Ibec, the group that represents Irish business, is calling for a number of amendments to the Draft National Planning Framework (NPF) ‘Ireland 2040’ for it to be sufficiently robust to deliver the ambition of the plan.
Addressing businesses at the Ibec South East Business Summit, Ibec South East Regional Director John Farrell stated: “The region has experienced slower economic recovery than the national average in recent years, lower third level education attainment rates, lower value job opportunities and less job creation. An effective NPF will be vital to securing the future development of the South East.
“The draft NPF reflects a major effort across Government departments. The new focus on improving the quality of life in our region will allow us to become more competitive, resilient and inclusive. When people decide where to live, they are planning to invest in an area.
“However, the national population projections are too conservative and undermine the NPF’s objectives in guiding population distribution, service provision and infrastructure investment. In the Draft, the population is projected to grow by 1 million between 2016 and 2040, with Waterford’s population targeted to grow by 30,000 in that period. A more realistic migration scenario would see the population grow by 1.7 million over that period, which should be reflected in a redistribution of growth between Dublin and the regions.
“The Draft acknowledges the uniqueness of the South East in having a network of large, strong regional urban centres in close proximity. A clear vision and strategy is required to build Waterford’s population and employment base substantially while enabling surrounding urban centres to perform complementary roles. Improving the road links to other regional cities, particularly Cork and Limerick is vital. Connecting these cities and regions will help spread the economic and population growth which is currently concentrated on the east coast. The National Investment Plan 2018-2027 must include an explicit list of projects with expected timeframes.
“Education and lifelong learning does not feature strongly enough in the Draft Framework. The lack of attention in the Draft to regional R&D, and indeed enterprise policy is concerning. The NPF should clearly articulate a set of strategic outcomes that acknowledge the differences in regional skills profiles and outline how regional workforce planning will be integrated in the Framework and the National Investment Plan. We are also recommending the provision of a framework for the development of a coherent strategy (including the use of PPPs) for capital investment in higher and further education.
“Ibec South East welcomes the specific reference to the establishment of a Technological University (TU) in the region. Innovative companies both national and multinational require highly educated workers and graduates. 70% of native students choose to attend universities outside the region and do not return on graduating, thereby inadvertently instigating a major brain drain. A TU will pave the way for growing the enterprise and economic base of the region and is vital to the future of the South East.
“Successful implementation is crucial. Putting the NPF on a statutory footing is vital to ensure strategies are adopted, rolled-out and capable of evolving without being undermined. We need to pay close attention to local and regional performance throughout its lifetime to ensure the right conditions exist to allow the entire country to succeed. Formal reviews and regular performance monitoring metrics will be vital.
“Given the potential impact of Brexit on the regions and the South East region in particular, it is vital that this is reflected in any future planning. Opportunities exist for the South East to develop and grow. With a comprehensive overarching National Planning Framework in place, the South-East region can play a significant role in addressing economic and societal imbalances.”