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Annual Conference of Regional Studies Association

The WDC is sponsoring this year’s Annual Conference of the Irish Branch of the Regional Studies Association. The theme of this year’s conference is ‘City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions’ and takes place on Friday, 7th September at IT Sligo

Submission themes

The call for papers for the conference is now open. Abstracts of no more than 250 words can be submitted here. Presentations from policymakers, academia and practitioners active in the field of regional studies, as well as post-graduate students are welcome. Presentations may deal with, amongst others, the following themes:

  • Cities as a source of economic growth
  • Development in peripheral regions
  • Urban centres and economic development
  • The National Planning Framework and governance
  • The National Planning Framework 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 may be included in focussed sessions.

Speakers

Two international speakers have already been confirmed:

Dr Andrew Copus, The James Hutton Institute, Scotland: Andrew Copus joined the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group of The James Hutton Institute in March 2013. For the previous eight years he was a Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio (Nordic Centre for Spatial Development, Stockholm) and the Centre for Remote and Rural Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands.

Andrew is an economic geographer by training, whose research interests relate to the changing rural economy and rural/regional policy. Much of his work has been based upon analysis of small area or regional secondary data and indicators. He has a long-standing interest in territorial rural development and regional disparities, which through recent projects is presented as “rural cohesion policy”.

Much of Andrew’s work has had a European perspective, variously funded by Framework Programmes, ESPON and as a consultant for the European Commission. He has studied the role of rural business networks, the changing nature of peripherality and most recently, patterns and trends in poverty and social exclusion.

Professor Mark Partridge, ​Ohio State University, USA: Mark Partridge is the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University and a Professor in the AED Economics Department. He has published over 125 peer-reviewed journal papers in journals such as the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Geography, Journal of Urban Economics, and Review of Economics and Statistics. He co-authored the book ‘The Geography of American Poverty: Is there a Role for Place-Based Policy?’

Dr. Partridge’s current research interests include investigating regional economic growth, urban spillovers on rural economies, why regions grow at different rates, and spatial differences in income equality and poverty.  Dr. Partridge has consulted with OECD, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and various governments in the U.S. and Canada, as well as with the European Commission. He has presented to the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament on regional issues.

Registration

The conference fee will be €70, including lunch, and online registration will open in the coming months. In the meantime any queries regarding registration should be sent to chris.vanegeraat@mu.ie or Justin.doran@ucc.ie

Regional Difference, Regional Strategies and a Ratio- employment and residence in towns in Ireland.

The National Planning Framework has a chapter on ‘Making Urban Places Stronger’ which covers settlements from cities to small towns.  In discussing Ireland’s urban structure (p58-59) it looks at population and employment and highlights a ratio of “jobs to resident workforce” as a key indicator of sustainability for a town.  Data is provided (in the NPF Appendix 2) on town population, resident workers and jobs in the town for 200 settlements with a population of over 1,500 people in 2016.  This is the only detailed data provided in the National Planning Framework.  It is useful to look at differences in the ratio across the regions to see if this indicator can help us better understand residence and employment as town functions.

The NPF suggests in the footnote to the discussion of this ratio that:

A ratio of 1.0 means that there is one job for every resident worker in a settlement and indicates a balance, although not a match, as some resident workers will be employed elsewhere and vice-versa. Ratios of more than 1.0 indicate a net in-flow of workers and of less than 1.0, a net out-flow. The extent to which the ratio is greater or less than 1.0, is also generally indicative of the extent to which a town has a wider area service and employment role, rather than as a commuter settlement. (Footnote 22 pg 176).

It suggests that those settlements with a high ratio of jobs to resident workforce are, by reason of accessibility, employment and local services, fulfilling important roles for a wider area.  This, as will be discussed later in this post, is particularly strongly indicated for towns in the North West.  Firstly, however, a scatter diagram (Figure 1) showing town size and the ratio of jobs to resident workers provides a good overview of the data.  For reasons of scale the five cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford) are not on this diagram but are discussed in more detail below.

