before the national development plan. I do not agree. Does that suggestion imply that the national development plan should only focus on the hub and gateway areas identified? The national development plan is one for the entire country, whether it concerns itself with Inishowen, Dingle or areas along the Border. The whole country will benefit from it.

Some of the Members who made this suggestion may not be long enough in the House to remember when the Government was making a case to EUROSTAT for the regionalisation of the country which some of their party members did not support at the time. By not doing so they supported greater development in Dublin and along the east coast. My party took a courageous decision at the time and supported regionalisation. We took that position for the same reason that we now have many of the gateways in the BMW region which has been deprived for many years and has to catch up. We now have positive discrimination in its favour. The very ones who suggest it should be done another way were not in favour of regionalisation and are now not in favour of positive discrimination. It is important that this follows from the national development plan rather than the reverse.

It has been suggested that there is no funding available. The national development plan will be delivered by the Government which put it in place. Listening to some one would think there was no money to do anything. There has been an increase of 14.4% in Government spending this year. If the Government did not do what it is doing to put our financial affairs in order, we would be back in the unfortunate situation which faced us in 1987 when the national debt doubled from £12 billion to £25 billion. While there was ample opportunity in those days to put infrastructure in place, the money was spent on other areas. We will spend the money on infrastructure, but it will be over a number of years.

The recent developments towards peace have been remarkable. I acknowledge the contributions of members of various parties, in particular a Member of this House. We are now benefiting from the efforts of the peace initiative. The International Fund for Ireland played an important role in the Border region and the peace and reconciliation born from the peace process. Europe contributed 75% of the funding while half of the remaining 25% came from Dublin with the other half coming from London-Belfast. A few weeks ago I had the honour of launching the INTERREG programme which will play an important role in the BMW region.

Reference was made to one-off housing which I support. I am glad to see so much support on the issue. While none of us wants to spoil our counties, we support the right of families who have lived in an area for generations to build homes. We agree, however, that the broad parameters of the planning laws should be taken into consideration. This matter was discussed in the Dáil some weeks ago. The debate has become polarised in recent times.

The policy is outlined in the strategy and it is important that all local authorities, planning offices, An Bord Pleanála and An Taisce take it into consideration. The strategy sets out a rural housing settlement framework which has a number of objectives, including to sustain and renew established rural communities, to strengthen the established structure of villages and smaller settlements, to ensure key assets in rural areas are protected, to support quality of life and economic vitality and to ensure rural settlement policies take account of and are appropriate to local circumstances.

There has been great interest expressed in decentralisation. A number of Senators fear that unless a town is a hub or gateway, it will not be considered for decentralisation. Being a gateway or hub does not give a town a right to automatic selection for decentralisation. All towns that have made submissions will be considered objectively by the Minister for Finance and the Government next year. Possibly, people do not wish to hear this but every town will be considered.

I am pleased that reference has been made in the national development plan to the Gaeltacht and the Gaeltacht regions, tobar na Gaeilge, which, although in the most remote and peripheral parts of the country, have an integral part to play. A number of questions were raised about hospitals and diagnostic centres etc. As they are matters for the Minister for Health and Children, I will draw them to his attention. Any other matters raised not relevant to the national spatial strategy or my Department will be brought to the attention of the Minister concerned.

I am pleased with the welcome the strategy has received from all sides of the House. Everybody realises the necessity to put it in place. It is a long-term programme that will not happen overnight. For it to be successful all parties and stakeholders must work together in a co-ordinated fashion. Local and regional authorities, Government agencies and, what I term the engine of growth, the private sector will all play an important role in ensuring its success.

Mo bhuíochas arís, a Chathaoirligh, don deis labhartha anseo inniu. Mo bhuíochas freisin do na Seanadóirí go léir a ghlac páirt sa diospóireacht tábhachtach seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh deis labhartha againn arís amach anseo.

Jim Higgins (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday, 10 December 2002, at 2.30 p.m.