THERE IS LITTLE doubt that Dublin is the engine that drives Ireland’s economy – with the region accounting for nearly half the nation’s output.
That leaves the country more skewed towards the capital than, say, the UK is to London, leading to inevitable calls for a more even spread of investment to smaller cities and major towns that don’t suffer Dublin’s affordability and congestion woes.
But some say that growth for Dublin is inevitably growth for Ireland, and that the improving fortunes of the capital will lift other regions.
Over the years, the debate has led to a slew of proposals to develop the cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford as counterbalances the country’s biggest city.
Meanwhile, the government has set a target of an extra 200,000 jobs being added in the country by 2019 – more than two-thirds of which would be outside Dublin.
However, Henk van der Kamp, the head of DIT’s school of spatial planning, says developing other cities may not be needed as long as Dublin continues to grow strongly.
“I don’t understand, or see the evidence, for suggesting that to have Dublin big, and the rest small, is a problem,” he told the recent annual Environment Ireland conference, speaking after a presentation by the head of Mayo County Council.
“I see no problem with having American factories in Mayo, and more of them would be good, but if they don’t want to go to Mayo that’s not a problem either. Mayo doesn’t rely on those kinds of companies to be successful.”
He added: “I agree that a counterweight to Dublin would not be bad, but if it doesn’t materialise, where is the problem? The risk is we shoot ourselves in the foot if we keep suggesting Dublin is a problem for us.
“My suggestion is that Dublin isn’t a problem, it’s a success. Yes, there’s a sustainability problem, but good planning can solve that. If we keep saying Dublin is a problem, we create a problem for ourselves.”
Beyond the M50
Peter Hynes, the chief executive of Mayo County Council, said he “disagreed completely” with van der Kamp’s views.
“There is a problem with Dublin. There’s a problem with commuting times. There’s a problem with sprawl, with sustainability. It’s not going to get better if that growth continues as it has been,” he said.
“There’s a requirement for Dublin’s growth and transport infrastructure (but) equally, there is a requirement for equitable investment to allow parts of the country that haven’t yet benefited from infrastructure investment to have a chance.”
He added: “Mayo isn’t dependant on American investment, but it certainly helps. It is almost an acceptable, God-given truth that no one wants to move a significant investment outside the M50.”
Van der Kamp said that “everything that’s done outside Dublin is good”, adding that he didn’t want his views to be misinterpreted.
“I used to work in Cork; Cork has fantastic opportunities. What I’m saying is that if it doesn’t happen, if the market doesn’t want to go there, to say that Dublin is bad is (a problem).
“It’s good if it elsewhere, but it’s not a necessity and the risk is that if we say that Dublin has a problem then we forget that we have plenty of space to densify. Dublin can be a fantastic city.
“Ireland remains a small country. I don’t want to say anything shouldn’t be done elsewhere, but Dublin is not a problem.”
Responding later on, Hynes said that it was not a case of “Dublin versus the rest”, but added that there is a danger that Dublin “will self-destruct”.
He said that it’s “in no-one’s interest that happens” and added that “part of the solution” is to allow the rest of the island to grow.