Sunday 22 April 2018

Regional plan's 'city bias' sparks rural uprising

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. Picture: PA
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. Picture: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is facing a "rural uprising" from ministers and TDs over what they see as his 'city-centric' long-term plan for Ireland.

Ministers, including Heather Humphreys, Michael Ring, Patrick O'Donovan and Seán Kyne, have all warned Mr Murphy that he is holding electoral dynamite ahead of a potential election later this year.

The Housing Minister plans to launch a National Planning Framework (NPF) in the coming weeks that will help guide national, regional and local planning and investment decisions up to 2040.

It factors in a projected increase in population of one million and the need to create 666,000 jobs over the next two decades.

However, there is significant angst in Fine Gael that a draft version of the plan is overly focused on the development of existing cities and large urban towns.

TDs and senators have raised fears that it will herald the end of one-off housing and doesn't adequately acknowledge the need for broadband in rural areas.

While the plan includes a section on 'Planning for Diverse Rural Places', Mr Murphy has been subjected to what one source described as "a dose of rural ground hurling".

The draft report states: "The Ireland 2040 strategy is to focus a significant proportion of population growth in Ireland's cities, while also seeking to improve urban infrastructure, liveability and the quality of the built environment." It also sets a target of reversing "rural decline in the core of small towns and villages".

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But a senior party source told the Irish Independent: "Practically every TD along the western seaboard and from the Midlands is unhappy. Nobody is trying to stall the plan, but there has to be a huge rethink."

Mr Murphy is to shortly launch the final plan, which is titled 'Ireland 2040', in tandem with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's 10-year capital plan.

Government sources said the two plans should "speak to each other" because the NPF should significantly influence the projects allocated funding by Mr Donohoe.

It is understood Mr Murphy has been challenged about his plans at Cabinet and during a private Fine Gael meeting.

So tense is the situation that a number of ministers are said to have warned that the final report is not to be launched in Dublin by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Donohoe.

"It has to be credible and politically proofed," said one TD, who added: "Otherwise we won't be able to stand over it outside of Dublin."

Sources indicated that among the most vocal opponents of the current plan are Rural Affairs Minister Mr Ring and Business Minister Ms Humphreys.

It is understood when the issue was recently raised at Cabinet, Mr Ring argued that significant time needed to be allocated for it to be debated. Mr Varadkar agreed it would be politically sensitive.

Others understood to have expressed concerns to Mr Murphy include junior ministers Mr O'Donovan (Limerick), Mr Kyne (Galway), Andrew Doyle (Wicklow) and David Stanton (Cork); TDs Martin Heydon, Tony McLoughlin (Sligo) and Joe Carey (Clare); and senators Paudie Coffey (Waterford), Kieran O'Donnell (Limerick), Paddy Burke (Mayo), Michelle Mulherin (Mayo) and Joe O'Reilly (Cavan).

A number of TDs who spoke to the Irish Independent pointed out that Fianna Fáil previously tried to create 'hub towns', but its plan failed.

"This is a dangerous one for us," said a minister. "You have people like Fergus O'Dowd talking about the need for Drogheda to get city status, but then James Reilly wakes up and says, 'what about Swords'."

A spokesperson for Mr Murphy noted that he asked for the party meeting to discuss the NPF. "He found it very constructive last week. We were very, very happy to get all their views on it," he said.

The spokesman added that Mr Murphy is happy to sit down with TDs who had specific concerns, and this had already happened in a number of cases at adviser level.

Irish Independent

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