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Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and Cross-Border Cooperation on the Island of Ireland


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This chapter is concerned with the role of spatial planning in shaping soft spaces and reconfiguring territorial spatial imaginaries in cross-border contexts. The empirical focus is the cross-border context of the island of Ireland. The chapter focuses in particular on the relationship between the use of soft spaces in spatial strategies and policy discourses and the emergence of institutional spaces for cross-border cooperation and spatial planning. Ethno-national conflict in Northern Ireland, based on competing territorial claims has shaped the context for regional development and North-South relations over the past century (Anderson, 2008, O’ Dowd & McCall, 2008). Processes of strategic spatial planning, working through soft spaces at multiple scales have played a significant role in the reframing and renegotiation of the spatial relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the period of relative political stability since the cessation of armed conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1990s (Albrechts et al., 2003, Murray, 2004).
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Forthcoming in Allmendinger, P, Haughton, G, Knieling J, & Othengrafen,
F. (2015) Soft Spaces in Europe, London: Routledge.
Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and
Cross-Border Cooperation on the Island of Ireland
Cormac Walsh1
1. Introduction
This chapter is concerned with the role of spatial planning in shaping soft spaces and
reconfiguring territorial spatial imaginaries in cross-border contexts. The empirical focus is
the cross-border context of the island of Ireland. The chapter focuses in particular on the
relationship between the use of soft spaces in spatial strategies and policy discourses and the
emergence of institutional spaces for cross-border cooperation and spatial planning. Ethno-
national conflict in Northern Ireland, based on competing territorial claims has shaped the
context for regional development and North-South2 relations over the past century (Anderson,
2008, O’ Dowd & McCall, 2008). Processes of strategic spatial planning, working through
soft spaces at multiple scales have played a significant role in the reframing and renegotiation
of the spatial relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the period
of relative political stability since the cessation of armed conflict in Northern Ireland in the
1990s (Albrechts et al., 2003, Murray, 2004).
Politically, the island of Ireland is divided between two territorial jurisdictions, the Republic
of Ireland in the South and Northern Ireland in the North. Northern Ireland (NI) is part of the
United Kingdom while the Republic of Ireland (RoI) has independent status as a unitary
parliamentary republic. Both jurisdictions lie within the European Union. The population of
NI is approximately 1.8 million (3% of the total population of the UK) whereas the population
of RoI is approximately 4.6 million. The partition of the island dates from 1922. Between the
late 1960s and the late 1990s, Northern Ireland was marked by armed conflict between
republican and loyalist paramilitaries. While republicans sought a united Ireland, with one
jurisdiction for the whole island, loyalists sought to maintain Northern Ireland’s existing
status as a region or province within the United Kingdom. Loyalists drew support from the
Protestant, unionist3 majority; the republications from the nationalist Catholic minority. In
this context, Northern Ireland has developed a distinct ‘political consciousness’ characterised
by ‘ethno-national domination and resistance’ and ‘zero-sum’ mentality of competing,
mutually incompatible territorial claims and socio-spatial imaginaries (O’ Dowd & McCall,
1 Institute of Geography, University of Hamburg,
2 The terms ‘North’ and ‘South’ are commonly used in reference to the two jurisdictions. It may be noted,
however, that the most northerly point on the island is in fact within the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland
(Figure 1).
3 The terms unionist and nationalist refer to the two communities in Northern Ireland unionist implies union
with Great Britain, nationalist refers to Irish nationalism. The terms republican and loyalist generally refer to less
moderate variants of the two groupings associated with the terrorist violence of the period since the 1970s.
2008, 86, McCall, 2011). A prolonged peace process culminated in the signing of the Belfast
Agreement4 by the political authorities in 1998. This political agreement provided a new
framework through which the political representatives of the two communities in Northern
Ireland agreed to work together, although, significantly, without substantive agreement on
shared values or a common vision for the future of Northern Ireland. Prior to 1998 the
constitution of the Republic of Ireland included reference to the ‘national territory’ as
including the whole island of Ireland. This claim was, neither acted upon nor accepted
internationally but nevertheless served to symbolise the ambiguous and uneasy relationship
between the two jurisdictions. It was removed as one element of the Belfast Agreement (see
O’ Dowd & McCall, 2008, Cauvet, 2011). In its place, it was agreed that a politically united
Ireland could only be achieved on the basis of majority support in both jurisdictions.
Significantly, an opinion poll conducted on behalf of the BBC in January 2013, indicates that
38% of Catholics would favour remaining within the UK, while only 35% indicated a
preference for a united Ireland (BBC, 2013). This result indicates that the political ideological
vision of a united Ireland does not have majority support within the Catholic community in
Northern Ireland, let alone the population as a whole.
The distinct spatial imaginaries and political ideologies associated with nationalism and
unionism nevertheless continue to have a very significant influence on public discourse and
policy-making in Northern Ireland and the border region. Indeed, it has been argued
elsewhere that while the Belfast Agreement was designed to reduce the problematical zero-
sum territorialism characteristic of the conflict, a progressive strengthening of zero-sum
territorialist politics since 1998 is evident (O’ Dowd & McCall, 2008, 87). Mediated
negotiations among political representatives concerning unresolved peace process issues have
recently ended without agreement. These talks concerned contested issues of primarily
symbolic and cultural importance; flags, parades and the legacy of armed conflict, which have
led to sporadic outbreaks of violence in recent years (McDonald 2013, Proposed Agreement
The chapter explores the constructive role of soft spaces in creating a space for cooperation in
a post-conflict context. The chapter also highlights the complex, fragmented and contested
spatialities associated with cross-border cooperation at the local and regional scales.
Empirically, the chapter draws on thirteen interviews conducted between October and
December 2012 and extensive analysis of spatial planning policy documents. The interviews
were conducted with senior spatial planning policy-makers (A1, A2), spatial planning and
regional development officials working in local, regional and cross-border governance
contexts (B1-5) and C1-5) and the director of an applied research institute (D1). Section 2
outlines the case study context while sections 3-5 examine the emergence and dynamics of
soft spaces at the island of Ireland and cross-border regional level levels. Finally section 6
provides critical discussion and conclusions.
