1. Research Knowledge Base
  2. Cross-Border trade and North/South comparisons

The Newry-Dundalk Twin City Region: Supporting the Implementation of Cross-Border Collaborative Frameworks

Published: January 2009

Executive summary

Policy Context

This study brings together recent and current research on how to realise the benefits of cross-border collaboration in the Newry-Dundalk sub-region through integrated planning and development strategies.

Strategically located on the Belfast-Dublin corridor, Newry and Dundalk together are strongly positioned to attract high-quality jobs, improve the built environment, generate a wide range of public and commercial services, and promote a well managed environment for tourism and recreation. There is clear evidence that Newry and Dundalk are more likely to achieve these goals by working together and thereby become not only a growth pole in its own right but also an engine of growth for the entire cross-border sub-region, which has an estimated population of 170,000.
On the island of Ireland, the NI Regional Development Strategy and the Irish National Spatial Strategy each provide a comprehensive vision of regionally balanced, sustainable economic development, leading to higher living standards for all. Both strategies are now closely aligned with the respective investment programmes (ISNI II 2008-2018 and NDP 2007-2013) and each recognises that actions taken on one side of the border will generate spill-over effects on the other.
The 2006 InterTradeIreland report (prepared by ICLRD) on Spatial Strategies on the Island of Ireland: Development of a Framework for Collaborative Action highlighted the importance of cross-border spatial planning to support economic competitiveness, through joined-up delivery of public services and infrastructure.
In tandem with the InterTradeIreland report, a joint planning study, carried out by Colin Buchanan on behalf of Newry and Mourne District Council, Louth County Council and Dundalk Town Council, explored the potential of the Newry – Dundalk Twin City concept and was completed in 2006. The report concluded that there was significant scope for cross-border collaboration and co-operation to benefit the entire sub-region.
The two Chambers of Commerce have also taken a proactive role in developing a regional identity. The Dundalk Chamber’s Annual Conference in November 2007, entitled Border Vision Gateway, discussed opportunities for Newry Dundalk co-operation, echoing the previous year’s Newry Chamber seminar - the Strategic Vision for the Greater Newry Area - which also focused on cross-border co-operation. The 2007 and 2008 cross-border speed network facilitated by InterTradeIreland offers opportunities for businesses from Newry and Dundalk to develop joint business activities.
The concept of a Newry-Dundalk Twin City Region is beginning to take hold and facilitate an integrated and sustainable cross-border development strategy for the eastern seaboard corridor. The practical and mutual benefits of voluntary co-operation will be reflected in the cost savings on economic infrastructure; pooling of expertise; sharing of good practice and efficiencies in enterprise development and sustainable management of the twin city’s unique natural heritage.

Newry-Dundalk Sub-Region Steering Group

Building upon the ICLRD and Buchanan “Twin City” studies, this policy and action framework is being developed to demonstrate how local level co-operation, backed by regional authorities and central government, can build a genuine twin city region that will drive growth in the wider sub-region. Ultimately, it seeks to reinforce the growth potential of the shared gateway of Newry and Dundalk, within the broader context of the eastern economic corridor, linking Dublin and Belfast.
A Steering Committee, chaired by InterTradeIreland and supported by ICLRD, was established to provide guidance to the Study Team and drive forward the process. The composition of the Steering Group included representatives from the cross-border bodies (NSMC, InterTradeIreland, and Centre for Cross Border Studies); central government (DOEHLG and DRD); local government (Louth County Council, Dundalk Town Council, Newry and Mourne District Council); the Chambers of Trade and Commerce in Newry and Dundalk; and the business sector (CBI), as well as ICLRD research team.