Figure 1: Town Size and Jobs to Resident Workers by Regional Assembly Area.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2

The very different patterns among towns in the three regional assembly areas is clear in the diagram.  Towns in the Eastern and Midland Region tend to have lower ratios (most less than 1.0) with more workers leaving the town for jobs elsewhere than are travelling to the town.  In contrast towns in the Northern and Western Region, though generally smaller, are more often serving as centres of employment for their wider area.

As the NPF notes in relation to the North West, towns there tend to have ‘more significant employment and service functions relative to their regional and local catchment’ (p 59).  Table 1 below shows the ratio of jobs to resident workers for towns in the three Regional Assembly areas and the Western Region; the differences in the ratios again emphasise the different functions of towns in the Regions.

Table 1: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in towns over 1,500 in three Regional Assembly areas and Western Region.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (Western Region own calculations)

The low ratio for towns in the Eastern and Midland indicates the importance of commuting for many towns and the dominance of the large Dublin City region.  Indeed only 2 towns in EMRA have ratios higher than 1.5.  These are Longford (1.596) and Athlone (1.591) both of which are on the periphery of the EMRA, less under the influence of Dublin, and both have important employment and wider service functions for their hinterlands.  In contrast, 40 towns in the EMRA (just over half) have a ratio of less than 0.5.  In the NWRA area, where there are 44 settlements with a population of more than 1,500,  7 towns have a ratio of more than 1.5 while 4 have a ratio of less than 0,5.  In the Southern Region, with three key cities, a quarter of towns (19) have a ratio of less than 0.5, while 7 towns (9%) have a ratio of greater than 1.5.

Looking at the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit), the overall ratio is very high (1.26) and of the 39 listed 7 have a ratio of more than 1.5 while four have a ratio of less than 0.5.

Cities and Key Regional Centres

Given the focus on the development of cities and a few key regional centres in the National Planning Framework, it is useful to examine the ratios for the five cities and these regional growth centres (Table 2).  Somewhat surprisingly, Dublin City and its suburbs has a ratio of only 0.978 despite being the major centre for the Region.  This is likely to be related to the location of the boundaries of the suburbs and the fact that there is a larger Dublin Region agglomeration which has a spread of job locations and worker flows to towns that are essentially part of a greater Dublin.

As expected, the other four cities have ratios greater than 1.0, with Galway the highest of these (1.302).  Looking at the proposed regional growth centres, Athlone, Letterkenny and Sligo all have high ratios indicating their importance as employment and service centres in their wider hinterlands.  In contrast Drogheda and Dundalk (which are mentioned in the NPF as part of a “Drogheda-Dundalk-Newry” cross border network) both have lower ratios. Drogheda, in particular, has many people travelling to work elsewhere.

Table 2: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in Cities and Regional Growth Centres.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2, (EMRA towns in purple, NRWA in green and SRA in blue).

 

Patterns of employment and residence in the Western Region

Looking briefly at towns in the Western Region, Table 3 shows the settlements with the highest jobs to resident workers ratios in the Region.  There is no particular pattern relating to town size, but the top five are all ‘county towns’ and have particular local employment and service functions.  Other towns in the top ten often have key employers indicating the importance of employment spread.

Table 3: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in ten Western Region settlements with highest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)

In contrast to the towns in the table above, Table 4 below shows the Western Region towns with the lowest job to resident worker ratios.  These are all ‘dormitory’ towns serving Galway, Sligo and Limerick.  These are the only towns in the Western Region which have a ratio of less than 0.5 indicating perhaps, aside from these, a more sustainable region in terms of commuting patterns.

Table 4: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in five Western Region settlements with lowest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)

Conclusions

Understanding where people work and where people are most likely to travel to work is essential to our understanding of employment and economic activity in our Region.  The WDC will publish a detailed analysis of travel to work patterns and labour market catchments in the Western Region next month. It is based on data from Census 2016 will also provide a comparison the 2009 WDC study Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region which used Census 2006 data.

The use of the jobs to resident workforce ratio in the NPF is interesting.  It is quite a restricted indicator but the variation in the ratio among towns of all sizes and across the different regions serves to emphasise that the individual employment and other characteristics of each town are the key to the town’s pattern of, and opportunities for, development.  Therefore a clear understanding of the functions and areas which each town can develop is important.