2. From Contested Territoriality to Emerging Spaces of Cooperation
4 Also known as the Good Friday Agreement
A key challenge of the post-1998 period has been the development of new vocabularies and
socio-spatial imaginaries to make it possible for actors in spatial and economic development
to consider the island of Ireland as a functional space. This process involves reconfiguring,
realigning and replacing existing spatial imaginaries with their unresolved territorial claims
and normative agendas and is thus a political process, even if it occurs below the radar and
largely outside the realm of formal democratic politics. As a direct consequence of the
political situation there was limited cooperation between RoI and NI in the period 1921 and
1998. The planning systems and public administrations of the two jurisdictions developed
separately with very limited contact or coordination. The Belfast Agreement, however,
opened new opportunities for cross-border and island of Ireland cooperation as well as
allowing for the establishment of a devolved power-sharing (consociational) government in
Belfast (Anderson, 2002). New cross-border and British-Irish institutions were created
including a North-South Ministerial Council and a number of implementation bodies with
narrowly defined remits focussing on a diverse set of issues including tourism, minority
languages and business and trade development (InterTrade Ireland) and the administration of
European programmes (the Special EU Programmes Body, SEUPB) (see Coakley & O’
Dowd 2007, 37-39). The Council takes the form of meetings between ministers from both
jurisdictions. Its scope for decision-making and policy coordination is formally defined and
restricted to specific policy areas identified under the Belfast Agreement.
Figure 1: Map of the Island of Ireland5
Data sources: EUROSTAT NUTS geographical boundaries and European Environment Agency CORINE 2006
Landcover Dataset.
Although spatial planning does not fall within the formal cooperation areas of the Belfast
Agreement, InterTrade Ireland, has been significant in supporting island of Ireland spatial
perspectives. Through their policy and research activities InterTrade Ireland have been
instrumental in fostering awareness of existing and potential functional economic links across
the island thus demonstrating a rationale for cross-border cooperation from a non-political
perspective. In addition, SEUPB, as the managing authority for INTERREG territorial
cooperation programmes, also has an important administrative function with regard to the
financing of cross-border regional development initiatives. The INTERREG IVA (2007-2013)
programme area significantly includes Western Scotland as well Northern Ireland and the
Border Region of RoI. In strategic spatial policy terms, potential connections between
Northern Ireland and Scotland, have however received comparatively limited attention.
INTERREG funding has provided a strong incentive for cooperation across the border and
with neighbouring local authorities and has facilitated the development of spatial data
infrastructures and applied research studies supporting evidence-informed spatial planning.
Previous studies have identified the importance of transnational networks and cross-border
cooperation projects in creating a ‘cultural space’ whereby ‘ethno-national difference can be
explored and mutual interests advanced’ (O’ Dowd & McCall, 2008, 97, McCall, 2011). This
chapter focuses on the role of spatial planning and cross-border activities in filling out the
spatial dimension of this cultural space.
Cooperation in the area of spatial planning has proceeded primarily through relatively
informal processes involving governance actors and stakeholders at central government,
regional and local levels. Within this context, an academic research partnership known as the
International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) has played a key role as
an intermediary, bridging organisation. ICLRD was established in 2004 as an applied research
partnership between academic institutions in NI, RoI and, significantly, the US6 (O’ Connor,
2011). The research partnership arose out of a recognition of the work involved in realising
the potential of the strategic policy framework by the Belfast Agreement, NSS and RDS. It is
argued that the Belfast Agreement created new opportunities but there was limited
understanding on how to respond to those opportunities from a spatial planning and cross-
border regional development perspective: ‘There is less understanding on what happens after
the agreement... how local regional development, spatial planning, cooperation among local
authorities or cooperation among central government authorities can begin to embed the peace
process. You are talking about building relationships, building functional territories,
increasing mobility’ (Interview D1). ICLRD has played an instrumental role in providing an
institutional space for cooperation within the cross-border context. The focus has been on
‘bringing people together’ through annual conferences, specialist workshops and training
5 ‘Londonderry’ is used here as the official name of the city. The city is commonly known as ‘Derry’, the
preferred term among the majority Catholic/Nationalist population.
6 The core academic partners of ICLRD are the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at the
National University of Ireland Maynooth, University of Ulster (school of the Built Environment), the Institute
for International Urban Development, Cambridge, MA and the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh.
initiatives. ‘With ICLRD, the starting point is you put people around the table and get them
talking. ICLRD have provided a format to do that. They do that in a structured way’
(Interview C2). In this way an informal ‘knowledge network’ or epistemic community has
emerged among policy-makers and practitioners involved in local and regional development
on both sides of the border. Distinct planning systems, governance structures and institutional
dynamics of change have presented challenges to the identification of relevant communities
of practice, and the development of common approaches and shared perspectives at the local
and regional scales. One regional planner with direct experience of both planning systems
notes that the spatial reference frameworks employed by planning practitioners are different
North and South: ‘In many publications and work that is ongoing many of the best practice
examples are quoted from the UK and not from here [RoI] and that may be equally so in
Ireland we don’t quote enough best practice examples from NI. There is that breakdown. The
systems are different’ (Interview B1). Other interviewees point to distinct approaches to
cross-border working between local authorities in each jurisdiction. It is argues that local
authority officials in RoI have a business mentality, focussed on maximising the financial
gain from INTERREG and other funding sources whereas officials in NI take a more
detached, professional approach. As a consequence of the significant differences in
institutional structures and modes of working outlined above, creating an institutional space
for cooperation requires significant effort and active measures which independent bridging
organisations such as ICLRD are perhaps best positioned to deliver. It is noted that ICLRD
has greater ‘room to manoeuvre’ in contrast to local, regional or national authorities or
agencies with official spatial planning competences that would be required to ‘take an official
position’. Within this soft institutional context, ICLRD can effectively facilitate stakeholders
in working together, ‘Nudging people towards an understanding why it makes sense for them
to work together’ (interview D1).
In parallel, a number of initiatives have emerged, which have specifically sought to increase
the availability of comparable spatial data on a cross-border and island of Ireland basis, with
the objectives of supporting evidence-informed decision-making and promoting awareness of
island of Ireland perspectives (Walsh and Kitchin, 2012). The All-Island Research
Observatory7 has been established as a platform for the collation; analysis and dissemination
of comparable spatial data on an all-island basis (see Kitchin et al., 2007, Haase, et al., 2012).
Indeed the publication of an all-island atlas based on the 2002 and 2001 censuses of
population in each jurisdiction has been significant in developing awareness of cross-border
functional relationships and spatial development commonalities (Gleeson et al., 2008). One
interviewee, working in this applied research context, notes the role of producing maps at the
island of Ireland level, in changing the ‘vocabulary’, the lens through which people view and
comprehend social, economic and spatial relations on the island: ‘You began to talk about the
geography of the space of the island rather than necessarily the political nature of cooperation.
That was very important. When you start to say the island of Ireland and you are talking about
functional territories’ (Interview D1).
7 A sister organsiation of ICLRD (see Walsh & Kitchin 2012, 82).
3. Spatial Strategies North and South: From Tentative Acknowledgement to a
Framework for Cooperation
The 1998 Belfast Agreement made specific reference to the formulation of a spatial strategy
for Northern Ireland, which was subsequently prepared and published as the Regional
Development Strategy (RDS) in 2001. The following year a National Spatial Strategy (NSS)
for the Republic of Ireland was published and adopted as government policy (DELG 2002).
