Submission to the Review of Sustainable Mobility Policy

The WDC recently made a submission to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) consultation on the Review of Sustainable Mobility Policy and associated background papers.

One of the functions of the WDC is regional policy analysis.  The WDC seeks to ensure that government policy reflects the needs of, and maximises the potential of, the Western Region[1] in such areas as infrastructure, natural resources, enterprise and regional and rural development.  It also tracks the implementation of policies and recommends adjustments as appropriate.

As the Western Region is very rural[2] the WDC submission has a particular focus on the needs of, and opportunities for, more rural and peripheral areas.

The Sustainable Mobility Policy consultation was organised around a number of specific topic issues with background papers prepared by DTTAS for each of these.  In this post some of the key points made in the submission for each topic are highlighted but the full submission can be read here.

Active travel

Active travel tends to be less popular in rural areas and in smaller urban settlements.  There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • The need to travel longer distances to employment or services
  • A lack of walking and cycling facilities
  • Motorised transport travelling at higher average speeds giving rise to concerns about personal safety
  • Greater exposure to wind and rain
  • Lack of artificial lighting meaning that many journeys are difficult in the hours of darkness
  • Finally, less congestion and more predicable travel times in rural and small urban areas also reduce the incentive to walk or cycle.

Despite these issues Active Travel options should be more available and promoted in rural and small towns so that the proportion of active journeys is increased to the benefit of both the individual travellers and the wider community.

Normalising walking and cycling as viable travel options in rural areas is important.  They shouldn’t be considered unusual, risky or the preserve of a small minority.  This normalisation will of course occur as participation increases, but also as the infrastructure for active travel is increased and the options are more visible and safer.

 

Climate Change Challenge 

Addressing the decarbonisation of transport and travel in rural regions is complex. Rural people are more reliant on car based transport, they have less available public transport and tend to travel greater distances.  Rural dwellers’ transport and travel patterns need to be central to our Sustainable Mobility Policy.

The rural nature of the Western Region has implications for how we reduce transport emissions, but the reasons we travel are also very important, both in terms of options for reducing journey numbers and types, and the distances and nature of the journeys.

The three pronged ‘Avoid, Shift, Improve’ (ASI) framework is a hierarchy that emphasises reducing journeys in the first place, achieving modal shift, and improving mode efficiencies[3] and should be used for rural transport planning.  By thinking of each of these (ASI) in relation to rural journeys we can begin to focus on workable solutions

The WDC is currently engaged in a project on the transition to a low carbon economy in the rural Western Region (under Action 160 in the Climate Action Plan) and transport is one of the key elements under consideration.

 

Congestion

The costs of congestion are significant and varied, impacting on efficiency, economics and societal and individual wellbeing. Within the Western Region the larger towns and Galway city are particularly affected. It is important that congestion is eased, both to reduce the economic and social costs being incurred, and also to ensure the Region and its growth centres can deliver on the ambitious regional growth targets set out in Project Ireland 2040.

Within the Western Region, congestion in Galway city is of most concern.  The Galway Transport Strategy has identified various sustainable mobility measures which need to be expedited. Funding from national Government must be made available to ensure speedy delivery.  There needs to be an expansion of commuter rail services on the existing Athenry-Oranmore-Galway city route. This will relieve congestion and help promote other sustainable transport (walking and cycling) within Galway city. Investment is needed to double track this line, provide passing bays in the short term and procure additional carriages.

Regional towns will need support and investment in devising and activating sustainable mobility town plans. Support from the expertise available within the NTA and local authorities should be made available.

The WDC has been active in the area of remote working (previously termed e-work and telework) for many years, researching the practice, as well as operating an e-work policy for over two decades. We have published various papers including a recent blogpost which identifies the most recent evidence which suggests that that 18% of workers declared they worked from home.  See the blogpost for more detail.  The success of initiatives variously called e-working spaces/ co-working spaces/ hubs also suggests e-working is on the increase. These can provide similar benefits to home working in reducing commuting distance and congestion.

 

Land Use Planning and Transport Planning

The integration of land use and planning is important in generating more sustainable mobility.  Many people working in congested centres, especially Dublin, have to endure long commute times. If more employment was located in regional centres then it is likely many would have shorter commute times, with much less investment and funding required to ease congested networks in the Greater Dublin Area for example.

One of the important contributory factors to the recent and current pattern of development is the focus on transport investment to and from the capital with relatively minimal investment in other inter-city routes. Some of the current congestion or ‘over development’ of Dublin is in part a legacy issue relating to the priority given to improving the radial road links (and rail links) between the provincial cities and Dublin which ensured that Dublin was the most accessible city while at the same time there were relatively very poor intraregional links between each of the other cities, stifling development within and between the other regions.

 

Regulation of Public Transport

The remit of the National Transport Authority (NTA) which confers additional responsibilities within the GDA should not be confined to the GDA but should be extended to the entire country. The particular additional responsibilities allow the NTA to more effectively deliver on the transport needs of the GDA and this overall, comprehensive role is needed throughout the country.

Given the role of the NTA in delivering the Rural Transport programme, the investment programme in regional cities, the accessibility programme, and other transport programmes, it already has a significant role and understanding of transport issues outside the GDA. What is needed is the capacity to deliver overall strategic direction so as to enhance and integrate services across the country and beyond the GDA.

The background document notes that the majority of bus and rail services are PSO routes. These are ‘financially unviable services which are provided as a public good’. In this discussion it would be useful to note that this is not unusual, that most public transport services arose Europe are in receipt of public funding. The services provide wider economic benefits which are often not quantified but are no doubt significant.

 

Public Transport in Rural Ireland

Rural areas (depending on the definition used) can include some significant towns which have different transport patterns and needs to the more sparsely populated rural areas.  It is important that these differences are recognised in planning for rural transport and that one approach is not assumed to cover all rural issues.

Most journeys are made to reach services of varying kinds.  People living in rural areas tend to be at a greater distance from services than their urban counterparts and so the journeys made tend to be longer and more car based and of course those without access to a car are particularly disadvantaged.   Greater distance to services tends to reduce options for travel and in particular, given the lack of public transport and the distance to public transport services, increases reliance on car travel in rural areas[4].  There are opportunities and challenges in providing public transport in rural areas, some of which are noted here:

  • Existing public transport like school bus services and other transport services (health) should be open to all rural dwellers, making the most of the existing services.
  • Where a service exists bus stops, signage and information  should be available including covered bus shelters (discussed more in the Active travel section of this submission)
  • Bike parking stops which is secure and dry should be provided at rail stations and key bus (discussed more in the Active travel section of this submission)
  • An Information app on availability/ timing would be useful. Sometimes it can be difficult to find information about an existing service or predict when it might arrive.
  • If a phone service is used to provide information about the transport service or to allow for demand response this needs to be staffed daily ideally from 7am to 7pm. If you cannot rely on being able to contact the service to book  or check timing the service will not be used to its potential.

