IT’s a veritable boom time in Laois and Offaly as regards population growth, the Census 2011 figures released last week clearly show.
Laois’ central position and status as a commuter belt county, sees it leading the country in terms of growth, with the population increasing by one-fifth over the previous five years, more than double the growth rate for the rest of the country.
The county’s population now stands at 80,559.
Offaly meanwhile, experienced population growth to the tune of eight percent, bringing its population to 76,687.
In Laois, much of the growth has been centred on Portlaoise, with the town’s population increasing by nearly 33 per cent in six years, leaving it with a population now of nearly 15,000.
The influx of people to Portlaoise has been evident for years, particularly during the boom.
The advent of estates such as Kilminchy and Fairgreen were one symptom of it. The county’s location and attendant factors such as train services, motorway location and housing stock has proved extremely attractive.
Now one of the most built up areas in the country, the surge in population represents both a challenge and opportunity.
Throw in a baby boom, and the pressure on services is quite easy to comprehend.
Over the next few years, both counties will have to develop and meet the needs of this increased population.
There will be increased demand and pressure on services and infrastructure.
In this respect, the recently announced primary school building programme is clearly long overdue, and its delivery much be expedited with haste.
Many problems still abound, such as unemployment, ghost estates, poor planning, and insufficient public services.
The benefits of the population surge has been muted at best in the town centres of both Portlaoise and Tullamore.
Both county towns are clearly struggling in the wake of competition from shopping malls in other areas of the towns.
That said, Laois and Offaly should enjoy the opportunities and challenges that a new influx of people provides.
Over the next few years, both counties will have to respond to changing needs, and the integration of its population.