Development Plan is not bridging East-West gap
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
The Dublin government's National Development Plan (NDP) is failing to tackle the growing gap in economic growth between the East and West of Ireland, according to a new report compiled by a senior civil servant.
The as yet unpublished report was presented to a private seminar organised by the Local Authority Professional Officer branch of SIPTU. While it accepts that the government are promising equal per capita spending, the report's author states that this will not be enough to combat the economic disparity between East and West and will most probably promote a growth in that gap.
While it may be difficult to say whether economic advances have significantly improved standards of living in the East, considering the effects of high inflation, there is little doubt that the ironically named BMW area has been left in the doldroms
Current trends are signalling further depopulation and economic degeneration for the Border, Midlands and Western (BMW) counties, which have been distinguished as a separate economic region under the plan.
While it may be difficult to say whether economic advances have significantly improved standards of living in the East, considering the effects of high inflation, there is little doubt that the ironically named BMW area has been left in the doldroms. The Gross Value Added (GVA) measure, which estimates the average amount of wealth generated by individuals in a given region, shows how those in the eastern part of the state create (but don't necessarily take home) a far greater amount of wealth.
In the south and east of the country, a GVA of 110.3 per cent of the state's average, far exceeds the paltry 71.4 per cent figure accredited to the BMW region. Tellingly, this gap grew by three percentage points between 1994 and 1997, and is likely to continue growing.
According to the civil servant's report, the National Development Plan is ``geared towards maintaining the status quo and consolidating the areas of high growth. The major investment will all take place in the South and East Region, with the exception of Galway City, and a `stone wall' mentality exists with regard to the Border''.
This ``stone wall'' mentality has led to deficiencies in transport, electricity and telecommunications services in the BMW region, making it far less attractive to prospective investors, the report claims.
Inadequate access to the region has become a significant disincentive for investors, according to the report's findings. The area does not meet the standard criteria for an ``effective Air Service'', it says. This would consist of having a hub-Airport (like Dublin, Stanstead, Manchester etc.) within a two-hour drive, or having a Regional Airport with morning and evening connections to a hub-Airport within a one-hour drive. The BMW region has neither. The example given is that potential investors from the US visiting the North-West currently arrive in Dublin Airport and are brought to the North-West by charter helicopter. If the form of the investment involves frequent visits by customers, clearly this is not an option, it states. The report also anticipates ``very little change'' in this situation, as it has not been addressed by the Plan.
While the NDP does commit the Dublin government to building a network of national motorways, there are notable omissions. The upgrading of the N2, N3 and N4 to single carriageway level will provide operating speeds of up to 80kph, as compared to the 110kph on motorways. This means that the journey time from Dublin to Donegal and Mayo will still be around 3.5 hours, similar to what was available in the 1980s.
The BMW region also has a very weak electrical infrastructure. To support and attract industry, the area would need to have a gas-fired electricity plant, which can support an optimum size of around 400 Mw. While upgrades in electrical services are planned, the building of such a plant would be ``highly unlikely''.
Environmental service needs are acute in the BMW region. While the Department of the Environment carried out a Needs Assessment Survey during 1999, the findings of this survey have not been made public. This means that there is a difficulty in assessing whether the NDP investment in water and wastewater facilities, in Donegal in particular, will have a substantial impact on the current situation. The civil servant's report does conclude, however, that the current absence of water and wastewater facilities is ``a real impediment to economic growth affecting the siting of industries, development of tourism products and as a general service to the indigenous population''. Another aspect is that areas of low population will not be able to compete for funding with the high-growth areas, where a more significant need is likely to occur.
All this means that the 36-point gap in GVA that currently divides the BMW and South and East regions will have widened further by 2006. Worrying also is the report's conclusion that a combination of the entry of poorer countries into the EU and a slow, but nevertheless steady growth in the BMW economy, will have dire consequences for the area later in this decade. The region is expected to exceed 75% of the EU average GDP, which means that it will no longer qualify for Objective 1 status. Objective 1 allows the area to receive priority funding, and the removal of that funding would leave it in an economic limbo - lagging behind the rest of Ireland.
As cross-border co-operation is beginning to break down one border, it seems that economic imbalance is erecting another.