Council playing key role in cross-border economic initiative

Council playing key role in cross-border economic initiative

31 March 2021

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council is playing a key role in driving plans for a new cross-border initiative aimed at strengthening economic ties between Dublin and Belfast.

The merits of the new link — detailed in a major report officially launched last week — is being supported by eight local authorities on both sides of the border who believe that the new economic corridor has the potential to create further growth and development.

The joint report from Dublin City University and Ulster University says the time is opportune to create a so-called north-south economic corridor given the challenges the region faces as it comes to terms with the impact of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU and the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newry, Mourne and Down, other local authorities supporting the new economic corridor include Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Belfast City, Dublin City, Fingal County, Lisburn and Castlereagh, Louth and Meath councils.

The eight councils located along the corridor and the two universities came together to work collectively to find ways of realising the potential benefits of further development of the link between Belfast and Dublin.

In addition, the partnership led to the establishment of a steering group comprising the eight council chief executives and the presidents of the two universities who committed to meeting quarterly.

The steering group’s immediate objective is to leverage the network’s resources in areas which can have a positive impact and add significant value to the economic development of the region at a time of great economic and social uncertainty.

A working group of local government and university staff was subsequently formed and tasked with developing a series of cooperative initiatives and projects to begin to realise this objective. 

The report published last week is the first output of their collective work over the past three years, with the next step in the process establishing working governance structures which will balance oversight and day-to-day activity. 

Oversight will be provided by an oversight and governance board comprising 24 councillors — three from each local authority — and they will shortly hold their first meeting to elect a chair and develop a programme of works.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council chairwoman Laura Devlin said opportunities existed to grow indigenous business, establish clusters of key sectors, leverage the appetite for collaboration and use the corridor as the driving force for economic development in the region and nationally.

Marie Ward, the council chief executive, said there was awareness among all those involved in the economic corridor project that developing a strong ethos of co-operation will require time, energy and support. 

“Objectives will be set for achievement in the medium to long-term and based on a realisation that local actions can deliver strategic objectives in a practical way,” she added.

The importance of the cross-border economic corridor has been highlighted by Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy and Tanaiste Leo Varadkar.

Mr Murphy commended the eight councils for coming together to produce what he described as as a “landmark report” which shows that by operating and marketing itself as a single economic unit, the corridor can galvanise domestic growth and attract foreign direct investment.

He added: “This report highlights tremendous opportunities. An action plan is needed so that the corridor can form part of an investment-led recovery from Covid and Brexit.”

Mr Varadkar said the corridor was about bringing North and South closer together and enhancing economic and social co-operation between Dublin and Belfast, as well as the areas in between.