Mr. Michael Kitt, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, addressed a major cross-border planning conference in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.
The conference was organised by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) and was also addressed by Mr. Conor Murphy, MP MLA, Minister for Regional Development in Northern Ireland.
The theme of the conference - which was attended by policy-makers, public bodies, academics and non-Government organisations from both sides of the border and from abroad - was - 'Achieving Balanced Regional Development - Dynamic Regions, Spatial Strategies and Collaboration'. The conference focused on the impact of spatial strategies and designated growth centres - such as gateways - on balanced regional and local development.
Over the two days of the conference, a broad range of international speakers shared their experiences and know-how on planning initiatives, including the regional impact of cross-border planning initiatives on both sides of the border. The conference and the Minister’s address was timely, given that the plenary session of the North South Ministerial Council - held on 23 January in Magee Campus, Derry - also focused on cross-border initiatives.
In his address, Minister Kitt emphasised the need for cross-border co-operation and collaboration to maximise opportunities on the island of Ireland to boost our economic performance and competitiveness.
“In global terms, we’re a small nation on a small island. In order to withstand and recover from economic shocks, we must maximise our strengths and ensure that we are well-positioned to grasp the opportunities that we have or that come our way" - the Minister said.
"As well as our shared cultural heritage, we also have strong - and, indeed, growing - economic links with Northern Ireland. The reality we must all face is that we are operating within an all-island economy and, so, we have to start thinking in those terms. We are stronger when we work together - we can achieve more through collaboration than competition."
The Minister voiced his strong support for the Framework for Collaboration on Spatial Strategies on the Island of Ireland, which has been drafted by officials and experts from both the Republic and Northern Ireland to highlight the synergies and shared opportunities presented by the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) and the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland in cross-border spatial development, in order to maximise the region’s development. It is expected that the Framework will shortly be considered and endorsed by both Governments.
Minister Power called on everyone to put a fair wind behind the Collaborative Spatial Framework - which will present challenges, but also significant potential benefits arising from greater collaboration. “We must see it as a starting point which will require commitment, energy, support and clear actions from all stakeholders - central and local Governments, Government and State Agencies, the private sector, academia and NGOs.”
The Minister went on to inform the conference that the NSS is to be refreshed and updated in the coming months by identifying the achievements to-date, highlighting best practice, the challenges for the future and the best spatial policy responses to those challenges.
The dovetailing of the NSS Refresh with an ongoing review of the Northern Ireland’s RDS and the adoption of the Collaborative Spatial Framework are essentially interlinked for the positive and future-looking and implementation of cross-border development.
Minister Power also highlighted the need for a focus on creating and nurturing competitive cities, which act as drivers of wider regional development - “Cities and larger urban areas, that are attractive, competitive, sustainable and dynamic, are one of the key drivers for regional development. International research clearly shows that successful countries and regions must have successful cities and urban areas at their core.
"As well as bringing economies of scale, good linkage between businesses and a concentrated skilled workforce, competitive cities contribute to the formation of competitive regions by acting economic engines that promote regional growth and employment."
Concluding, the Minister said - "The process of updating and refreshing the NSS will look at our network of cities, our gateways and hub towns and set out what needs to be done to assure and accelerate their development as drivers for their wider regions and more rural environs. Challenging questions will also need to be addressed within the NSS update and refresh process about the roles that rural areas must play in the wider context of regional development.”