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What is Rural?

Many of us probably feel we know what rural means.  Perhaps when we hear the word we think of green fields, or wild mountains, or deserted beaches.  Or maybe we think of small villages, modern bungalows or just anywhere beyond ‘the big smoke’.  Arguably all of these are or can be considered rural and, indeed, in most situations it is not important how we define rural.  We know what it is, we use our mental definition, we even have casual conversations where everyone is talking about a different ‘rural’ and for the most part that doesn’t matter.

But is does matter when we come to make policy for rural places and when we think what should be included in ‘rural policy’, because the kind of policy we make and the kind of issues we address are strongly influenced by what we define as rural.  If we think of rural as fields and pastures then we may think of rural policy as agricultural policy, and if we think of it as market towns and pretty villages we may see it as a heritage or cultural issue and when we think of rural dwellers we have to think about how different policies affect people.

Defining Rural

The question of how we define rural for policy purposes and in relation to people rather than based on landscapes or places has not been resolved in Ireland.  While the OECD uses a definition relating to population density[1], the CSO defines the rural population as those living outside settlements of 1,500 people, while CEDRA (the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas) defined rural as those areas outside the administrative boundaries of the five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford).  That definition includes some large urban settlements like Ennis, Dundalk and Kilkenny.  Realising our Rural Potential- the Action Plan for Rural Development refers to the CEDRA definition and provides a map of population densities but does not specify a definition of rural.

Finally, and most recently, the new Draft National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040- Our Plan defines rural as all areas outside towns of 10,000, unless they are within the immediate or ‘metropolitan’ catchment of a city[2].

How we define rural impacts on how many people we are considering when we make rural policy.  Is it a minority, niche policy, or something relevant to a majority of the population?  With the different definitions we get a very different population groups.  Under the OECD definition (a variation of which is used by Eurostat) 70.5% of the state population is predominantly rural.  Ireland is the most rural of the EU27 countries for both population and land area (for more information see note 1 below).

Looking at the different definitions used in Irish policy making (by the CSO, CEDRA and the NPF), for both the state as a whole and the Western Region we can see significant differences in the proportion of the population which is rural.

Figure 1: Percentage of the population living in rural areas according to definition for Western Region and State

Source: CSO Census of Population 2016,  Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements / E2014 own calculations

The Western Region is a very rural region and, whichever definition is used, the majority of the Region’s population falls into that category.  The CSO has the narrowest definition, with fewest defined as rural people (65%, or 535,953 people in the Western Region) while the CEDRA definition is inevitably the broadest, including on two thirds of the population of thewhole state (90% of the people in the Western Region). Nationally the definition of rural can take in anything between 37% and 66% of the population (between 1.8 and 3.1m people).

Looking at what is defined as rural in the three Regional Assembly Areas, which are important policy regions in the NPF and forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (to be developed by the Regional Assemblies) there is a clear contrast among the regions.

Figure 2: Percentage of the population living in rural areas according to definition for three Regional Assembly Areas

Source: CSO Census of Population 2016,  Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements / E2014 own calculations

The NWRA is the most rural, with at least two thirds of its population classified as rural in the narrowest definition.  The EMRA, even using the broadest definition, has less than half its population defined as rural.

Rural Policy or Policy for Rural People?

Given the rural population numbers, whichever definition is used, most policy affecting the Western Region is  rural policy as it impacts on the majority of the population.  Even policy which focuses more on Galway and the larger towns has important effects on rural people as these are centres of employment, enterprise education and health services.

The question becomes whether policy for a rural region is rural policy or, given that more than half population is living in rural areas, are not the needs of a rural region integral to all policy, including that for enterprise, employment, healthcare or transport?  Does labelling large parts of the country as rural and expecting their needs to be covered by a ‘rural policy’ serve those dwelling in rural areas well?  Does it ensure infrastructure provision takes account of our settlement pattern as it is, rather than as we think it should be?  Or, if we treat rural as different and needing separate policy rather than as an integral part of our policy focus, can we ensure that businesses can operate efficiently throughout the country, or that people can find varied employment in different places?  These are not narrow issues of rural policy but involve addressing the needs of the wider population through all government policy

Clearly areas which are very peripheral and which have small populations have particular policy requirements but most people in rural areas, however they are defined, have the same needs for employment, healthcare, education and transport as the rest of the population.  It is therefore not only important to consider how we define rural but why we are doing so, and how these definitions can be used to ensure people throughout the Region and the country have their needs addressed equally.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The OECD methodology classifies local administrative units level 2 with a population density below 150 inhabitants per km² as rural.  For more information on the definition see http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Urban-rural_typology

[2] These catchments are not mapped in the draft NPF and it is not clear how much of the country is considered to be within the influence of a city.

