Speaking to The Munster Express, Cllr Michael Sheehan (FF) said that while New Ross’s advance planning to prepare for the opening of the €230 million bridge and bypass was necessary, it was “high time” for local authorities and other agencies to “think regional”.
“We need an economic and social strategy for the New Ross area, but it’s my hope that other municipal districts in our neighbouring counties – Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary, and Carlow too, for that matter – would join us in developing a broader economic and social strategy, a strategy I feel the south east needs.”
At the July meeting of Wexford County Council, a motion was passed “looking for a task force to be established for County Wexford,” said Cllr Sheehan “and other Councils in the neighbouring four counties, in my opinion, should be doing the same – and we should be developing a strategic economic plan for the whole region”.
Saluting the Three Sisters model as an “excellent example of cross-local authority co-operation and collaboration”, Cllr Sheehan urged the region’s Councils to adopt a similar strategy “in developing commonalities in terms of the Greenway, tourism and the Ancient East, for example”.
The Greenway, which Cllr Sheehan referenced, will eventually link Rosslare to Abbeyside (via Wexford, New Ross, Waterford city and mid-county Waterford) and may, in time, link into both Kilkenny city and Tramore, as well as East Cork.
“By 2018 – 2020 at latest – the vast majority of these Greenway works will have been completed in terms of Dungarvan to Waterford, Waterford to Ross and from Ross up into the Kilkenny area, and that’s going to be a tremendous boost for domestic and international tourism,” he added.
“On top of this physical link-up, I feel we need to develop an arc across the south east, using Rosslare Europort as your first ‘port of call’, so to speak, running through Wexford Town Port, New Ross Harbour, the Port of Waterford at Belview and the Waterford Quays, we should be working that as an economic corridor for the south east: it’s an engine which needs more oiling and ought to be positively exploited more than it has been, and I feel New Ross has huge potential in that regard.
“And when consider the N25/N30 roads and the bypass corridor development in between from our perspective here in Ross, so you’re talking about a corridor development that literally runs from Waterford and Wexford via Kilkenny, and I feel we should be looking at that as an economic unit, similar to the border counties within the ‘BMW’ region, pulling together and working on an economic development initiative…and while of course I would fight the corner for both New Ross and Wexford, it’s clear to me that we need to think regionally, to consider the broader spectrum of a plan where we can present this development corridor, this economic arc, as a region to the IDA, collectively outlining our priorities and telling them that you need to develop for us.”
Cllr Sheehan called on the region’s local authorities to collaborate on a plan to promote the south east’s provincial towns, “like Clonmel, New Ross and Carrick-on-Suir…and the initiatives we should be looking for them are very simple”.
He added: “They should all have a public realm plan of what they can do to improve their urban landscapes, and that should be coupled with an economic development zone, and I know the last government pioneered one in each area. So there should be a VAT rebate scheme put in place.
“For example, if you want to open a business, subject to certain criteria, you should be able to open a business or renovate an existing business, and claim €10,000 VAT back a year for three years.
“And the Council would specify what zone that scheme would apply to: it could be one particular street or it could be a series of streets, and that would wedge, shoehorn businesses if you will, into the middle of the town within the terms of a development plan agreed by Councillors…if you knew then that setting up a business outside of such a zone was going to cost you €10,000 a year for three years, then even taking out of town car parking into account, that sort of incentive would surely persuade many to open their businesses inside such a business-friendly zone.
“It might be way of developing coffee and book shop corridors in town centres and would bring more people into an area, and if you can recoup €30,000 in three years, surely that’s incentivising businesses. In addition to tourism strategies which have been well developed in recent years, surely these are steps worth taking for the town centres of our county towns across the south east.”
Referring to the WIT-published Economic Monitor Report, Cllr Sheehan stated: “As a region, we are least 10,000 jobs down, we are down 7,000 third level places and I would argue that New Ross and other districts with populations in and around the 30,000 range in the south east, are still in recession. I don’t think the recovery has started yet; we’ve not seen too much evidence in what you could describe as the region’s second tier towns – Ross, Clonmel, Carrick and so on – so we need to leverage every resource that we have with central government.
“Because if our town centres aren’t vibrant, and if people aren’t visiting, congregating and socialising, then there’s a deeper social deficit that will develop, let alone an economic one. And we’ve got to work towards creating social dividends, like the Park of Knowledge and Time that recently opened in the middle of New Ross, which is a fantastic development and we’ve got plans in place to rejuvenate the High Hill area. And as a region we need more of that, and it will probably have to be done piece by piece, but we’ve got to do this across the south east.”
Cllr Sheehan said: “I know there are like-minded Councillors in our neighbouring counties who have a similar view to mine when it comes to regional development. Just imagine what we could achieve if we came together and developed a collaborative, united strategy. While we always fly our local flags highest – that’s human nature – we have to think in a more regional manner. And if we do that, we can help to rejuvenate not only our town centres, but we can elevate our region, one which has been left behind for too long. Economic reports indicate that the south east has been in recession since 2002, and we still haven’t come out of it.
“But I’m convinced that if we establish region-wide collaborative thinking when it comes to develop an economic strategy – including economic development zones, the VAT rebate scheme, the community investment in town centres – we would create an atmosphere that’s conducive to industry coming into our towns, be it Portlaw, Enniscorthy or Graiguenamanagh. I firmly believe that.”
Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford can draw on EU funds to create high end jobs, and should use the ‘Three Sisters’ experience to work together to secure Horizon 20/20 funds for the South East. That’s the view of Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune (FG).
Ms Clune believes that companies, businesses and local authorities should work together in the South East to target EU research and innovation funds – in an attempt to create more high end jobs in the region.
“Horizon 20/20 is an EU programme designed specifically to support research and innovation,” said Ms Clune.
“This EU funding has helped Ireland to climb to sixth place in the latest EU Innovation Scoreboard published last week (up from eighth place in 2015). This means that Ireland now leads the second tier of countries.”
Ms Clune cited successful EU funding applications by Waterford companies like Sedicii Innovations, WIT and Wexford firms including Landmark “as examples of how we can use EU innovation funds to create local high end jobs in the South East”.
She added: “Horizon 20/20 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme that has committed to deliver 80 billion in EU funds between 2014 and 2020. The Government has set a target of getting €1.25bn to Ireland from this fund by the end of 2020 and are currently on track to do so…
“I would encourage companies who think they may be suitable for EU research and innovation funding to get in touch with my office or with Enterprise Ireland directly.”