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The question for us all is: where should scarce public money be spent?


There was mixed news in the Measuring Ireland's Progress report

There was mixed news in the Measuring Ireland's Progress report

There was mixed news in the Measuring Ireland's Progress report

The challenges facing people living in the regions are far different from those in our cities, and political considerations play a major role when spending scarce public money.

Public transport is a case in point - investment in the €4bn DART Underground project would benefit more than one million people living in the Greater Dublin Area, in addition to providing a world-class public transport system.

But it would also buy more than 8,500 new coaches for Bus Eireann at a cost of some €460,000 each, which would go a long way towards solving our rural transport crisis. It would upgrade hundreds if not thousands of kilometres of roads, build hundreds of schools and creches and improve living standards for many living outside the capital.

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There's a growing sense of a two-speed recovery across Ireland, where Dublin and the larger cities are winning at the expense of the rest of the country.

Statistically, people living in the regions have it harder. Dublin has the highest disposable income per person, the lowest is in Donegal. The highest rate of unemployment is in the south-east; less than one in four people in the Midlands have a third level qualification compared with a national average of 29pc, most empty homes are along the west coast, while workers in the mid-east have the longest commutes to work.

Ireland's dispersed population presents challenges in providing key services including water, schools, energy, broadband, healthcare, transport and creches. Every county requires investment, but should public money be spent where the greatest number of people live, thereby securing best value, or distributed throughout the regions with a bit for everyone?

There's also the question of where we choose to live. More than 430,000 of us live in a one-off house, putting pressure on water services and local roads, not to mention the impact on the landscape. Should these houses be banned? Some local authorities have done so, saying only local people can build, but that raises questions about what constitutes a 'resident'?

As has been noted, does a person visiting for four weeks a year, every year for 20 or more years, spending money in the community and contributing not count as a resident?

Many local authorities are currently reviewing their city and county development plans, which will not only dictate where development takes place over the coming years but also the strategies needed to secure employment and improve the quality of life for residents.

As the FutureProof series has shown, there is enough land zoned for housing to meet more than five times demand. National policy is that growth is consolidated in villages, towns and cities, making use of brownfield and derelict sites and lands close to transport links and services.

While people must be allowed choose where they call home, the debate must now focus on delivering the best services at best value for money.

While Apple plans to invest €850m in a data centre in Athenry in Co Galway, creating 100 long-term jobs, these projects are few and far between. With more than half the population currently living in Leinster, it's clear that this region will provide most job opportunities in the future.

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The Residential Land Availability Survey map was created by drawing together zoning maps held by each local authority in the State.

Developed by the Department of the Environment, it sets out individual plots of land in towns, villages, cities and rural areas, and indicates the number of homes permitted on each site.

It took almost two years to develop, and provides planners and developers with an overview of the available land for housing.

It does not include land zoned for mixed-use development, which would generally include some housing provision. Nor does it include derelict sites.

The data is based on the situation as of March 31 last. Stage 1 land is considered not viable for development in the short-term because necessary services such as water are not in place. Stage 2 land has no major constraints. Not all the land has planning permission.


Irish Independent