 

Statistics and Trends

There seems to be a shortage of data on public transport provided by private operators.  These account for a significant proportion of scheduled services between cities and towns in the Western Region but there is little data on passenger numbers, frequency etc.  This can sometimes lead to underestimation of the use of public transport not provided by Bus Éireann or Irish Rail.

Many journeys are multi modal, and yet there is very little information on such journeys with the main mode often being the only information gathered.  Better data on multi modal journeys would allow for infrastructure and services to be planned taking it into account.  Similarly, with better understanding of the roles of different modes in different journey types, the more sustainable modes can be encouraged as elements of a journey.

 

Priorities

There has long been a focus on sustainable travel in Dublin, but less focus on other cities (e.g. Galway) and other urban centres (such as Sligo and Ennis).  Likewise in small towns it is not prioritised or is included as an add-on.  Solutions may not be well designed or not attractive to users or may not be integrated so that they are not practical for users.  Finding out what works in smaller urban centres and making good investments is important.

There is a dearth of sustainable travel options and solutions available for rural areas, and if we are to reduce the carbon intensity of rural travel there needs to be a clear focus on finding solutions in rural areas, piloting infrastructural investments in rural areas and small towns and trying novel approaches to encouraging sustainable travel.  We need to find out what works in rural areas in relation to lift sharing, public transport use and active travel so potential solutions can be developed, then tested, learned from, and put in place elsewhere.

 

The full submission from the WDC is available here.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There are seven counties under the WDC remit Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare

[2] Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more. Using the definition in Ireland 2040 the National Planning Framework, 80% of people in Western Region live outside of towns of 10,000.

[3] See more discussion in the NESC paper Advancing the Low-Carbon Transition in Irish Transport

[4] Discussed more here https://wdcinsights.wordpress.com/2019/12/20/why-do-we-travel-distance-to-rural-services-and-the-need-for-rural-journeys/

Reprioritising and Updating Transport Policy and Investment

Recently, there have been a few publications which focus on the need to reprioritise policy and investment across various aspects of Irish transport infrastructure and services.

The Irish Exporters Association (IEA) has published a paper entitled Building a Transport infrastructure that fosters Irish exports to the world, see here. The IEA, whose focus is on supporting Irish exporters and ensuring efficient international transport access, sets out policies and recommendations which they believe are necessary to more effectively support exporters across Ireland. From a Western Region context, a few of these are particularly relevant.

Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC)

The IEA believes that the Atlantic Economic Corridor needs to be supported through improved connectivity from the North West to the South West of Ireland. The IEA sees the AEC and Ireland’s regions as an important counterbalance to Dublin and the transport infrastructure needs to more effectively support Ireland’s agri-food and Life Sciences industries along with all other industrial clusters located there.

Rail Freight development

The IEA are asking for policy supports to move more freight by rail, noting the relatively tiny share of traffic carried by rail in Ireland (0.9%) compared to an EU average of 17% in 2016. The Western Region is the source of most rail freight in Ireland. The IEA is asking for supports such as reduced track access charges for rail freight, which is a practice common across Europe. This is discussed further in a report commissioned by the WDC and available here. Apart from the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (rail freight can reduce the carbon footprint by 70%), the other significant driver is the huge degree of congestion which generates significant costs, highlighted in a report discussed further below.

Ports

The IEA believe that with Dublin Port operating at or near capacity, further upgrading and diversifying Ireland’s export gateways must be a strategic Government priority. This need is compounded by Brexit. The IEA believe the Government should further develop Ireland’s regional seaports to provide exporters across Ireland with viable, cost efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin port. They welcome the proposed redevelopment of both Rosslare and Galway Ports.

Airports and air cargo

Similar to the concentration of traffic through Dublin Port, the IEA recognises the concentration of air cargo through Dublin airport. It believes that cost-efficient, viable and well-connected alternatives should be promoted in the West and South to facilitate high-frequency aviation connections to key European and global cargo and business hubs and ensure sustainable economic growth nationally.

This echoes the views expressed by the WDC in its submission to the recent consultation on the Regional Airports Programme, arguing for the need to update transport policy generally and aviation policy specifically to reflect the overarching objectives of Project Ireland 2040, see the WDC Submission here.

The CSO Aviation statistics, see here, highlight the trend of the increasing concentration of air passengers travelling through Dublin airport compared to other airports. For example, in 2014, Dublin accounted for 81.9% of all passengers (total = 26.5 million), compared to 85.6% in 2018 (Total = 36.6 million). This represents an increase of 9.6 million passengers in 4 years with Dublin Airport accounting for 95.2% of total passenger growth in that period. So along with a significant increase in total air passenger numbers, there is an ever-increasing share travelling through Dublin airport. The WDC considers that with Dublin Airport now operating at or near capacity, and capacity available at other airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock and Shannon, cost-efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin should be utilised and promoted.

Level of concentration unusual in a European context

Just last week a report by Copenhagen Economics entitled Assessment of aviation policy as a driver of economic development in the West and Mid West of Ireland, see here noted the particularly high concentration of passenger traffic in Dublin relative to the other airports in Ireland which is especially high when compared to other small, open economies in Northern Europe. According to this report, the concentration of Dublin’s share of passenger traffic in Ireland represents the second highest, behind only Schiphol in the Netherlands. However, while Dublin’s share continues to increase that of Schiphol has been decreasing over time. This is partly due to Dutch aviation policy, which sets maximum aircraft movements through Schiphol, and actively encourages flights via other national airports in the Netherlands. Dutch aviation policy recognises that airport development is viewed as being part of regional development outlined in the Randstad 2040 Strategic Agenda. The report calls for initiatives to improve Shannon Airport’s global connectivity. A better capacity utilisation at Shannon Airport (in addition to other airports outside of the Capital) will enhance the growth capacity of the West and Mid West regions, and at the same time alleviate pressure on Dublin without requiring costly infrastructure investments.

Budget 2020

It seems Government maybe listening and in Budget 2020, a marketing support fund was announced, comprising approximately €10 million over three years to Tourism Ireland which is to be made available to support the regional airports outside Dublin, including Shannon Airport see here. This is a small but welcome development but more policy supports will be needed to ensure that other airports can grow their numbers and their share of national traffic which in turn will help them to become self-sustaining.