Policy Research and Proposals

The research underpinning the framework considered the following elements:
  • A non-statutory approach to an integrated spatial planning and development framework focused on the benefits resulting from enhanced co-operation between Newry and Dundalk;
  • Actions to facilitate promotion, tourism, skills training, education, innovation, business development and the knowledge economy;
  • Joint analysis and action by stakeholders in areas such as sustainable development, cultural heritage, trade and investment, environmental management and regeneration; and
  • Spatial planning data and research relating to the key drivers influencing development patterns and trends.
A successful cross-border regional strategy requires the involvement of the central government departments in both jurisdictions as well as that of local officials, civic leaders and the private sector, all working in a dynamic partnership in order to implement an agreed action agenda. Promoting a cross-jurisdictional, multiplestakeholder approach in Newry-Dundalk will require a number of key activities, including:
  • Coordinated approach to sustainable economic development;
  • Joint actions to implement common objectives;
  • Creation of common inter-jurisdictional databases;
  • Alignment of legal and institutional frameworks.
Six major themes capture the potential benefits of voluntary co-operation for the Newry-Dundalk Twin City Region:
  • Economic competitiveness;
  • Sustainable development;
  • Improved community cohesion;
  • Preservation of the natural and cultural heritage;
  • Increased efficiency resulting from the coordination of infrastructure investment; and
  • Up-skilling for an economically productive workforce.
The ICLRD research team conducted over 100 interviews with public, business, and civic leaders to identify key issues affecting the sub-region and specific projects that would help achieve sustainable development based on social, economic, and environmental criteria. With guidance from the steering committee the following four projects have been selected to be progressed within the wider sustainability context:
  1. A Dundalk/Newry Centre of Excellence to create a sustainable energy community linked to the work of Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) and EU Concerto funding which is positioning Dundalk 2020 as an exemplar for the island as a whole;
  2. A Newry-Dundalk cross-border international services zone linked to international financial and other related services that will create additional tertiary employment;
  3. Geo-tourism and the management of a shared landscape and natural heritage to safeguard the geological assets and natural resources of the Mournes, Cooley, Slieve Gullion, and Carlingford Lough, and develop the tourism potential of the sub-region; and
  4. A coordinated regeneration strategy for older areas in Newry and Dundalk, to promote the distinctiveness of the two cities, further the complementarities of their respective urban functions and improve their liveability.
These projects have the capacity to drive a collaborative framework at a sub-regional level and reinforce joined up policy approaches. The four projects share several cross-cutting themes. As infrastructure linkages and travel times along the M1/A1 corridor are improved, economic growth and the potential synergies in infrastructure and delivery of services present a host of opportunities for joined-up planning and resource management for the sub-region. Strategic road and rail infrastructure will reinforce the objective of crossborder balanced development and will promote the accessibility of the sub-region as a focus for population growth, sustainable economic development and inward investment.
Skills, education, and training programmes are essential to ensure that the sub-region benefits from economic growth and increasing prosperity. Both the Southern Regional College in Newry and the Dundalk Institute of Technology will play a key role in providing progressive tracks for both up-skilling the workforce and delivering educational programmes that meet the projected employment needs in the tourism, sustainable energy, financial services and business management sectors.
Common data sets, including the assembly and analysis of information required for decision making at the local level (land use, construction activities, work force characteristics, educational levels, income, housing conditions, infrastructure, and delivery of public services), are only partially available from current census data. However, the sharing of information in the Newry- Dundalk Twin City region will facilitate the compilation of compatible projections of future trends, which are essential for identifying optimal economic and social development strategies and land development strategies for the benefit of the entire sub-region. A recent study commissioned by the Newry and Mourne Local Strategy Partnership, ‘Newry-Dundalk Cross Border Economic Forecasting Model” (Oxford Economics) is developing an integrated cross-border economic forecasting model for the Twin City region for the period 2008-2018.
Each of the four projects and the cross-cutting elements are in different stages of development and have networks and the coalitions necessary for moving from concept to implementation and delivery. The projects have specific, particular attributes that will help in building a common approach to cross-border collaboration. However, they should be viewed as merely the first step in addressing the remaining, more complex issues of the long-term management of the sub-region for economic, environmental, and social progress.

Next Steps

The main challenge facing inter-municipal collaboration in cross-border regions lies in the legal and institutional differences that commonly occur across borders. The main issues to be resolved to ensure full cross-border co-operation include:
  • Identifying legal and administrative procedures on each side of the border that may hinder co-operation;
  • Quantifying the potential for synergies for investment;
  • Proposing solutions to institutional obstacles; and
  • Promoting and branding the unique identity of the sub-regions.
The specific cross-border projects for the Newry-Dundalk Twin City region are being advanced for consideration by the local authorities and subsequent submission to the Governments for their endorsement.
Building on the region’s reputation for entrepreneurship and co-operation, it is proposed that a bottom-up approach, led by local government and business leaders, should be reinforced by the top-down commitment from central government Ministers and departments. Engagement and commitment of the Northern and Southern administrations are crucial to provide the impetus, guidance and resources needed to implement cross-border interventions in partnership with the local governments.
It is proposed that the two jurisdictions should continue their existing co-operation by building on the light and flexible coordination structure that has evolved during this study:

1. Continue and enhance the Joint Senior Management Group, composed of the County / Town Managers and Council Executives and their senior department heads to develop areas selected for future co-operation into a sequence of interventions to implement commonly agreed strategic projects. It will also ensure the necessary liaison with central government agencies and cross-border bodies.

2. Create a Twin City Region Advisory Group modelled on the Steering Committee and composed of representatives of the Newry-Mourne District, Louth County and Dundalk Town Councils, the two Chambers of Commerce and central government representatives. The Joint Working Advisory Group should meet at least twice a year and would be responsible for:

  • Developing and adopting a common strategic plan for the Newry-Dundalk Twin City region;
  • Facilitating coordination with other central government and cross-border bodies;
  • Identifying areas of future co-operation for the implementation of the strategic plan; and
  • Creating consultative mechanisms to ensure stakeholder participation and transparency of the process.
3. Appoint Joint Technical Teams under the stewardship of the Senior Management Group,
which will be responsible for:
  • Programming the nature of the interventions;
  • Proposing an implementation sequence; and
  • Targeting securing local and external funding sources for implementation of both joint and
  • individual projects.
The Newry-Dundalk sub-region can build on its core strengths in a sustainable manner to the mutual benefit of both cities and the surrounding areas. In essence, the task is to create an attractive place for people to live and work, tourists to visit, and companies to grow.
The projects identified in the course of this research can be realised in the coming years by aligning local initiatives and priorities to major government policies and activities that will take place between the two Governments and supported by the European Territorial Co-operation agenda for 2007-13. Furthermore, the provision of public services, including solid waste management, public transportation, education, and health care, obviously benefits from the economies of scale that result from cross-border collaboration, as has been demonstrated in several European cross-border projects.
Improvement of the physical, social, and economic fabric of the two cities is a core policy objective for local governmental authorities. The initiative shown by the civic, public and business leadership in Newry and Dundalk to bring added benefits to each side of the border with a new regional perspective can provide a powerful example of how voluntary inter-jurisdictional co-operation can benefit other local governments across the island of Ireland.