Both strategies were influenced by developments in spatial policy at the European level and
represent early examples of a new generation of post-ESDP national or regional level spatial
planning frameworks (see Murray, 2004, Blair et al., 2007, Walsh, 2009). As such, these
strategies are characterised by a high level of policy ambition, relating not only to concerns
traditionally ascribed to the formal planning system but seek to steer the spatial impacts and
direction of government policy more generally. Previous studies have highlighted the role of
the Northern Ireland Regional Development Strategy as part of a larger process of
reconfiguring policy discourses and reference frameworks in NI following the peace process
and Belfast Agreement. Murray (2004, 227) argues that the ESDP provided an imperative to
rethink spatial imaginaries; ‘to imagine possibilities which transcend the border between
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland’. The RDS, however, also provided an
opportunity to consider the spatial positioning of NI within the context of the island of
Ireland. One interviewee, a former senior regional planning official from NI noted that
because the island dimension was explicitly mentioned in the terms of reference of the RDS,
it provided ‘political cover’ to work with colleagues from the Department of Environment and
Local Government in ROI, in a way that was not possible before (Interview A1). Nevertheless
the idea of ‘spatial planning for the island of Ireland’ is considered a ‘highly political
argument’ (Interview A1). The connation here is that the specific terminology used is very
important. The focus is on cooperation in the field of spatial planning and mutual
acknowledgement of cross-border and island of Ireland functional relationships. Senior
planning officials emphasise the soft institutional context within which the concept of the
island of Ireland dimension is approached and the communicative and enabling roles of both
the NSS and RDS (Interview A2, also ESPON Ireland, 2011): What we are highlighting is
that ... the functionality of a lot of these places is perhaps dependent on their neighbours or
they could benefit... from cooperation with their cross border colleagues and peers rather than
competing within them or even worse ignoring them’ (Interview A2).
Both strategies make explicit reference to opportunities for cross-border cooperation,
particularly at the sub-regional level. This is particularly evident in the case of the designation
of urban centres as ‘Gateways’ in both strategies. Two linked Gateways have emerged
through this process: Londonderry/Letterkenny in the Northwest and Newry/Dundalk in the
East (see Figures 2 4 below). The explicit identification of cross-border linkages at the time
of the preparation of the NSS was however, viewed to be politically sensitive and a cautious
approach was adopted which was subsequently built on over time: ‘When we were originally
writing the NSS we were not actually allowed to show a line crossing the border... We
tentatively got some links put in. Initially it was a bit like a military map with spearhead
arrows going into the North. I think the spearheads have to disappear. It will have to show
how this integrates with plans in the North as it currently stands to show that there is a holistic
vision for the whole island’ (C1).
In 2008, the Department of Regional Development (NI) published ‘Adjustments’ to the RDS
(DRD 2008). This document included a map, where key cross-border features of both the
NSS and RDS are included (Figure 3). The inclusion within an official publication of a map
with such an explicit acknowledgement of features pertaining to the strategic policy of the
other jurisdiction may be viewed as a significant advancement in the period since the first
publication of RDS and NSS (Interview A2). A Review and Update of the NSS was published
in 2010 reaffirming the objectives of the original strategy (DEHLG 2010) while a statutory
review of the RDS was also conducted in 2011 and finalised in 2012 (DRD, 2012). The
revised RDS, in fact, does not make such explicit reference to the NSS, as in the case of the
2008 Adjustments document. This may reflect the fact, that the 2012 RDS is less explorative
than previous documents and focuses on implementation and delivery of objectives within the
statutory policy system in Northern Ireland. A more substantial review of the NSS was
expected to commence in late 2013. This review may lead to preparation of new regional
spatial strategies8 (see Walsh & Williams, 2013). This review is intended to reflect the
changed economic circumstances in Ireland and (potentially) the implications of deficits in
the planning system in RoI which have become sharply evident over the last two decades (see
also Kitchin et al. 2010, Walsh, 2012).
8 The regional spatial strategies would also replace the current Regional Planning Guidelines and would be
aligned to the new Regional Authority area boundaries announced by the ROI government in October 2012.
Figure 2: Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland (2010-2035): Spatial
Source: Department of Regional Development and Department of Environment, Community and Local
Government (2013, 9), reproduced here with permission of the Department of Regional Development, Northern
Figure 3: RDS and NSS Spatial FrameworksSource: Department of Regional Development and
Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (2013, 12), reproduced here with permission of
the Department of Regional Development, Northern Ireland.
Progress towards enhanced cooperation in the field of spatial planning was given formal
policy support at national level in both jurisdictions with the joint publication and adoption by
the Northern Ireland Assembly of a ‘Framework for Cooperation’ regarding spatial strategies
on the island of Ireland in June 2013 (DECLG & DRD, 2013). This document was preceded
by a specially commissioned applied research study on this topic, commissioned by
InterTrade Ireland and undertaken by the International Centre for Local and Regional
Development (ICLRD, 2006). The Framework for Cooperation provides an explicit
endorsement of and sets out the rationale for inter-jurisdictional and cross-border approaches
to spatial planning at all scales from the island of Ireland to local area planning. Interviewees
note that the framework, in many respects reaffirms what is happening already but is
significant in providing ‘a license for joint discussion’) (Interview D1, also A1). It is
expected, to provide additional political support for existing processes of spatial planning
within each jurisdiction and the efforts of senior officials to cooperate strategically at the
island of Ireland and cross-border levels. Significant here is the potential to provide greater
coordination of infrastructure provision and service delivery where there is a strong social or
economic rationale for a joint approach. One interviewee also notes that currently there is
high reliance on a small number of key individuals within the spatial planning sections of two
ministries. In case of a change in personnel, the Framework for Cooperation may be
significant in ensuring that cooperative spatial planning remains high on policy agendas and
that, institutional memories are not lost, ‘the framework for collaboration/cooperation is... the
glue that needs to happen... Whatever communication takes place is on an ad-hoc basis which
is based on specific individuals within the departments... What you are looking at it is
formalising the structure. The loss of some individuals within the departments has had a
significant impact on collaboration and cooperation’ (Interview B1). The Framework for
Cooperation is furthermore anticipated to facilitate the development of common spatial data
infrastructures and indicators, viewed by stakeholders as a central element supporting further
cross-border cooperation in spatial planning and regional development (see Walsh et al.,
The national level frameworks provided by the NSS and RDS have been supplemented and
further developed through a number of initiatives at the regional and local scales. In 2004
Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs) for the Border Region of the Republic of Ireland were
adopted. The RPGs produced for the eight NUTS III regions were intended as spatial
strategies at the regional scale, providing an interface between the National Spatial Strategy
and local City/County Development Plans as well as supporting spatial coordination among
infrastructure and service delivery stakeholders. The RPGs were subsequently reviewed and
an updated and revised strategy was published in 2010 (see also Walsh, 2014). The Border
Region extends the full extent of the border from Donegal in the Northwest to Louth in the
East. The Border Region RPGs make explicit reference to cross-border interactions giving
further institutional and policy support to the concept of the cross-border area as a space for
cooperation and joint action (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Border Regional Authority: Regional Planning Guidelines: Spatial Infrastructure
Source: Border Regional Authority (2010, 116), reproduced here with kind permission of the Border Regional
Authority, Republic of Ireland.