The Costs of Congestion

Finally, recent reports by the Department of Transport indicate that rebalancing traffic away from an increasingly congested Greater Dublin Area (GDA), will not only support the goals and objectives of Project Ireland 2040 but will also make financial and economic sense! The research measured the costs of congestion, specifically around the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) see here. Some of the congestion in the GDA and the M50 are contributed to by passengers and freight originating in the catchments of ports and airports in the West and South such as Shannon and Knock but who currently travel through the GDA to access services at Dublin Port and airport.

The reports estimate the annual value of time lost to road users due to aggravated congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), as compared to where the road network is performing well. The cost of time lost due to aggravated congestion is measured at €358 million in 2012 and is forecasted to rise to €2.08 billion per year in 2033.

These estimated costs do not include other costs, for example, increased fuel consumption and other vehicle operating costs, or increases in vehicle emissions or the impacts of congestion on journey quality. Additionally, congestion also has an impact on the wider economy, and Ireland’s competitiveness. All else equal, high levels of congestion will reduce the attractiveness of a location to work and live in, as well as directly affecting the cost of transporting goods and services. These costs are not captured by this study, and as such, the total costs of aggravated congestion are likely to be higher than those estimated in this report.

Conclusions

It is clear that the benefits of supporting better transport infrastructure and services across ports, airports, the rail and road network outside of the GDA and specifically along the Western Region and Atlantic Economic Corridor makes sense from an economic, social and financial perspective. Implementation of Government policy already set out in Project Ireland 2040 through the NDP and the updating of various sectoral policies needs to take place to give effect to these policies and to a better Ireland for all its regions.

 

Deirdre Frost

The Benefits as well as the Costs of the National Broadband Plan

There are significant benefits associated with the planned rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), though the recent media coverage seemed to focus largely on the costs.

A review of newspaper headlines over the period following the announcement of the preferred bidder and the likely cost of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), suggests that the overall benefit is significantly lower than the cost. For example some of the headlines included;

  • Its wrong to endorse broadband plan and ignore officials’ warning on costs, Independent, 12 May 2019
  • National Broadband Plan, labelled ‘the worst deal ever seen’ Irish Examiner, 13 May 2019
  • Government to press ahead with €3bn broadband plan despite cost warnings, 26 April, 2019

But in reality, the cost benefit analysis (CBA) conducted by consultants on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, found that under all three different scenarios considered, the benefits outweigh the costs. The CBA also made clear that many benefits were not included in the computations and some of the benefits were estimated on a very conservative basis.

The Costs and Benefits of the National Broadband Plan

The table below shows the costs and benefits anticipated under three different scenarios; pessimistic, central and optimistic. There is a detailed analysis showing how each of the costs and benefits are computed, all of which is published and available for download on the Department of Communications website, see here  (825KB)

Costs: The total project costs include both costs to the State and costs to the operator.

Benefits include benefits to residents and enterprises. The residential benefits refer to the residents who will benefit from the NBP through various savings which will be made in communications services, time savings through online access of services as well as time and cost savings from remote working.

The enterprise benefits refer both to benefits to all firms, those within the NBP area and those outside it.

For firms outside the NBP area one of the largest benefits to be realised is that many of their staff (who live in the NBP area) will now have better broadband access enabling productivity gains from remote/tele-working.

For firms within the NBP area, all SMEs will benefit. Farm enterprises will be able to engage in smart farming, while all SMEs will benefit from higher upload and download speeds to serve their clients and suppliers more efficiently.

Scope of Costs and Benefits

Table 1 shows that under all three scenarios the benefits of the NBP exceed the costs. In the analysis, the entire range of costs have been considered and furthermore they are capped and there are various clawback mechanisms to ensure limited and capped costs to the State.

The benefits that have been measured are just some of the range and a whole range of benefits have not been included. As the CBA report notes, in including and profiling benefits, the consultants adopted a deliberately conservative approach to ensure benefits were not overstated. As a result, there are important categories of benefits which are not quantified and therefore not included in the CBA analysis. Table 2 below provides an overview of these benefits and examples of how households and enterprises in the NBP area may benefit.

Measuring benefits – Other international examples

In making the case for various state supports and state aid for broadband investment, other countries have also grappled with how to measure and capture benefits. While investment in fibre networks can be evaluated in a similar fashion to investment in other infrastructure, technological innovation and new product and service developments are continually extending the range of benefits from investment in broadband infrastructure generally and fibre deployment in particular. Consideration of these other benefits is not new and other countries have valued the benefits of fibre rollout across various sectors.

For example, research undertaken in Sweden provides some economic calculations on additional returns to fibre which need to be captured in evaluation. In Sweden, higher rents are charged for homes with fibre connectivity. Tenants pay an extra €5.50 per month for a home with a fibre connection and this is valued at €267 million per year for all fibre connected homes, which yields €185.6 million per annum return on investment.

Investment in fibre networks can also reduce telecommunications costs to the user, for example the Stockholm Regional Council (regional government) reduced its telecommunications costs by 50% following deployment of the fibre network. This is attributed to increased efficiency and greater competition with more telecommunication operators providing services on the high capacity fibre network.

The development of eHealth technologies including remote monitoring and diagnosis will provide opportunities to deliver some healthcare direct to the community rather than through hospitals. Community care is generally significantly less expensive than hospital care. The greater bandwidth and symmetrical (upload and download) speeds with fibre networks can support those applications requiring very good upload and download speeds. As many of these applications such as eHealth are still being developed, it is difficult to estimate their full value and benefit.

At a wider economy level, the OECD has examined the benefits arising to other economic sectors (transport, health, education and electricity) of a national ‘fibre to the home’ network. The analysis examines the cost of deploying ‘fibre to the home’ across different OECD countries, including Ireland, and has estimated that the combined savings in each of the four sectors over a 10 year period could justify the cost of building a national ‘fibre to the home’ network. These examples are outlined in the WDC report, Connecting the West, Next Generation Broadband in the Western Region, see here (1.5MB).

Measuring the benefits of State investment should also take account of the impact on other Government policy objectives. More balanced regional and rural development and greater regional economic growth are important Government policy objectives.

