Robert Burns Scotland’s National poet in his poem Ode to a Mouse said – the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  I cautiously welcome the National Planning Framework 2040 but I am hoping that in planning the work, we will work the plan.

I expect it will soon have proper legislative footing under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016.

Project Ireland 2040 is a very ambitious plan for our country.  However, as other Deputies have already stated, a lot of what it contains isn’t new and are initiatives that have been announced already.

I welcome National Policy Objective 2b in outlining the regional roles including Drogheda Dundalk-Newry cross-border where networks will be identified and supported in the relevant Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy.

I welcome Sections 8.2 to 8.5 on the importance of the Dublin to Belfast Corridor as being the largest economic cluster on the island of Ireland, and this point cannot be overstated.   In this context I hope that commitments to improve infrastructure will be followed through.  The proposed linkage in the plan of a high speed train network between the two capital cities of North and South must be completed.  We are still waiting on the Ardee By-pass, and I know that funding has been ear-marked over a number of years.   Improvement in infrastructure is imperative if we are to continue to attract inward investment to the region.

In late 2017 we welcomed 300 new jobs in Dundalk when the medicine packaging company Wasdell committed to opening a new 70,000 sq ft plant.  This UK company wish to retain a presence within the EU.

This is a huge growth area, as a potential from Brexit, and it is imperative, along the Eastern Corridor that infrastructure, increased housing to accommodate sustainable population growth with a good quality of life is provided.    This would include providing connectivity with high speed broadband as being a basic requirement.  It is all well and good talking about master plans, but when many in my region are left without any hope of getting high speed broadband, it reflects badly on those aspirations contained in this plan.

As noted in the plan it will be necessary to prepare co-ordinated strategies for Dundalk and Drogheda at both regional and town level to ensure that they have the capacity to grow sustainably and secure investment as key centres on the Drogheda-Dundalk-Newry cross-border network and I welcome this.

In the North-South context it is important and noted in the Framework that the implementation be in tandem with the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) for Northern Ireland.  We need a collaborative approach in developing opportunities for the Eastern Dublin – Belfast corridor.

We also need to protect rural towns and communities and it would appear that there will be a shortfall in funding when you look at the plans for the four cities which will undoubtedly eat into the majority of the funding leaving larger towns to suffer the deficit.  I would also like to say that under National Policy Objective 15 to support the sustainable development of rural areas by encouraging growth and arresting decline in areas that have experienced low population growth – in this respect, I would like to see opportunities for those traditionally and generationally entitled to remain in their local areas, to be allowed build in their local rural community whether rural or in a small town without the myriad of planning restrictions that currently exist.

When you look at the National Policy Objective 32  –  To target the delivery of 550,000 additional households to 2040 – because of this Government’s track record on housing to date, I think this is very much aspirational rather than achievable.

An immediate solution to the housing crisis we are currently in would be to bring in emergency legislation immediately preventing vulture funds coming in and putting families out of their homes.  The Local Authorities should be the first port of call in purchasing these distressed loan books at the same knock-down prices that the vulture funds are buying them for.  This would prevent even more families from becoming homeless.

In conclusion, Louth’s motto in its Development Plans have often spoken of my constituency as being the best place, to live, work and grow old in, should be reflected as an overall thought process in any planning.