Posts

WDC Insights Publications on County Incomes and Regional GDP

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published two WDC Insights: How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region and What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA.

Both of these examine data from the most recent CSO County Incomes and Regional GDP publication for 2015 (with preliminary data for 2016) and they have a particular emphasis on the counties of the Western Region and on our regional economy.

These two page WDC Insights publications provide succinct analysis and commentary on recently published data and on policy issues for the Western Region.  Both of these WDC Insights are shorter versions of the series of blog posts on County Incomes and Regional GVA which you may have read previously.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

In this WDC Insights data on County Incomes in 2015 are examined with a focus on the difference among Western Region counties and changes over time.

Five Western Region counties had Household Disposable Income per Person (Disposable Income) of less than 90% of the state average, while Galway and Sligo were both 93%.  They  had the highest Disposable Incomes in the Western Region in 2015 (Galway (€18,991) and Sligo (€19,001)).

Donegal continues to have a significantly lower Disposable Income than any other county in Ireland (€15,705 in 2015).  Disposable Income in Roscommon was also significantly lower than the state average at €16,582 in 2015. This was the second lowest of any county in Ireland, while Mayo had the fourth lowest.

Regional divergence was at its least in 2010 when all parts of the country were significantly affected by recession. Since then, incomes in some counties have begun to grow faster and divergence has again increased, particularly since 2012.

The WDC Insights How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region can be downloaded here  (PDF 260KB)

 

What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA

The most recent regional GVA and GDP data (for 2015 and preliminary 2016) published by the CSO is discussed in this WDC Insights with a focus on the regions which include the seven Western Region counties.

Between 2014 and 2015 there was very significant growth in GVA and GDP nationally (a level shift which occurred for a variety of reasons). It is therefore valuable to examine how this rapid economic growth was spread among regions. While data for the largest regions of Dublin and the South West has been suppressed by the CSO, to preserve the confidentiality, variation in growth and disparity in the other regions continues to be of national and regional importance.

The data shows that disparities are widening and economic activity, as measured by GVA, is becoming more and more concentrated.  The smaller contribution to national GVA from other regions highlights their significant untapped potential.

The WDC Insights What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA can be downloaded here  (PDF  350 KB)

 

If you find these WDC Insights on County Incomes and Regional GVA interesting and would like to read more detailed discussion of the data please visit these recent WDC Insights blog posts:

Leprechauns in Invisible Regions: Regional GVA (GDP) in 2015

What’s happening in our regional economies? Growth and change in Regional GVA.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

I hope that you find these WDC Insights useful.  Let us know what you think.  We’d welcome your feedback.

 

Helen McHenry

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

Broadband benefits – but when?

Recent statistics show that Ireland will not meet the EU 2020 targets for the universal availability of fast broadband[1]. Like other EU states, in Ireland there are particular challenges delivering fast broadband to rural areas and this is not helped by the complicated and lengthy procurement process.

Given the many initiatives in the recent past aimed at delivering better universal broadband, the WDC has believed that this current Plan, aimed at providing ‘future proofed services’ is the right approach, however given the fast pace of technological change, it is and will be imperative that future proofed technology is at the cornerstone of delivery to all.

There have been various analyses of the economic and social benefits of broadband and some Irish research was presented at a recent ESRI seminar. The seminar, titled Evidence of Some Economic effects of Local Infrastructure in Ireland focussed on the economic benefits of broadband infrastructure. Key findings included:

  • The availability of broadband infrastructure is a significant determinant on the location of new business, but its effects may be influenced by the presence of the levels of human capital and skill levels in the area.
  • Therefore when rolling out broadband in a structurally weak area, parallel measures to boost human capital should be deployed.
  • Human capital and proximity to third level institutions is important for all firms.
  • The effect of broadband depends on education levels within an area.
  • Infrastructure roll-out can help to re-balance economic activity.
  • Government departments and agencies usually have discrete mandates designed not to overlap too much.
  • Decisions to build infrastructure often not taken together (e.g. broadband or transport) or considered along with other factors such as health care provision or education.

The latter two points in particular highlight the need for co-ordination and the value of a comprehensive spatial and economic development plan such as Project Ireland 2040. See here for more information on the ESRI seminar.

Previously, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment conducted its own research which examined the benefits of high speed broadband and research and this is available here. In particular the research identified travel savings through more remote working and increased gross value added, see here.

The analysis measured benefits arising from delivery of high speed broadband planned under the forthcoming National Broadband Plan, to the ‘Intervention Area’ (IA), which comprises approximately 757,000 premises across rural areas throughout Ireland. These areas are not currently receiving high speed services from commercial providers.

The analysis found that each house in the IA could yield a benefit of €89.00 per household per annum resulting from journey time and fuel cost savings from increased e-Working as a consequence of the availability of high speed broadband. This would amount to an annual total saving of €48.39 million, which does not include other benefits such as carbon emissions savings etc.