State Aid

The Telecoms sector just like most other economic sectors are subject to strict EU State Aid Rules. State aid is subject to very strict criteria, one of which is that there is market failure. In the NBP areas, defined according to a detailed mapping process which was undertaken as part of the requirements for State aid, it is clear that no commercial deployment of high speed broadband has been or is likely to occur. This is then a case of market failure. Just as with other utility provision (transport, water, energy) the State intervenes where commercial provision does not occur.

One of the other criteria for State aid is that the aid serves an Objective of Common Interest. The European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) is an objective of common interest to which Ireland has committed and this sets out a minimum of 30Mbps download for all homes and businesses by 2020. Given the increasing demand for higher speeds the EU Commission has revised upwards the target for member states which is now to achieve a basic service of 100 Mbps for all households by 2025. This objective and need to reduce the current digital divide complies with State aid requirements.

Conclusions

The NBP has been subject to probably the most extensive, thorough and comprehensive evaluation both within various Government Departments as well as across the wider public domain.

When the benefits exceed the costs, and the costs are capped while the benefits that are measured are only partial and conservatively estimated then the results of the CBA are positive and clearly make the case to proceed with the investment.

The full report on the benefits from the NBP (February 2019), is available for download on the Department of Communications website, available here (2.5MB).

The NBP Cost Benefit Analysis report (April 2019), is available for download for the Department of Communications, see here  (825KB).

 

 

Deirdre Frost

Smaller Labour Catchments across the Western Region

Travel to Work Areas and Labour Catchments

Analysis of travel to work data can be used to identify the geographic catchment from which a town draws its workforce, otherwise known as its labour catchment. Measurement of labour markets based on Travel to Work Areas (TTWAs) has been well established in the UK for many years, helping to inform various public policies ranging from employment to transport provision. Companies and large employers use TTWAs to help identify optimal locations to access labour supply.

The use of TTWAs is less well established in Ireland, and where used has largely been focussed on the larger cities especially Dublin. There has generally been little focus on labour catchments in other centres or more rural regions.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has worked with the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO) to examine the labour catchments of towns across the Western Region based on Census of Population data 2006 and 2016. The town labour catchments show that area from which a town draws most of its labour supply; each catchment is based on the inclusions of Electoral Divisions (EDs) that are assigned to a town, based on commuting to work flows.

Last year the WDC published the findings on the labour catchments of the principal towns of the seven counties of the Western Region (Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon). The full report Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments is available for download here (14.2MB). Each of the individual town reports are also available to download separately (Galway City, Sligo Town, Ennis,  Letterkenny, Castlebar, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roscommon).

The WDC is now publishing the findings of the other smaller catchments across the Western Region. This is the first time such detailed labour market analyses have been undertaken for the smaller centres across the Western Region. These data and findings can inform local and regional economic development and help support appropriate policies to ensure optimal local and regional development.

Smaller Catchments

The WDC identifies 26 labour catchments, which complement the 7 labour catchments of the principal towns in each of the counties which were published in 2018, see above.

In these 26 publications, the WDC draws on Census 2016 POWCAR (Place of Work Census of Anonymised Records) data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region.

These 26 smaller catchments provide insights into the travel to work patterns of workers living there which are then used to generate labour catchments which show the geographic area from which each town draws most of its workers. Each town’s labour catchment has many more workers living there than the Census measure of the town’s resident workforce and it is a better measure of labour supply. This is particularly useful when considering employment and investment decisions.

Socio-economic profiles

Each of the reports identify the place of work of the resident workforce and provides detailed analysis of the socio-economic profile of workers providing information on age, gender, education levels, and sector of employment. There are comparisons with the rest of the Western Region and the State Average. There is also trend analyses indicating the extent of change between 2006 and 2016.

For ease of presentation the 26 smaller catchment reports are presented by County. Below are links to each of the 26 reports. In practice labour catchments extend across county boundaries, indeed that is one of the rationales for considering labour catchments rather than administrative boundaries; people travel to work regardless of county boundaries and these patterns and catchments provide a better evidence base for informing policy.

Some key points include:

  • Labour Supply: All the town labour catchments have significantly more people at work than the Census population at work for that town and have therefore access to a larger labour supply than normal Census definitions would indicate.
  • Profile of ‘Rural’ employment: The profile of employment in these smaller centres provide important insights into ‘rural’ employment, which is much are complex and varied than the perception of rural as largely agricultural employment.
  • Trends: Changes over time, in both place of work and the socio-economic characteristics of workers indicate little change in the geography of labour catchments but much change in the profile of resident workers, most notably in their age and education levels.

County Clare

The two labour catchments within Co. Clare have both recorded an increase in workers resident in the catchments. The Shannon labour catchment is concentrated around the Shannon Free Zone and Shannon Airport and is geographically compact. The Kilrush labour catchment is more extensive and now incorporates a previously separate Kilkee labour catchment. In both there is evidence of longer distances travelled to work than previously.

County Donegal

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Donegal, reflecting the large size of the county, its geography with an extensive border both with Northern Ireland and the sea, and the relatively small size of some of the catchments.

Of the 8 labour catchments, 5 recorded a decline in the number of resident workers in the decade between 2006 and 2016. The three that recorded an increase in resident workers are Donegal, Dungloe and Carndonagh,  illustrating that some more remote areas are experiencing growth.

Each report identifies the top 10 work destinations for residents living in each labour catchment and the extent of cross border commuting is presented.

County Galway

There are 4 smaller catchments located within Co. Galway and just one, Gort labour catchment, recorded a decrease in the number of workers living there over the decade 2006-2016. Clifden, Tuam and Loughrea labour catchments recorded increases of varying degrees. The data presented also shows the extent of commuting between catchments, for example from Tuam, Loughrea and Gort labour catchments to Galway city.

County Leitrim

Apart from the county town labour catchment of Carrick-on-Shannon, there is just one smaller catchment located within Co. Leitrim, namely Manorhamilton. The number of resident workers in the Manorhamilton labour catchment increased over the ten year period and there is data to show more people are now working in Manorhamilton . The influence of some key employers is evident. Data on dross border commuting is also presented.

County Mayo

There are 8 smaller catchments located within Co. Mayo. Just two of the eight recorded a decline in the numbers of resident workers between the period of 2006 and 2016, these were Belmullet and the Charlestown/Knock Airport catchment. The other 6 recorded increases of varying degrees from 31% increase in the Westport labour catchment to an increase of 2.4% for the Ballina labour catchment. The most important places of work across each catchment are presented along with the labour market profiles of workers living there.