RSA Annual Conference ‘Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development’

The Annual Conference of the Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch is taking place this Friday, 1st September at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Grangegorman. This year’s theme is ‘Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development’ and the conference will be opened by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD.

Theme

Urban areas are major contributors to national economies and play a key role in balanced regional development. Key issues facing urban centres include managing urban expansion and congestion as well as promoting competitiveness, innovation, and environmental sustainability. There are increasing calls for support of regional economic development through diverse infrastructure investments determined by regional and national priorities to foster linkages between urban centres in Ireland. These are among the issues that will be discussed at this one-day conference.

Sessions on the day will include

• National Planning Framework and Governance
• Brexit and Housing
• Regional Economic Development
• International Perspectives
• Perspectives of the Regional Assemblies
• Rural and Urban areas in Regions

Speakers

Speakers include Andy Pike from the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS), Newcastle University and Mike Danson from Heriot-Watt University. Among the other speakers are Jim Walsh (MU), Niamh Moore-Cherry (UCD), Gerard Brady (IBEC), Ronan Lyons (TCD), Justin Doran (UCC) and the directors of the three Regional Assemblies. Pauline White, Policy Analyst with the Western Development Commission (WDC) will present on ‘Regional Growth – Rural areas, towns and cities’

Registration

Register online at http://rsa-ireland.weebly.com/register.html

The €70 conference fee includes lunch.

Regional Towns: Growth or decline? Can we tell?

Population change is an important issue and one of the key reasons that we conduct a census in Ireland.  However, as well as being one of the most important indicators of change, it is also an emotive issue.  Population growth in most cases is considered a good thing, an indicator of a vibrant economy and society, while population decline is taken to indicate stagnation and under development.  This is particularly the case in relation to well known, well defined areas such as counties or, in the case of this post, of towns.

Important strategic policies such as the National Planning Framework (NPF)  and the (RSES)  are currently being prepared, and these (along with policies such as Realising our Rural Potential- An Action Plan for Rural Development   have long time horizons and rely on population data as an important benchmark of development.  Therefore robust intercensal comparisons are critical.

Population data from Census 2016 for towns was made available with the publication of Profile 2- Population Distribution and Movements on 11 May.  In its initial release on StatBank[1], tables of town populations for 2011 and 2016 were provided.  In the background notes (Appendix 2) to Profile 2 the CSO noted that there had been boundary changes to 80 towns for which populations were given.  However, the towns were not named, listed or highlighted in the original data available on StatBank and data on town population was provided for all towns for 2011 and 2016.

It has now become apparent that the 2011 data that was originally provided related to the old boundaries and so the 2011 population was not directly comparable to that in 2016. This has been amended (Tables E2014 and E2016 amended on 9.06.17) and different tables are now provided in StatBank.  The 2011 data is no longer provided for the towns which have had boundary changes.  This will prevent inaccurate comparisons and also means that they can now be identified by users.

The change means that people downloading the data now will not make a direct comparison with 2011 for those towns, but for many of us who looked at the data just after its release the comparisons had already been made, commented on or published.

The number of boundary changes was very significant. In the table of 200 towns with population of more than 1,500, 71 had boundary changes.  Of the 41 towns in the Western Region with population of more than 1,500, 15 towns had had boundary changes making comparison with 2011 population data invalid.  The most notable of these is Ballina for which original published data showed a decline of 915 people (-8.25%).  This led to discussion and investigation by regional newspapers[2].

