Midlands’ Vision for Growth (2017 – 2040)

Tom Griffith, Midlands Gateway Chamber President

  Midlands Gateway Chamber of Commerce - Position Statement   In preparation for the public consultation process for the forthcoming National Planning Framework, it is the position of the Midlands Gateway Chamber that the towns of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar should be designated and developed as a polycentric City.   The vision for development of the Midlands region contained in the National Spatial Strategy 2002 was based on sound, pragmatic and well-researched sustainable concepts, having a high regard for quality of life, economic and social development and respect for the environment. The 2002 plan referenced other similar European regions which had already tried and successfully demonstrated the merits of polycentric development. Cooperation between six municipalities in Denmark’s Triangle Region, which was referenced as a model in NSS Appendix IV (page 146), has been nurtured since the early 1960s and the Triangle Region now has a population of over 350,000 people, is regarded as Denmark’s third city behind Copenhagen and Aarhus, and has a reputation for economic stability, lower crime rates, lower commute times and lower pollution than said cities. The solutions espoused by the polycentric approach of the NSS cannot be dismissed as “one for everyone in the audience” politics; they are as applicable in 2017 Ireland as they were in 2002, as they continue to be in Denmark.   The success of the NSS in the Midlands may be viewed as the extent to which it has prepared the region for future sustainable growth and development. Because of the NSS, each of the principal towns in the Gateway has benefitted from investment in the critical enabling infrastructure which will allow them to double their urban populations without the need for significant further investment. This equates to a gain in the combined towns’ urban population of over 50,000 people.   The Local Governments and associate Chambers of Commerce in Offaly/Westmeath have striven side by side in difficult economic circumstances to position the Midlands as a model for sustainable development in a modern context. To realise that vision, it is essential that the new National Planning Framework continues in the vein of polycentric development for the Midlands. It is the view of the Midlands Gateway Chamber that a shift in priority towards monocentric development would not only devalue the efforts of the past 15 years, it would also be an unrealistic and retrograde step which would take even longer to develop to fruition, thus setting our region back even further, while other regions continue to forge ahead and prosper.   While it is accepted that there is no one location across the region approaching the population threshold of 100,000 people with all the associated educational and health services and infrastructural assets required to support that population, the work of the past 15 years has without doubt, left the combined centres of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar with a capacity of well over that number and hard-won levels of cooperation and cohesion to ensure delivery of city scale amenities and services.   In a National context, lessons must be learned from the patterns of the past. Economic development around the cities of the Southern and Eastern regions has given rise to a very clear sense of imbalanced development and prosperity across the country. It is essential that the National Planning Framework through to 2040 addresses this imbalance with a concerted, realistic and attainable strategic impetus for the benefit of the entire central region.  It must set a realistic framework for development and receive a proper and adequate level of funding for local authorities and government agencies to follow through on the commitments of previous policies and strategies.   Further Information: Tom Griffith, President of Midlands Gateway Chamber of Commerce 0868237179 info@midlandsgatewaychamber.ie
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