For the Western Region, the ratio has served to highlight the importance of towns of all sizes as centres of employment in the region, while in contrast it shows the importance of commuting to many towns in the East.  Thus, there is a need for very different regional strategies in relation to towns in the North West and in areas of other regions where the influence of the cities is not significant.

A strong argument is made throughout the NPF that concentration in larger cities and towns is essential, but this data indicates that, in the Western Region at least, smaller towns often have high jobs to resident workers ratios and they are attracting workers, probably from their rural catchments.  It is therefore important that we consider the case for ensuring a wider spread of employment across towns of different sizes and develop better policies to do so.  If there is too much focus on the largest cities we risk replicating the problems in the East, where many towns have little function other than as dormitories for the cities.

Locating jobs where workers reside, and supporting those urban centres which have important local and regional functions could be a more sustainable approach and perhaps would be easier to achieve than concentrating residence in the largest urban centres.

 

Helen McHenry

 

What are the Capital Infrastructure Priorities for the Western Region?

Last week the WDC made a Submission to the Public Consultation on the Mid-term Review of the Capital Plan 2016-2021.

The consultation sought views as to what should be included in the current Plan (€42 billion), over and above what is already included – arising from additional resources (€5 billion) being made available.

In addition, an interesting and welcome aspect was that the Consultation also sought views on the criteria which should inform consideration of the capital investment choices to be made. This was in the context of the remainder of the current plan, but also and arguably of more importance in the context of a longer term 10 year Capital Plan.

This idea of a longer term 10 year Capital Plan acknowledges another important Public Consultation underway – the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the need to consider investment priorities which would align and support the final NPF. A draft NPF is due for consideration over this Summer.

In discussing the Considerations for the Mid-Term Review of the Capital Plan (Section 2), the WDC highlighted the importance of infrastructure for regional development where all regions need quality infrastructure to compete effectively. The WDC submission also noted;

  • The importance of long-term planning, as decisions made on infrastructure now have very long term impacts.
  • The need to invest to join existing networks together and complete ‘unfinished sections’. For example once the Gort-Tuam motorway is complete, the priority should then be to improve the outstanding sections between Tuam and Sligo to ensure a high quality road network.
  • Identify and utilise existing available capacity before considering new investments at congested sites. For example there is international air access capacity available at Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock. Another example is to develop more attractive services on the rail network, which is a valuable transport asset with capacity to ease congestion on the road network and help us meet Ireland’s climate change obligations.
  • Develop inter-regional linkages. While connectivity to Dublin from most regions has improved considerably in the last decade, inter-regional connectivity is relatively poor. By improving inter-regional connectivity, such as improving the road network between the urban centres in the Mid-West, West and North West then the investment potential of the key urban centres there can be enhanced.

The WDC submission also notes the importance of appropriate appraisal and evaluation methods when considering alternative investment projects. The capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined. The traditional cost benefit approach will naturally favour the larger and often largest population centres as the impacts are likely to be felt by a greater number, wherever the project is being delivered. To realise better spatial balance, there will need to be a change to the conventional appraisal and evaluation methodologies which are typically used to determine what projects proceed. The impact on the wider spatial balance of the country should be factored in.

In the section examining the prioritisation of Capital Expenditure and Selection of Projects/Programmes in current Capital Plan (Section 3), the WDC focused on the infrastructure areas it considers critical for Western development.

Key priority infrastructural investments include:

  • Funding to deliver and complete the National Broadband Plan as soon as possible to ensure high speed broadband for all.
  • National primary road improvements including N4, N5, N6, M17, M18, incorporating the Atlantic Road corridor.
  • National secondary roads see WDC Submission for specific priorities.
  • There is a need to increase regional and local roads funding to allow road maintenance programme to be enhanced.
  • The importance of Bus services and the Rural transport programme to citizens in the Western Region is highlighted.
  • Continue investment is needed to support increased rail frequencies and service levels on routes serving the Western Region.
  • Ongoing support for improvements and access to Ireland West Airport Knock and Shannon.
  • Investment in the electricity network and natural gas infrastructure is made through the commercial state sector, but it should be co-ordinated and monitored through the Capital Investment Plan.
  • Apart from completing all energy commitments in the Capital Plan there should be investment to connect to the natural gas grid at Athenry, Ballyhaunis and Knock, all three of which qualified for connection in 2006.

