Following on from my earlier post on developing scenarios for Ireland’s future, last week saw the publication by the CSO of new regional population projections for Ireland. The latest CSO projections present how the population of the regions may evolve under different scenarios by making assumptions about future trends in migration (both internal and external) and fertility.

In the context of regional development in Ireland, this latest release from the CSO is crucial as all current regional planning policy together with the settlement strategies of all local authorities are currently based on population targets (including those of ‘Gateways’ and ‘Hubs’) originally derived from the previous set of population projections issued by the CSO in 2008.

The CSO projects that, if internal migration patterns return to the traditional pattern last observed in the mid-1990s, the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) will continue to see its population significantly increase by just over 400,000 by 2031 which will account for two-thirds of the total projected population growth in the State over this period. As observed in the post below, this pattern appears  not only to be re-emerging but rapidly intensifying as the Government increasingly focuses its attention on a FDI led job creation strategy which favours agglomeration economies i.e. Dublin and to a lesser extent Cork and Galway.

Chart

In a marked change from the 2008 release, which projected that the population of Dublin would decline by just over 100,000 and that of the Mid-East increase substantially by over 350,000, the population of Dublin is now projected to increase by between 96,000 and 286,000 depending on the scenario applied, while the population of the Mid-East is set to increase more modesty by between 78,000 and 144,000. These trends would have profound implications for spatial planning, housing policy and infrastructure delivery in the capital.

While all regions are projected to experience net population growth, apart from Dublin and the Mid-East all regions will lose population to internal migration and population growth will be primarily driven by natural increase (i.e. birth rate). This will be most noticeable in the Border region with, under one scenario,  projected births of 123,000 and a population increase of just 18,000, and the West which shows projected births of 97,000 and a population increase of  just 15,000. In fact, under some scenarios the Border, West, Mid-West regions are projected to experience population decline regardless of the internal migration pattern applied.

Overall, the CSO projections paint a familiar picture with Dublin and the Mid-East gaining a higher share of the national population (particularly of younger and more highly educated persons) with everywhere else generally losing share. These demographic trends present a key national and regional development challenge and far-reaching questions for planning practice*. Depopulation and changing population structure implies severe impacts on every domain of urban and regional development, including local authority budgets, infrastructure and amenities, housing market and housing mobility, labour market and employment, residential composition, and social inclusion and cohesion – the entire basis of regional planning policy.

More generally, current and projected population trends highlight the urgent need for a new National Spatial Strategy and to transition beyond the current ‘performance of seriousness’ in relation to balanced regional development.

Gavin Daly

 *See Daly, Gavin and Kitchin, Rob (2013) Shrink smarter? Planning for spatial selectivity in population growth in Ireland. Administration, 60 (3). pp. 159-186. ISSN 0001-8325

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