County Roscommon

There are 3 smaller catchments located within Co. Roscommon. All 3 recorded a decline in the numbers of workers resident there. In the case of Boyle and Ballaghaderreen, the geographic size of the labour catchments also decreased slightly. The data presented show the sectors in which people worked, the extent to which people worked inside the town and those who worked outside the town but within the wider catchment and the changes over the 10 years. Across all catchments there is a very significant increase in the level of third level education among the workforce.

 

Deirdre Frost

WDC Submission on Draft RSES for Southern Region

This week the WDC made a submission to the public consultation being held by the Southern Regional Assembly on their Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy.  The submission is available here.

As we’ve provided substantial input previously (available here) to the preparation of the Draft RSES, in this submission we mainly comment on the specific text and content of the Draft RSES document.

County Clare is the only county within the Southern Assembly region that is also under the remit of the Western Development Commission, therefore this submission largely focuses on the questions as they pertain to County Clare.

Some of the general comments contained in our submission include:

Role of Ennis

Apart from Ennis being a key economic and residential centre, Ennis is the county capital and link to rural parts of County Clare. This role is clearly evident in the extent of the Ennis labour catchment which extends across much of the County, with the exception of the Kilrush labour catchment to the south west of the county and the Shannon labour catchment to the south, see Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region (WDC 2018) here. This role should be maintained and harnessed to support the growth and development of Rural County Clare.

Our Region’s Economic Engines

Discussion of ‘achieving convergence between where people live and work’ needs to recognise the opportunity of remote working, either for people to work from home or a hub located close to their home.  It also needs to be recognised that job creation in smaller towns, villages and rural areas is another route to such convergence and pursing such convergence should not solely focus on building more houses in cities and other large urban centres.

Galway-Ennis-Shannon-Limerick (GESL) Economic Network

The Galway-Ennis-Shannon-Limerick Economic Network is actually a segment of the Atlantic Economic Corridor. It may currently be the most cohesive segment, given the proximity and strong ties between the centres, especially Limerick-Shannon and Ennis centres, with increasing economic activity between Galway, Ennis and Limerick supported by recent investments in improved transport connectivity especially the M18. This network can help support regional growth in both the Southern and Northern and Western Regions. In addition this segment of the network can point to how to improve and develop the cohesiveness of the broader Atlantic Economic Corridor.

Shannon Airport

The role of Shannon Airport needs to be further supported and enhanced. Though the National Aviation Policy (2015) does recognise the key role of Shannon Airport, the policy was developed well before the National Planning Framework which attempts to redirect growth away from ‘business as usual’.  However since then, there is ever greater concentration of international traffic at Dublin Airport. The RSES should advocate for a revised National Aviation Policy so as to fully support the regional population and employment targets. In the absence of a change in policy it is not clear how the Airports and Ports in the Southern Region can realise a stable or ideally a growing share of traffic.

 Limerick-Shannon MASP

The Limerick-Shannon MASP is different to others in that it is connecting two separate urban centres, albeit economically interdependent urban centres. As Limerick is the larger centre there is understandably much focus on it. The focus is also on connecting Limerick and Shannon Airport/Free Zone. The development and transport requirements of Shannon town itself should also be prioritised, to promote Shannon as an attractive place to live as well as work.

The full submission is available here.

Following the public consultation (which closed on 8 March) the SRA will prepare a report on issues raised in submissions/observations and recommend whether the RSES should be made with or without amendments. It may necessary to hold another phase of public consultation before the RSES can be finalised. You can check for updates on the process here.

 

Deirdre Frost

Give your view on the development of the Northern and Western Region- make a submission on the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy

Just a reminder that the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) is currently out for consultation, with a closing date of 8th February 2019.

The National Planning Framework (NPF) published last year, provides a framework for development and investment over the coming years. Under the umbrella of Project Ireland 2040, it was published with its companion, the National Development Plan (NDP), a 10 year strategy for public investment.

The NPF is a framework for the development needed to underpin population growth in Ireland of up to 1 million people (by 2040) with approximately 50% of this growth to be in the five main cities.  The Framework is underpinned by 10 National Strategic Outcomes and, central to it, is the concept of Compact Growth identifying where new growth can take place within the existing envelope of our Cities, Towns and villages.

The primary vehicle for delivering the NPF is through the implementation of Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) for each of the three NUTS 2 Regions shown on the map below.  The Assembly in each of these Regions (the Northern and Western Region, the Southern Region  and the Eastern and Midlands Region) has a draft RSES currently under consultation.

The NWRA, through the RSES, aims to provide regional level strategic planning and economic policy in support of the implementation of the National Planning Framework and provide a greater level of focus around the National Policy Objectives and National Strategic Outcomes in the Region.  The challenge for the NWRA was to take the high-level framework and principles of the NPF and work out more detail at regional and local authority levels.  This NWRA RSES introduces the concept of a Growth Framework with ‘Five Growth Ambitions’ defining the priorities for the Region and how they are mutually intertwined. The five are:

  • Growth Ambition 1: Economy & Employment – Vibrant Region
  • Growth Ambition 2: Environment – Natural Heritage
  • Growth Ambition 3: Connectivity – Connected Region
  • Growth Ambition 4: Quality of Life
  • Growth Ambition 5: Infrastructure – Enabling Our Region

The draft NWRA Strategy can be viewed or downloaded here.

Written submissions or observations with respect to the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and the accompanying reports may be made between 19th November 2018 and 5pm on 8th February 2019 (both dates inclusive) through one of the following media:

On Line: Completing the RSES Web Submission Form available here.

Email: rses@nwra.ie

Mail: ‘RSES Submissions’, NWRA, The Square, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon. F45 W674

The focus of this post has been on the NWRA RSES.  In a future post we will outline key elements of the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Southern Regional Assembly  (consultation closing date is 8th March 2019).  The Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly Draft RSES is also currently out for consultation, with a closing date of 23rd January 2019.

 

Helen McHenry

Capacity at Ireland’s State Airports – WDC Submission

WDC Submission on the Consultation on Review of Future Capacity Needs at Ireland’s State Airports

The WDC made a submission to the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport on the Consultation on Review of Future Capacity Needs at Ireland’s State Airports, December 2018. Some of the key points noted are outlined below.

International Air Access

International air access is particularly important for an island economy and for connecting geographically remote regions such as the Western Region.  Without efficient air access, companies in the Region are placed at a competitive disadvantage to companies elsewhere. Infrastructure is a necessary condition for regional development and lagging regions need to have a similar quality of infrastructure as is available in more successful regions so that they can compete on a more level playing field[1]. There are two airports, Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock, which are located in the Western Region and offer a range of international air services[2].