All of the five towns[3] in the Western Region with a population of more than 10,000 have been affected by boundary changes (each of these showed falls in population ranging from  -8.25% to -0.33%).  The extent to which the boundary change is responsible for the population change is unclear.  The CSO does note that in many cases the physical area of the town was reduced:

Census towns which previously combined legal towns and their environs have been newly defined using the standard census town criteria (with the 100 metres proximity rule). For some towns the impact of this has been to lose area and population, compared with previous computations.[4]

Among the seven towns[5] in the Western Region with population between 5,000 and 10,000 six had had boundary changes (the exception being Roscommon).  The population change in these towns, compared to the 2011 figure based on the old boundaries, varied from -0.79% (Buncrana) to +9.76% (Loughrea).  It is hard to assess the extent to which the population change between 2016 and 2011 is reflective of boundary changes or other factors.

So we are now in the situation where we know which towns have had boundaries changes (unlike the situation when Profile 2 was initially released), but we don’t know the extent of the boundary changes and how much they influenced the towns’ Census populations.

It would be very useful if the CSO could provide revised 2011 figures for those towns with boundary changes.  This would allow for direct comparison with 2011 and show clearly whether a town’s population grew or declined.  It would also provide clarity about the effect of the boundary change on the town population.

When the Small Area Statistics (SAPS) are published (20 July 2017) there will be greater detail on local population changes and it may be possible to be clear about where towns have grown and declined and the magnitude of the actual population changes (as compared to those population changes resulting from boundary changes).

Conclusion

It is important that where there are significant alterations to boundaries used or where methods change between Censuses they are very clearly highlighted in any tables published, especially when they relate to headline figures such as population change or population density.  This would mean that a user would not be led to assume that, because the data has been published alongside older data by the Central Statistics Office, it is comparable.

This might seem to be an issue only of concern to those who enjoy analysing data.  It is not.  Changes to town populations can have very significant implications for resource allocations both at a Local Authority level, regionally and nationally.

Would the NPF be more likely to focus on the development of a town that appears to be thriving and showing population growth or one which seems to have stagnated or declined?

Similarly those looking to invest in services and infrastructure, either public (e.g. broadband, education or healthcare) or private (e.g. cinemas, leisure), may think twice if a town seems to be in decline.

Indicators other than population change are used in decision making, but population is still one of the most important.  It is therefore essential that we have good reliable data, for which any changes in methods or boundaries have been very clearly highlighted[6]….

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] StatBank is one of the CSO’s databases and its main data dissemination service.

[2] See Mayo News,  16 May 2017, http://www.mayonews.ie/news/30029-cso-confirm-ballina-s-population-and-increased-not-deceased and also Western People, 29 May 2016, ‘Misleading Census data’

[3] Ennis, Letterkenny, Sligo, Castlebar and Ballina.

[4] In addition 26 new census towns were created for the 2016 Census.

[5] Shannon, Tuam, Buncrana, Ballinasloe, Westport, Roscommon and Loughrea.

[6] …and not just in the small print or footnote which may fall off the bottom of a page…..

RSA European Conference: Session on ‘Ensuring Rigorous and Effective Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies’

Last week the Annual European Conference of the Regional Studies Association took place in Dublin.  Hosted jointly by TCD and UCD, the theme was ‘The Great Regional Awakening: New Directions’ or GRAND if you prefer!  From Sunday evening until Wednesday lunchtime, there were a huge number of plenary, parallel, and discuss and debate sessions exploring all aspects of regional studies research – economic, demographic, geographical, sociological, financial – from across Europe and further afield.  The conference was a great opportunity to catch up with current research on regional development. There’ll be a quite a few more blog posts from it all!

‘Ensuring Rigorous and Effective Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies’

This post will focus on one of the ‘Discuss and Debate Sessions’ held on Tuesday 6 June.  Organised by the Eastern & Midland Regional Assembly (EMRA) together with the Northern & Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) and the Southern Regional Assembly (SRA) the session topic was ‘Ensuring Rigorous and Effective Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies’.

The three Regional Assemblies in Ireland have the responsibility to develop new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSESs) to replace the current Regional Planning Guidelines. The RSESs are intended to translate the National Planning Framework (NPF) to a regional level and provide a ‘… long-term strategic planning and economic framework for the development of the region …’. While background and research work is underway by the three RAs, the delays in the development of the new NPF have held up the process of developing the RSESs.

