A GROUP campaigning for sustainable rural communities has criticised a Government decision to defer funding for the Gateways Innovation Fund, which is part of the national spatial strategy.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley announced last week that as part of his department's plan to reduce capital and current expenditure by €48.3 million this year, some €40 million allocated to the gateway fund for 2008 had been withdrawn and €100 million for 2009 deferred.
However, Irish Rural Link chief executive Seamus Boland said the decision was a setback to balanced regional development.
"In the current economic climate a signal to investors that all the regions of Ireland are open for business would have been a very positive message. Unfortunately the Government has sent the opposite signal to the investment community."
He said when the current national development plan was published, interest groups agreed that a crucial measure of its success would be its ability to deliver balanced regional development.
"Balanced regional development is crucial both for Dublin and for the regions. Failure to deliver will mean continuing problems for Dublin, such as congestion, urban sprawl and unaffordable housing.
"For many of the regions outside Dublin the failure to deliver balanced regional development will mean weak labour markets and the out-migration of young people and skilled workers."
Irish Rural Link says the funding was "pretty small" but was important as it "forced regional actors to work with each other to devise imaginative proposals for the region's development".
The gateway towns involved are Athlone/Tullamore/Mullingar, Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Letterkenny, Limerick/Shannon, Sligo and Waterford.
Some €300 million was allocated over the period 2008-2010.
The Irish Times