The text of the RPGs makes detailed reference to specific actual and potential functional links
in the eastern, central and northwestern border areas. The RPGs, explicitly recognise that the
relevant spatial development functional linkages are North-South rather than East-West across
the Border Region itself. Two key development corridors are identified one in the East and
one in the West, The eastern corridor linking the major cities of Belfast and Dublin and
focussing on a developing dynamic between the border towns of Newry and Dundalk. The
Western corridor is described as extending from the linked Gateway of Letterkenny and
Londonderry in the Northwest to Sligo and Galway. Linking the two development corridors
through the structurally and economically weak central border area is identified as the
principal challenge of the RPGs. The spatial discourse of the Border Region RPGs is one
which is not bounded by the official boundaries of the region itself or the international
territorial border but is underlain by a functional logic based on existing and potential
connectivity between key urban centres located both within and beyond the boundaries of the
Border Region. One senior local authority planner refers specifically to the use of functional
region-based soft space concepts in the Regional Planning Guidelines and the implications of
this approach in practice, ‘If you look at the RPGs ... it is divided like a Venn diagram with
geographical overlaps between the eastern, central and northwestern parts... People will then
inevitably operate in more than circle. I don’t think that is a bad thing.... We have learnt to
deal with these [Venn diagrams, soft spaces] in so far as we have allowed them to influence
our thinking and then we implement within the tight boundary we actually have jurisdiction
over’ (Interview C1).
4. Spaces of Cooperation or Competition? Soft Spaces at the Local and Regional Scales
The three sub-regional functional areas identified above are also reflected in the institutional
geographies of EU INTERREG (IIIA and IVA) funding. For this purpose the Irish border
region is divided between three border area networks (Figure 5). Each border area network
consists of local authorities on both sides of the border who have agreed to work together for
the purpose of securing EU funds but also to promote regional economic development more
broadly. Whereas under the INTERREG IIIA programme (2000-2006) the border area
networks had the status of implementing bodies, in the INTERREG IVA programme (2007-
2013) they have been required to compete for funding under the programme. As shown in
Figure 5 there is geographical overlap in the membership of the border area networks. In
explanation of this, interviewees resort to a functional logic arguing that one local authority
may be functionally located within the sphere of influence of two regional groupings
(Interviews C1, D1). One interview notes that County Donegal in the northwest of RoI is the
formally part of both the Northwest Region Cross Border Group (Northwest RCBG) and the
Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN), but that functionally south Donegal may be
viewed as part of ICLBAN and north Donegal as part of the Northwest RCBG (Interview C1).
Each of the border area networks are recognised to have developed differently with their own
particular internal institutional dynamics. The border area networks are involved in applying
for and administering INTERREG funding as well as acting as joint political platforms,
presenting cases to central government departments (both North and South) for infrastructural
investment. They compete with each other for funding which can lead to reduced prospects
for collaboration and joint working across the wider border region. Significantly, however,
there is also competition between the border area networks and their constituent local
authorities who are also active in applying for European funding. This can lead to distrust and
a guarded approach to the sharing of information. The geographical overlaps in the
membership of the cross-border groups can accentuate this element of distrust and further
reduce the prospects for coordinated approaches, particularly at the political level (Interview
A1). It is noted that the concept of working with overlapping functional spaces or ‘fuzzy
boundaries’ is gradually being understood and accepted by the border area networks. It is,
however seen as a slow process of change (Interview A1). As their responsibilities are not set
out by legislation, they may be understood as institutional actors associated with non-statutory
spatialities or soft spaces.
Figure 5: The overlapping geographical boundaries of the three border area networks
Data source: EUROSTAT NUTS geographical boundaries.
The East Border Region (EBR) has the longest history of the three, dating from 1976. It
currently comprises ten local authorities, five in the North and five in the South with a
combined population of 826,000. Its geographical reach extends to County Meath in ROI,
located within the immediate hinterland of the Dublin city-region. The main urban centres
within the EBR are Dundalk (ROI) and Newry (NI), located approximately 20 kilometres
apart on the Dublin-Belfast corridor. At the local or sub-regional level, perhaps the most
significant initiative to date has been the signing of a strategic alliance (a Memorandum of
Understanding, MOU) between the local authorities of Newry and Mourne (Northern Ireland)
and Louth (Republic of Ireland). This historic alliance was officially launched in Brussels in
March 2011. It provides a framework for enhanced cooperation in selected areas: emergency
planning, renewable energy and green technology, tourism and recreation, sustainable
economic growth and job creation. While the spatial dimension is implied rather than explicit
the strategic alliance does represent an example of local actors working together across
territorial boundaries and thinking in terms of functional or soft spaces.
The spatial positioning of the towns of Newry and Dundalk on the ‘Dublin-Belfast Corridor’
is recognised as very important. Indeed the Dublin-Belfast Corridor might be considered a
soft space narrative, at a higher spatial scale (see Walsh & Murray, 2006). It may be argued,
however, that the concept of the Dublin-Belfast Corridor is largely a passive, rather than
active one. The Newry-Dundalk strategic alliance represents a pragmatic approach to
cooperation across the border focussed on selected thematic areas. The Memorandum of
Understanding is described by the key actors on the ground as a formalisation and
concretisation of relations of cooperation which have existed on an ad-hoc basis since the
1990s, if not before. An underlying cultural affinity9 is acknowledged by interviewees to have
provided a common base for cooperation. At an official ceremony to mark the signing of the
Memorandum of Understanding in Dundalk in April 2011, the leading elected representatives
from both sides drew heavily on this cultural capital and idea of a shared landscape and
shared heritage. A local authority official from Newry suggests that there are closer
connections with Dundalk than neighbouring local authorities in NI, ‘we probably cooperate
better with Louth than our neighbours north of the border that is a historical thing. We have
to look beyond, particularly in economic development; we can’t just do it within the
geographical boundary of our own local authority’ (C3). The process of developing the MOU
has been facilitated by a number of studies and active applied research, training and
consultancy by ICLRD and other professional consultancies (Buchanan et al. 2006, ICLRD
2009, 2010).