Following the public consultation on the NPF, a draft NPF document is expected to be issued for public consultation before the Oireachtas summer recess.  A conference taking place today (14 June) titled ‘National Planning Framework, The Future of Urban Planning, Activating Spaces & Developing places’ may provide some additional insight on NPF timelines. Policy Analyst with the WDC, Deirdre Frost will be speaking later today on ‘The National Planning Framework and Regional Inequalities – Can these be addressed?’

As the WDC pointed out in our submission to the NPF consultation, the NPF Issues & Choices consultation paper did not set out very clearly the relationship and respective areas of responsibility of the NPF and RSESs. So this session during the RSA conference was a timely opportunity to discuss the issues.

Presentation from EMRA

The session began with a presentation by Clare Bannon, Senior Executive Planner with the EMRA. In it, she outlined a background paper prepared by them. Some of the key points were:

  • A lot can be learned from the experience of the NSS/RPGs (lack of legislative basis, lack of ‘rural’ element, no mechanism to amend as circumstances changed, economics missing)
  • Land use planning has increasingly evolved into ‘spatial planning’ as it is not seen as sufficient to consider land use alone.
  • Implementation will be the key challenge for RSESs. Capital Plan needs to be aligned with the RSESs.
  • An evidence base is critical. Data gathering is underway, need more analysis (qualitative, environmental), consultation will be part of gathering data. Under NPF process Demographic and Econometric Modelling is underway for the three regions.
  • Economic dimension is a new departure from RPGs. RSESs expected to encourage regional progress, not just in GDP/GVA but also across range of quality of life indicators.
  • The efficiency / equity debate will come into play in term of the location of public resources.
  • Other policy areas (e.g. transport, health) can have a far greater impact on regional performance than planning.

Every two years each Local Authority will be required to submit a report to their Reginal Assembly on progress made in implementing the RSES. Can the RSES be an operational strategy for delivery of regional progress? Do the RSESs need to include an ‘Action Statement’?

Discussion

Following the presentation, a panel gave their initial views: David Meredith, Senior Research Officer, Teagasc; Brendan Williams, Assistant Professor in Planning and Environmental Policy, UCD; Alma Walsh, Planning Advisor, DoHPCLG and Caroline Creamer, Acting Director, International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD), and then the discussion was opened to the floor.

There was a lot of debate on the issues and challenges surrounding the development of both the RSESs and the NPF, with contributions from a number of people with huge experience of the previous NSS and RPGs process.  The key themes which emerged from the discussions were:

Different places have very differing needs

  • Concept of scale is very important at regional level. There are three very different regions. A town of 10,000 population in the NWRA region means something very different to its hinterland than a town of 10,000 located in the Greater Dublin Area. A town of 10,000 in a rural county can play a similar employment and service provision role for its hinterland, as a city in another area.
  • The three RA areas are very large with many internal differences e.g. the EMRA includes Dublin city centre and Co Longford. RSESs should be developed at sub-region level, as there are very different priorities and issues within each of the three regions.
  • Place-making and place-shaping are critical to achieving regional growth. Identifying the assets of a specific place and developing those.
  • Quality of life is a key factor for the RSESs, including in how they envision the potential of rural areas to contribute to regional growth.
  • Some concern if the role of rural in the RSESs is seen as a ‘solution’ to an urban problem. Rural areas as a housing location for commuting to cities. Rural should not be seen as a ‘spillover’ from the urban, with quality of life the only factor considered for rural areas, rather than seen as sites of employment and production.
  • A town or area does not need to be listed in a Plan in order to grow, a lot of other public, private and community factors come into play.

Regional v Local

  • Policy is deeply rooted in local issues, but planning has now moved to a regional level. Balancing the conflict between local and regional will be a major challenge for RSESs.
  • It is important, especially for NWRA, to take an island of Ireland approach. With Brexit, a lot of spatial issues will have a more complicated cross-border context in future.
  • Needs to be a clear separation of ‘regional issues’ and ‘local issues’. Have to identify from the start what are the regional issues that are best dealt with at a regional level through RSESs.
  • Level of time and resources put into planning at different levels – as much time could be spent on a local area plan as the NPF – what is expected of planning at different levels?

