Rural communities in Offaly will suffer under latest national development plan - Cowen

Offaly Express Reporter

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Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has warned that rural communities in Offaly will suffer under the Government’s latest national development plan.

The ‘Ireland 2040’ plan was published last month by Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and sets out the key development priorities for the Government over the next 23 years.

Deputy Cowen said, “This latest development plan unveiled by the Government is underwhelming. There is a disproportionate focus on encouraging economic development in our major cities such as Dublin and Cork while areas such as Offaly miss-out. This is a short-sighted decision as the infrastructure in the cities is already creaking under the pressure of continued population growth. Sky high rents are also putting enormous strain on people’s incomes in these areas.

He said the Government should have used this new plan as a way for incentivising development in small towns, villages and rural communities adding that encouraging people to live in these communities will relieve the pressure on cities and would also inject a new lease of life into our towns and villages.

"We need a plan to reinvigorate rural communities in Offaly, but unfortunately the proposals put forward by Minister Coveney fall well short of this," he remarked. "We need to see a rebalancing of the focus and budgets of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland with the view to giving greater priority to the Midlands. Marginalised and isolated communities must be at the heart of the Governments development plan. Fine Gael has been fixated on focusing investment in our cities over the last six years. This has been detrimental to small towns, villages and rural communities.

“I believe the plan must put in place a new mechanism to group a number of towns together with the aim of developing a common development strategy. For example, Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore should have a joint development plan to promote growth. This plan should place a special emphasis on developing infrastructure such as improved broadband and transport services.

“It’s also disappointing that the latest plan unveiled by the Government does not take into account the ongoing review of the Capital Investment Plan. There’s a lack of joint up thinking when it comes to connecting the various initiatives that the Government has in place. The Capital Investment Plan should work hand-in-hand with the Ireland 2040 plan to develop rural communities in Offaly, with a key focus being placed on developing infrastructure such as broadband to encourage inward investment,” Deputy Cowen concluded.