Increased productivity is also forecast, generated from improved productivity of white collar workers living in rural areas (the IA) but commuting to work in urban areas. This shows the benefit to the enterprise expressed as an increase in GVA per employee of 1.53% (€1,342) per worker, working from home or remote working on a 1 day per week basis. This does not capture benefits such as increased staff retention and more satisfied employees.

Research elsewhere reflects some of the findings of the ESRI research. For example, work undertaken in the US by Professor Mark Partridge found that our review of the economic research finds that broadband’s contribution to economic development in rural regions is often overstated. Broadband expansion does produce positive economic effects in certain rural area, specifically more populated rural counties adjacent to metro areas.

The same research quantifies the economic benefits of additional consumer choice, produced when households are able to access a broader range of products and services at lower prices. The research conducted in Ohio, see here, estimates that reaching full broadband coverage there would generate between $1 billion and $2 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years. This estimate does not include other potential benefits that broadband offers such as reducing the period of unemployment among job seekers.

Professor Mark Partridge is due to present at the forthcoming Regional Studies Association Irish Section Annual Conference, to be held in Sligo IT on Friday 7th September 2018.

The theme of the conference is ‘City-Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions’ and the call for papers is now open. Further details are available here.

The WDC believes that to realise all benefits from next generation broadband, it is imperative that the National Broadband Plan deploying future proofed broadband is delivered as soon as possible.

Deirdre Frost

[1] Reported in Irish Times 6th June 2018

‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ … 10 years on

I was recently reminded that it’s been ten years since the WDC’s conference ‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ in May 2008. The context at that time was that balanced regional development had been included as a key objective of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 and was to have been a key consideration in public investment decisions.  At the same time however, the economic crisis was beginning to unfold. The WDC therefore felt it was timely to provide a forum in which the policy issues involved in balanced regional development could be discussed and debated.

Held at the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone, speakers included academics and researchers Professor Neil Ward from the Centre for Urban and Rural Development Studies at Newcastle University, Professors Gerry Boyle (NUI Maynooth) and Michael Keane (NUI Galway), as well Dr. Edgar Morgenroth (ESRI).  The line-up also included a number of policymakers including Julie O’Neill, Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Mark Griffin (Department of Planning) and Dermot O’ Doherty (InterTradeIreland).  All the presentations can be downloaded from here.

The focus of this post however is the paper by the WDC Policy Analysis team, presented by Dr Patricia O’Hara, then Policy Manager of the WDC.  Looking back at the paper I’m struck by how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.  The past ten years have seen massive changes in the country – the recession and recovery, a return to emigration, Brexit, significant social changes (very evident from last week’s referendum).

While the initial years of the recession actually saw some narrowing of regional disparities as all regions took a hit, the recovery has been spatially uneven and it could be argued that some of the trends driving the recovery e.g. multinational IT services firms, is accentuating regional imbalance.

2018 has seen the launch of the new National Planning Framework and a new National Development Plan, with three Regional Economic and Spatial Strategies currently being devised.  Therefore it seems an opportune time to reflect on what we had to say about balanced regional development a decade ago.

Deirdre Frost, Helen McHenry, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, Patricia O’Hara, Pauline White at the ‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ conference, 23 May 2008

The WDC’s paper was titled ‘The Regional Development Challenge: A Western Region Perspective’ and it set out what we considered better regional balance might look like, i.e. what regional development policies should be trying to achieve.  The list still seems as relevant today as then (but replacing the word ‘Gateway’ with city and key regional centres).

  • Future population growth distributed more evenly across Ireland.
  • Gateway centres with sufficient critical mass to serve as drivers for their regions.
  • Population increase in hubs and in small and medium-sized towns across the regions based on inward investment and indigenous economic activity, including significant employment in the public sector and locally traded services.
  • The natural resources of rural areas utilised in a sustainable manner and such areas well-linked to local centres.
  • An infrastructure base that enables all regions to optimise their participation in, and contribution to, the knowledge economy.
  • Quality social provision at local level and efficient access to services in other centres so that location does not contribute to social exclusion.
  • Careful planning and management of the environment, including landscape, cultural and heritage resources.

Following a discussion of regional disparities and trends, as well as international insights, the paper concluded with seven policy recommendations on what was needed to achieve more balanced regional development:

  1. Political commitment and vision based on an understanding of the kind of spatial structure most suited to Ireland’s social values, history and geography.
  2. Clear responsibility for delivery of regional development policy so that key government departments ‘mainstream’ the regional dimension into their spending decisions. One government department should have the mandate and resources for this and ensure, for instance, that other relevant departments include regional development outputs in their Annual Output statements to the Oireachtas.
  3. Resources should be provided to address the research and intelligence gap for policy-making, especially the development of regional indicators, measures of output and urban-rural links. Robust analyses of policy successes and failures are also necessary.
  4. Regional investment strategies should be directed to improving regions’ infrastructure, skill endowment and quality of life as the key drivers of their capacity to maximise their resource endowment and attract inward investment. Spending decisions in transport, energy, telecommunications, human resources, research, development and knowledge issues should clearly target reducing structural disparities between regions and not reinforce them.
  5. The NSS provides a robust framework for balanced regional development, but its operationalisation needs to be informed by a thorough understanding of the investment and planning requirements at different spatial levels.
  • The new, smaller gateways need support appropriate to their scale and state of development that maximises the possibility of sustainable growth and encourages them to form strategic alliances.
  • The interaction between gateways, hubs, provincial towns and rural areas needs to be investigated and understood in order to construct effective policy to support their function in the spatial hierarchy.
  1. All levels of government and stakeholders should be involved with common purpose in structures that facilitate knowledge-sharing and efficiency. Pending other reform, ‘ad hoc coalitions’ of local authorities could be an effective way of tackling common problems and facilitating cross-boundary/border cooperation between towns and smaller centres.
  2. The north-west of Ireland has some particular weaknesses that could be addressed by acceleration of investment in infrastructure links which would facilitate crossborder links and act as a counterbalance to the Dublin-Belfast corridor.

It can be argued that some progress has been made in a number of these areas with efforts to more closely align the National Development Plan investment priorities with the National Planning Framework. However many of these recommendations remain relevant, the need to integrate regional development far more closely in the investment decisions of the main spending Departments, the need to understand the interactions between different levels on the spatial hierarchy far better and to develop effective policy for cities, towns and rural areas and of course the continuing challenge for development in the north-west, which has been further exacerbated by Brexit.

It seems that delivering on effective balanced regional development is still a work in progress.

Pauline White

 

 

 

How can we develop renewable heat use in the Western Region?

The WDC has recently published an analysis study of opportunities for the development of the renewable heat sector in the Western Region.  The study ‘A Regional Renewable Energy Analysis: Using Biomass to Contribute to the National Renewable Heat Target’ was under taken as the Western Development Commission (WDC), along with SEAI, were tasked under the Action Plan for Jobs: West Region 2015 – 2017  (Action 134 ) to undertake a Regional renewable energy analysis on the use of biomass as a local contribution to the national renewable heat target and develop a range of actions to support the development of renewable energy in the region”.

The study considers the use of biomass use in the WDC region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare), along with an assessment of the potential contribution to the national renewable heat target.  The analysis focused on ‘solid biomass’ – that is forest derived wood fuels used for energy production[1].

The use of biomass for heat generation is likely to have the greatest potential for the Western Region in the immediate future in achieving the renewables heat target and reducing carbon emissions.  An EU 2020 target of 16% renewable energy is to be achieved by 2020 across the electricity, transport and heat (and cooling) sectors in all member states. Ireland is one of only four countries in Europe expected to miss its renewable energy target[2][3].  Heat is the largest of these three sectors, and Ireland has a target of 12% of final heating demand be derived from renewable sources by 2020.

Between September and December 2017, the survey of biomass deployment in the WDC region was undertaken which found seven large industrial biomass schemes using 110,000 tonnes of wood fuels a year. The installed capacity of these schemes ranges from 2,000kW to 22,000kW (31.2 Kilotonne of Oil Equivalent (ktoe)). The survey also found 43 smaller non-domestic biomass installations with installed capacities ranging from 50kW to 550kW. Only 24 of these are known to be operational, representing 6,600kW of installed capacity using 6,269 tonnes of wood fuel a year (1.74 ktoe).

In the WDC region, total biomass deployment is equal to 32.94 ktoe. This represents 8.1% of the Western Region heat market.  Taking into account the already installed biomass, this means 7.78 ktoe of new biomass deployment is needed by 2020 to achieve a target of 12% renewable heat for the Region.

This would require €35 million of capital investment and would create 70 new full time jobs and save 28,000 tonnes of CO2. As the potential total market is estimated to be 275MW, suggesting that 35MW of new capacity is a viable aspiration.

The WDC proposed 2018 – 2020 Action Programme, which is part of this report, considers how some of these barriers can be overcome and the growth of biomass could be achieved in the Western Region.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There is a modest percentage of non-solid biomass used to generate renewable energy, and this has been commented upon in the report where appropriate.

[2]https://www.seai.ie/Publications/Statistics_Publications/Energy_Modelling_Group_Publications/Ireland%E2%80%99s-Energy-Targets-Progress-Ambition-and-Impacts.pdf

[3] The others are the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

New WDC report on Travel to Work Patterns in the Western Region

The Western Development Commission (WDC) will shortly publish Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments (2018) which will be available for download here.

In this publication, the WDC draws on Census 2016 POWCAR data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region. The analysis, undertaken by the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO), identifies 42 labour catchments ranging in size from the largest, Galway City, with over 70,000 resident workers, through to centres with fewer than 1,000 resident workers.

The report also contains a detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region, namely: Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon. Trends are also examined, drawing on the original travel to work analysis based on Census 2006 conducted by the WDC.