The Northwest Region Cross-Border Group (NWRCBG) comprises four District Councils in
Northern Ireland and one County Council (Donegal) in the Republic of Ireland. The principal
urban centres are Londonderry (NI) and Letterkenny (ROI) located approximately 30 km
apart in the northwest periphery of the island. The city of Londonderry in the Northwest is the
second largest in Northern Ireland, yet has a population of only 85,000. Letterkenny, the
largest town in County Donegal (northwest ROI) has a population of approximately 15,000.
In the case of the Northwest, the Londonderry-Letterkenny joint Gateway has provided the
focus for a number of cross-border spatial planning initiatives. Local and regional actors have
embraced the potential of the concept of strategic spatial planning and the Gateway
designation, viewing it as an opportunity for promoting regional development in the northwest
(Haughton et al. 2010). Interviewees note, however, that the context for cooperation is
relatively difficult in the Northwest, in comparison to the eastern corridor. This is in part
attributed to the historical legacy of the troubles which left deeper divisions in Londonderry
and the northwest than in the Newry-Dundalk area but also to the functional dominance of the
city of Londonderry and a corresponding difficulty in finding equal partners on either side of
the border (D1).
In May 2006 a Northwest Gateway Initiative (NWGI) was formally launched at a meeting of
the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The initiative sought to develop a non-
statutory spatial planning framework for the region, to examine the potential for joint
investment in key infrastructure projects and to support joint actions in a range of sectoral
areas including tourism, trade and investment, skills training, higher education and business
development. In addition, it was aimed to achieve a greater coordination of public services
such as health, education and information services. Investment in the City of Derry Airport
was presented as the flagship project of the initiative. This joint investment from the British
and Irish governments served to increase the working capacity of the airport with respect to
passenger flights. Perceived as a top-down initiative coming from the British and Irish
governments, the NWGI however, struggled to gain a high level of political support and
9 The Newry and Mourne area has a nationalist majority.
‘buy-in’ from stakeholders within the region. The spatial planning framework for the
northwest subsequently prepared under the NWGI was never officially adopted as it failed to
achieve sufficient political support (Interviews A1, D1). The NWGI label nevertheless
continues to be employed at a policy level with reference to initiatives from both governments
to support the development of the Northwest Region (NSMC, 2012). The Northwest
Partnership Board currently provides an informal institutional framework for cooperation. The
key actors are the Donegal County Development Board (ROI) and the Derry Strategic
Development Board (NI). Both boards may be viewed as informal local governance structures
including a range of both public sector and civil society actors. Cooperative working through
this informal structure is supported by ICLRD and follows an integrated cross-thematic
The Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) comprises a largely rural and economically
weak area and includes ten local authorities in its membership with a population of
approximately 600,000. The central border area in particular is marked by a dispersed
settlement structure and poor accessibility. A gradual process of increased connectivity
among border towns and villages is evident, however, supported by local and regional cross-
border initiatives (Creamer et al., 2008). Both the NWRCBG and ICBAN are currently
engaged in projects focused on the development of GIS-based spatial data infrastructures and
analytical capacities. Both of these initiatives are funded through INTERREG IVA. Problems
of achieving comparability and in spatial datasets are identified as a significant challenge for
spatial planning and development decision-making at the local and regional scales.
Interviewees highlight the need for quantitative spatial data and statistics which can be
employed in order to make evidence-based arguments to inform decision-making. This is
viewed as particularly important where local elective representatives have an active role in the
decision-making process. There is a significant effort here to provide a strong objective
evidence-base to support cross-border cooperation, which may lead to a more technical
approach to the question of cross-border spatial analysis and strategy-making.
ICBAN, however, has also engaged in the preparation of a visioning strategy for the central
border region which was adopted by the ten local authorities and launched in November 2013
(ICBAN, 2013). The regional vision process is recognised to have significant potential in
developing a cross-border regional perspective focussed on the central border region
(Interviews B2, C1, and C2). An official working for ICBAN, stresses the importance of the
process of developing a regional strategy and the need to arrive at agreed priorities which are
more than simply aspirational: ‘the process is almost as important as the product. The chief
executives and county managers have got to believe in it and buy it. We have got to have it
from our economic development monitors and officials and elected members and private
stakeholders. That puts life into it...’ (Interview B2). Given the limited financial resources
available at the regional level, the regional vision is intended primarily as a lobbying strategy
focussed on central government, North and South. This approach is tentatively encouraged by
senior officials in the two government departments who, however, also recognise a need for
the ‘tempering of aspirations’ based on a realistic assessment of the potential of the central
border region and the constraints national level policy and investment frameworks (Interview
A2). An official working with ICBAN argues that, there has been an explicit attempt to
encourage the local authorities and political representatives to think beyond their own
boundaries and to consider the ICBAN region as the central border region, with an important
strategic location in an island of Ireland context: ‘Seventeen years later councils still seem to
work in isolation. Councils like Leitrim and Cavan [both ROI] do back-to-back development.
They don’t look at each others’ developments. We are saying the need to look at the bigger
picture, synergy of resources. We keep driving this... It is hard work to keep thinking that
ICBAN is their framework to work collaboratively’ (Interview B2).
A number of interviewees stress the challenges involved in changing political mindsets at the
local level and the continued dominance of a territorial localism and spatial imaginaries
focussed on political-administrative boundaries and local electoral constituencies. A regional
planner points to the dominance of a ‘local agenda’ framing the politics of local government
in RoI: ‘It is very local – parish pump politics, everything is localism... everybody gets a little
slice of the cake’ (Interview B1). The same interviewee further notes that county managers
(the most senior executive position in local authorities in RoI) act to defend the interests of
the local authority area which they are administratively responsible for, in a way that can lead
to a high level of competition and restrict potential for cooperation, ‘County managers are
quite defensive of their administrative areas. They are proud of their counties. They are seen
as their counties... this manifests itself through the way they run the councils.’ (Interview B1).
