Multi-level spatial planning in a cross border context

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1 Significant Experience No. 7 Multi-level spatial planning in a cross border context Brendan Murtagh School of Environmental Planning Queen s University Belfast 1. Context In many respects the essence of the SPAN Project is to see where and how spatial planning can be connected across countries and regions in North West Europe. Different political, administrative and even cultural systems shape and direct planning within and between regions and the European Commission has struggled construct a common planning language, not least with the most recent enlargement of the Union. The most important attempt to develop a common approach has been the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), which was formally adopted by the EU in May It was established as a non-binding statutory agreement by the member states to follow common objectives and concepts for the spatial development of Europe. On the island of Ireland, the ESDP was given particular urgency by the peace process, the establishment of new North South administrative structures and recognition that an efficient spatial economy was essential if both North and South were to compete in an enlarged and more unified Union. The National Spatial Strategy (NSS) (DELG, 2003) in the Republic of Ireland and the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) (DRD, 2001a) in Northern Ireland borrowed heavily on the language and concepts of the ESDP (CEC, 1999). This significant experience looks at the North West Cross-Border Region and in particular at the role of spatial planning in developing a new regional consciousness about the development of Europe s periphery. It suggests that much of the rhetoric of the ESDP looses its meaning the further down the spatial scale we go, yet it is this scale, that investment and infrastructure are vital to developing a coherent development agenda for disadvantaged, remote border communities. 2. Description of the experience Work on the ESDP began in the early 1990s by the Committee for Spatial Development (CSD), and it ultimately proposed sixty policy options designed to achieve 3 overarching goals: A polycentric urban system; Equal access to infrastructure and knowledge; and 1

2 Sustainable development, prudent management and protection of natural and cultural heritage (CEC, 1999). A polycentric urban system was offered as the most balanced response to increasing economic and growth centralisation within Europe. Balance will be achieved through the creation of a number of dynamic, economically integrated areas distributed evenly across Europe and consisting of metropolitan and rural areas as well as towns and cities of different sizes (CEC, 1999). It also emphasised that smaller settlements in peripheral areas could function more effectively and at a higher level if they cooperate around mutually supportive but distinctive urban functions. The NSS and the RDS were prepared separately but there were close links at senior civil service level especially around cross-border planning and integration. For instance: The RDS is consistent with the integrated approach of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), which is an important policy framework for member states within the European Union (EU). Although non-binding, it informs the preparation of regional spatial strategies by seeking to secure balanced and sustainable development in the interests of economic and social cohesion across the EU (DRD, 2001a, p.6). Evidence of the ESDP imprint was seen in a number of ways including the development of balanced and polycentric urban systems based on hubs and clusters, key and link transport corridors and main regional gateways of ports and airports. The NSS made the following claim: There is a strong dynamic at present in the relationship between Letterkenny and Derry. Shaping Our Future identifies Derry as a major regional centre for the North West, including Donegal. The development of the Letterkenny/Derry as a linked gateway will enhance this relationship and strengthen the North West. Letterkenny will be further developed in association with Derry in a way that ensures both continue to be effectively linked, have complementary strengths and, in essence work together as a gateway for the North West (DELG, 2003, p.46). Yet the evidence for this observation is not strong. Letterkenny had a population of 11,996 in 1996 (DELG, 2003, p.144) whilst Derry/Londonderry city had a population of 85,300 in 1998 (DRD, 2001b, p.53) so at the outset the sheer scale of the relationship is an uneven one. The concept of linked gateway along a notional economic corridor has important appeal for local politicians and business interests but it is not clear what is the nature, source and content of the dynamic referred to in the NSS. Moreover, it is not obvious how these connections would be made in regional or local planning, through economic development 2