The report notes some key findings:

  • All seven town labour catchments have significantly more people at work than the resident population of workers in each town as identified in the Census. They therefore have access to a larger labour supply. For example, Galway city labour catchment has a population at work more than double the Census population of resident workers, while Carrick-on-Shannon labour catchment has a population at work approximately 4.6 times the population of resident workers.
  • Compared to a decade earlier the seven county town labour catchments account for an increase of only 0.5% in the to­tal share of the population at work and living in the Western Region. This shows the limited change that has occurred over a long period and the need for very strong policy intervention to effect change.
  • The analysis highlights the importance of rural areas (centres with less than 1,000 persons) as employment locations. Generally over one fifth (in excess of 22%) of those living in the town labour catchment are employed in rural areas. The highest level of rural employment is in the Ennis labour catchment with over one quarter (26.9%) employed in the Clare rural area.
  • North-east Donegal is strongly linked to Northern Ireland. The ‘Derry Rural’ labour catchment accounts for over 5,000 resident workers, an increase of approximately 10% since 2006. This region will be most impacted by BREXIT, therefore policy needs to be developed and implemented to mitigate the impacts.

There are two outputs;

(i)    the full report, provides an overview of the travel to work analysis, identifies the 42 labour catchments, and provides an overview of change between 2006 and 2016.  It contains the detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region (Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon).

(ii)   Individual bulletins containing only the labour market profile of the principal towns are also available.

These reports will provide information for prospective employers, develop­ment agencies and regional and local authorities. These data can also be used in determining catchments for various services which will be of interest to transport providers, planners and local authorities. The outputs of the report will also be a useful evidence base for researchers and planners en­gaged with the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) for both the Northern and Western Region­al Assembly (NWRA) and the Southern Regional Assembly (SRA) and also for Project Ireland 2014, the National Planning Framework (NPF).

Caring for the West

The recent severe weather brought a lot of issues to national attention, not least of which was the extent to which people across the country are providing care and help to family, friends and neighbours, including older persons. As today is also International Women’s Day, this seemed like a good time to examine the extent of unpaid care being provided in the Western Region on a regular basis.

Census 2016 included the following question:

‘Do you provide regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability? Include problems which are due to old age. Personal help includes help with basic tasks such as feeding or dressing.’

Those who answered Yes were asked how many hours of care they provided per week. The results of this question were published in Census 2016 Profile 9: Health, Disability and Carers. It should be noted that this data likely underestimates the full extent of unpaid caring activity as some people who are providing care may have underestimated this or not considered themselves as providing care e.g. an older person may not have counted that they are providing care for their spouse.

In total 37,075 people in the Western Region recorded themselves as providing unpaid care. This equates to 4.5% of the entire population of the region, higher than the 4.0% share in the rest of the state.

The Western Region is home to 19% of all carers in the State, higher than its 17.4% share of the national population, showing the greater need for, and provision of, unpaid care in the region. This is closely linked to the region’s older age profile. Of the people providing care in the region, 60% are women and 40% are men.

Percentage of population who are carers

The map below shows the percentage of the population of each administrative county who are providing unpaid care for a friend or family member. There is a very striking East/West pattern with the highest shares along the western seaboard and western Midlands, with the Greater Dublin Area showing the lowest shares.  Of the counties of the Western Region, 4.7% of the population of Mayo and Sligo are providing regular care and 4.6% in Clare.  Within the region the lowest share is in Galway city at 3.7%.

 

Source: CSO, Census 2016 http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-cp9hdc/p8hdc/p9cr/

Age of carers

The region has a higher share of carers across almost all age groups (see Fig. 1). The higher share of carers in the region is particularly evident in the age groups between 40 and 54.  In the region and elsewhere, people in the 50-54 age group are most likely to be providing care at 10.5% in the Western Region (9.4% in rest of state).  Generally, caring activity is most likely to occur when people are aged 40-60, strongly influenced by providing care for ageing parents.

In total 54.2% of all carers in the Western Region are aged 40-60. As the majority of people in this age group are working, this raises the issue of flexible working hours and leave for those providing such care.  While there are a number of initiatives to improve flexibility for those caring for young children (e.g. parental leave, term time), fewer options are available for those providing elder care or caring for persons with a disability. Given the older age profile of the population in the Western Region and increasing life expectancy, the issue of flexibility for employees providing elder care will become even more pressing in future.

Of all people aged over 65 years in the Western Region, 4.4% of them are providing care, somewhat lower than the share in the rest of the state (4.7%). However this group (65+) account for 15% of all carers in the Western Region and also the rest of state.  Just under 1 in 6 of all carers are aged over 65 years.

Source: CSO, Census 2016, Table E9072 http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=E9072&PLanguage=0

Hours of care

In total 1,254,778 hours of unpaid care were provided per week in the Western Region. This was 19% of the total hours of unpaid care provided in the State. The average number of hours of care provided in the Western Region ranged from a high of 42.6 hours per week in Donegal to 34.1 hours per week in Galway City.