In Section 4, Long-term Capital Investment Framework (10 years), the WDC Submission examines the longer-term considerations needed for effective capital investment. The WDC believes that capital investment which is by its nature long-term investment should be undertaken within the context of a longer term planning framework as is proposed in the National Planning Framework 2040. The WDC has made a detailed submission to the NPF (4.5 MB) consultation conducted by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

Other considerations include:

Capital spending on new infrastructure should focus on supporting better spatial balance as well as supporting those citizens and that part of the country which is relatively poorly served. Quality infrastructure is one of the necessary conditions for regional development.

Investment in road infrastructure to join existing networks together and complete ‘unfinished sections’. For example in the West/North West. These are often infrastructure requirements needed to satisfy current as well as future demand.

As outlined previously, the state should capitalise on the capacity already available and ‘sweat’ the state investment already made, such as in transport, for example the rail network and the international airports with spare capacity such as Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock. Other examples include educational infrastructure (Institutes of Technology), Health facilities and Housing.

Policy will also influence the infrastructure investments needed. The need to lower carbon emissions will help influence infrastructural investments (for example supporting cleaner transport modes).

Another consideration is to enable greater policy integration and joined up investment decisions across all sectors, for example planning, employment and transport policy sectors, which are proven to help to make sustainable and active travel more attractive alternatives to the private car.

A good example is the benefits which could be realised through increased e-Working, see WDC Policy Briefing No.7 (748 KB) which can reduce transport demand, traffic congestion and emissions. It has been estimated that if just 10% of the working population of 2.1 million were to work from home for 1 day a week, there would be a reduction of around 10 million car journeys to work per annum[1]. Benefits arising from higher broadband speeds and greater levels of e-Working include time savings, enhanced communications, increased sales and productivity gains[2]. To promote greater take-up, e-Work needs to be prioritised as a policy objective and a cross departmental approach is required. Lead departments would include the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment.

The WDC Submission is available for download here (4 MB).

Deirdre Frost

[1]Department for Transport, Smarter Travel: A Sustainable Transport Future, A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 http://www.smartertravel.ie/sites/default/files/uploads/2012_12_27_Smarter_Travel_english_PN_WEB%5B1%5D.pdf#overlay-context=content/publications. p.35

[2] Indecon International Economic Consultants, July 2012. Economic / Socio-Economic Analysis of Options for Rollout of Next Generation Broadband. Analysis undertaken on behalf of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) as part of the Government’s National Broadband Plan, 2012. http://www.dccae.gov.ie/communications/SiteCollectionDocuments/Broadband/National%20Broadband%20Plan.pdf

Key Issues for the National Planning Framework – Submission from the WDC

The WDC  made its submission on Ireland 2040 – Our Plan: National Planning Framework   yesterday.  The Issues and Choices paper covered a wide range of topics from national planning challenges to sustainability, health, infrastructure and the role of cities and towns.  A key element of the paper considered the future in a “business as usual” scenario in which even greater growth takes place in the Dublin and Mid East region with consequent increased congestion and increasing costs for businesses and society, while other parts of the country continue to have under-utilised potential which is lost to Ireland.  The consultation paper therefore sought to explore the broad questions of alternative opportunities and ways to move away from the “business as usual” scenario.

The WDC submission considers these issues from the perspective of the Western Region, the needs of the Region, the opportunities its development presents for Ireland’s economy and society as a whole and the choices, investments and policy required to achieve regional growth and resilience.

This post highlights the key points made in the submission.  The complete, comprehensive submission on the National Planning Framework by the WDC can be read here (4.5MB PDF).  A shorter summary is available here (0.7MB PDF).

 

What should the NPF achieve?