In rural County Leitrim10, electoral areas at sub-county level are identified as the most
important spatial frame informing the thinking and decision-making of elected
representatives: ‘They know where they get their votes. They won’t rock the boat sometimes
if someone wants to do something in the other end of the county so it will then be the same
for them if they want to do something.’ (Interview C1). A contrasting perspective is offered
by a senior planner working in NI, who notes that politicians can in some cases be
instrumental for ensuring wider perspectives are considered due to role of party structures:
‘Often politicians because they are members of political parties are actually one of the best
instruments for ensuring wider agendas are taken into account. The politician may be
representing people on the ground but also has to toe the party line... They may be very much
parochial but there is a second level through party structures’ (Interview C2). This interview
may point to a significant difference between political structures North and South and the
comparatively stronger role of local ‘parish pump politics’ in political decision-making in
5. Discussion and Conclusions
The empirical analysis presented in this chapter demonstrates the role of spatial planning in
developing a new policy vocabulary, which has enabled actors in spatial development to
consider the cross-border island of Ireland context in an explicit manner. The inter-
jurisdictional cross-border context required the employment of a soft space approach and the
development of soft institutional spaces for cooperation. In light of the legacy of conflict in
Northern Ireland, characterised by diverging nationalist and unionist territorial aspirations, a
10 This county has a predominantly rural population, totalling just less than 32,000 in 2011.
politically sensitive approach has been necessary. The tentative approach established through
the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland and the National Spatial Strategy in
the Republic of Ireland allowed for recognition of cross-border spatial linkages, while
implicitly acknowledging the challenges posed by existing spatial imaginaries associated with
specific political groupings and ideologies. Over the last decade, an incremental process is
evident whereby spatial strategies at regional and national levels have become increasingly
explicit in their cartographic and textual representations of cross-border and island of Ireland
linkages. Whereas the concept of spatial planning for the island of Ireland would still be
regarded by many as ‘a political argument’, a tentative approach based on dialogue and
informal policy coordination has opened an institutional space for cooperation, providing an
enabling framework for cooperation and joint action through soft spaces at local and regional
levels. Recent steps towards formalisation through a Framework for Cooperation indicate a
high-level recognition of the need for institutional support for processes which to a large
extent have depended on the efforts of a relatively small number of individuals within the
relevant national/regional ministries North and South and the support of academic researchers
actively engaged in this field. Within this context, ICLRD has played a critical role, proving
research expertise, facilitating the development of an epistemic community in the field of
spatial planning and regional development and perhaps more significantly, creating an
independent institutional space for cooperation through conferences, workshops and training
programmes. Practices of cross-border cooperation emerging in the northwest, central and
eastern border regions explicitly reference the island of Ireland spatial policy framework
provided by the NSS, RDS and to a lesser extent the Regional Planning Guidelines for the
Border Regional Authority.
The development of a spatial vision for the ICBAN region furthermore indicates a practical
value associated with strategy-making through soft spaces at the cross-border regional level.
Despite the attempts to remove spatial development decision-making from the realm of
politics, it is difficult to argue that there is a post-political agenda at play in this case or indeed
that the use of soft spaces facilitates a narrowing of the agenda for debate through a focus on
growth management issues only. Soft spacer, rather allow for the emergence of new regional
constellations within the immediate cross-border region and beyond. The case study analysis
indicates that each of the three border area networks are characterised by distinct institutional
dynamics and processes of exclusion and inclusion and in some cases relations of internal
trust and distrust. The specific role of the border area networks in applying for INTERREG A
funding appear to have a significant structural influence on dynamics of competition and
cooperation among local authorities within the wider cross-border context. Financially,
significant uncertainties and pressures arise due to a high level of dependence on funding
from external sources, in particular, INTERREG A funding, co-funded from the central
governments. There are also concerns regarding the limited levels of staff resources for spatial
planning at central government and regional levels. The issue of scarcity of financial
resources has emerged in sharp relief in the context the current economic recession, whereby
local authorities and other actors have experienced significant financial difficulties due to the
weakening of the economic base.
Functional spatial logics are nevertheless also significant in the construction of the northwest,
central border area and eastern border region as distinct regional development corridors. This
is particularly evident in the case of the Regional Planning Guidelines for the Border Region
which recognise that the dominant spatial development dynamics are cross-border rather than
internal to the region itself. Perceived cultural affinities also appear to play a significant role
in the shaping of underlying spatial imaginaries and conceptualisations of ‘them and us’,
partner and rival. The Newry-Dundalk case in particular indicates that these cultural affinities
may often be stronger across the international border, than among neighbouring local
authorities within one jurisdiction. Spatial selectivity is evident in the strategic focus on
Letterkenny-Londonderry and Newry-Dundalk as development Gateways. In practice,
however, this has not directly led to a disproportionate concentration of resources at these
At the level of individual local authorities, significant challenges are evident in overcoming
the localism of ‘parish pump politics’ and developing regional perspectives, whether cross-
border or within one national jurisdiction. The spatial imaginaries of the local authorities in
ROI, in particular, are focussed on their own county and often do not recognise the
significance of cross-boundary functional relations whether across the international border or
within ROI. This localism perspective particularly applies to the elected representatives who
generally are concerned with a very localised area within a particular county, which provides
their electoral support base. Interviews indicate, however that the mindsets of county
managers and other senior officials within local authorities are also framed within the context
of the geographical boundaries of ‘their county’. The dominance of territorial spatial
imaginaries at the local authority level found here is in line with previous research on the
spatial politics of cooperation within the Dublin city-region (Walsh 2014). Whereas localism
is also a feature of the district councils in NI, interviewees indicate that it is less significant
due to more limited range of competences currently held by the district councils. This
situation is, however, expected to change with the introduction of a decentralised planning
system from 2015. Whereas the planning system in ROI is becoming more centralised or at
least, hierarchical, the proposals in NI will see planning decision-making competences
accorded to district councils and their elected representatives (see Creamer et al., 2010). A
tentative conclusion is that the international border is perhaps not always the most significant
in terms of the spatiality of cross-border cooperation. Local and regional boundaries can be at
least as significant as barriers to cooperation and the development of soft space regional
This chapter demonstrates the importance of understanding strategic spatial planning
processes as processes of spatial framing where existing spatial imaginaries and underlying
metageographies are reworked and reconfigured in response to particular policy imperatives
or changed circumstances. In the empirical case examined, the national and regional spatial
strategies in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have played a significant role
in creating a space for cross-border inter-jurisdictional cooperation on the island of Ireland.
The use of soft spaces may be understood as part of a deliberate attempt to reconfigure
existing socio-spatial imaginaries; to facilitate a shift away from the zero-sum territorialism
which was characteristic of Northern Irish society in the years of conflict. Significant tensions
are evident, however, between the introduction of soft space perspectives through spatial
planning strategies and the continued dominance of territorial spatial imaginaries at a local
scale which influence possibilities for cooperation and cooperation and political decision-
making in practice. The chapter demonstrates the importance of scale-sensitivity in the
analysis of cross-border spatialities and highlights the role of local and regional territorial
boundaries as potential obstacles to the development of cross-border regional perspectives and
the reconfiguration of spatial imaginaries at higher spatial scales. Furthermore, it is evident
that cross-border geographies, institutionally embedded in this case within the context of
INTERREG programmes, may over time develop their own hard boundaries associated with
processes of mutual exclusion and internal institutional path dependencies.
