Sunday 25 February 2018

Social isolation, death of rural towns and broadband's 'role'

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Housing: At least 500,000 homes are needed up to 2040, or 25,000 every year.

Since 2008, there have been very low levels of construction, with a lack of new homes in areas of high demand. At the same time there is over-provision in other parts of the country.

Households are getting smaller, and projected to fall from 2.7 at present to two per unit by 2040. This will result in more people living alone.

One-off rural housing will have to be addressed - in some counties, more than half of all homes built are single dwellings.

More development in existing communities is required.

Transport

Around one in 10 workers spend more than an hour commuting to work by car. More than one in seven in Dublin, Laois, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow had longer times. There was a 140pc rise in numbers commuting between 1991 and 2011.

The transport sector, which comprises 20pc of all carbon emissions, is growing with car ownership on the rise.

Dublin has 35 people per hectare, compared with an average of 13 in the cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

This impacts on delivery of public transport, as more than 30 people per hectare is considered the minimum level needed to fund quality services.

Towns

Car dependence means that many businesses need "significant" levels of car parking. This has resulted in the growth of out-of-town shopping and business centres. In many cases, smaller towns are becoming unviable due to loss of trade.

The extent to which greenfield lands are used to accommodate new development needs to be considered, given that it adds to commuting times and distances. Redevelopment of existing sites in built-up areas should be considered.

Many main streets and urban centres are being undermined by the flight to the suburbs, making it difficult for them to remain attractive, viable places in which to do business, work, live, or visit.

Without intervention, the spread of all cities will continue, with a profound impact on smaller towns and villages within commuting distance. These areas will have to cater for "exceptional demand" at a scale they are not equipped to deal with, leading to situations such as children not being able to secure a school place in their local area and pressure on basic facilities such as access to healthcare.

Energy/broadband

Some 60pc of greenhouse gas emissions are from use of energy in our homes, transport systems, industrial and commercial sectors. We have 35 metres of electricity grid, or power lines, per head of population, which is considered high by EU standards.

Alternative and renewable energy systems can deliver power locally. Consideration should be given to designating parts of the country for renewable energy, called Strategic Energy Zones. These would provide test beds for new technologies.

Delivery of broadband will play a "central role" in regional development, underpinning job creation, helping promote social inclusion and reducing travel, which will deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Health and ageing

People on low incomes tend to live in poor-quality homes and environments, which can lead to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression.

Access to green space, sports facilities and services and walking and cycling facilities are considered essential to promote healthier lifestyles.

The population is ageing. With dispersed settlement patterns, this will increase the risk of social isolation. In some areas, services are under-utilised and "redundant". In other parts of the country, people are forced to travel to secure access.

Irish Independent

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