Tuesday 11 December 2018

Giving real meaning to Sligo's status as a regional centre must follow plan's launch

Paul's Diary

Paul Deering

Yes, it's short on specifics and detail but what national plan has ever been otherwise?

The Government's Project Ireland 2040 was launched at IT Sligo last Friday following approval at a cabinet meeting that morning at the campus.

An historic occasion for the college and it certainly proved once again how fitting a venue it was for such an important occasion.

The college, pushing for technological university status, looked resplendant and President Brendan McCormack can be justifiably proud at the smooth running of the event, not just catering for the cabinet but the ensuing ensemble of advisors, press officers, secretaries, personal assistants and of course the media, both national and local. Following a brief outline of the plan in the morning to the media, the full cabinet moved across to the Knocknarea Arena where a number of ministers addressed what seemed like a gathering of the entire town with every sector represented.

And, there was good news for Sligo to keep the audience interested. The new National Development Plan will support the achievement of more balanced development of Ireland's main cities but it also states other large urban centres including Sligo in the North West and Athlone in the Midlands will fulfil the role of regional centres.

There's support for investment to develop the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin while it also states the other major objective is to make substantial progress in linking the regions and urban areas, not just to Dublin but to each other.

"A particular priority is substantially delivering the Atlantic Corridor with a high quality road network linking Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo."

Granted, there's nothing new in terms of projects for Sligo and that's where the critics are having a field day but at least there's a designation of the city as a regional centre. If the plan is going to mean anything at all then surely it has to benefit the city in some tangible way?

That's the point which has to be hammered home when the likes of Sligo County Council go to Transport Infrastructure Ireland for funding. Sligo delegations cannot be simply pushed out the door anymore.

And, the plan needs to be nailed down as policy by the Government now with no deviation into the future.

Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen was on national radio on Saturday morning saying the plan was not a statutory basis and would therefore be open to future amendment if the Government changes while he also said it would be subject to debate in the Dáil.

The last thing we want is a new Government coming in an ripping up the plan. This is the plan for the next 20 or so years and it should not be tinkered with.

It would make a mockery of the whole exercise if a change of Government saw projects being changed, perhaps due to constituency or sectional lobbying.

Minister Heather Humphreys told the gathering at the Knocknarea Arena that it wasn't a one for everyone in the audience type of plan.

Let's hope not. Sligo was designated a Gateway City before in 2002 under the National Spatial Strategy but in the end it meant nothing.

I heard a Government Minister on national radio on Friday morning blaming the fact the Recession hit as the reason why much of that plan wasn't delivered upon.

The Recession didn't hit as far as I can remember until late 2007 so how can this be used as an excuse for the imbalanced regional growth that has been a hallmark of the country for the past 20 years?

Minister Murphy spoke a lot of how the country had the fastest growing economy in Europe but a large section of the population was now spending two hours a day commuting to work. Minister Humphreys spoke of how we need to plan for an extra million people living here by 2040.

Can one project, encompassing the National Development Plan and National Planning Framework and very much short on detail be the answer to everything?

Minister Murphy said the specifics would come in other plans.

So I guess it's a framework that can be put before other agencies such as Transport Infrastructure Ireland which can be told 'give us the money, Sligo is in the 2040 Plan and we won't take no for an answer anymore.'

Some Fianna Fáilers were down the back of the Knocknarea Arena.

It was a Fine Gael gig afterall and an impressive one at that. The view was that Sligo was added in at the last minute.

It certainly was. There was no mention of Sligo when the draft plan was launched last September.

But we're in now and let's make the most it and keep the pressure on to ensure we aren't cast to one side again and watch other larger urban centres get all the funding.

Vital projects like the N4, N17, Western Distributor Road and Eastern Garavogue Bridge along with high speed broadband should all be completed over the next five years. Now, that would be giving real meaning to Sligo's inclusion in Project Ireland 2040.

Sligo Champion