Tuesday 4 September 2007

Experts warn of population congestion

DUBLIN’S population is heading for two million but anyone hoping to escape the crowded city for a rural idyll may get a lot less than they bargained for.

Experts have warned of problems brewing with the capital getting more congested while rural Ireland risks becoming one big employment blackspot.

Professor Jim Walsh of NUI Maynooth told an Environmental Protection Agency conference yesterday that if trends continued, the forecast for the rural economy, society and environment by the year 2025 would be “dismal”.

He said 43% of rural dwellers made their living in agriculture, construction or traditional manufacturing, all of which were particularly vulnerable. And he said that commuting long distances to work, normally associated with urban dwellers, was now a feature of rural life and journey times were becoming unsustainable.

Prof Walsh said the National Spatial Strategy, devised under the last government to try to even out population growth across the country by identifying ‘gateways’ and ‘hubs’ for targeted growth, would still leave very large gaps in the countryside that did not come under a cohesive development policy.

“About 43% of the total population lived beyond the commuter hinterlands of all gateways in 2002,” he said. He urged the inclusion of 19 county towns and other significant small towns to the list for development.

He also dismissed the idea that there were too many one-off houses already spoiling the countryside, pointing out that the density of single-owner dwellings was currently five per square kilometre, just one more per square kilometre than before the construction boom of the last 15 years.

He called for a review of rural development policy and expressed disappointment with past efforts. “Something that happens time and again is that we set out aspirations and don’t follow through with them. We need better governance,” he said.

Meanwhile Dublin city manager, John Tierney, told the conference of the urgent need for the capital to find ways of creating more living space within confined boundaries while also improving the quality of homes on offer.

He said on population trends, the 1.66 million living in the Greater Dublin Area would rise to 1.97m in the next nine years.

Irish Examiner

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