Limerick will face significant challenges in 2018 but major opportunities are also on the horizon for the city and county. This year saw an unprecedented show of confidence in Limerick from the European Investment Bank and Council of Europe, as well as a noticeable improvement in the local economy.
However, serious risks to the region’s growth and prosperity have presented themselves in the past few weeks. The development of the Opera Site may be delayed. Despite two major loans from the EIB and Council of Europe, the €150 million project must be approved by An Bord Pleanala after Council Chief Executive Conn Murray decided that the development needed an Environmental Impact Assessment. Though this move was based on legal advice, it will mean that the final decision will be made in Dublin.
While Limerick’s councillors were unhappy with the Opera Site decision, many of them were outraged at the Ireland 2040 Plan. The National Planning Framework (NPF) was designed to prepare the country for growth in population and laid out ways to improve Ireland’s cities. But Limerick City and County Council is deeply disturbed by the plan, which refers to Limerick as a ‘well-located regional centre’ while calling Cork city ‘an emerging medium-sized European centre of growth and innovation.’
The NPF also includes target populations for the country’s cities. Limerick’s target population for 2040 is 146,000, while Cork city’s is 324,000. These numbers have raised serious concerns among Limerick’s councillors and council officials, including Chief Executive Conn Murray. Some councillors see the figures as restrictive and far too favourable to Cork.
Moreover, the NPF appears to praise Cork and Galway cities, while providing a more sober assessment of Limerick.
“Cork already performs well as a major urban centre in Ireland,” the report says. It goes on to recommend “an ambitious vision for Cork, at the heart of which must be an internationally competitive, sustainable urban environment.”
The NPF praises Galway for its “vibrant arts and cultural scene, year round tourism and an attractive natural setting.”
“All of these factors contribute to a positive national reputation,” the report says.
By contrast, Limerick is advised to “address the legacy of regional growth having occurred outside the City area” and praised for its “good connectivity to Dublin.”
There is no mention of Limerick’s burgeoning cultural scene or potential for tourism. These omissions are cause for concern, and Limerick will likely lobby for the same recognition as Cork in the coming year.
The National Planning Framework and potential delays to the Opera Centre development are two major challenges Limerick will face next year and in the years to come. The excitement about the EIB loan has turned to concern for the project, while the Government’s assessment of Limerick’s potential is nowhere near what councillors wanted.
2018 will be a crucial year for Limerick, which still has high rates of unemployment. Local officials will push hard to keep Limerick in the spotlight and deliver on promises to rejuvenate the city.