Preparation of the NSS

The National Development Plan 2000-2006 provided the basis for preparing the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) for Ireland.

Work on preparing the National Spatial Strategy commenced in January 2000. Four stages were set down in this process:

Stage 1: Scoping

During Stage 1 (January ? May 2000), an initial Public Consultation Paper, What are the Issues? was published. Responses received in relation to this document provided for the preparation of a public report setting out the approach to the Strategy, the National Spatial Strategy: Scope and Delivery report (May 2000). This report outlined the scope of issues to be addressed by the Strategy, envisaging that it would guide future infrastructural, industrial, residential and rural development while providing protection for Ireland’s cultural, natural and environmental heritage, promoting social inclusion and enhancing quality of life.

The Strategy also took account of the European Spatial Development Perspective, which was agreed in 1999 by the 15 EU Ministers responsible for spatial planning.

Stage 2: Research

Stage 2 (June – December 2000) involved the preparation of a number of Research Reports on the spatial functioning of Ireland.

The following development trends were among those which emerged in the research reports.

The island of Ireland is relatively small in European and world terms. Since accession to the European Union in 1973, the Irish economy has become highly integrated into the European and global markets, with profound impacts on national development and economic progress.

The island has an overall population of 5.6 million, of which 3.9 million live in the State. The State is characterised spatially by a relatively dispersed population with about 58% living in urban areas with a population of more than 1,500, and about 42% living in rural areas (based on 1996 census). Dublin City and suburbs (2002 population estimated at between 1 and 1.1 million) is very much larger in population than any other city in the State.

In addition, the total combined population of the cities and suburbs of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford in 1996 was 38% of the population of Dublin city and suburbs. Irish towns in the next tier below these cities, i.e. those in the 10,000 to 40,000 population category, are generally concentrated in the East and South East, with many of these being quite close to Dublin. In more western areas there are only four towns in the 10,000 to 40,000 category. Towns below 10,000 population and especially below 5,000 in population are more evenly spread. (see map: Cities and Towns on the Island of Ireland)

The following are the most notable recent trends in this spatial structure.

  • The Greater Dublin Area (GDA) has experienced rapid development, which has driven much of the country’s economic success in recent years and delivered vital national benefits.
  • The performance of the Greater Dublin Area is pivotal to the overall economic well-being of Ireland.
  • However, the Greater Dublin Area’s pace and form of growth has resulted in a particularly heavy burden of development pressures, such as housing supply difficulties and traffic congestion, on the city and its surrounding area.
  • There is strong evidence that Dublin is becoming a “Dispersed City” demonstrated by the fact that the hi-tech industries located around the city’s edges are drawing their workforces from places up to and beyond 80 kilometres away, but within about an hour’s drive of peoples’ workplaces.
  • Significant population growth has taken place in the Greater Dublin Area. Continuing population growth in the Area into the future will require planning and infrastructure responses based on a strategic approach that seeks to manage population growth more effectively.
  • Many other parts of the country have also advanced economically, but the rate of growth has not been as high as experienced in the Greater Dublin Area. There is a need for these areas to emulate the competitiveness that the Dublin area has achieved in other parts of the country in order to deliver a better spatial distribution of national economic and social development.

In rural areas, the pattern of change has varied. These variations have depended on interaction between:

  • The changing role and re-structuring of agriculture
  • The degree to which the rural economy is diversifying
  • Nearness to or remoteness from major urban areas
  • An area?s possession of natural resources, including high amenity landscapes.

The nature of rural change points to the need for tailor-made responses to the various development issues facing different types of rural areas.

Current trends in spatial development are likely to adversely affect more and more people’s quality of life, the quality of the physical environment and overall national economic competitiveness. Some of these trends will and will add to regional and global environmental problems. For example, the manner in which some major urban areas, particularly Dublin, are developing is making the provision of necessary infrastructure such as public transport expensive and difficult. Coupled with this, the manner in which major economic development is tending to concentrate in the Greater Dublin Area means that the potential of other areas is systematically under-realised, particularly that of some of the regional cities.

The NSS research indicates that some of the consequences of current trends could become even more significant, in the light of the following projections.

  • The population of the State is growing. It is likely to increase by over half a million over the next 20 years, with a possibility that the population could rise by a significantly higher figure than that.
  • On the basis of recent trends, up to four-fifths of the population growth in the State could take place in or in areas adjoining the Greater Dublin Area over the next twenty years. With the exception of the West region, all other regions would experience further decline in their shares of the national population.
  • The number of cars using our roads could double over the period 1996 – 2016.
  • In relative terms, use of sustainable transport modes like walking, cycling and public transport is falling and could continue to fall.
  • A substantial amount of new house building is taking place outside urban areas. In many cases this tends to place greater distance between people and their work, increases dependence on the car, limits the effectiveness of public investment in providing utilities and services and threatens the quality of the rural environment in some areas.

Stage 3: Public Consultation

Stage 3 of the process involved a phase of consultation with local authorities, other relevant organisations and the general public. This process was initiated with the holding of a major national conference, the Limerick Leaders? Forum on 1 December 2000. In early 2001, the process was continued with the holding of eight Regional Roadshows.

In September 2001, a public consultation paper on the National Spatial Strategy, Indications For The Way Ahead [provide link], was published. This document was based both on the Stage 2 research and the messages received from previous public consultation and regional roadshows. Indications For The Way Ahead was launched in conjunction with the NSS website. This marked the start of a further phase of consultation with regional and local authorities, the social partners, sustainable development interests, other groups and the general public throughout September, October and November 2001. 259 submissions were received in response to Indications for the Way Ahead. This feedback was used in the process of finalising the NSS.

Stage 4: Drafting

Stage 4 of the process involved preparation of the final draft of the NSS. While completion of the Strategy was originally envisaged for end 2001, a prolonged period of public consultation during Stage 3, and the need to deal effectively with other issues surrounding the Strategy, necessitated a delay in its finalisation. In completing the Strategy the Department addressed the spatial aspects of a wide range of economic, social and environmental policies, involving engagement also with other Departments, agencies and bodies primarily responsible for these policies. Following this, the National Spatial Strategy was adopted by Government and launched at a major national event at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin 8, on 28th November 2002.