An EU report measuring potential accessibility by air (using an index where EU 27 = 100), found that Dublin was the only region within Ireland above the EU average, measuring 135.[3] The Border region[4] (60.2), West region[5] (66.5) and Mid-West region[6] (80.6) all recorded accessibility scores considerably below the EU average. Since this analysis there has been a reduction in air services to the regional airports through the reduction of PSO services which would suggest a lower accessibility score for the Northern and Western regions than that measured in 2009.

Nationally, the airports of Dublin, Cork and Shannon are the most important international access points. Unlike much of the country, most of counties Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and part of Roscommon and Galway have a greater than two hour drive-time to these airports. These centres are not adequately served by the three larger airports and Ireland West Airport Knock as the only international airport in the Northern and Western (NWRA) region, serves this catchment.

Policy Context National Planning Framework, Ireland 2040 NPF and RSES

The National Planning Framework (NPF) published in February 2018, is a planning framework to guide development and investment to 2040. Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) are currently being prepared and are to give more detail at a regional level as to where growth should occur. A key element in the NPF vision is set out on page 11.

We need to manage more balanced growth … because at the moment Dublin, and to a lesser extent the wider Eastern and Midland area, has witnessed an overconcentration of population, homes and jobs. We cannot let this continue unchecked and so our aim is to see a roughly 50:50 distribution of growth between the Eastern and Midland region, and the Southern and Northern and Western regions, with 75% of the growth to be outside of Dublin and its suburbs.

In order to ensure the NPF can succeed, departmental and State and Semi-State Agency expenditure decisions and allocations, including the National Investment Plan need to be fully aligned with the spatial priorities outlined in the NPF and RSES.

Current policy

The National Aviation Policy predated the publication and consideration of Ireland 2040, both the National Planning Framework and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies. The national aviation policy can be seen to unduly reinforce the dominance of the larger airports (Dublin in particular).  Now that the NPF is Government Policy, the National Aviation Policy should be reviewed and reassessed in light of the overarching objectives of the NPF.

 Even aside from the NPF and RSES, Irish Aviation policy should ensure that policy on air access should be linked to and consistent with tourism and enterprise policy objectives. National aviation policy also needs to fully recognise the international transport function Ireland West Airport Knock provides, ensuring direct international air services to a region much of which is not in the catchment of the other international airports, Dublin, Cork and Shannon.

Increasing dominance of Dublin Airport

  • The focus of investment and ever greater expansion in this Review is at Dublin Airport despite the spare capacity at the other three main airports and the ability of these airports to serve their catchments and help drive further development in their regions. The current focus on Dublin Airport only serves the ‘business as usual’ scenario and militates against each of the other airports fulfilling the role envisaged of them and delivering better regional balance.
  • Exports: In late 2018, the Irish Exporters Association (IEA), in its policy paper titled, ‘Building a transport infrastructure that fosters Irish exports to the world’, noted that Ireland’s regions form an important counterbalance to Dublin’s economic strength. Further growth, however, is stalled by limited accessibility to high-class transportation infrastructure. Addressing connectivity in Ireland’s West, in particular, should be a strategic priority to support economic growth and regional competitiveness… The IEA specifically cited the increasing dominance of Dublin airport as an issue.
  • The Costs of Congestion: The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has undertaken research estimating the costs of congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (July 2017). Further growth at Dublin Airport will only exacerbate this.
  • The report addresses ‘Options for making best use of existing infrastructure’ but focuses on Dublin Airport (section 5.1.1, pages 105).The WDC believes the best use of existing infrastructure would be by promoting further traffic at Shannon and Cork and the regional airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock. This was the explicit policy position of Government as set out in the National Aviation Policy.
  • The increasing dominance of Dublin Airport in terms of national market share is likely to result in stranded asset issues and increasing spare capacity at the other international airports, Shannon, Cork and Ireland West Airport Knock.

Other Policy Options

The WDC submission also identifies Future Capacity Needs at Ireland West Airport Knock and the value of wider economic impacts for example in the Tourism sector.

The Submission also identifies policy supports which can help support increased passenger growth and an increased share of passengers at Ireland West Airport Knock and at Shannon Airport. These include route support, route development and airport enterprise promotion.

The WDC submission to the Department of Transport, Sport and Tourism on the Consultation on Review of Future Capacity Needs at Ireland’s State Airports can be downloaded here (696 KB)

[1] WDC, 2010, Why care about regions? A new approach to regional policy

[2] Donegal airport provides services to and from Dublin and Glasgow.

[3]www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Publications/TerritorialObservations/TrendsInAccessibility/accessibility_data.xls

[4]  Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth

[5] Galway, Mayo and Roscommon

[6] Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary

Electricity Generation and Demand in the Western Region- A Renewable Story

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind generation in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore renewable energy.  The draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) submitted to the EU and published yesterday (19.12.18) made a number of commitments for 2030 in relation to electricity generation and use, including the following:

  • Renewables in our power system will rise from 30% to at least 55% with a broader range of technologies likely to be deployed, e.g. offshore wind, solar, biomass
  • Coal and peat will be removed from electricity generation which will almost halve the emissions from the electricity sector.
  • Penetration of electric vehicles into our transport fleet will build to around 20%.

These will all have a significant impact on how we will generate and use electricity.  It is therefore useful to understand the current pattern of generation and demand in the Region before considering options for the future.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has recently conducted[1] a review of electricity transmission infrastructure in the Western Region. It examined current and future needs for transmission infrastructure in the Region, and considered how increased renewable electricity generation, along with new ways of using and managing electricity and new methods of improving the use of existing transmission infrastructure might impact on need for investment.  We have published a summary of its findings in WDCInsights Electricity Transmission for Renewable Generation- What’s needed in the Western Region?

In this post the focus is on current and future renewable generation connections in the Region.  Next year, when we have had the opportunity to review the draft NECP and consider the “all-of-Government” Climate Action Plan to be completed in early 2019, it will be clearer what renewable generation connections will be required further into the future, and from that, what further transmission investment will be important.

 

Electricity Generation in the Western Region

The Western Region already has a significant connected renewable generation; almost half of the generation in the Region is renewable (Figure 1).  There is 1,371MW of conventional generation. This capacity is mainly across Moneypoint coal fired power station in West Co. Clare (863MW), Tynagh gas fired power station in East Co. Galway (404MW) and Tawnaghmore oil fired peaking plant in North Co. Mayo (104MW). In 2017 these power stations generated 4,390 GWh, which was approximately 15% of the national demand in 2017.