Spatial and Economic

  • Linking economic and spatial is a significant change in the RSESs compared with RPGs.
  • There is a danger of setting up a false dichotomy between ‘spatial’ and ‘economic’. All spatial planning is economic as it is concerned with the location of activity.
  • While it is important to understand the economics of production (where products and services are produced), NPF/RSESs also need to consider the economics of provision (where products and services are provided). The spatial pattern of service provision (and associated employment) is far broader and more spatially spread, than production.

Measurement

  • GDP/GVA is a problematic indicator especially at regional level. Disposable income is a better indicator and there is a narrower regional gap.  Measuring income rather than GDP/GVA shifts the debate to regional potential.
  • How do you measure regional progress? What does society consider to be ‘progress’?  What you measure is what you will get. GDP is not a perfect measure, but needs to be included as it is what the EU uses for regional funds.  But to measure success of RSESs we need to use a set of indicators including quality of life indicators.  RAs intend to use adjusted national income plus a broad set of indicators. Selecting what indicators to use to measure regional progress is the technical side of the equity/efficiency debate.
  • Demographic and Econometric Modelling work being undertaken for NPF will be at national, regional and county level. Will be fundamental to drafting NPF and RSESs.
  • How well is the current evidence base collection resourced? A lot of issues/background papers prepared for NSS.

Implementation

  • Often argued that plans are left on a shelf but need to ask the question, why would anyone (a policymaker) take a plan off the shelf? 1) if they are legally required to; 2) if it is useful to them.  Effectiveness of any spatial plan is down to decisions taken by other policymakers.  This will only happen if the plan is useful to them.  RSESs should provide a strategy to make the case for investment to policymakers.
  • What type of strategic plan do we want? In some countries there is very active/proactive management of the implementation of the plan. Or do we want one that is more aspirational and guidance for policymakers?  NPF/RSESs may need to include a ‘carrot’ to encourage public agencies to take the lead in implementing them.  What should role of Regional Assemblies be in the RSESs implementation?
  • Effective governance is critical to place-based development. What capacity is there at regional level? What is the relationship between local and regional? There is not much appetite to change power structures in Ireland, but the capacity of the structures at regional and local level can be strengthened.
  • The relationships across a lot of policies/plans is not clear, there are a lot of plans at present e.g. Regional Action Plan for Jobs, Action Plan for Rural Development etc, and it needs to be clearer how they relate to each other and to the RSESs.
  • Need to challenge the political acceptance of what is development and how to measure it. In some places e.g. Melbourne, it became the ‘most liveable city’ with no change to its institutions.

Public and community involvement

  • It is important for NPF and RSESs to be clearly understood by public. A lot of communities feel disconnected from planning but face the consequences (negative and positive) of planning decisions every day of their lives. It impacts on quality of life, health and wellbeing, employment, delivery of services etc.
  • More likely to gain public support for NPF/RSESs if they are less ambitious but more achievable. Public will not have buy-in for a plan that is unrealistic and unachievable.  Choosing fewer actions, but ones that can be achieved, will help create public support.
  • What is the capacity in local communities to engage with the NPF and RSESs? The changes in local development structures in Ireland over the past few years, with an increasing role and funding to Local Authorities for rural development, has weakened some traditional local development structures. It cannot be expected that these structures and individuals will have the capacity, or willingness, to now take a lead role in framing or delivering the RSESs. Community organisations may already be struggling to engage with Local Authorities, let alone with regional level also.

Funding

  • NSS had the benefit of being set in the framework of the National Development Plan (NDP), now there are a lot of documents for different sectors but no comprehensive economic plan. Where will the NPF sit?
  • There needs to be alignment between policy (NPF/RSESs) and investment. Where public investment takes place should be aligned with RSESs.
  • Needs to be a focus on what can realistically be delivered by public investment over the period of the RSESs. Public investments tends to be very cyclical, there needs to be long-term assurance that investments will be made to deliver on the NPF/RSESs.  If RSESs too broad and ambitious they will not be able to prioritise and will be less achievable.  RSESs need to include prioritisation.
  • Debate in UK at present on having a much wider qualitative and quantitative Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) methodology for investments.
  • There is a wide mix of funding models for investments. Good to have a mix of funding sources for any project, not just public sources.  Cannot have good infrastructure policy in absence of other good policies.