  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) provides Ireland with an opportunity to more fully realise the potential of all of its regions to contribute to national growth and productivity. All areas of Ireland, the Capital and second tier cities, large, medium and small-sized towns, villages and open countryside, have roles to play both in the national economy and, most importantly, as locations for people to live.
  • While spatial planning strives for ideal settlement or employment patterns and transport infrastructure, in many aspects of life change is relatively slow; demographics may alter gradually over decades and generations and, given the housing boom in the early part of this century, many of our existing housing units will be in use in the very long term. If the NPF is to be effective it must focus on what is needed, given current and historical patterns and the necessity for a more balanced pattern of development.
  • To effectively support national growth it is important that there is not excessive urban concentration “Either over or under [urban] concentration … is very costly in terms of economic efficiency and national growth rates” (Vernon Henderson, 2000[1]). Thus it is essential that, through the NPF, other cities and other regions become the focus of investment and development.

Developing Cities

  • As the NPF is to be a high level Framework, in this submission the WDC does not go into detail by naming places or commenting on specific development projects, as these will be covered by the forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES). The exception to this, however, is in relation to the need for cities to counterbalance Dublin.  In this case we emphasise the role of Galway and the potential for Sligo to be developed as the key growth centre for the North West.
  • The North West is a large rural region and Sligo is the best located large urban centre to support development throughout much of the North West region. With effective linkages to other urban centres throughout the region and improved connectivity, along with support from regional and national stakeholders, Sligo can become a more effective regional driver, supporting a greater share of population, economic and employment growth in Sligo itself and the wider North West region.

Developing Towns

  • While the NPF is to be a high level document and the focus is largely on cities it is important not to assume that development of key cities will constitute regional development. All areas need to be the focus of definite policy, and the NPF should make this clear.
  • While cities may drive regional development, other towns, at a smaller scale, can be equally important to their region. Recognising this is not the same as accepting that all towns need the same level of connection and services.  It is more important to understand that the context of each town differs, in terms of distance and connectivity to other towns and to the cities, the size of the hinterland it serves and its physical area as well as population.  Therefore their infrastructure and service needs differ.
  • Towns play a central role in Ireland’s settlement hierarchy. While much of the emphasis in the NPF Issues and Choices paper is on cities and their role, for a large proportion of Ireland’s population small and medium-sized towns act as their key service centre for education, retail, recreation, primary health and social activities.  Even within the hinterlands of the large cities, people access many of their daily services in smaller centres.  The NPF needs to be clear on the role it sees for towns in effective regional development.

Rural Areas

  • Rural areas provide key resources essential to our economy and society. They are the location of our natural resources and also most of our environmental, biodiversity and landscape assets.  They are places of residence and employment, as well as places of amenity, recreation and refuge.
  • They are already supporting national economic growth, climate action objectives and local communities, albeit at a smaller scale than towns and cities. But a greater focus on developing rural regions would increase the contribution to our economy and society made by rural areas.
  • The key solution to maintaining rural populations is the availability of employment. It is important that the NPF is truly focused on creating opportunities for the people who live in the regions, whether in cities, towns or rural areas.

Employment and Enterprise

  • In the Issues and Choices paper a narrow definition of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location seems to be assumed. This does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the likely changes to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are redefining the conceptions of work, enterprise and their physical location.
  • If the NPF mainly equates ‘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 the needs of a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force.
  • Similarly the NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy and enterprise base. It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth across all regions and particularly in sectors where regions have comparative advantage.

Location Decisions

  • While job opportunities are a critical factor in people’s decision of where to live, they are by no means the only factor. Many other personal and social factors influence this decision such as closeness to family (including for childcare and elder care reasons), affordability, social and lifestyle preferences, connection to place and community.
  • Many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere or, in some cases, e-Work for a number of days a week. The NPF needs to recognise the complexity of reasons for people’s location decisions in planning for the development of settlements.

