Ireland’s population to grow to pre-famine levels in next 20 years

Ireland’s population is to grow to pre-famine levels and will require an additional 500,000 homes in the next 20 years, a new Government plan has stated, writes Daniel McConnell

Launching the plan - Ireland 2040 - Housing Minister Simon Coveney said its purpose is to ensure the country is geared up to deal with that rapid expansion in population, which is expected to top 1 million.

"We are not geared up for that yet," he said.

The report has found that population growth in Cork, Limerick and Waterford have been significantly below the national average over the past 20 years.

Mr Coveney said cities like Cork and Galway must develop to absorb the strain on Dublin into the future.

He said if things don’t change, three quarters of the rapid population growth will be in the greater Dublin area.

Speaking about Waterford, which he said has been calling for university, Mr Coveney said it is really only half a city and needs to scale up to justify that call for a university.

He said the previous spatial strategy did not work and failed the people.

Mr Coveney said the plan is about seeing what sort of country we want to live in the next 25 years.

He insisted the plan must be de-politicised as it needs to have cross party support if it is to succeed.

The report found that half of all economic activity in the State is generated in Dublin and the capital’s reach now extends into 11 counties.

The report paints a grim picture of a two-tier Ireland, where a flight from rural Ireland is resulting in isolation among the elderly, while workers grapple with hour-long commutes and are forced to travel long distances to access basic services including healthcare.

The ‘Ireland 2040’ document, was launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Housing Minister Simon Coveney, says that half the population growth in the last two decades has been largely centred on Dublin.

Many built-up areas, stretching north from Cavan, south to Wexford and east to Longford, are effectively Dublin commuter towns. Employment is centred in an increasingly “smaller number of areas” while new homes are “spread out”.

Unless radical action is taken, some 75pc of the projected population and new homes will be clustered around the capital city by 2040.

Failure to address growth in the ‘Dublin City-Region’ may risk competitiveness and ability to attract companies in the wake of Brexit, it warns.

“There has been an increasing concentration of population and economic activity in the east of the country, with much of the growth associated with Dublin being accommodated in 10 other counties, extending from Cavan to Wexford.

“We know that present trends take us to an Ireland where around three quarters of the extra population and homes will happen on the eastern side of the country, much of it clustered around but not necessarily happening in our capital city.

“This will further exacerbate massive and increasingly unmanageable sprawl of housing areas, scattered employment and car-based commuting, presenting major challenges around lop-sided development, under-utilised potential, congestion and adverse impacts on people’s lives and the environment.”

It also says there has been over-development in some places and a decline in others, particularly in parts of rural Ireland which are poorly served by roads and public transport. This has meant that services and facilities are rapidly required in many different areas, but can be under-utilised elsewhere.

“This makes it costly and difficult to plan for future needs,” it warns, adding that many towns experiencing rapid population growth in recent years are not equipped to deal with growing numbers. This will lead to situations such as children not being able to secure a school place in their local area and pressure on basic facilities such as access to healthcare.

The report comes after the launch of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs and recent launch of a programme to develop rural Ireland. It warns that failure to curb the growth of the economy puts the entire country at risk, and suggests that attracting businesses in the wake of Brexit may prove difficult unless action is taken.

Dublin’s success as a city-region is a double-edged sword, it says.

It has enabled Ireland to compete in an international context but such success has also given rise to pressures in areas such as housing, transport and infrastructural requirements, which affect competitiveness. If Dublin is under-performing, Ireland is under-performing.

"Should the Dublin City-Region suffer a loss of competitiveness and become a less attractive place in which to invest as a result of housing and infrastructural bottlenecks, investment and influence will inevitably be attracted to other similar city-regions in Europe or elsewhere.

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