• RSS News from Planning

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 17,169 other followers

Cross-border development:learning from Newry-Dundalk twin city

Across the world, administrative boundaries, and particularly international borders, are blocks to economic development,  management of energy and conservation of natural resources. Rivers flow across frontiers, where flood prevention measures differ. National energy policies and grids constrain efficiency. Small towns split by a border struggle against larger economic hubs.  The culture of officialdom looks inwards. However, across Europe border barriers are being tackled through spatial planning and economic development. Local blinkers are being replaced by new forms of co-operation and policy-making.

Why borders have been barriers to development

The enlargements of the EU during the past decade greatly increased the number and length of internal international borders. The significance of this was not fully grasped in the UK, where the only land border is that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  On the continent, cross-border co-operation has been recognised as a potential driver for economic development, and the source of new dynamism for regional development and spatial planning. The Association of European Border Regions, founded in 1971, has become a powerful lobby in Brussels. Border regions are strongly supported through Structural Funds and listed in the Lisbon Reform Treaty as a potential focus for actions to achieve territorial cohesion.

Economic geographers have long recognised the disadvantages faced by settlements close to a border. The catchments for trade and labour are truncated.  If the border is unstable and contested (as many European borders were) there were extra risks that discouraged investment. It was necessary to duplicate services and institutions either side of the fence. Railways did not match up. A couple of years ago I travelled from Ljubljana to Nova Gorica, then got a taxi to Gorizia Centrale on the Italian side. Gorizia had been allocated to Italy in 1947, though 20% of the regional population was put on the Yugoslav side of the border. In such situations the economic benefits of the Euro and the Schengen Agreement are easy to grasp.

Each border is different, in terms of its physical characteristics, development differences, cultural contrasts, fiscal regimes etc. It is perhaps where there are cities – on one or both sides – that the greatest economic benefits can be realised. Research in the ESPON programme has revealed that 23% of the cities in the 31 ESPON countries have the potential to grow cross-border metropolitan regions by linking up with neighbours across the border. These cities are mainly located along borders stretching from the Benelux countries to Northern Italy, and along the borders between Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.

Cross-border working in Ireland

Last week I was at a landmark event. At a hotel on the edge of Dundalk, the Newry and Mourne District Council (from north of the border) and the Louth Local Authorities (from the Republic) signed a memorandum of understanding. It commits them to cross-border co-operation. They have set up a Strategic Alliance, which aims to:

  • Promote social, cultural and economic links and attract inward investment;
  • Share services and co-ordinate management of key resources;
  • Together build an outward-looking focus.


Key areas for co-operation were identified: emergency planning, renewable energy and green technology, tourism and recreation and sustainable economic growth and job creation. There is to be a Joint Committee of elected members and a Joint Senior Management Group, as well as an Advisory Forum (on which business and the voluntary sector will be represented) along with Project Teams.

Pat Cox, President of the European Movement International and a former President of the European Parliament, summed up the thinking behind the initiative. “We have a deep pride in, and sense of, place, but nobody owes us a living. We need to build communities hat are animated and do things together. That’s indispensible in a globalised economy, and why this path-breaking exercise is welcome. You now have an instrument: make the most of it.”    

The idea of a Newry-Dundalk Twin City Region has been promoted by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development. Colin Buchanan, Raymond Burke Consulting and Urban Institute Ireland produced a study in 2006.  In isolation neither Newry nor Dundalk is largest enough to really be competitive, but they are only 14 miles apart. The ICLRD argued that “Critical mass and good positioning within the all-island network are of paramount importance …To attract international and domestic investment and for the provision of public services and transport links, scale and connectivity are fundamental.”

There has been considerable alignment in strategic spatial planning between Ireland’s National Spatial Strategy and the Regional Development Strategy of Northern Ireland. Both have sustainable development at their core and use the same concepts. For more discussion on this see my report on the ESPON UK web site. Newry-Dundalk is part of the Belfast-Dublin corridor, while in the north-west there are also developing links between Derry and Letterkenny.  

