Two initiatives that would transform Limerick and its region
In the knowledge economy strong vibrant cities of scale with coherent vision and governance are the key economic drivers of whole regions.
Limerick and its region have great potential but in recent years have not been performing as well as Cork or Galway….and failing to compete in attracting new investment
What should be done to release the potential of Limerick and its region and restore its competitiveness?
First: give Limerick coherent governance.
Limerick city is divided between the three local authorities that govern and manage it. As a result it has no coherent plan or vision for its future development and its day to day management is split between three local authorities. Unhelpful tensions exist between the three local authorities that diffuse energies and resources. The solution is to extend the city boundary so that one local authority has overall responsibility for the planning and management of the whole of the urban community of 100,000 people. The responsibility for adjusting the city boundary to correspond with that of the expanded city has been dodged by successive ministers over the past 40 years. But there is good reason to look to Minister Gormley to adjust the boundary to embrace the whole urban area: he advocates local government reform and recognises the importance of coherent and effective local governance. He has demonstrated his effectiveness earlier this year in extending the boundary to embrace 7000 north of the Shannon. There are still some 33,000 that lack the city franchise; living in places like Dooradoyle and Castletroy. The city needs to embrace the talents of those who live in these areas if it is to be socially and economically balanced. The responsibility for action rests with central government and no blame should be directed to any of the three local authorities involved: they do the best they can under the circumstances.
Second: transform Shannon Development
Shannon Development has done remarkable work over the years and many of the concepts of industrial development pioneered by the agency have been adopted with success nationally and internationally. However times and circumstances have changed. The role of the development agencies in the Mid West region is more complex than elsewhere and the resultant ambiguity may have inhibited the activities of IDA and Enterprise Ireland to the detriment of the region and to the advantage of Cork and Galway.
It is time to think about a new mission, more fitting to the challenges of the knowledge economy, for the core staff and assets of Shannon Development. A radical transformation is due. Since cities are now the key drivers of regions the challenge of transforming Limerick city could become the single focus of a transformed agency that would replace Shannon Development. A new enlarged City Council embracing the whole of the urban area of 100,000 in partnership with the smaller, refocused and well-resourced agency could be the key drivers that would stimulated the re-emergence of a new dynamic Limerick city and region. The two regenerations agencies established last year by government are doing remarkable work in tackling social deprivation. The economic revitalisation of the city is an essential parallel initiative that must be addressed if their work is to be consolidated.
Replacing thee local authorities in the Limerick urban area with a single local authority could result in net saving for the tax payer, while producing the kind of stimulating vision and coherent management attractive to prospective investors. Redirecting the existing capital and core human resources derived from the old Shannon Development agency to a new agency working in partnership with a new enlarged City Council could stimulate the transformation of Limerick and its region.
Difficult economic times lie ahead and one must look towards using available capital and human resources more creatively. Unifying the city and replacing Shannon Development with a new lean and mean agency that would work in partnership with the new City Council is, I believe, the formula for success. The Dublin Docklands Authority working in partnership with Dublin City Council has demonstrated how such a partnership can transform the core of a city, both economically and socially.