There were substantial gender variations in this however (Fig. 2).  The average number of hours of care provided by women was higher than the average for men in each county. In Roscommon female carers provided an average of 44.8 hours of care per week compared with 35.8 hours for male carers.  This was the largest gender difference in the region with the smallest gender difference in Donegal.

Source: CSO, Census 2016, Table E9049 http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=E9049&PLanguage=0

Conclusion

In the Western Region, 28.3% of over 65s live alone and there are 30,330 people aged over 80 years. The Western Region’s older age profile and increasing life expectancy means the demand for care, especially for older persons, will increase.  Increasing female labour force participation means that a growing share of those who are providing this care are also in employment.  As over half of all those providing care are aged 40-60 years, the need to balance caring for ageing parents and other relatives with work commitments is a critical and growing issue that needs to be more effectively addressed by policy.  While a lot of focus has been on trying to facilitate the childcare needs of employees (where more still needs to be done …) the issue of elder care commitments now needs to receive far greater attention.  This is compounded by the limitations of the Home Care Package as demand increases but resources and staffing are limited.

 

The Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy – Beyond Cities

The newly published National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040 sets out regional targets for each of the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies to deliver within their respective regions. The WDC recently made a submission on the Strategy for both the Northern and Western and the Southern Region, as the WDC region extends across parts of both.

A recent blogpost highlighted some of the issues the WDC considers relevant to the Northern and Western Region Strategy and the full submission can be downloaded here (or you can read the summary here). Here we examine some of the issues we highlight in our Submission to the Strategy for the Southern Region, available here and the summary is available here.

Cities

While most of the WDC region is in the Northern and Western Region, the WDC region extends into County Clare within the Southern Assembly region. The Southern Region includes three of the five cities (Limerick, Cork and Waterford), while each of the other regions has one city – Dublin in the Eastern & Midlands region), Galway in the Northern and Western Region. As such it would be important that the Southern Region strategy does not become overly city focused. Too often a strategy is made which is supposed to be for all people and areas, but the focus becomes that of cities and other areas are left without appropriate investment. This is a particular concern for the Southern Region Strategy.

While the cities within the Southern Assembly region are outside the remit of the WDC region the influence of cities extends across County Clare.  Galway to the north and Limerick to the South both impact on the residents of County Clare. The WDC has conducted analyses of Labour Catchments and Travel to work areas[1] which provide insights into the travel to work patterns of residents of County Clare and also the labour catchment of Limerick city.

This analysis shows the influence of Limerick city as a place of work for many residents of southern and eastern Clare and this has shown an increase since a similar analysis was done based on Census 2006. Just under 10,000 (9,647) workers live in that part of the Limerick city labour catchment which extends into Co. Clare, illustrating the importance of Limerick city as a place of work for residents of South-East Clare.

Labour catchments and their geographic reach provide important insights into the roles of urban centres and their hinterlands and consideration of these should inform the RSES. This will inform consideration of their strategies and defining the boundaries of the Metropolitan Area Strategic Plans as they exist and extend beyond local authority boundaries.

Lack of employment opportunities in towns as well as cities will be the key barrier to achieving the Draft NPF targeted levels of 20-25% growth. The employment centres of Ennis and Shannon in particular are key and ensuring that these centres attract and retain employment opportunities will be a key determinant in the achievement of the targets.

Ennis

After Kilkenny, Ennis is the largest urban centre outside of the cities and is the fifth largest urban centre in the Southern Assembly region. While the Southern Assembly region contains thirteen towns with a population greater than 10,000, just one of these – Ennis is located in Co. Clare.

Larger regional towns such as Ennis which are quite close to cities (Limerick and Galway) can benefit from good connectivity and economic spill overs. In the case of Ennis, proximity to Shannon as an employment centre is also a driver.

Forthcoming analysis by the WDC identifies the Ennis labour catchment in which the influence of Ennis extends over a large area but is predominately contained within county Clare. While the labour catchment extends to large parts of the county it excludes south western areas which are more influenced by the Kilrush labour catchment to the West and the Galway City labour catchment to the north ( which extends into north-west Clare in areas close to Fanore and Ballyvaughan). Ennis is still the dominant labour catchment for parts of east Clare (Tulla and Feakle) but east of this area is mainly under the influence of Limerick City which acts as a major destination for residents of south-east Clare.

Shannon

The WDC considers that Shannon should also be considered in the category of larger centre with population in excess of 10,000 – as its resident population of 9,729 is just below the threshold used and it is a more significant employment destination than its resident population would suggest. The CSO identifies the ‘daytime population‘[2] which includes those travelling into work and study as well as those that are normally resident there and who do not travel to work or study. It is clear from the significantly larger ‘daytime population’ that Shannon attracts a large influx of people to work there, both at the airport and among the 100+ international firms located there.

