Regions of Ireland: The Midlands

                          Midlands Regional Authority

Contact:      Ms. Ruth McInally (Director)

Email:         info@midlands.ie

Web:            www.midlands.ie

Address:     Bridge Centre, Bridge St., Tullamore, Co. Offaly

Tel:               +353 57 935 2996

Fax:              + 353 57 935 2998

 

Profile of the Region

Socio-Economic Data

Regional Structures

Regional Priorities

European Priorities

EU Project Example

 Profile of the Region

The Midland region spans 6,524 sq. km - 9.5% of the total area of the state - with a population of 251,664 (Census 2006) . It includes the following four units of primary local government: Laois County Council, Offaly County Council, Westmeath County Council and Longford County Council.

Situated in the heart of Ireland, the region is steeped in history, culture and heritage. From early Christian times, the Midland Region has acted as a seat of learning and a point from which information flowed. The Midland's geographical landscape has shaped and influenced the region's history, culture, and social and economic development. The natural beauty of the region, with it's many lakes, waterways and canals, has also made it a popular tourist destination.

The Midland s has a strong industrial base and is particularly strong in the areas of medical devices, healthcare, pharmaceutical and chemicals, software and engineering. There are also a number of very successful food and drink producers in the Midlands. The software sector is represented but has yet to forge a strong presence. The single most significant industrial activity in the Midland region has been the peat industry, including the harvesting of peat and its use for energy production. Several significant peat-fired energy stations have opened in the region in recent years. Wood processing is also an important industry in the Midlands, which accounts for just over one-third of total processed timber produced in Ireland.

While the predominant areas of population growth have been to the east of the Region under the influence of the Greater Dublin Area, the Midland Region has also experienced dynamic changes in its demographic and economic structure, development trends and infrastructure pressure since 1996. Employment growth is concentrated in the larger urban centers and the Region is becoming characterised by an increasing dependency ratio which in turn has implications for health care, type of housing needed and elder care.

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The Midlands Region Authority map

 

Socio-economic data

NUTS level

III

Area (sq. kms)

6,524

% of area of State

9.5%

   

Population (2006)

251,664

% of national population

6.0%

Population density (persons/sq km)

34.6

   

Regional capital (town/city)

Athlone

Population

16,000

   

Regional GDP (2002)

4,184M

GDP (% of State, 2002)

63.2%

GDP (% of EU25, 2002)

84.1%

   

Workforce

98,400

Employment rate (2002)

94.8%

Employment in key industries:

 

1. Services

59.8%

2. Industrial

30.4%

3. Agriculture

10.0%

   

                               

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Regional Structures

The Midland Regional Authority is one of eight Authorities established by the Government under the Local Government Act 1991 (Regional Authority Establishment Orders 1993). The Authority comprises 24 elected members from the constituent Local Authorities within the Region: Laois County Council, Offaly County Council, Westmeath County Council and Longford County Council plus a Committee of the Regions nominee. The main functions of the Regional Authority are:

1. Preparing Regional Planning Guidelines and Regional Economic and Social Strategies;

2. Reviewing, as appropriate, the Development Plans of the Local Authorities in the Region and, where relevant, the Development Plans of Local Authorities adjoining the Region; to consider the consistency of plans with one another and with the overall development needs of the Region;

3. Promoting coordination of public services and, where relevant, consideration by Public Authorities of the implications for, or the effect of, their decisions, activities or services on the Region.

The members of the Regional Authority meet once a month. In carrying out its duties the Authority is assisted by two committees, the Operational Committee and the EU Operational Committee. The Operational Committee’s function is to assist and advise the Authority in the discharge of its functions. Membership is drawn from senior management from Local Authorities and other public service agencies in the region. The EU Operational Committee assists the Authority in matters relating to EU assistance and the monitoring of various EU Operational Programmes applicable in the Region.

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Regional Priorities

The Midland Regional Authority endeavours to boost the economic and social development of the Region. The development strategies, as drawn up by the Authority in consultation with the public agencies and social partners, act as a blueprint for regional development. In addressing the challenges facing the Region, the Authority embraces the notion of global competitiveness and bases its strategies on a number of policy objectives including: the creation of sustainable employment, equal opportunities, social inclusion, the promotion of the information society and the protection of the environment.

The Strategic Economic Objectives for the Region are:

• To drive the implementation of the ‘linked gateway’ for the Midland Region, as outlined in the National Spatial Strategy (NSS), within a broader context of polycentric development centred on the five main towns in the Region.

• To achieve a regional population in the order of 325,000 by 2020 through building on the individual strengths of the main towns while maintaining and supporting the viability of smaller towns, villages and rural areas.

• To co-ordinate and target key transport/communications investment within the Region so as to support and sustain critical mass and regional competitiveness, create effective links and improve intra and inter-regional connectivity.

• To develop and market a distinct and unique image and identity for the Region that will attract investment and economic activity.

• To support the development of alternative farm enterprises.

• To maximise the social and knowledge capital of the Region with investment in physical, electronic and social infrastructure.

• To develop the Midlands as a region of knowledge and learning by developing and

enhancing the role of Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) to ultimately provide a university scale of education and R&D capacity.

• To create an innovation and entrepreneurial culture by providing significant innovation funding and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in the Region.

• To improve critical mass by building on existing clusters of activity.

• To invest in leading edge business supports.

• To provide social, educational, recreational and cultural facilities of a scale and quality to attract and retain a critical mass of population throughout the Region.

• To achieve an appropriate level and range of public, social and community services and facilities, including housing and accommodation needs.

• To invest in attracting and retaining a skilled labour force.

• To promote and protect the natural and built environment.

