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Southern Regional Assembly, Outright Winners in the Regional Development Award

Mr. Stephen Blair, Director, accepting the award on behalf of the Southern Regional Assembly. Photographer: Noel Brown Photography

Southern Regional Assembly, Outright Winners in the Regional Development Award

The Southern Regional Assembly is garnering critical praise for its contribution to promoting strategic planning and sustainable development in the Southern Region

Established on 1st January 2015, the Southern Regional Assembly is one of three assemblies in the Republic of Ireland which were created following the dissolution of the BMW and Southern & Eastern Regional Assemblies. The former 8 regional authorities and 2 regional assemblies were consolidated through the government’s regional reform process under the Local Government Reform Act 2014 to form the Southern, the Northern and Western and the Eastern and Midland regions. The three new Assemblies incorporate the functions of both the former regional authorities and assemblies, with significant enhancement of some powers, particularly in relation to spatial planning and economic development.

During the coming year the assemblies are charged with preparing new Regional Spatial & Economic Strategies (RSES) for their regions. The RSES are successors to the Regional Planning Guidelines. Out of the 33 councillors appointed to the assembly in the Southern region, 27 are from constituent local authorities and 6 were appointed by virtue of their membership of the Committee of the Regions. The councillors are supported by the staff of the Assembly, mostly based at the Assembly headquarters in Waterford City.

The Southern Region consists of the administrative areas of Carlow, Cork, Clare, Kerry, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford County Councils, Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council and Cork City Council. The region covers about 42% of the total land area of the country and had a total population of almost 1.6 million people at the time of the 2016 census. The Assembly normally meets on the second Friday of every month at its headquarters in Waterford.

The regional reform process conferred additional powers upon the Assemblies who are tasked with managing and monitoring EU co-funded programmes, co ordinating and supporting strategic planning and sustainable development and promoting effective local government and public services in their respective regions, in conjunction with the National Oversight and Audit Commission. “We are the designated Managing Authority for ERDF co-funded Regional Programme. This role positions us to draft the regional programme and ensure that those regional needs which can be addressed under the scope of the EU funding can be served and provide dividends to our region,” says Director, Stephen Blair. “We view as a critical role, our newly minted responsibility of preparing a long-term twelve to twenty years Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) for the whole of our region. The overarching purpose of the RSES is to support the implementation of the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the economic policies and objectives of the Government. “We have a vision for our region and we can provide the framework through which this vision can be delivered. What organisation wouldn’t want to be at the helm of this new and exciting course for their region, to partner with the relevant state and local agencies in a co-production of a strategy that will harness the resources and impetus to create and sustain jobs and identify regional strengths and opportunities. “We have a strong region whose deeper potential will be liberated through smart and strategic planning. We are working on identifying the regional attributes that are essential to enhancing regional economic performance including the quality of the environment, the qualities of cities, towns and rural areas as well as physical infrastructure, and social, community and cultural facilities. This will enable us to advance proposals for augmenting the social and economic performance of the region and we intend publishing an Issues Paper and commencing a formal pre-draft consultation on Monday 20th November.” Acknowledging the significant challenges facing our country, Mr Blair said decisive leadership and a strong and effective set of national and regional strategies are urgently required.

“Members and the executive of the Assembly are happy to be to the fore in meeting these challenges,” he said. “We are working across state agencies, government departments and our constituent local authorities to enhance the quality of life of the people of the Southern Region. “We are uniquely positioned to offer a voice and internal cohesion in securing a sustainable future for the region. In the formulation of strategy, we are committed to the overarching principle of the protection of the environment combined with an impetus to improving social equality, an impetus which will serve to copper-fasten and safeguard our future.”

The Northern and Western and the Southern Regional Assemblies manage the ERDF co-funded Regional Programmes and are programme partners or perform a range of functions in relation to a number of European Territorial Cooperation Programmes.

This article is published in The Public Sector magazine Awards Issue, December 2017.

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