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... Así , aí ñda que aqúí cingamos a problema tica da ordeñacio ñ a s fronteiras internacionais, as cúestio ñs indicadas tame ñ se detectaron entre plans de ordeñacio ñ producidos por rexio ñs fiñesas (Paasi e Zimmerbauer, 2016) e estados australianos (Burton e Dedekorkut-Howes, 2021). Sexa como for, constan casos de boas pra cticas neste senso, como e Irlanda no seu conxunto, malia a particio ñ en dous estados, desde o proceso de paz post-1998 (Walsh, 2015). ...
... En defiñitiva, con eivas e limitacio ñs, achamos que a experiencia de ordeñacio ñ desenvolvida coñtribú e a superar o efecto persistente da fronteira, que a propia ordeñacio ñ adoita tender a reproducir (Jacobs, 2016;Paasi e Zimmerbauer, 2016), e que Caesar (2017) suxire que nin os propios AECT dan abalado. Neste senso, a UE, polo xeral a trave s de documentos-marco moi xeñe ricos como a serie asinada polos Ministers (1999Ministers ( -2020, e nesta ocasio ñ grazas a un proxecto Interreg, esta a permitir a aparicio ñ de ordeñacio ñs territoriais que van ale ñ das existentes clasicamente (Nadin et al., 1997;Faludi, 2004;Fariño s, 2007Fariño s, , 2014Woessner, 2010;Walsh, 2015;Paasi e Zimmerbauer, 2016;Paú l et al., 2017). A experiencia transfronteirza aqúí achegada da boa proba diso. ...
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... (2017,168) Saranno le strategie europee Macro-Regionali, avviate tra il 2009 ed il 2016 e supportate dai fondi di 4 specifici programmi transnazionali Interreg, a sviluppare tra le proprie priorità di intervento, politiche mirate sui collegamenti transfrontalieri e l'accessibilità cross-border promuovendo un approccio di governance multi-livello e multi-stakeholder insieme alle amministrazioni regionali e locali dei territori coinvolti. Le Macro-Regioni Europee, per molti aspetti rappresentano una sorta di istituzionalizzazione/formalizzazione del concetto di 'soft space' (Schmitt, Metzger 2015), attraverso il quale la necessità della pianificazione territoriale supera il vincolo e la rigidità dei confini amministrativi operando in una logica di cooperazione transfrontaliera e transnazionale attraverso forme di governance innovativa (Walsh 2015). In questo spazio territoriale alternativo, sembrano finalmente emergere questioni ritenute sinora secondarie: i collegamenti interrotti tra agglomerati urbani adiacenti ma separati da un confine nazionale, l'interoperabilità dei sistemi di trasporto, le necessità dei pendolari transfrontalieri, la convenienza di rimuovere ostacoli amministrativi e giuridici ormai obsoleti, per rafforzare welfare e qualità della vita di intere comunità locali periferiche attraversate da confini interni. ...
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... (2017,168) It will be the European Macro-Regional strategies, launched between 2009 and 2016 and supported by the funds of 4 specific transnational Interreg programs, to develop, among their priorities of intervention, targeted policies on cross-border connections and cross-border accessibility by promoting a multi-level and multi-stakeholders governance approach together with regional and local administrations of the concerned territories. The European Macro-Regions represent a kind of institutionalization/formalization of the concept of 'soft space' (Schmitt, Metzger 2015), through which the need for spatial planning overcomes the constraint and rigidity of administrative boundaries operating in a logic of cross-border and transnational cooperation through innovative forms of governance (Walsh 2015). ...
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... From a spatial planning perspective, the multi-jurisdictional context associated with border regions can disturb and limit both visionary thinking and planning practice (Walsh, 2015;Walsh and Knieling, 2013). Some scholars argued that planning in cross-border areas (i.e. ...
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... The ELC provides a broadly supportive policy framework within which to pursue a progressive approach to cross-border cooperation on landscape. 1 On the island of Ireland, the cross-border soft policy space constructed since the Good Friday Agreement in the late 1990s, is especially evident with regards to strategic planning, where an accumulation of 'spatial public diplomacy' initiatives has generated 'a subtle -if not symbolic -shift from collaboration to cooperation' (Peel andLloyd, 2015, 2224;see also Blair et al., 2007;Walsh, 2015;Rafferty and Lloyd, 2014). In respect of landscape, the policy context is also favourable. ...
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Landscape is no respecter of territorial or administrative borders and is a highly pertinent policy-praxis arena within which cross-border cooperation can progress. Although a supportive soft policy space for cooperation on landscape exists on the island of Ireland through the European Landscape Convention (ELC) and the key bilateral spatial planning framework, two interrelated imperatives have not featured substantively on cross-border agendas: engendering active public involvement in landscape management, and harnessing digital technology as a means of enabling such participation. Thus, this paper elaborates upon the findings of #MyValuedPlaces, an online map-based pilot survey aimed at capturing the perceptual values attributed by the public to the places special to them in the cross-border cultural landscape of North West Ireland. Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) offers one accessible method of engaging with the multiple, subjective understandings of landscape, including in the Irish Border region. To this end, the methodology and potential uses of the place-based data generated by the #MyValuedPlaces survey are discussed, including challenges encountered with survey completion. The article concludes with critical reflections on how such 'soft' approaches to public participation in the cross-border landscape on the island of Ireland can be mobilised better in future, particularly through embedding them within official public consultation processes.
... This can lead to contradicting, competing and even conflicting spatial developments of bordering territories (ibid.). In order to avoid that, "soft spaces", i.e. forms of governance which cross formal administrative boundaries (Walsh, 2015) and facilitate experimental development ideas (Haughton et al., 2010), in the form of cross-border regions have emerged. These shape border regions from different countries that are located at a shared border. ...
The chapterCross-territorial Governancediscusses the governanceTerritorial Cohesion aspect of territorial cohesion in the EU which itself is considered as a genuine model ofMulti-level Governance multi-level governance (MLG). During the last 70 years, the EU managed to generate a new discourse on geographic space opposing the nation-state model profoundly connected to the concept of ‘territoriality’ inherited from the modernity. The EU challenges this modernist concept by creating alternative discourses on space represented by a diverse set of governanceGovernance structures, including the criss-crossing international (European UnionEuropean Union (EU), Schengen Zone, Monetary Union, etc.) the transnational (macro-regional strategies) and the local/regional level (EuroregionsEuroregions, twin-cities, European Groupings of Territorial CooperationEuropean Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTCs), i.e. EGTC). In this chapter, the authors position the EGTC within the MLG system of the EU with a focus on the role of the groupings in re-shaping the modernist concept of territoriality (marked with strictly protected borders) by creating a new dimension of cross-border spatial integration stretching over administrative borders. When doing this, the EGTCs contribute to the re-interpretation of European space and generate a new discourse on territoriality—within the frames of a new approach to territorial cohesionTerritorial Cohesion.