A key objective of the Midland Regional Authority is the promotion of the Midlands Gateway (i.e. Mullingar-Athlone-Tullamore) under the National Spatial Strategy. The designation and development of the Midlands Gateway provides the basis to develop a range of high quality employment and educational opportunities centred on first-rate accessibility and mobility. To this end, a development framework on how the Gateway should develop was published in 2006 by INDECON, Developing a World Class Knowledge-Based Competitive Gateway. Promoting an integrated, knowledge-based and competitive gateway, the strategy was formulated to ensure the availability of choice in residential, retail, leisure and tourist facilities based on the principles of quality of life and environmental enhancement.

The Region’s road network is characterised by a number of nationally strategic road routes that radiate from Dublin and traverse the Region. National secondary and regional roads connect these main routes and are generally in need of upgrading. The inter-urban routes identified under the previous NDP are not due for completion until 2010. Enhanced transport connectivity, both inter and intra-regionally, has a central role to play in developing the Region’s potential. In terms of economic growth, the Midland Regional Authority is also committed to:

• Providing sustained support for the Midland Enterprise Platform Programme;

• Supporting the establishment of the Midland Innovation Fund; and

• Supporting the establishment of the Midland Regional Research Centre to act as a magnet of attraction for knowledge-based industry.

The Midland Regional Authority is supporting and working closely with the job creation agencies (i.e. IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the County Enterprise Boards, WESTBIC, Partnership Companies, Leader Companies etc.) in establishing the Region as an attractive location for industry. As part of this strategy, these agencies are striving to attract high value added jobs, particularly in the already established areas of software, pharmaceuticals, health-care, biopharma, and food processing sectors. The Authority continues to support the activities of the Midlands Innovation Centre (MIRC) located at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT). The Authority recognises the role of AIT as a key driver in the growth of the Region; and as such supports its development and investment in pharmaceutical-medical technology, ICT and other high tech sectors.

 The Lakelands & Inland Waterways Strategy was launched by Failte Ireland and Waterways Ireland in October 2007. The strategy seeks to position Ireland’s central waterways as a key international tourism proposition. The Midland Regional Authority supports Failte Ireland in the roll-out of this strategy which will raise the profile of the Midland counties by making tourists aware of what there is on offer in this area - history, culture and heritage with many lakes, waterways and canals.

The Regional Authority completed Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs) in 2004, which sets out a policy framework for the co-ordination of the planning and development activities of the local authorities, other public authorities and agencies and the wider community and business sectors up to 2020. Some of the key regional priorities outlined in the RPGs include:

  • Enhancing the critical mass of the region by combining the strengths of the “linked gateway” (designated urban centre in the region) as envisaged in the NSS with those of the county towns of Portlaoise and Longford.

  • Developing the full potential of rural areas in the region in a manner that is also compatible with the strengthening of the urban structure of the region.

  • Offering a distinctive lifestyle rooted in a high quality living environment, rich in heritage and landscape value.

  • Harnessing the central geographical location of the region at the “heart” of Ireland, with more inter-regional links than any other region in Ireland, to build a strategically focused network of transport and communications links.

  • Exploiting the region’s central location and diverse natural and cultural resources to increase the number of tourists visiting the region.

  • To provide educational opportunities within the region by developing outreach facilities.

The Regional Authority will monitor the implementation of the RPGs and ensure that all county plans in the Region are in compliance with the RPGs; particularly in the areas of population, settlement strategy, infrastructure, commercial/industrial, retail, agricultural development, rural areas, social/community issues, inter-regional issues, and environment and amenities.

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European Priorities

The Midland Region is interested in working with other EU regions in developing joint solutions to addressing the above issues (see regional priorities) - particularly regions with complementary resources and aspirations - in developing and implementing strategies for boosting regional innovation. Key industries for the region include: medical devices, healthcare, pharmaceutical and chemicals, engineering, and food and drink. The production of energy and other commercial products from peat is also a important economic activity in the Midland Region.  

The Midland Regional Authority also provides support to its members activities in relation to EU affairs. In particular, one of the members of the Authority is appointed as a member of the Irish delegation to the EU Committee of the Regions.

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European Experience

The Midland Regional Authority has considerable experience in the implementation of EU projects and has been involved in several Interreg IIIC projects during the 2000-2006 period concerning the development of the tourism potential of inland waterways (see below), the development of a European cultural tourism promoters network and as a partner of the BMW Regional Assembly in a regional innovation audit.

 

Example of an EU Project

Project title: Watertour

Programme: Interreg IIIC

The overall objective of the project was to strengthen the economic situation and competitiveness of SMEs involved in water based activities within close proximity of the lakes and inland waterways in the partner regions by offering quality and specific activity based products. The Midland region's consortium included Leader Groups, constituent Local Authorities, private operators, Regional Tourism Organisation and county tourism offices, County Development Boards, Inland Waterways Association and Chambers of Commerce.

The project aims to target a market of SMEs and community groups whom are already  involved or wish to become involved in the development of water tourism based activities. The international network provided by the project partners affords the opportunity for each region to benefit from the lessons already learned by the other regions in the development of various water tourism based infrastructure and quality of services provided.

The project also included the development of tools and methods for marketing. The ultimate aim is to increase the tourist numbers in their region. Other partners in the project included the Regional Tourism Board of Vorpommen (Germany), the South Transdanubian Regional Development Agency (Hungary), the Lahti Health Control & Environmental Protection Agency (Finland), and Aflops – Forest Producers Association (Portugal).

Total funding:                    € 812,800.00

EU Contribution:              € 562,989.00

Contact details:

Ms. Christin Kellner

   International Co-ordination Watertour
   c/o Vorpommern Tourism Development plc.
   Fischstr. 11
   D - 17489 Greifswald
   Tel: +49 891 132
   Fax: +49 891 130
   Email: getev@getev.de

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