The impact on the north west

rds

Derry is a principal and growing city in the final Regional Development Strategy, but it needs to keep up progress on transport, regeneration and cross-border links.

The Regional Development Strategy naturally prioritises Belfast as the “regional economic driver” and focuses on rebuilding its population (see pages 28-29).  In 2010, Belfast had 268,745 residents and the Derry local government district 109,826.  However, taking the long view, this compares to 316,358 and 90,157 respectively in 1981, when Belfast was by far the dominant city.

The north west is officially defined as the Derry and Strabane districts, with an extension into Donegal which includes Letterkenny and Lifford (but is otherwise undefined).  This complements the Republic’s National Spatial Strategy, which identified Letterkenny-Derry as a “linked gateway”.

When the Strabane district’s 40,099 residents were added, the north west’s population in 2010 added up to 149,925: 8 per cent of Northern Ireland’s overall population.

Derry is affirmed as the “principal city of the North West” with the “capacity and potential for strong economic growth”.  This explains the allocation of 13,700 housing units over the 2008-2025 period, the highest number outside the Belfast metropolitan urban area.

Around 72 per cent of those districts’ population lives in Derry city or the town of Strabane, which both include several deprived areas.  Limavady is viewed as having closer connections to Coleraine than Derry, and forms part of a four-town cluster with Ballycastle and Ballymoney.

Derry itself is “a key cross-border and international gateway” owing to its road, rail, air and sea links.  Its population growth (projected at 6 per cent by 2023) is generally taking place in suburban areas.

Strabane sits right across from Lifford, the seat of Donegal County Council.  Both towns can share services and will benefit from the A5 upgrade, potentially creating a ‘western economic corridor’ from Aughnacloy to north Donegal.

The high levels of co-operation between Derry, Letterkenny and Donegal should continue, with a focus on continued good transport links.  The region also needs to maintain an efficient public transport system, which leads into the centre of Derry rather than being separated by the two riverbanks.  The potential for improving health and education, by sharing services, is pointed out.

Within Derry city, the ‘One Plan’ and UK City of Culture designation are expected to boost development.  It should be promoted “as a major tourist destination in its own right” as well as a gateway to Donegal, the Foyle valley, the Sperrins and the Causeway coast.  Higher density housing is also suggested, presumably to increase the inner city population.

Meanwhile, Strabane can capitalise on tourism, both in the Sperrins and Donegal.  The whole north west should also maximise its “significant” renewable energy resource, evidenced by 85.2MW of wind energy in County Londonderry and 279.7MW in County Donegal (Ireland’s largest source).

Scenic areas, undeveloped coastline and wetlands must, though, be protected from development and the risk of damage from increasing visitor numbers.

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