Clearly this ‘Debate and Discuss Session’ could have gone on all day given the scope and importance of developing new strategies for the spatial and economic development of Ireland’s regions out to 2040.  There will be a lot more discussion, debate and consultation on the development of the three RSESs during the rest of 2017, and well into 2018.

Pauline White

What are the levers for effective regional development?

‘What are the levers for effective regional development?’  was one of the most interesting questions posed recently by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government in its recent ‘Issues and Choices’ consultation paper for the National Planning Framework.

In our WDC Submission to the consultation, we drew on previous WDC analysis including the WDC Policy Briefings ‘Why care about regions? A new approach to regional policy’, ‘Education, Enterprise & Employment – How Can Better Integration Of The 3Es Drive Growth In The Western Region?’ and ‘e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence’ to answer this question.

In our submission we argue that Infrastructure, the ‘3Es’ (Enterprise, Employment and Education) and Innovation are the key levers for effective regional development.   The central aim of regional policy, the National Planning Framework and the upcoming Regional Economic & Spatial Strategies should be to provide the conditions for regions to grow and realise their full potential.  Developing infrastructure, the 3Es and innovation is the way to do this.  When these three areas complement and support each other, they drive regional growth.  Each has a distinctive role, and needs its own policy focus, but they are most effective when addressed through an integrated regional policy approach.

Infrastructure

Investment in infrastructure has always played a prominent role in regional policy.  The expectation that improvements in physical infrastructure will generate productivity gains for local businesses and increase the attractiveness of an area for investment and for tourism has been a recurring theme.  Less developed regions need to have a similar quality of infrastructures for their residents and businesses as is available in more successful regions. Infrastructural connectivity has a critical influence on choice of location for both indigenous and foreign investors.  The Western Region, and particularly the North West, is disadvantaged in terms of several forms of infrastructure.  For example Sligo was the only NSS Gateway which was not connected to Dublin with a motorway under the Major Inter-Urban motorway investments between 2006 and 2010 and was the only NSS Gateway or Hub to have a 0 improvement in its ‘accessibility to employment’ score as a result of this period of intensive investment, according to research by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

In its submission to the NPF, the WDC makes a range of specific recommendations in relation to infrastructural investments needed to facilitate development in the Western Region.  The proposed investments include transport (national roads, regional and local roads, public transport (rail and bus), air and ports), communications (broadband and mobile coverage) and energy (electricity and natural gas).  These infrastructure investments are also highlighted in the WDC’s submission to the Mid-Term Review of the Capital Plan.

While infrastructure is critical, OECD[1]  work emphasises that transport and other infrastructure developments are not enough by themselves; to have an impact on regional development they need to be associated with, and complemented by, human capital and innovation developments.

The ‘3Es’: Enterprise, Employment and Education

Regions are successful because enterprises in these regions are successful.  When enterprises grow, employment grows and this depends on skilled and educated people.  Policy to support the ‘3Es’ of enterprise, employment and education must work together at both national and regional level to create dynamic regions.[2]

One of the most important issues that needs to be recognised and addressed by the NPF is that narrow definitions of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location is extremely limited and does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the dramatically changing patterns likely to emerge up to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are dramatically redefining the conception of work, enterprise, and their physical location.

A study conducted for Vodafone in 2016 found that nearly one in four broadband users in rural Ireland use the internet at home in relation to their work and one third have remote access to their company network. An estimated 150,000 rural workers avoid commuting some or all of the time because they can connect to work remotely.  This trend is likely to continue.

If the NPF mainly equates the term ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force, and will not help to achieve effective regional development. The NPF must recognise and support existing and new sole traders, micro-businesses and freelancers working in sectors where lagging regions have comparative advantage or which are not location dependent.

Quality of life is a key determinant in the location decision of many people and current trends in the world of work and technology will increasingly help people to work from the same location where they want to live.

Enterprise

Enterprises create most jobs.  The NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy.  It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth.

Many of the references to enterprises in the NPF Issues and Choices paper focus on high value, high skill exporting enterprises, which are central to export-led growth and tend to cluster in cities and larger urban centres.  However such enterprises cannot provide a full solution for regional development or jobs growth.  While they play a significant role, and have considerable multiplier impacts in other sectors, direct employment in such enterprises only accounts for one in five jobs nationally (2016 there were a total of 400,985 jobs in IDA and Enterprise Ireland supported companies nationally (DJEI) which was 19.5% of total employment (QNHS, Q4 2016)).