Figure 1: Generation in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

There is 165MW of hydro generation in the WDC region. This capacity is mainly at Ardnacrusha hydro station in Co. Clare (86MW) and the Erne stations (65MW) in Co. Donegal.  On shore wind generation makes up the rest of the renewable electricity generation in the Region (the locations are discussed further below).

In the future with the ending of coal fired generation as committed to in the draft National Energy and Climate Plan, the vast majority of renewable electricity generation in the Western Region will come from onshore wind and other developing sources including solar and potentially offshore wind and marine generation.

 

Demand and Generation connections in the Western Region

There is substantially higher capacity of both renewable and conventional generation compared to demand in the region.  Renewable generation currently connected (1,343MW) produces approximately 3,750GWh of renewable electricity. Considering total peak demand of 651MW and assuming the nation-wide demand capacity factor of 65%, the total demand in region is approximately 3,700GWh.  It can be concluded that on an annual basis the Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand.   By 2020 the Region will definitely be a net provider of renewable electricity to the rest of Ireland making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

Figure 2 shows the levels of connected renewable generation in the region (1,343MW) and conventional generation (1,371MW) as discussed above.   Maximum demand (at peak) was estimated by MullanGrid as 651 MW with minimum demand 164MW.

Figure 2: Current Generation and Demand in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. There is a further 1,000MW of renewable generation in the WDC region that will have contracted or been offered connections by mid-2019 (as shown in Figure 2 above) and there is 173MW of further potential on shore wind connections in the short term (as allocated under the Enduring Connection Policy Phase 1 (ECP-1)). Clearly the potential for renewable generation and the opportunities the Region provides are significant.

 

Generation and Demand at County level

It is interesting to look briefly at the patterns of generation and demand at county level in the Western Region (Figure 3).  Donegal, which has the third largest connected capacity of on shore wind generation in Ireland, is clearly significant force in the Region’s transition to renewable electricity.

It currently has 480 MW of connected renewable generation with significant hydro generation (75MW) and 405MW capacity of wind generation with a further 254MW of contracted generation.  Galway and Clare and the next most important counties for renewable generation, with Ardnacrusha making a significant contribution (86MW) in Clare, while most of Galway’s renewable generation (286MW) from wind.  These counties have high levels of contracted wind generation which will be connected in the short term.   Mayo currently has 83MW of connected wind capacity  but has 406MW of contracted generation to be connected.

Figure 3: Generation and Demand in Western Region counties

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

In all Western Region counties currently connected renewable generation is well above the average county demand[2].  Table 1 below gives the detail of the connected, contracted and ECP-1 capacity in each county in the Western Region alongside the estimated demand in each county (although Sligo and Leitrim are considered together).

Table 1: Connected, Contracted and future renewable generation and Demand in Western Region counties.

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

 

Transmission Capacity

The transmission system has been essential in enabling the Western Region to achieve these relatively high levels of renewable generation.  There has been substantial investment in the transmission network in the Region[3] the majority of which, recently, has been in upgrading the existing electricity transmission network to provide additional capacity.  However, to allow for the continued growth of renewable generation in the Region, further investment in new transmission infrastructure is required.

There is capacity in the current transmission system for more renewable generation in areas of the Western Region including large parts of Co. Roscommon, Co. Clare and Co. Galway.  However there is concern about the pace and scale of development of new transmission circuits elsewhere in the Region.  The areas of particular concern in the medium term are Co. Donegal and North Mayo.  In Donegal, by 2022, it is expected that the connected renewable generation will have exceeded the capacity of the existing transmission system.  While the planned North Connacht project[4] will provide critical infrastructure for currently connected and some of the planned renewable generation in development in North Mayo/West Sligo, it will not provide ffor further renewable generation in the area. In the medium to long term there could also be a need for new transmission circuits to Co. Sligo/Co. Leitrim. Considering the extended timelines (at least 10 years) to deliver new transmission infrastructure it is essential to take a long-term view of the generation needs and potential in these areas.

It is important that there is a three-pronged approach to developing the transmission grid in the Region:

  1. Upgrading existing transmission infrastructure;
  2. New transmission infrastructure;
  3. Implementing smart grid solutions.

Although new transmission infrastructure is the most challenging to deliver it is critical for the development of more renewable generation in the Region.  Other factors that will impact on growth of renewable generation are the planning process and the public acceptance of onshore wind generation. Recent new transmission projects have faced strong local opposition and a lack of local political support.

To achieve long term ambitious climate action increased renewable electricity generation will be essential. Therefore further investment in transmission grid with sufficient capacity for new generation connections is crucial.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The Electricity Transmission Infrastructure Review for the Western Development Commission was conducted by MullanGrid Consulting.

[2] This is a simple average of minimum and maximum demand.

[3] EirGrid and ESB Networks, regulated by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), invest in and develop the electricity grid.

[4] http://www.eirgridgroup.com/the-grid/projects/north-connacht/the-project/

A National Digital Strategy needs a National Broadband Plan

The delay in the procurement process arising from the Peter Smyth enquiry has led to a vacuum emerging and a debate on the solution needed to deliver high speed broadband to all. This is being filled by discussion of the perceived benefits of alternative technologies and the potentially very large costs of a largely fibre based deployment.

What has got very little airing is that the planned Government investment (and that of some of the commercial operators), is likely to be a once in a 25 year investment at minimum. It follows various initiatives in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment such as the National Broadband Scheme (2009-2014) and the Rural Broadband Scheme (2011), which were aimed at delivering basic broadband services, the experience of which informed Department officials and Government, of the need to deliver a long-term future proofed solution.

Meanwhile the 80 or so officials in the Department of Communications and the opinions of outside experts, brought in at various stages to inform and guide the design of the tender process, who have extensive knowledge and expertise must stay silent. These are the experts who could better inform the debate, but must stay silent, again to protect the procurement process.

Across the country life goes on and Christmas, one of the busiest retail periods is upon us. In the absence of the deployment of the NBP, the opportunity to engage in online sales is heavily restricted or prohibitive for many smaller based businesses trying to operate from regional Ireland. In a recent report, this situation was described as for businesses in small towns, not having broadband is akin to operating with one hand tied behind their back. See here.

Meanwhile the Department of An Taoiseach issued a call for Submissions to the Public Consultation to inform Ireland’s new National Digital Strategy. In its response the WDC highlighted the importance of;

1. Broadband access as an enabler. There is a significant imbalance in the equity of digital services; urban centres are generally well served but rural areas have poorer service levels and limited competition and investment. Census 2016 Summary results show that overall, 76.2 per cent of the State’s urban households had broadband compared with 61.1 per cent of households in rural areas.

