By Finbarr Filan
Recently, many commentators have being referring to John Healy’s book 'No One Shouted Stop'
when discussing the ongoing decline in rural Ireland. It is nearly 50 years since John first published his book and many of the problems he identified still exist to this day.
Last week Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing, Planning and local Government launched the 'Ireland 2040 Our Plan'
planning framework. This document, when formally adopted later this year, will be the countries planning framework for the next 20 years. As drafted, this framework will widen the ever growing imbalance between Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway with the rest of the country.
If the country is developed along the lines identified in the current version of the document, in twenty years time people in Sligo and the wider North West will be wondering: why did no one shout start? "Start what?" you may ask.
The answer is simple: start standing up for ourselves.
Earlier this year, Sligo County Council, Sligo Business Improvement District, Sligo Chamber, Sligo Local Community Development Committee and Sligo Tourism all worked together to develop individual submissions for the draft stage of the 2040 framework, highlighting that Sligo is the true capital of the North West.
Additionally, Mayo and Leitrim County Councils also promoted Sligo as the future economic hub of the North West.We were all confident that the balanced rational we submitted would see Sligo identified as a major growth centre for the next 20 years.
You can understand my disgust when I found the first mention of Sligo in this 151 page document is on page 130 - in relation to the funding provided to refurbish O’Connell St, a project that at this stage has being going on for over ten years. Quite honestly, it appears like we were an afterthought. The authors may have decided to give us a mention simply to keep us quiet.
The framework makes much of the plan to limit growth in Dublin to 25% while growing the other four cites previously mentioned by 60%. However, when you look at the actual figures this plan will still see Dublin growing over the next twenty years by 25,000 people more than all of the other cities combined. How is this addressing the imbalance?
And what about us in the West in particular?
At a city level the plan is great if you live in Galway or its hinterland where growth of up to 60% is expected. This level of growth will do wonders for towns like Tuam and Oranmore. These towns have already greatly benefited from their proximity to Galway.
In the extreme North West further growth is planned in the North West City region, which is a “union” between Donegal, Derry and Strabane councils. I have a fundamental problem with this concept, when two of the member councils may not be part of the European Union by the time this framework is operational.
So as it stands, the plan for the West is to have two cities, Galway and Derry, at either end with nearly 300km of wilderness in-between.
As currently drafted the plan for Sligo is to see it grow by approximately 40%, or around 8000 people.
This level of growth is not enough to turn Sligo into the economic hub required in the North West to help towns like Tubbercurry, Ballymote, Boyle, Carrick on Shannon and Ballyshannon survive, let alone grow.Surpasses
For Sligo to function as a strong economic hub it needs to grow to at least 50,000 over the next 20 years. Section 3.6 of the framework outlines the key considerations for determining the future growth potential for large regional towns.
Sligo meets and surpasses all of the requirements outlined. For example: Sligo’s ability to provide top class water for 80,000 people and provide housing for an additional 27,000 people within 2 miles of the town centre. Many of the cities listed earlier will struggle to match these statistics.
You would wonder did the authors of this framework and our government even take the time to read our submissions considering they are not able to see the tremendous potential Sligo has to grow.
To add to my frustration, I attended the All-Island Forum on Brexit in Dublin last week. Our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, gave the opening address. He explained all that the government is doing to ensure the country is as well prepared for Brexit as possible.
He talked about the need to improve connectivity with the North West by improving the road infrastructure to the North West. The only problem was that he only talked about improving the A5. The A5 is the northern section of the Dublin - Derry road. I know Leo went to Irish college this summer but if he has any free time over the next few weeks he might get a quick Geography lesson because the Irish road to the North West is the N4.So, back to getting started...
Over the coming weeks many local organisations will be lodging submissions with the department of planning outlining their positions on Sligo and its future growth. Based on how little notice was taken of our last submissions we need to get more voices involved.If you are passionate about our town and want to see it grow and develop, a simple email to firstname.lastname@example.org saying MAKE SLIGO A CITY is all that’s required
If enough people send the email, we will get their attention and in twenty years time when we are the thriving economic and cultural hub of the North West you can say to your children: “I Shouted Start”
.Finbarr Filan is the national RENUA candidate for the Sligo/Leitrim constituency