Enterprises in employment-intensive, lower-skill sectors are central to maintaining and growing employment both nationally and regionally.  This is termed a ‘whole of enterprise’ approach acknowledging that enterprises across all sectors have the potential to innovate and increase productivity but vary in how they contribute to growth and employment.  If the NPF focuses too narrowly on high skill, high growth enterprises and/or Foreign Direct Investment it will not lead to effective regional development.  Recognising the role and needs of entrepreneurs in local and personal services is important for sustaining as well as creating jobs, in particular in smaller centres and rural areas.  93.1% of registered enterprises in the Western Region are micro-enterprises, employing fewer than 10 people, and in general the region is characterised by smaller enterprise size (CSO, Business Demography 2014).

While Ireland has emerged from recession, enterprise numbers are not back to pre-recession levels and even more so in the Western Region and particularly more rural counties.  Between 2008 and 2014 (latest data available) the Western Region lost 8.6% of its enterprises, compared with a loss of 2.4% nationally. Construction, Wholesale & Retail, Professional Services and Accommodation & Food Service are the largest enterprise sectors. Indeed fewer than 5% of the Western Region’s enterprises are in the Financial & Insurance and Information & Communications sectors combined.  The region’s enterprise base is currently quite concentrated and diversification of the enterprise base is a key objective.

Employment

As stated in the NPF, a skilled workforce will attract high value enterprises to a region, but a skilled workforce are less likely to locate in a region unless the job opportunities already exist.  In reality this relationship is not so straightforward.  Job opportunities are a critical, but not the only factor in people’s decisions on where to live, many other personal and social factors influence this decision.  In Ireland many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere in some cases e-Working for a number of days a week. Equally, areas with large pools of skilled labour e.g. counties in the wider Dublin commuter belt, have not necessarily been able to attract employers to locate there instead.  40% of workers living in the Mid-East region work in a different region.

In general, lagging regions have substantial reserves of unmobilised labour, indicated by higher unemployment rates and lower participation rates.  During the Celtic Tiger this pattern was largely reversed in the Western Region with rising participation rates, falling unemployment and high levels of inward migration as many people returned to the region on response to economic growth opportunities. The WDC’s LookWest.ie campaign effectively illustrated many case studies of individuals and enterprises who (re)located to the region at that time.  Labour markets in lagging regions have the potential to respond very positively to improved economic circumstances and stimulus.

The recession however led to high out-migration, which is particularly detrimental to lagging regions, as the propensity to migrate is higher among the more skilled, depriving the region of their skills and leaving the less skilled more dependent on local employment opportunities.  The creation of job or entrepreneurial opportunities for graduates in lagging regions will help retain and attract a highly skilled labour force and, in turn, stimulate further growth and employment.

A key characteristic of the Western Region is that 1 in 5 people who are at work in the Western Region is self-employed (75,000 people were self-employed in the Western Region, QNHS special run, Q1 2016). While farming influences this to some extent, self-employment is higher in the region across most sectors and is particularly important in the most rural counties.

Between 2012 and 2016 the number of self-employed in the Western Region grew by 31.3% but the number of employees only increased 0.6%.  Practically all recent jobs growth in the region has been driven by self-employment. In more rural areas and smaller towns, people who wish to continue to live in these areas have created their own job.  The NPF must both recognise and support this trend.  The Local Enterprise Offices, local development companies and local authorities are most active in supporting this type of business. It would be important to continue and expand initiatives to support them such as:

  • Roll-out of fibre broadband.
  • Provision of serviced, shared workspace including through Community Enterprise Centres, at a reasonable cost.
  • Mentoring and provision of grants for start-up and established businesses.
  • Network facilitation to allow self-employed, particularly in more rural areas who may be quite isolated, to connect with others in other own or other sectors.
  • Training and upskilling for owner/managers and self-employed across all sectors including personal services (hairdressing, childminding), building trades, retail and hospitality.

What is most interesting in recent trends is that since 2012 there has been quite strong growth in the numbers self-employed who are employing other people (from 14,200 up to 19,000) showing the potential for the self-employed to be job creators.

