Balanced regional development - Airport plan is unthinking and flawed

Balanced regional development - Airport plan is unthinking and flawed

Even if you were to confine the exercise to a timeframe book-ended by Charlie McCreevy’s decentralisation proposals from 2003, the number of reports warning about unbalanced regional development would, if laid back-to-back, stretch almost the length of the main runway at Dublin Airport.

Despite everything, despite one policy statement after another promising to rebalance unbalanced regional development — polite code for greater Dublin’s relentless, all-consuming momentum — continues apace. This is not a particularly Irish phenomenon but in such a small, inter-connected, inter-reliant country it seems almost a deepening Rubicon dividing the Ireland of yesterday and the Ireland of tomorrow. 

That may seem an overly dramatic, chip-on-the-shoulder characterisation but it is not a hard case to argue. Four examples will suffice but a fifth important one is now in play.

When the embarrassment and anger over the mismanagement of the National Children’s Hospital project fades it may dawn on us that a national institution, developed and paid for by all citizens, is islanded in the very maw of the capital. It is almost inaccessible even to most of the 1.9m people living in the greater Dublin area — projected to be 2.2m by 2030. For someone living in, say, Clonakilty or Ballyshannon it may as well be in Berlin as it is ringfenced by densest urbanisation on this island. Hardly balanced development.

Access to broadband — or more accurately the absence of decent, get-the-job-done broadband in swathes of the country is another example. This persists because of a failure to insist that companies enjoying the lucrative opportunities offered by concentrated markets also service les lucrative areas.

Another failure to insist on balanced development. The suggestion that Dublin will pump water from the Shannon catchment, where many residents do not have stable broadband, seems another one-way, draining equation.

The growing concerns around the delivery of the essential Dunkettle Interchange on the fringe of Cork City is another. First proposed almost a decade ago it languishes in a way that it might not in The Pale. That the National Roads Authority scheduled construction for 2014 confirms that in a dispiriting if predictable way.

Sadly, another challenge to regional sustainability has come to light. Cork Airport has warned that it is “fundamentally threatened” by proposals to cut airport charges at Dublin Airport by 22%. The Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) wants to cut passengers charges there before 2024. 

That the CAR admitted, without blushing, that had not considered how this might hit regional airports is unthinking centralisation writ large. Thankfully, the CAR is to consider the issue before it reaches a conclusion. It is hard to know whether to be tug-the-forelock grateful or just angry.

Cork Airport has, in too many ways, been the meat in this sandwich for too long. It has, despite many challenges, turned a grim situation into an improving one. It, and other regional airports too, is a vital cog in the country’s future. It is incredible, and unacceptable, that a decision by a government agency might jeopardise that.

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