2. The opportunity cost of poor infrastructure is hard to estimate but undoubtedly it can have a significant negative effect on SMEs. There are significant opportunities available to enterprises in rural and regional areas arising from easy access to the global marketplace through on-line sales. Three in four consumers say that they are more likely to purchase from a business that has an online presence1. One of the key constraints is poor internet access and 27% of SMEs without a website say it is because they do not have a good internet connection. At a regional level the same survey found that 14% of Irish SMEs rate their internet connection as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ and this figure rises to 25% in Connacht and Ulster.

3. The WDC submission also highlighted the importance of appropriate training. Adoption and application of new learning is likely to require ‘a little and often’ approach in recognition that a ‘use it or lose it’ approach applies. The focus therefore should be given to using the internet on a regular basis as well as those tasks that occur more infrequently, on an annual basis such as booking a holiday or paying motor tax on line. Those tasks (and benefits) which can be undertaken and realised on a more frequent basis will help ensure greater take-up.

But all ultimately rests on high speed broadband provision for the 540,000 premises still disconnected. The WDC submission on the Digital Strategy is available here.

 

Deirdre Frost

City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions- Conference Report

The Regional Studies Association Irish Branch Annual Conference was held in the Institute of Technology Sligo on Friday 7th September.  Appropriate for the location, it had the theme “City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions”.  The presentations are available here.

Figure 1: Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT

The conference covered a range of themes relating to regional development and how urban areas interact with their rural regions.  It was opened by Dr Chris O’Malley from Sligo IT who discussed the role of Sligo IT in the development of industry and manufacturing in the region and the IT’s role as an integrator of national policy at regional level.  Dr Deirdre Garvey, chairperson of the Western Development Commission, welcomed delegates to the conference noting how pleased the WDC was to be sponsoring the Annual Conference.  She also welcomed the fact that the conference was taking place in the North West, given the recognition in the National Planning Framework of the specific challenges for the region and how the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) process highlight the distinct challenges and opportunities for our predominantly rural region.

These addresses were followed by a very interesting session on the history of Irish planning over the last 50 years.  Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University) presented on regional development policy following the 1968 Buchanan report and its impact on industry locations and spatial development.  Dr Breathnach also presented the paper by Prof. Jim Walsh (Maynooth University) who was unable to attend the conference.  He examined the influence of both the Buchanan report and the 2002 National Spatial Strategy, considered the learnings from these and the factors which will influence the success of the National Planning Framework process.  Finally in this session, Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) presented on the structural and spatial evolution of the Irish urban hierarchy since Buchanan, and examined urban population data over time and the distribution of population across the settlement hierarchy.  He noted that it was important to understand changes projected by the NPF in the context of historic trends

Figure 2: Dr Proinnsias Breathnach (Maynooth University), Prof. Des McCafferty (University of Limerick) and Deirdre Frost (WDC)

After coffee the session on Regional Strategy and Planning covered a broad range of topics.  Louis Nuachi (DIT) presented on the importance of social and cultural objectives in town planning using a case study of planning in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.  David Minton, the CEO of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) discussed issues for the development of the North and West in the RSES, some of the historic development of the region and a number of the challenges in developing a region wide approach.  Finally in that session, John Nugent (IDA) discussed the IDA role in attracting Foreign Direct Investment to the region and some of the important factors which influence the location of FDI, including the importance of having a strong indigenous sector already in place and the ways the indigenous and foreign sectors are mutually beneficial.

After lunch international perspectives were provided by Dr Andrew Copus from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and Professor Mark Partridge, the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.

Dr Copus paper  The Scottish City Region Deals – A rural development perspective noted that optimistic assumptions about how a wider functional region benefits from city investments, are commonplace and generally unquestioned, despite meagre evidence of such impacts.   He discussed the two strands of ideas on policy for urban rural development that of polycentricity and rural urban co-operation (theories which are stronger in EU countries and in OECD work), and City Regions (which have tended to have more focus in the UK).  He highlighted the importance of defining what is meant by rural when considering the impact of such regional policies and  he discussed the development and implementation of regional policy by the Scottish and UK governments in Scotland.

He noted that in general in these deals the dominant rationale relates more to “Smart Specialisation” than to any kind of urban rural cooperation, interaction or spread effect concept, but the way growth deals developing for rural areas of Scotland will fit into the Post Brexit rural development landscape remains to be seen.

Figure 3: Audience at the conference

Prof. Mark Partridge’s paper Is there a future for Rural in an Urbanizing World and Should We Care? noted how rural areas have received increased attention with the rise of right-wing populist parties in Western countries, in which a strong part of their support is rural based. Thus, bridging this rural-urban economic divide takes on added importance in not only improving the individual livelihoods of rural residents but in increasing social cohesion.

He discussed the background of rural and peripheral economic growth, noting the United States is a good place to examine these due its spatial heterogeneity.   He showed that, contrary to public perceptions, in the US urban areas do not entirely dominate rural areas in terms of growth.  Rural US counties with greater shares of knowledge workers grow faster than metro areas (even metros with knowledge workers).

He had some clear suggestions for regional policy, noting that governance should shift from separate farm/rural/urban policies to a regional policy though a key issue is to get all actors to participate and believe their input is valued. In rural development it is important to leverage local social capital and networks to promote good governance and to treat all businesses alike and avoid “picking winners.  Rural communities should be attractive to knowledge workers and commuters, while quality of life, pleasant environment, sustainable development; good public services such as schools are important to attract return migrants.  Building local entrepreneurship is key too and business retention and expansion is better than tax incentives for outside investment.

Figure 4: Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University)

In the final session ‘Understanding Regional and Urban Dynamics’ I gave a presentation on what regional accounts can tell up about our regional economies and discussed some of the issues associated with the regional data and the widening of disparities among regions.  Dr Chris Van Egeraat (Maynooth University) presented a paper, written with Dr Justin Doran (UCC) which used a similar method to Prof. Partridge to estimate trickle down effects of Irish Urban centres and how they influence the population in their wider regions.  Finally Prof. Edgar Morgenroth (DCU) presented on the impacts of improvements in transport accessibility across Ireland highlighting some of the changes in accessibility over time and noted that despite these changes human capital is the most important factor influencing an area’s development.

While the conference had smaller attendance than previous years there was good audience participation and discussion of the themes.  The conference papers are now available on the WDC website here and will shortly be available on the RSA website.

 

Helen McHenry