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Time for Balanced Regional Development
A sustainable environment, a sustainable society and a sustainable economy require thriving communities across the entire country, but especially in rural areas. It requires leadership and commitment on the policies required to move to a low carbon future, and also requires that we measure what counts.
A sustainable economy requires balanced regional development. Government must move to correct the growing disparity in the standard of living and the distribution of population between rural and urban Ireland. This means finding a balance between urban and rural development and ensuring that investment and economic activity is spread broadly across the regions, and not concentrated entirely on Dublin and surrounding areas
Government should ensure that rural development policy is place-based, reflecting the strengths, assets and challenges a region faces, and have multi-stakeholder input. It should be underpinned by a concept of wellbeing defined by three multi-dimensional objectives: economic, social and environmental, as recommended by the OECD. Developing policy via this framework means that household income, access to a broad set of services, and a cohesive community in a pleasant local environment are all key considerations of rural development policy.
Low density rural economies are fundamentally different to urban economies and as such require different polices to meet a different set of challenges and opportunities. It is important that rural and regional development is integrated to support sustainable local economies and to ensure that local services are utilised most effectively to address the specific needs of a particular region and the rural communities within it. Rural Ireland is a valuable resource with much to contribute to Ireland’s future social, environmental and economic development. In order to ensure we have thriving communities and towns throughout Ireland a step change in how we develop policy is required.
Policies such as increased investment in healthcare and other public services and ensuring affordable and accessible quality public services to all regardless of urban or rural location must be part of the response. Improved and expanded public services could contribute to regional attractiveness in remote and rural areas, while also supporting the transition to a low carbon economy.
Rural proofing and public service delivery according to the equivalence principle will play a key role here and should guide policy.
- Public investment choices should be linked to a development strategy based on assessment of regional (or local) characteristics, competitive advantages, growth, innovation, and job creation potential, and considerations of equity and environmental sustainability. REDZ can play a key role here.
- Engage with all stakeholders (public, private sector, trade union, environment, farming and civil society) in the design and implementation of public investment strategies to enhance social and economic value, and to ensure accountability.
- Adapt policy responses to different types of rural regions including rural areas close to cities and remote rural areas. This would require a more flexible policy system to enable local adaptation to local issues and a stronger role for local elected representatives and Public Participation Networks, among others.
- Implement rural policies at different scales that match with, for example, local services, labour supply and food chains and adapting them based on current and future needs. This would see collaboration between local agencies, employers, the community and voluntary sector, trade unions, and local and regional academic facilities in collaboration with the REDZ.
- Encourage the efficient and effective provision of public services and infrastructure to maintain quality and accessibility, address market failures, and respond to emerging needs, especially in under-served rural communities. The rollout of rural proofing as referenced earlier is vital in this regard.