South West Regional Authority


Regional Planning Guidelines


John McAleer

Director, South West Regional Authority


Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the South West Region of Ireland and compliment Terry and his committee on securing this conference for Cork .

I am the Director of the South West Regional Authority.  The Regional Authority is the next administrative layer under government in relation to the planning system.

The southwest region covers the counties of Cork and Kerry as well as Cork City involving a total area of just over 12,000 square kilometres and accounting for about 20% of the landmass of the Irish State , with a population of some 600,000 people.

I am here to speak to you about the Regional Planning Guidelines (RPG’s) prepared by the South West Regional Authority with particular reference to landscape.

One of the key elements of the Development Strategy for the region is that “Planning policies should, in a balanced fashion, seek to retain and protect the unspoilt landscape of the Region and promote environmental care and enhancement, with wise use of the resources of the area.”   

The chart below explains where the Regional Planning Guidelines fit in; Bruce McCormack has already referred to the National Spatial Strategy (NSS). The Regional Planning Guidelines lie between the NSS and the Development Plans of the Local Authorities and the Local [Area] Plans are the final layer of the process. You also have other guidelines feeding into the process in relation to development planning, village renewal etc.

As I have said the regional planning guidelines are in the middle and their role is to act as a conduit between the national polices and the local development plans, therefore they must reflect what is in the National Spatial Strategy and the Local Authorities must in their turn reflect what is in the Regional Planning Guidelines.

I will give you a very short overview of the Regional Planning Guidelines.  I know that some delegates have copies at this stage from our stand in the exhibition area and if anybody else is interested in copies we will be glad to provide them.

With regard to the planning timeframe, the Regional Authority tends to work on a longer timeframe than the Local Authorities.  We operate on a twenty-year timeframe, whilst the National Development Plan, for example, which is the investment programme of the government, is operated on a six-year timeframe - from the year 2000 to the year 2006. 

The National Spatial Strategy is running on an eighteen-year timeframe from 2002 to 2020.  The Regional Planning Guidelines takes the NSS into account and are running from 2004 to 2020. The development plans are updated every five years. We will also review the Regional Planning Guidelines every 6 years just to make sure that they are up to date.

Our regional planning guidelines for the southwest have two sets of objectives and the principal objectives are the economic objectives and in that we want to develop the South West as a knowledge-based economy.

You have already heard many references to the current vibrant economy of Ireland , we have indeed a very strong economy at the moment and a lot of that economic activity can be found in this region. In relation to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) this region would be well ahead of many of the other regions in the state, so we bring up the national average 

On the physical side of things we have a number of specific objectives - that would include building on the existing strengths of Cork City as the regional ‘gateway’, which is a term used in the National Spatial Strategy to denote a key development zone.

We have ‘hubs’ at Mallow, Tralee and Killarney, these are secondary towns that have been designated for substantial development, which will in fact almost double their populations, the intention being to develop critical mass in these other regional centres. Linked very much into all this - there are landscape and environmental protection requirements.

One of the striking things about the southwest region of Ireland , if you will excuse me saying so, is the fact that it is a very beautiful region. In fact I would go so far as to say it is one of the most beautiful regions in the country. We have some very spectacular landscapes in this region.  We are also very much a tourist region and attract almost 3 million tourists per annum into the South West.

We see that the landscape and the quality of the environment in the region as key assets in securing economic development and they are very much used as marketing tools. 

We are therefore trying to maintain the existing quality of the landscape and environment and also grow the economy in sustainable manner at the same time.

The inter-regional dimension is central to the guidelines and in relation to heritage and culture; “Local authorities have a strong role in heritage protection and enhancement in spheres of archaeological, built and natural heritage. These areas can, frequently, have strong interregional dimensions, through, for example, the preparation of landscape character assessment and other issues, which have a cross-boundary nature.”

“There is an opportunity for inter-county and inter-regional co-operation on a wide range of issues, such as: forestry, landscape assessment, wind farm development, protection of views, coastal zone management, river catchment basin management, etc.”

The River Shannon estuary is an obvious example of such an opportunity.

In the guidelines we identify four zones, which I am not going to describe in any great detail. Moving from west to east, - in Zone 4 you have a rural and peripheral zone out on the Kerry and West Cork peninsulas. Zone 2 consists of the hub of the two large towns of Tralee and Killarney. Zone 3 comprises of the urban, interurban and remaining rural areas. Finally the number 1 zone is basically the CASP (Cork Area Strategic Plan) area including the Mallow town hub, which is the development area of the region.

Outside of the city of Cork and those two ‘hubs’, we have identified strategic towns and what we are saying in the guidelines is that all development or certainly most development should be directed into those strategic towns, where you can develop sustainability in terms of service requirements, citizens needs etc.

In doing that you protect the landscape of a region, rather than scatter these types of developments all over the place.  If we can concentrate the resources into these specific towns, then it is feasible to follow up with improved and new services like broadband, improved water and sewage facilities etc. All of this, as you know has an ongoing knock-on beneficial effect on environmental sustainability.

We have specific planning guidelines in respect of each zone in the South West region

The emphasis in the guidelines is on the need to develop critical mass in selected locations and direct development in a cascading manner from gateway to hubs and on to key service towns.

Environmental protection is a very high priority in the guidelines, as is the protection of the regions scenic amenities, in particular its coastline and mountain areas. The protection of the fabric of the towns and villages is also accorded a high priority, because again they are extremely important in marketing this region as a tourism area and an area for economic investment.

The strategies are underpinned by an infra-structural development plan. Part of the Regional Authorities day-to-day role is in the prioritisation of infra-structural development by government. The Regional Authority actually identifies where the investment priorities are in the region in terms of infrastructure investment. We will prioritise that investment in line with the Regional Planning Guidelines.

The Department of the Environment has set up a national committee, which is an inter-departmental committee of all government departments and those government departments will take this plan into account in structuring their investment decisions for this region over the next twenty years.

So you can see we are making a very important beginning in ensuring that planning is fully integrated in Ireland . Terry spoke about a notional planning clock, where the wheels may not be engaging effectively with each other and only making noise or spinning wildly; the guidelines are an attempt to stop that happening ensuring that everybody is, as we say here, ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, or in other words that we are on the one common road in understanding what it is we want to do.

Those of you interested in the planning guidelines and who have not received a copy of the document should note that it is also available on the Regional Authority website at

I would also mention in relation to that website that the South West Regional Authority is working on a European commissioned programme at the moment on the area of democracy and on facilitating greater levels of citizen participation in the policy making process.

Under that project we have developed an online consultation tool, which allows the public to access consultation documents, discuss the documents and make submissions. We would hope that the submissions received would be taken into account by the body politic in the development of future policies.

We have recently placed the Heritage Council plans in relation to landscape and heritage in Ireland on our web site and I would invite anybody who wants to know more about these to visit the site.


                                                                                    Thank you.