Ideas into practice

Planning and economic development in England are understandably absorbed by the UK government’s abolition of regional strategies and Regional Development Agencies and the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships. Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, some of the cutting edge concepts from European research on territorial development are being put into practice. These include:

  • Multi-level governance – connecting EU, cross-border, national and local actions through a flexible range of initiatives linked through loose strategies and visions, and mixing endogenous and exogenous initiatives;
  • Co-operation in functional regions to achieve agglomeration economies and economies of scale in terms of service provision;
  • Strength in diversity – seeing differences as an asset.


In tune with the ideas of “place-based development” set out in the Barca Report, there is a strong emphasis on bottom-up action and ownership. Barca said “it is up to the top levels of government to set general goals and performance standards and to establish and enforce the ‘rules of the game’. It is up to the lower levels to have ‘the freedom to advance the ends as they see fit’”.  This chimes with the ideas behind localism. Greg Clark, England’s Minister for Decentralisation and Planning, has said that he wants to revive planning, as a plan-making process, concerned with anticipating future needs and demands. A look at what is happening elsewhere in Europe, and in particular across the Irish Sea, could help put these ideas into practice.

7 Responses

  1. Cliff, once again you put in focus very important aspects of European cooperation. Just coming back from Grodno, Belarus, I have experienced the challeges of cross-border cooperation. The border between Poland and Belarus is hard to cross, despie the fact that 23% of the population in Grodno think of themselves as Polish. They have their own schools and their own newspapers. The EU are doing a lot with their support on cross-border programmes, however, it seems like there still is a political problem. I think what we have achieved in the north of Norway together with Russia is an example to look at: Giving the people in the area access to the neighbour without a visa!

    • Thanks, Bjørn Frode. When I was in Ireland last week I was asked if I knew good examples of cross-border co-operation and I cited the work done in the far north of Norway to strenghen flows of people and trade across the border with Russia. Because those territories are so peripheral few people are aware of what is happening. However, the long-term implications are profound, not least because of the significance of the energy reserves in the Baring Sea.

      I have never been to Belarus, but of course that part of Europe saw many changes of boundaries in the last century, which left many national minorities on the “wrong” side of a border. For sure, there would be economic benefits is making cross-border co-operation there less problematic. As you say, politics gets in the way.

      • Agree, and even more important: The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs was clear when signing the agreement that it was his wish that the same situation should spread also to the borders with the EU!

  2. Tell a shrew it has the wrong shade of red tipped teeth to cross a border. Tell an owl, a crow, a long tailed tit, a sparrow, a hedgehog, a rabbit,a spider, Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings . Err sorry… you don’t belong here mate. Nonsense.

    Bring on the wild geese.They have, and will continue to cross borders for centuries. No politics involved.

    We are creating habitats for all of us to flourish and grow. That’s why I entered this profession. Naive? Nope. Hopefull, yes.I am flying with the wild geese. Thankfully some of you are too.

    • Thanks for your comments, Gillian. I think there are 2 aspects. One is the issue of international and inter-regional migration and how planning strategies at national and regional scales address that. In this respect I was interested to hear from one Jennifer Cowley responding to my blog this week about planning in the USA that migration is an issue rising up the planning agenda of the American Planning Association. The other issue is how plans and strategies can best fit with functional networks (e.g. travel to work) now that these typically stretch much wider than local government administrative boundaries. This, of course, is the worry many have about ‘localism’ in England: how will Local Enterprise Partnerships deliver the kind of cross-boundary plans that would make sense, especially in places where co-operation in the past has been weak?

  3. I have long thought it anomalous that while we have well established mechanisms for cross border collaboration between EU member states, there is nothing equivalent to facilitate collaboration between the various administrations of the UK. And the demise of the English regions could make that sort of cross border collaboration even more challenging.

    • I think you are right, Graeme. I think that some land use / transport studies may have been cross-border in North Wales / South Lancashire, but in general administrative boundaries seem to rule. I guess the UK government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland could create incentives to encourage cross-border cooperation if they wished. The Solway, Dee and Severn Estuaries would be obvious targets. However, as you say the demise of English regions makes such innovations less likely: shame Scotland, Wales and NI do not share common borders. Furthermore, all the border areas are a long way from London, and the implicit UK spatial development strategy has focused on backing London and the south-east of England as the region driving the UK economy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: