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Spatial Strategies on the Island of Ireland Development of a Framework for Collaborative Action

Published: June 2006

Executive Summary

Strategic Planning and Infrastructure: why should we collaborate?

In the context of globalisation, the challenges faced by the economies of Northern Ireland and Ireland in maintaining and enhancing their competitiveness are similar. Around the world, strategic planning and carefully targeted investments in infrastructure are being used to better position economies. The creation of a competitive and high quality environment for economic development through collaboration on strategic planning and investment in infrastructure are key areas where Northern Ireland and Ireland share opportunities and challenges. International evidence shows that collaboration between separate countries on spatial development and infrastructure co-ordination can increase their competitiveness while maintaining the integrity of individual jurisdictions.

What we are doing at present?

There are two spatial strategies on the island of Ireland – the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) for Ireland and the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) for Northern Ireland. There are also separate programmes for investment in infrastructure. Moreover the economies of Northern Ireland and Ireland have distinct characteristics and performances. However the two spatial strategies on the island have many mutually interdependent characteristics such as the recognition of the potential of the Dublin/Belfast corridor and Letterkenny/Derry/Londonderry area in the North West. Much practical and day-to-day co-operation is occurring in areas such as investment in energy and transportation networks. Much of this co-operation in investment is focused on tackling historical infrastructure deficits e.g. in the road networks. Looking at the two spatial strategies, there is a sense that given the pace of change internationally, the rate of economic and population growth on the island of Ireland and the dividends from the peace process, much more could be done to take forward innovative aspects of both spatial strategies within a framework for collaboration.

Examples would include:

  • Accelerating the development of key corridors between core cities, towns and intervening rural areas, and
  • Strategic infrastructure interventions to improve access to the North West.

We need to make a  step change…

There are three options for advancing a more collaborative and strategic approach to planning

and infrastructure investment.

Option 1: To continue existing informal arrangements on a business as usual basis;

Option 2: To consider the potential for a new all-island spatial planning initiative, with associated new structures;

Option 3: To establish a new framework for collaborative action on spatial planning  and infrastructure co-ordination, building upon existing arrangements.

The key finding from this report is that the two governments should adopt Option 3 above and declare their commitment to the development of an ambitious collaborative planning framework for the island of Ireland. Building upon the two existing spatial strategies, this option combines the benefits of a more pro-active approach, without having to take on the complexities and challenges involved in considering and establishing new structures.

A framework for collaboration – what would be in it?

Taken together, the two spatial strategies in place within the two jurisdictions on the island and the ambitious capital infrastructure spend over the next 10 years - estimated to be of the order of €100 billion over the whole of the island - present an unprecedented opportunity. This opportunity centres on creating enhanced, globally competitive and dynamic economic conditions on the island of Ireland, supported by the co-ordinated implementation of strategic, forward looking planning frameworks and investment in infrastructure of the type and scale necessary to sustain these conditions. A framework for collaboration to co-ordinate the implementation of the two  spatial strategies and infrastructure investment plans on the island will form a key part of realising this opportunity.

Building on proposals in the NSS and RDS for co-operation and co-ordination of the respective spatial strategies, the framework for collaboration should take a high level and non-statutory view, to be shared by both Governments, of how to co-ordinate spatial planning and development on the island of Ireland. The framework should address how the mutually interdependent aspects of the two spatial strategies will be taken forward, particularly through identifying the targeted infrastructure investment programmes which will support both strategies and their complementary regional and local planning initiatives.

Government Departments, with the support of existing cross-border institutions established under the Belfast Agreement will ultimately have to drive the preparation of the framework within an agreed action agenda. As this action agenda is progressed further consideration will need to be given to the most appropriate arrangements to drive the process.

The framework should initially take an overview of the key spatial planning issues and the main mutual interdependencies between the NSS and RDS, and should subsequently set out proposals around three key themes:

  1. Initiation of a focused range of regional and local spatial planning initiatives for key development areas identified in both spatial strategies. For example, the Letterkenny –Derry/Londonderry area and other key cross-border interfaces;
  2. A prioritised programme of highly strategic and targeted investments to support key aspects of both spatial strategies. For example, improved accessibility to areas identified for accelerated growth in the strategies;
  3. A programme of spatial planning research to deepen our understanding of development patterns, trends and their drivers on an all-island basis including the development of a comprehensive all-island statistical database.

The framework must also work to support a better alignment between the strategic planning and business decision-making processes. It must harness and facilitate existing structures by providing new collaborative working arrangements that energise stakeholders in the business and planning sectors.

Towards an action agenda…

It is beyond the scope of this report to specify the precise content of the framework. That is a matter for the two Governments to consider and develop. However, the action agenda for government will require:

  • Endorsement by both Governments of the role and value of a collaborative framework;
  • Specification, by the Governments, of the content of the above, building on this report and drawing upon the advice of national experts and key stakeholders such as the business community; and
  • Highlighting the key responsibilities and tasks for stakeholder groups engaged in the process of preparing the framework including the most appropriate arrangements to drive the process forward.


The rapidly growing population, continuing improvement in economic conditions and the ongoing dividends of the peace process are generating the resources needed by the two Governments to invest in the productive capacity and development potential of the island of Ireland. This substantial capacity for investment now demands in turn a high level framework for collaboration on spatial and strategic infrastructure planning to:

  • inform future investment programmes,
  • maximise synergies between different aspects of investment programmes,
  • underpin balanced regional competitiveness, and
  • reposition and re-image the island in general as a globally innovative and competitive location.

Implementing the recommendations of this report will produce a collaborative framework that can inform the National Development Plan 2007-2013 in Ireland, and the three-year rolling Government Programme Spending and Priorities in Northern Ireland. 






Click here to download the full report: Spatial planning on the Island of Ireland