Updated: 09/02/17 : 07:50:20
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Sligo-Dublin motorway would support wider region

A Sligo-Dublin motorway would support Sligo town as a hub for the growth of the wider region around it, stretching into Donegal, but there are greater priorities.

Dr Chris van Egeraat, of Maynooth University, a committee member of the Regional Studies Association, writes in The Irish Times that economic development in Ireland over the past 20 years has been unbalanced. Economic activity and population growth has increasingly been concentrated in a select number of city regions.

The northwest, on the other hand, has experienced slower growth and rural decline. Regional and rural development requires a sizeable urban centre, and the northwest currently lacks such a centre.

The recently abolished National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020 recognised this. It selected Sligo as one of eight regional “gateways”, envisaging that it would be developed to such a scale that it would have the critical mass necessary to sustain strong levels of job growth in the region.

Critical mass is needed. In the new “informational economy”, the absence of a centre with sufficient scale is important. Otherwise, some businesses will not come and some workers will not stay.

One criticism repeatedly levelled at the National Spatial Strategy is that it picked too many gateways. Consequently, Sligo might lose its status in the new National Planning Framework now in gestation.

Given its strategic location, however, Sligo is likely to be accorded an important role in supporting local development. But the gateway concept is more sophisticated than the idea of a traditional growth centre.

The operative word today is “connectivity” between urban centres. A gateway requires strong connectivity not just to major centres at home and abroad, but also to smaller destinations closer to home.

Necessary element

A motorway to Dublin is one necessary element. However, other key pieces of infrastructure are needed first. It currently takes two and a half hours to drive from Dublin to Sligo, which is not bad compared with the times to other regional centres. See link below

However, one needs to be able to get into Sligo when one gets there. Traffic congestion there is already too heavy for a relatively small town, so other forms of connectivity might require more attention.

Rail services must be upgraded, since they are at least as important as a motorway to Dublin, both for the town, its hinterland and international visitors. Commuters, for example,must be able to get into Sligo to work.

Quality bus services to Sligo’s hinterland are crucial. Internationally, so are better flight services. Knock airport helps greatly, but it is an hour away. That connecting journey needs to be cut, and quickly.

Meanwhile, Knock airport should have regular services to London and Brussels, not just the ones that it has at present. It is important for international connectivity that Sligo must also have high-capacity broadband.

All of this, if combined with a strengthened third-level institute and a stronger Industrial Development Authority presence, will bring important investment to Sligo. If properly backed, Sligo could be the spark to set the northwest alight.

Link: Sligo Today 9/2/2017