Rural Areas

Realising Clare’s Rural Potential, Clare Rural Development Strategy 2026, was published in 2016. Focussing on community development and community run social enterprises, development will take a partnership approach with communities and agencies working together. It details a range of actions designed to target a reversal of population decline across parts of Rural Clare. The strategy aims to deliver 4,000 jobs in rural areas over 10 years and challenges the presumption that urban living is the only model for growth. There are useful insights into innovative approaches to rural development which could benefit other rural communities across the Southern region.

It is essential that the NPF, the Regional Strategy and the Action Plan for Rural Areas work in a coherent manner to provide a strong policy and strategic basis for regional and rural action which are focussed on improving economic opportunities for people living in rural communities. Furthermore national goals must align with regional strategies and county and local plans and across all sectors.

The Southern Region is different to the others in that it has three cities within its remit, with one city each in the other regions. It will be important that the Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy does not become overly city focused and that it considers the needs and opportunities in all those places between cities – such as County Clare as well as the rural areas within its Region.

The WDC Submission to the Strategy for the Southern Region is available here with the summary available here.

 

[1] Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region (forthcoming) analysis by AIRO for WDC based on POWSCAR Census of Population 2016.

[2] http://census.cso.ie/p11map41/

 

Developing a Strategy for the Northern and Western Region

The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Region will implement the targets set out in the newly published National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040.  The WDC recently made a submission on the Issues Paper for the Strategy for the Northern and Western region and it can be downloaded here (or you can read the summary here).

The Northern and Western Region probably has the most challenging targets to meet in Ireland 2040 with a target of a population increase of 160,000-180,000 people and 115,000 jobs in the region.  However, when broken down into annual growth rates over the next 21 years (2019-2040) the targets appear more manageable,  For example the target that larger towns should grow by 40% to 2040 is an annualised growth rate of 1.62% p.a. for 21 years while rural population growth of 15% over the period amounts to less one percent (0.67%) annual growth.  Galway, which has the largest growth target of 50-60% to achieve a population of at least 120,000 can do this with an annual growth rate of 1.95%.  Nonetheless, these are ambitious targets and achieving them will need considerable resources and direction.

Ireland 2040 also places a significant responsibility on the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) in particular and the urban centres of Galway, Sligo and Letterkenny, as well as other large towns, as the key drivers in the region.  Some of these urban centres, which are targeted for 40% growth in the NWRA area, are not very well connected though they may be well located to serve as a driver for their region. These towns need their connectivity improvements prioritised so that they have some chance to achieve the planned targets.

Successful, sustainable regional growth will require a clear Strategy with strong goals and objectives, appropriate resources, a well-developed implementation process and an implementation body with the capacity, resources and powers to achieve co-ordinated action.

Population & Employment

As was noted throughout the WDC submission, the solution to maintaining and growing the regional population is the availability of employment, which in turn requires supporting policy for infrastructural development, a strategy for education and skills and stimulation of entrepreneurship and enterprise growth.  Infrastructure, the ‘3Es’ (Enterprise, Employment and Education) and Innovation are the key levers for regional development.  When they work together 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 policy approach.

The RSES should be explicit on the targeted location of jobs within the Northern & Western Region and the balance between jobs growth in Galway city, large towns and the rest of the Region.  These targets should be supported by a clear statement on how employment growth at different spatial scales will be facilitated and supported through the RSES.  It is important that the Strategy is clearly focused on creating real opportunities to keep people living in the region and to attract more people, whether to cities, towns or rural areas.

It should be remembered that during the early part of this century (2000-2007), when there was rapid economic growth throughout Ireland, rural areas responded rapidly with significant increases in the numbers employed and in workforce participation and, in turn, in local populations.  The region is ready to respond and targeted policies to stimulate employment and entrepreneurship will help to achieve targets.

The urban hierarchy

Specific details of the role to be played by different areas in the Region’s settlement hierarchy and the investments needed for these areas to fulfil their roles must be included in the Strategy.

In order to ensure that Galway city, the strategically located regional centres of Sligo and Letterkenny, other towns and rural areas all fulfil their regional development potential, with service and infrastructure levels appropriate to each type of area, investment at the appropriate scale needs to happen in all these places.  Too often a strategy is made which is supposed to be for all people and areas, but the focus becomes that of cities and other areas are left without appropriate investment.

In the Northern and Western Region there are only 5 towns (and Galway city, as well as part of Athlone) which have a population of more than 10,000, yet it is a relatively large region in the Irish context.  Therefore the Strategy should focus on the function of towns and the role they pay in their hinterland, rather than being too concerned with population size as a criterion for investment.

The nature and role of the smaller towns including county towns must be considered in more detail in the RSES and in County Development Plans.  It is important to be aware, in the context of the Strategy that these towns, as well as being important drivers of their local economy, are also essential to those living in other even smaller less serviced towns, in villages or in the wider countryside.

