“Given the trends observed over the past 20 years, Ireland will be faced with the challenge of managing decline in parts of the country,” noted Dr David Meredith from Teagasc’s Rural Economy Development Programme, speaking in advance of this weekend’s ‘Thinking Big’ conference in University College Dublin (UCD).

“What we are seeing are trends that are fundamentally changing the distribution of key population cohorts. The past 20 years have seen substantial growth of the population between 30 and 49 years in accessible rural areas.”

Research undertaken on behalf of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), which is chaired by Pat Spillane, established that during the period 1991–2011, 75 per cent of the growth in national population occurred in rural areas. Significantly, most of the growth in the rural population occurred in rural areas close or accessible to urban centers.

“People see these areas as good places to live for a whole range of reasons, housing is cheaper, or better value for money, the quality of life is perceived to be better than other urban and rural locations and, importantly, these locations are accessible to many workplaces relative to urban cores and more remote or less accessible rural areas.”

Dr Meredith stressed the importance of understanding these changes and their implications for future social and economic development.

“We are seeing the progressive concentration of key sub-groups in accessible rural areas, particularly the cohorts between 30 and 49 years with high levels of educational attainment. Whilst these developments are, generally, to the benefit of accessible areas, it raises questions about the long-term viability of other rural areas.”

According to Teagasc, these developments pose important questions regarding the future of different types of rural areas and how they are integrated with national, regional and local development strategies. There is a critical need to ensure that policy initiatives and economic development strategies are co-ordinated from the national level, through regional and local authorities down to the community level to ensure the appropriate types of supports are made available where they are most needed and can be of greatest benefit.

Thinking Big is a student-organised forum consisting of talks, panel discussions and workshops. It will take place this Friday and Saturday in the UCD Student Centre. Themes covered over the two days include energy sustainability, climate change, urban planning and food security.

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