Chambers of Commerce in Shannon and Limerick have differed significantly in their analysis of Project Ireland 2040, the Government’s new national development plan.

Shannon Chamber of Commerce is of the view that the plan will create alternatives to Dublin, while its near neighbour is saying that it will do very little to reverse economic imbalance in Ireland.

Helen Downes, CEO of Shannon Chamber, has commented that “the clear message emanating from the National Planning Framework (NPF) is the Government’s intent to create realistic alternatives to Dublin.”

However, her Limerick counterpart, Dr James Ring, has stated that the plan, “is going to do very little, if anything, to reverse the massive economic imbalance on the island of Ireland.”

There are two disparate elements to the Government’s Project Ireland 2040; a National Planning Framework (NPF) and the National Development Plan (NDP).

In a statement, Ms Downes said, “having reviewed the plans overall, there are so many other positives to be taken from them”.

This is at odds with the CEO of Limerick Chamber insofar as the Midwest region’s capacity to address current economic imbalance on the island, “has been largely ignored in the plans.”

Helen Downes has welcomed the metropolitan area strategic plans (MASPs) in the NPF and the fact that Shannon will be a contributor to the Limerick area MASP.

She is also encouraged by proposals to grow cities, including Limerick, and said, “this is good for Shannon as, having a city of scale in close proximity to an economic zone of scale will enhance the region’s attractiveness as an investment location.”

Ms Downes also commented that “improving access between key centres of growth along the south-west corridor, rather than constantly looking towards Dublin for motorway connectivity, should serve to create a viable alternative to the east coast.”

For his part, Dr Ring welcomed proposals to support the M20 to Cork and the Limerick to Foynes road but he also contends that having no representation sitting at the cabinet table, “is very much apparent in Project Ireland 2040’s outcome for the Midwest.”

The Limerick Chamber CEO remains optimistic that, “central government failure to capitalise on the region’s potential would not stymie the collective ambition and determination in the Midwest.” This region, according to Dr Ring, has been one of the torch-bearers of the recovery with record growth and investment.

While the Midwest has shown the way forward in many respects, Dr Ring believes that Project Ireland 2040, “has more or less turned its back on it.”

With regard to a number of key projects detailed in the National Development Plan for this region, Dr Ring said that these had already been announced prior to the publication of the plan.

He is especially critical of a failure to support airports outside Dublin. In the last five years, passenger numbers at Irish airports have grown by almost 11 million, but 95% use Dublin Airport.

Dr Ring commented that despite plenty of spare capacity in Shannon, the Government’s Project Ireland 2040, “fails to come up with any proposal to try and steer even a small percentage of Dublin Airport’s monopoly away.”

He contends that if Dublin’s share was reduced to 80%, the other Irish airports would share 1.5m extra passengers and this would be a game changer.

Dr Ring has found that “Not alone does Project Ireland 2040 fail to do anything to spread aviation growth but the only airport with capital investment identified is Dublin, through a second runway, a metro link and a new control tower. That’s a total investment worth somewhere in the order of €3.5 billion.”

In conclusion, the Limerick Chamber CEO stated, “It is a huge missed opportunity and one that, for this region, in particular, confirms the lack of political influence we have.”