3 strategies or in structural arrangements to develop cross-border administrative, civic or political cooperation. 3. Results Van den Berg et al. (2001) provides a useful empirical framework for evaluating the robustness of regional clusters, which highlighted the need to analyse: economic and labour market structures; infrastructure; education; and governance. The result of this analysis is set out in greater detail in Murtagh and Kelly (2004) but the main findings showed that: The labour market structure of the main settlements in Derry, Limavady, Strabane and Donegal is similar with little of the complementarity of function that polycentric development might logically build upon; Part of the explanation for this is the lack of cluster engines in the local economy. Spiders, flagships and engines are terms used to describe those industries services or industries that can ignite and sustain clustering in the urban region. An audit of potential cluster engines reveals weak evidence of a sub-regional dynamic apart from in textiles, which has suffered badly in the global restructuring and competition from low priced labour markets in the developing world. The electronics sector is weak outside Derry District and even here there are concerns about the extent to which this is supported by region specific R and D facilities and services (DLSP, 2002). This research also suggested that there are few traded interdependencies between firms and sectors within or between the main settlements. The city s airport is in a weak position relative to other regional airports and the newly reopened Donegal Airport at Carrickfinn clearly displaces a proportion of business especially with direct flights to Glasgow. This is evidence of competition not collaboration between local authorities in the region. North Donegal is also poorly serviced by high voltage electricity cabling and although potential to address this supply from the Northern side has been discussed it has not emerged in any meaningful cross-border project. Local authorities on both sides of the border have limited functions and there is a plethora of partnership structures dealing with different areas, sectors and geographies on both sides of the border. The North West Cross Border Group has attempted to link development interests but the absence of strong subregional structures has clearly hampered strategic planning at a macro scale. 3

4 Key insights More recently, business interests in the North West have used the RDS and the NSS to argue for greater investment in capital infrastructure, government offices and the retention of the existing railway service to Belfast. The Growing the North West Gateway report concluded that: It was accepted that a cross-border North West was a distinctive natural region, with specific planning needs. But to achieve its full potential, it was necessary to think strategically about the internal development and coherence of the region (QUB, 2003, p.10). One of the recommendations from the seminar was the need for stronger cross-border governance structures, a stakeholder alliance between the key developmental actors and for local planning to provide a framework for effective sub-regional development. The External Working Group established to oversee the delivery of the RDS made similar points in early A Focused Assessment of the delivery of the RDS in the North West again highlighted the need for a stronger link between the RDS and the NSS and that investment in third level education, the new Urban Regeneration Company (URC) ILEX and the decentralisation of civil service jobs were required to help deliver the gateway concept expressed in both Plans. At a national level, the NSS and the RDS seem to draw down the broad concepts of the ESDP and use the language of polycentricity to describe the settlement plan in each case. The sections dealing with both the North West in Northern Ireland the Border Region in the Republic of Ireland highlight the need for interconnections in infrastructure and service provision and the Donegal Development Plan 2005 underscored the local relevance of this agenda: The creation of a vibrant and fully functioning Letterkenny Derry linked gateway as the principal driver for the development of the region (Donegal County Council, 2005, p.10). The Derry Area Plan 2011 says very little about connecting to this growth thrust and there is a danger that resource competition in sectors such as airport provision, infrastructure and education could limit the potential of cross-border development at this scale. Sub-regional planning, which maps out the nature of settlement relationships and develops a strategic understanding of growth and investment priorities for the North West, as a whole, is vital for the long-term health of the area. Looking at how the ESDP is used to frame regional and sub regional planning strategies in the pilot areas is an interesting area for comparative research but so too is the extent to which is relevant to more localised debates about polycentric settlement patterns, urban-rural relationships and environmental sustainability. 4

5 Contacts European Spatial Development Perspective: The National Spatial Strategy: The Regional Development Strategy: North West Cross Border Group: Documentation COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION ESDP-European Spatial Development Perspective, Brussels, CEC. DEPARTMENT FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT 2001a. Shaping Our Future, The Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025, Belfast, DRD. DEPARTMENT FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT 2001b. Shaping Our Future, The Family of Settlements Report, Belfast, DRD. DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT The National Spatial Strategy , Dublin, Stationary Office. DERRY LOCAL STRATEGY PARTNERSHIP (DLSP) Interim Integrated Local Strategy, Derry/Londonderry, DLSP. MURTAGH, B. and KELLY, B Sub-regional planning in the cross-border city region, Paper read at Dublin Belfast Corridor 2025, Canal Court Hotel, Newry, September 11 th and 12 th QUEENS UNIVERSITY BELFAST Growing the North West Gateway Report of the Seminar, Belfast, QUB. 5

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