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Regions and territories become institutionalized as part of wider geohistorical processes and practices in which these spatial entities accomplish their borders, institutions, symbolisms and normally contested identity narratives. The borders of bounded spaces are ever more topical today because of the mobilities of human beings (tourists, migrants, refugees), the rise of (ethno-)nationalism and regionalism, anti-immigration discourses and racism; features that expose the ideological significance of territories and the forms of physical and symbolic violence that are frequently embedded in borders/bordering. This essay explores the tenacity of bounded spaces in academic research and in social practices, and the meanings attached to such spaces. It will analyze how geographers and other social scientists have understood and conceptualized regional and territorial spaces and traces the evolution of the keywords in border studies. Borders are material and ideological constructs, institutions, processes and symbols that are critical in the production and reproduction of regions/territories, identities and ideologies. The article leans on author’s idea of spatial socialization and Shields’ notion of social spatialization in making sense of how the obstinate power of borders is embedded in the production and reproduction of bounded spaces and in the process of subjectification. This article is published as part of the Geographical Annaler: Series B, Human Geography special issue based on the Vega symposium: ‘Bounded spaces in question: X-raying the persistence of regions and territories, edited by Anssi Paasi.
“In addressing the issues of cross-border transport and mobility, the CROSSMOBY project and this book make a significant contribution to what the European Union has been calling for several years: to achieve a seamless mobility system in order to strengthen European cohesion and integration. Creating the conditions for structuring an effective mobility system is also a prerequisite for regional economic growth, territorial cohesion and the development of the potential of cross-border regions. Economic development and job creation in the border regions also depend on the benefits that border regions derive from cross-border trade. Improving the supply and quality of rail, road and water links and services also contributes to improving the quality of life of the inhabitants and making these areas more attractive for tourism”. From the preface by Massimiliano Angelotti
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Current proposals for regional governance reform have significant implications for the Dublin city-region and its wider hinterland. This paper traces the evolution of governance reform in the Dublin city-region from the introduction of regional authorities in the early 1990s to the present, and examines current reform proposals within this context, focusing specifically on issues of spatial jurisdiction and regional boundaries. The paper subsequently places the Dublin city-region case within an international context, drawing specific lessons from the experience of supra-regional urban–rural partnerships in Germany. The paper makes the case for a partnership and project-based form of regional governance based on principles of variable geometry and flexible cooperation.
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The Irish Planning Institute has recently highlighted the need for ‘coordinated and comprehensive research on planning and development matters at a national level’ to support evidence–based planning in Ireland (President’s address, Autumn Conference 2010). New legislative requirements and a rapidly changing planning and development environment have served to highlight the need for a robust evidence and research base to support decision-making and monitoring at local, regional and national levels. The National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) has since its foundation played an active role in articulating and implementing an applied research agenda for spatial planning in Ireland providing tools, analysis and research support on a wide range of issues. The recently launched All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) provides a freely available spatial data portal where key statistics, indicators and mapping can be easily accessed in a userfriendly manner. The International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD), of which NIRSA is a founding partner, is very active, working at the interface between research, policy and practice with a particular focus on issues of North-South cross-border cooperation through spatial planning. Through participation in the ESPON programme, NIRSA is active in disseminating research findings and policy implications at a European level and translating them to an Irish context. This paper provides a research perspective on some of the key challenges and opportunities associated with the further development of an evidence-informed approach to spatial planning policy and practice in Ireland. In particular, experience in NIRSA points to the positive benefits of a dynamic interactive relationship between research, policy and practice, which is well positioned to respond to a rapidly changing economic, planning and policy environment.
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This article examines the policy and practice of spatial planning in the Dublin city region over the period from 1990 to 2006. This period has been characterized by rapid demographic and economic expansion and increased dispersal of urban and peri-urban development across a spatially extensive functional urban region. Spatial planning policy and practice at local, regional and national scales has sought to steer the spatial distribution of urban development in accordance with broad policy principles of sustainable development and balanced regional development. This article critically examines the governance capacity of regional-scale spatial planning strategies to manage urban expansion in a dynamic market-led development context and finds in this case a significant absence of conformance between strategic objectives and spatial development outcomes.
There are two spatial strategies on the island of Ireland - the National Spatial Strategy for Ireland and the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland. These public-sector documents individually contend with private-sector development dynamics that are in fact island-wide and mutually interdependent. Both the British and Irish governments have recognised the need to advance joined-up planning for the island of Ireland. This paper reports on research that reflects upon the exisiting spatial strategies on the island of Ireland and explores the potential for further developing cooperation between the two jurisdictions. Drawing on the views of key actor groups in both territories, evidence indicates that mutual benefit can be gained across the island while maintaining the integrity of each jurisdiction. The actions necessary to achieve this include aligning existing policy and harnessing and facilitating existing structures to enable a wide range of stakeholders to contribute to the process.
The Irish border (between Northern Ireland – the ‘North’ and the Republic of Ireland – the ‘South’) has been described as a ‘natural’ cultural divide between the island’s two dominant indigenous ethno-national communities. However, an examination of key resources of ethno-national group culture – religion, sport and language – provides evidence to challenge this representation. Moreover, in the post-1994 period of conflict transformation, evidence is also presented to support the proposition that the Irish border region has developed into a cultural space in which Irish nationalist and Ulster unionist ethno-national communities can explore cultural differences and commonalities through cross-border, cross-community contact and communication in small group encounters. This space underpins the reconfiguration of the border from barrier to political bridge between North and South. European Union (EU) Peace programmes for Ireland, beginning in 1995, provided the support for a cross-border approach to escaping the cage of ethno-national conflict in Northern Ireland. However, post-2004 EU enlargement signalled the beginning of the end for EU Peace funding, and severe economic recession has undermined the expectation of British–Irish intergovernmental intervention to support cross-border partnerships and their work. Therefore, the outlook for the sustainability of this cross-border cultural space is gloomy, with potentially deleterious consequences for the continued reconfiguration of the border from barrier to bridge.
The central argument in this article is that recent advances in strategic spatial planning on the island of Ireland have been considerably enhanced through the medium of the European Spatial Development Perspective. This has provided a shared technical vocabulary and an imperative to imagine possibilities which transcend the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to a greater and lesser extent, depending on the sensitivities of the actors concerned. Particular attention is given to the role played by very different participatory processes in helping to shape these spatial agendas. The paper concludes by identifying an action-oriented commitment to sustainable development as the key strategic choice in advancing the logic of territorial interdependence.