Education

Further and higher education has an important role to play in regional development.  Educational institutions build a region’s human capital assets, attract and retain talent.  Further education and training have a particular role in up-skilling those with lower education levels, who face higher unemployment rates and are at greater risk of long term unemployment.  Lagging regions generally have a greater share of their labour force with lower levels of education.  In 2011 54.7% of adults in the Western Region had only secondary level education or lower, compared with 51.9% nationally.

Higher education brings knowledge creation, knowledge transfer, cultural and community development and innovation to regions.  It can also stimulate entrepreneurship. Within the Western Region, NUI Galway is a key regional asset and economic driver. It greatly contributes to the attractiveness and economic development of Galway city and its wider hinterland.  To the North West the three Institutes of Technology of Letterkenny, Sligo and Galway-Mayo, are collaborating on the Connacht/Ulster Alliance, an initiative that has the potential to expand the contribution of higher education to regional development in this area.

The broader role of further and higher education, touching on innovation, enterprise and employment, needs to be a key focus of regional policy.  Where this works effectively it becomes part of a virtuous cycle producing graduates and skilled workers, and enabling them to find employment in developing enterprises.

Innovation

To remain competitive, manufacturing and service firms must continually upgrade skills and capabilities, access new ideas and technologies through industry networks, tap the knowledge of their workers, suppliers and customers and search for new market opportunities. This is all innovation.

Innovation policy is often focused on scientific and technological research, but while leading OECD regions produce several hundred patents per year per million inhabitants, more than one third of OECD regions generate fewer than ten patents per year.  Lagging regions need a different kind of innovation policy, one that emphasises absorption capacity and innovation by adoption.

Policy needs to address the issues of regions that are not innovation leaders.  A substantial element of innovation policy should be focused on adoption of innovations developed elsewhere and on initiatives in areas such as human resource management or implementation of new processes.  It should stimulate innovation activity in areas where rural regions have particular strengths such as renewable energy and agri-food.

Regional policy which addresses the levers of effective regional development – Infrastructure, the 3Es and Innovation – through a co-ordinated, place-based, cross-sectoral  approach is needed if the so-called, ‘business as usual’ spatial pattern of growth is to be disrupted and all regions facilitated to realise their potential for economic growth and provide sustainable livelihoods for those who live there.

 

Pauline White

[1] OECD, 2009, How Regions Grow: Trends and Analysis; OECD, 2009, Regions Matter: Economic Recovery, Innovation and Sustainable Growth

Call for Papers: Annual Conference of RSA-Irish Branch in partnership with WDC & NUI Galway

The WDC is delighted to be partnering with the Regional Studies Association (RSA) Irish branch and NUI Galway for this year’s RSA Annual Conference.  It will take place on Friday 9 September at NUI Galway.

This year’s theme is Planning for Regional Development: The National Planning Framework as a Roadmap for Ireland’s Future?

As the process of developing a new National Planning Framework – to replace the National Spatial Strategy – seems to be gathering pace after the hiatus caused by the election, it seems appropriate to focus on the NPF at this year’s conference.  The approach taken to the NPF and the closely linked Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, should have significant impacts on the future spatial pattern of development in Ireland.  How much of an impact will very much depend on the implementation systems that are put in place.

The conference will examine best international practice in spatial planning and consider what should be at the heart of Irish regional development and planning policy.  It will ask what vision for Ireland should underpin local, regional and national development over the next 30 years.

WDC_LOGO NUI_Galway_LOGO

 

 

 

Call for Papers:

A call for papers is now open. We are seeking presentations from policymakers, academia and practitioners active in the field of regional studies.  Post-graduate students are encouraged to submit.

Potential themes for presentations include:

  • The new National Planning Framework
  • One island, two jurisdictions
  • Visioning Ireland
  • The NPF and Governance
  • The NPF and Housing
  • Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies
  • Local and regional economic forums
  • New approaches to regional development
  • International comparator cases

Other contributions dealing with the topic of regional studies are invited and will be included in focussed sessions.

Submissions:

Proposals for presentations (in the form of a 250 word abstract) should be submitted through the Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch online portal by 31st July 2016. Submissions should be forwarded to chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie

Further details on the conference will be updated on the Regional Studies Association, Irish Branch website