At a joint conference in Dundalk between Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Ireland and RTPI Northern Ireland, planners in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland agreed to work together to create scenarios for a ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit.
The conference, ‘Planning Across Boundaries in a Changing Context’, heard from a variety of speakers about the numerous ways in which the communities on both sides of the border are linked socially, environmentally, and economically. There is already a large amount of co-operation in spatial planning, particularly in transport projects, but also in other areas. For example, a bilateral agreement allowed Republic of Ireland residents to access cancer services at hospitals in Northern Ireland.
In particular, the communities around Derry in Northern Ireland and Donegal in the Republic of Ireland are so interlinked that any change to the current ‘invisible’ border is likely to be highly disruptive, with great risk to people’s livelihoods. Following Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be the only land border between the EU and the UK.
It was noted that many people had moved across the border to the Republic of Ireland at a time when house prices were cheaper, creating communities where up to half of the population commute across the border for work. One third of Derry Council’s staff commuted over the border each day. It was common for people to live and ship in the Republic of Ireland, but to work and socialise in Northern Ireland.
Cliff Hague, former RTPI president and planning professor at Heriot Watt University, spoke about mechanisms that had been used in continental Europe to resolve border difficulties, arguing that the way of finding a working border arrangement may already exist. Some examples Hague gave were an Irish Sea ‘macro-regional strategy’ put together by the British Irish Council, a ‘European grouping of territorial co-operation’ to prepare a shared spatial vision for the borderlands, and an ‘urban partnership’ based on key shared issues such as health and wellbeing.
Any solution would require political will, as well as a sound legal framework and a common vision. Although the conference concluded with an agreement that RTPI on both sides of the border would work together to develop scenarios for Brexit to better understand the challenges that will be faced, there remained uncertainty as to what the future holds.
Read the article in The Planner