Although smaller towns can face significant challenges they also have key assets such as cultural heritage, historic buildings, local businesses and high levels of social capital.  These all provide opportunities for diversification and adaptation of the town and its social network to embrace future opportunities, whether it is improved tourism product, attracting people to live there, or developing knowledge and sectoral clusters such as creative industries.  Many towns have strong indigenous industries which may be exporting and a substantial number have some small scale foreign direct investment.  There are other enterprises and employers too, and important local services sectors and small scale manufacturing serving a local market.  These are very significant parts of the local economy and important local employers.  All of these can be leveraged to support the development of local communities.

Brexit

Brexit is a key strategic issue for the Northern and Western Region.  Cross-border linkages including cross-border commuting, access to services, retail and trade are areas which will undergo massive changes in the context of Brexit.  Planning for how to mitigate the impact of Brexit on border communities and the economy of the Border region in particular must be a core priority of the RSES.

Conclusions

Development of a strong regional spatial and economic strategy for the Northern and Western region will require coordination with central government, local authorities, enterprise agencies, and alignment with the Action Plan for Jobs and the Action Plan for Rural Development as they are developed over time.   The involvement of education providers, employers and people in the region will all be needed to ensure the targets are achieved.  The Strategy should be appropriately resourced (with money, expertise and time, as well as involvement of key stakeholders).  It would be better to have a more focused, limited strategy that can be implemented than a vision which is beyond the possibility of effective implementation.

Of course, the Issues Paper is just the first stage in the process of developing a Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western region.  There are many steps to be gone through, and further consultation, before the Northern and Western Regional Assembly publish a final Strategy, hopefully before the end of the year.

Detailed answers to the questions in the Issues Paper and consideration of specific needs are in the full WDC submission and an overview of key points in the summary.

 

Exploring Energy Infrastructure: Natural gas connections and use

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has recently commissioned a study of wider costs and benefits of the extension of the natural gas grid (see here for more information).  The WDC welcomes the commissioning of this study, as quality energy networks are important elements of the essential infrastructure required to underpin and stimulate economic development of the Western Region, much of which currently does not have access to the gas network.  Figure 1 below show Gas Networks Ireland’s pipeline map, which highlights the lack of connection to towns in the North West.

Figure 1: Natural Gas Pipeline map

The WDC has long advocated the extension of the natural gas network to towns in the North West of Ireland and made the case in some detail the 2011 study Why invest in gas?.  A natural gas network is, in many situations, an essential infrastructure without which a region may struggle to develop.  Towns connected to the natural gas grid have the reduced energy costs over the longer term resulting in greater competitiveness for businesses, as well as greater attractiveness for new industry which may choose to locate in towns with natural gas.

Where natural gas has become available large users (e.g. Allergan in Westport, Baxter Healthcare in Castlebar) quickly switched to natural gas. As the gas grid expands nationally and more consumers (both industrial and domestic) gain access, the availability of natural gas will be taken for granted. Lack of gas infrastructure may become a disincentive to investment, reducing a region’s competitiveness and increasing existing disparities.  As Gas Networks Ireland notes:

Industry depends on natural gas and gas availability is a key criteria for international companies when they are deciding where to invest. Having natural gas supplied to a town enhances its attractiveness and opportunities for growth and job creation. Many large employers in Ireland are also large users of natural gas.

Thus the WDC sees natural gas as a key enabling infrastructure for economic development of the North West.  It is therefore useful to understand natural gas connections and natural gas consumption in more connected parts of the Western Region and in other parts of Ireland.

Where is networked gas used?

The CSO provides detailed data on networked gas consumption, by type of user and by county.  The map below (Figure 2) shows the locations of residential metered connections across Ireland, and provides a very clear indication of the urban nature of the connections.

Figure 2: Location of Residential meters

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

Of the seven Western Region counties three (Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim) have no networked natural gas connection and Roscommon only has connections in the Monksland part of Athlone (a total of 72 residential connections and 2 non-residential connections (see Table 1 below, Western Region counties in bold)).  Galway, Mayo and Clare have more extensive networks.  Both Galway (6,795) and Clare (4,797) have significant numbers of residential connections while Mayo has fewer than 713.  Residential connections are most likely to be made when new houses are built, and many of the towns in Mayo were just connected as the rapid housing construction of the early part of the century slowed down.

Table 1: Number of Meters by County for Non-Residential and Residential Sectors 2016

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

Mayo has a significant proportion of non-residential connections (Figure 1 below); in fact it has the highest percentage of non-residential connections of all counties (with the exception of Wexford where dwellings only began to be connected in late 2016).

The CSO publication shows the proportion of networked gas used in power plants (62%), non-residential (24%) and residential (13%) in 2016.  Details of power plant consumption are not available by county but it is interesting to compare residential and non-residential consumption for each county with the proportions of the two different connection types.  Clearly non-residential consumption per meter will, in most instances, be higher than residential consumption but, as Figure 3 shows, there is significant variation in this across counties (Western Region counties are in green).  This is largely dependent of the type of non-residential users connected in the different counties.  The CSO intends in future to add NACE codes to the non-residential connection records in order to provide a more detailed analysis of non-domestic customers.  This will be very useful giving better understanding of the types of non-residential users.

