Voters must turn out to ensure our communities prosper in the face of enormous challenges

We must build and plan our urban environment to accommodate the changes that are to come.

By Ian Talbot Chief executive, Chambers Ireland

OUR COMMUNITIES AND our economy face enormous challenges in the years ahead. Globally we are seeing massive demographic shifts, new technologies are transforming economies, and our environment is struggling with climate change.

To thrive and prosper into the future, there are changes our society must make now. We must build and plan our urban environment to accommodate the changes that are to come.

Towns and villages throughout the country need investment, and our transport infrastructure needs a total overhaul if we are to develop a resilient low carbon economy.

The National Development Plan (NDP) is Ireland’s response to these challenges. The importance of such a programme cannot be understated and implementation will require an integrated approach from all levels of government. Voters need to urge local authority members to take the lead in planning for our future.

We have a legacy of lower turnouts at local elections. In urban areas a quarter of those who voted in 2016 General Election hadn’t voted in the 2014 locals, in rural areas the difference was a sixth.

Those who don’t turn out to vote ignore the fact that decisions made by Local Authorities have a massive impact on the housing, transport and infrastructure which shape our daily lives. Every long commute is the consequence of bad planning.

Long-term sustainability

For our members, long-term sustainable planning is the issue we want our local governments to focus on. If our cities and towns are to become more livable, we need affordable and appropriate housing served by efficient, accessible transport options which link people to dynamic economic and civic spaces.

To create this better Ireland, our communities need to be represented by elected local officials who have the vision to support greater density in housing developments in combination with the services, supports and sustainable transport infrastructure that help happy, healthy cities and towns flourish.

This will require transport policy which prioritises public transport, cycling and personal electric vehicles over cars.

High-density housing is the most sustainable form of residential development and should be prioritised in areas where there are existing transport links, social services and economic activity.

Our rural areas need to grasp the opportunity that the green energy economy offers them. As we transition from fossil fuels, our cities and towns will need renewable energy supplies in perpetuity.

This gives those who live and work in the regional economies the chance to supplement their agri-food incomes by feeding the energy needs of the urban areas through the creation of biomethane, hydrogen production for HGVs and wind or solar electricity.

An end to nimbyism

Our options are not “change or no change”. Changes will happen and the NDP lets us prepare for them, so potentially the biggest change that we will have to make is an end to nimbyism.

The changes which are happening to the world around us will affect all of our back yards, especially if we fail to prepare for them.

Chambers Ireland is the national voice of Ireland’s largest business network, with the broadest geographic reach, active in every major town and city. Some of our Chambers have been in existence for over 200 years.

Our members know the local economic challenges that we face, how global forces affect our country, and how only long-term planning will give our children the future that they deserve.

Our network wants all employers, staff, and the wider populace to turn out for the local elections; we must ensure that we have representatives who are willing and empowered to build a better Ireland.

As a business community, our message is clear – we want to see sustainable communities thrive in locally vibrant economic environments; therefore, and call on everyone to support candidates with a long-term, sustainable vision for our country.

Ian Talbot is chief executive of Chambers Ireland, which recently published its Local Elections manifesto

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