Infrastructure

  • New infrastructure can be transformative (the increase in motorway infrastructure in recent decades shows how some change happens relatively quickly). Therefore it is essential that we carefully consider where we place new investments.  To do so, capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined if we are to move from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
  • Investment in infrastructure can strongly influence the location of other infrastructure with a detrimental impact on unserved locations. The North West of the country is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regard to motorway access. This situation will be compounded if investment in rail is focused on those routes with better road access (motorways) in order for rail to stay competitive, or if communications or electricity networks are developed along existing motorway or rail corridors.
  • The WDC believes that the regional cities can be developed more and have untapped potential, however better intra-regional linkages are needed. The weaker links between the regional centres – notably Cork to Limerick and north of Galway through to Sligo and on to Letterkenny, are likely to be a factor in the relatively slower growth of regional centres in contrast to the motorway network, most of which serves Dublin from the regions.

Climate Change

For the future, the need to move to a low carbon, fossil fuel free economy is essential and needs to be an integral and much more explicit part of the NPF.  The National Mitigation Plan for Climate Change is currently being developed, and it is essential that actions under the NPF will be in line with, and support, the actions in the Mitigation Plan.

How should the NPF be implemented?

  • While much of the role of the NPF is strategic vision and coordination of decision-making, in order for the Framework to be effective it is essential that the achievement of the vision and the actions essential to it are appropriately resourced. The Issues and Choices paper does not give a detailed outline of how the NPF implementation will be resourced, except through the anticipated alignment with the Capital Investment Programme.
  • It should be remembered that policy on services and regional development is not just implemented through capital spending but also though current spending and through policy decisions with spatial implications (such as those relating to the location of services). Therefore it is essential that other spending, investment and policy decisions are in line with the NPF rather than operating counter to it.
  • While the NPF is to provide a high level Framework for development in Ireland to 2040, it seems this Framework is to be implemented at a regional level through the RSES. The Framework and the Strategies are therefore interlinked yet the respective roles of the NPF and the RSES are not explicit and so it is not evident which areas of development will be influenced by the NPF and which by the RSES.
  • In order to ensure that the NPF is implemented effectively it is important that there is a single body with responsibility for its delivery and that there is a designated budget to help achieve its implementation.

 

It is expected that a draft National Planning Framework document will be published for consultation in May.  Following that a final version of the Framework will be prepared for discussion and consideration by Dáil Éireann.

 

As mentioned above the full WDC submission on the Issues and Choices paper Ireland 2040 Our Plan- A National Planning Framework is available here (PDF 4.5MB) and a summary of key point and responses to consultation questions is available here (PDF 0.7MB).

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] http://www.nber.org/papers/w7503

The Battle for Rural Ireland – RTE 1

RTE screened a documentary, The Battle for Rural Ireland, on 9th March 2015, to which Deirdre Frost contributed. Presented by Richard Curran, the programme highlights the challenges faced by rural communities and towns, both in the context of the recent recession and the outlook for further rural depopulation. Much of the projected population growth is to occur on the East coast.

You can watch the programme here (available until 30 March).

While urbanisation is not unique to Ireland, the programme shows the effects of population loss on rural areas, in terms of service provision and employment opportunities.

The Battle for Rural Ireland highlights some examples of innovative enterprise development and employment creation in rural areas but ultimately the need for stronger regional and rural policy is clear.

Deirdre Frost

Regional balance in FDI

The regional balance of FDI received considerable media attention over the past few days. IDA Ireland’s statement on its 2014 performance (issued on Tuesday, 6 January) noted that 37% of investments had taken place outside of Dublin and Cork. This was an improvement from 2013’s 30% figure but still considerably behind the 50% target set in their Horizon 2020 strategy.

The IDA’s new five-year strategy, due to be published soon, is likely to give more focus to the issue of the regional spread of FDI investment. For urban centres other than the largest cities, the target needs to be smaller scale FDI appropriate for such locations. Smaller urban centres have access to large labour catchments beyond their town boundaries, as well as the potential to attract returning emigrants, and have much improved transport and broadband infrastructure capacity than previously.

The WDC will publish a report later this month analysing trends in agency assisted employment, both foreign owned and Irish owned, in the Western Region over the 2004-2013 period. It will analyse the type of employment, ownership patterns and sectoral performance within the region. County level data will also be examined and the WDC will publish individual county profiles for each of the seven western counties.

We hope this analysis will provide useful insights for enterprise, job creation and regional development policy for the Western Region.