Figure 3: Percentage meters which are Non Residential Meters and Percentage of consumption which is Non Residential 2016

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

While a quarter of meters in Mayo are non-residential, they account for 98% of the consumption.  In many more rural counties (Mayo, Cavan, Monaghan, Kilkenny and Tipperary) non-residential consumption can be very significant (over 85% of all consumption in the counties named above).  This is in contrast to Dublin, Laois, Meath and Wicklow where non-residential consumption was 51% or less of total consumption.

Figure 4: Natural gas Consumption by County Non Residential and Residential (Gigawatt Hours)

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

As these are gross consumption figures, and are of course dependent on the number and type of connections, there is very significant variation.  Not surprisingly the ‘Dublin Postal District’ has the highest level of both residential and non-residential consumption.  This area has more 12,294 non-residential connections (Table 1) which is significantly larger than Cork which has the next largest number of non-residential connections (3,497) and it can be inferred that many of the non-residential connections in this area are smaller commercial premises and not larger process users. This is borne out by average consumption per connection for each county in Figure 5 below. Roscommon (which has very few connections in a very small part of the county (75 in total)) and Wexford, which has very recently been connected (8 connections in this data) have been excluded.

As discussed above, Cork has a very significant total non-residential consumption (3,154 GWh) but only comes in sixth place for average consumption per non-residential connection shown in Figure 3.

Figure 5: Average Non Residential Consumption per meter (2016)

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

Cavan has only 114 non-residential connections but among them are some very significant gas users.  It has the highest average non-residential consumption per connection, and indeed this has grown significantly (by 53%) since 2011.  Wexford has a small number of large users (whose consumption justified making the network connection in recent years) while other quite rural counties show high levels of consumption per connection (non-residential).  In some cases (Mayo, for example, this is closely associated with high tech industry use of process heat, but significant agri-food processing in other rural counties are likely to contribute to the high average demand per connection.   In contrast, Wicklow, Dublin and Meath have generally low average consumption per connection.

While much of the variation in non-residential consumption will depend on types of connections and the type of activity being carried out, residential consumption levels are more comparable and Figure 6 below shows median consumption by county.

Figure 6: Networked Gas Median Consumption by County for Residential Sector 2016

Source: CSO 2016 Networked Gas Consumption

According to the CSO[1] the median consumption can be regarded as typical usage as it is not influenced by outliers in the same way as the average is.  Median residential consumption varies from 10,910 in Meath to 6,686 kWh in Mayo (Wexford has been excluded from the chart as it has only 3 residential connections).  This large variation suggests that residences in Meath are using 63% more natural gas than residences in Mayo. It is not clear what is causing this variation but lower median consumption in counties like Mayo may indicate a higher proportion of other fuels being used for heating.  Given the very significant variation in median use this is certainly an area for further investigation.

Roscommon which only has 75 residential connections in the west of Athlone also shows high median levels of consumption, but this may relate to the characteristics of the housing connected or the greater incentive for larger residential users to switch to natural gas to save on the cost of energy.

Conclusion

The importance of natural gas connections in many counties is shown by the meter and consumption data.  Clearly there are some very significant natural gas users outside cities often associated with agri food processing.

The IDA has significant targets for investment in the regions and meeting these targets could give rise to additional commercial demand in urban centres not currently connected.  Indeed the IDA strategy notes in relation to its development of utility intensive strategic sites, that these require significant capital investment in utilities including natural gas.  The most recent GNI development plan highlights:

Natural gas as a clean, secure, low cost energy source is a key driver of job creation and economic growth. Industry depends on natural gas and gas availability is a key criteria for international companies when they are deciding where to invest. Having natural gas supplied to a town enhances its attractiveness and opportunities for growth and job creation. Many large employers in Ireland are also large users of natural gas.

This regional development effect needs to be measured when assessing the development of a natural gas network.  Furthermore, in addition to commercial demand, residential users can be important.  The DCCAE study, being carried out by KPMG, is not examining any one particular place, but under the Draft National Planning Framework- Ireland 2040 (NPF) there are targets for significant population growth in larger towns and cities including ones which do not currently have access to natural gas.  Both Sligo and Letterkenny (neither of which have networked gas) are targeted to have 40% increase in population by 2040 (both to increase to 27,000) and, given the emphasis on consolidation of urban centres in the NPF, it is expected that this additional population will be accommodated in these towns and should be ideal for  compact distribution networks.

With this in mind,  it is likely that the important of natural gas as a key regional infrastructure will be recognised in the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the North West Region  (which is currently in preparation by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly).

____________________________________

[1] See Background Notes to Networked Gas Consumption publication (CSO, 2016)