The National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020 was the predecessor of the current National Planning Framework.The NSS aimed to achieve a better balance of social, economic and physical development across Ireland, supported by more effective planning. In order to drive development in the regions, the NSS proposed that areas of sufficient scale and critical mass would be built up through a network of gateways and hubs.
While the National Development Plan 2000-2006 identified Dublin, Cork, Limerick/Shannon, Galway and Waterford as existing gateways, the NSS designated four new national level gateways – the towns of Dundalk and Sligo and the linked gateways of Letterkenny/(Derry) and the Midland towns of Athlone/Tullamore/Mullingar
In addition, the NSS identified nine, strategically located, medium-sized “hubs” to support, and be supported by, the gateways and to link out to wider rural areas. The hubs identified were Cavan, Ennis, Kilkenny, Mallow, Monaghan, Tuam and Wexford, along with the linked hubs of Ballina/Castlebar and Tralee/Killarney, working together to promote regional development in their areas. The role of the gateways acting at the national level, together with the hubs acting at the regional and county levels, needed to be partnered by the county towns and other larger towns as a focus for business, residential, service and amenity functions. The NSS also identified an important need to support the role of smaller towns, villages and rural areas at the local level.
The National Development Plan (NDP) 2007-2013 aligned the Strategy centrally within it through a specific horizontal chapter on balanced regional development. This Government commitment to aligning the regional development dimension of the NDP 2007-2013 with the NSS objectives and the prioritisation of capital investment in line with the NSS established the Strategy as a viable and practical policy measure to encourage more balanced regional development. This placed the NSS at the heart of our capital infrastructure decisions during its lifetime. A Gateway Innovation Fund (GIF) was provided for in the NDP 2007-2013 which aimed to enhance the growth of the 9 gateway cities and towns identified under the NSS. At Regional level, a key policy bridge between national development priorities and local planning was put in place with the adoption in mid-2004 of Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs). At County and City level, Integrated Planning Frameworks were put in place for almost all gateways.
In addressing spatial issues for the island of Ireland as a whole and strengthening cross-border co-operation, the NSS acknowledged the importance of Shaping Our Future, the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland. The National Spatial Strategy in the South and the Regional Development Strategy in the North were designed to become more embedded in policy-making on both sides of the border. A framework of collaboration on spatial policy between North and South was progressed in order to create enhanced, globally competitive and dynamic economic conditions on the island of Ireland by providing strategic, forward-looking planning frameworks which were to assist in targeting appropriate investment in infrastructure and to lead to better co-ordination of public services improving the quality of life on both sides of the border.