Wexford rising towards top of the 'poorest counties' league

By David Tucker

Published 07/07/2015 | 00:00

Wexford is one of the poorest counties in Ireland and over the past few years has got poorer, with high levels of unemployment, high dependence on small business, low take-up of second and third level education and social deprivation.

A draft report, 'Wexford Local Economic and Community Plan (LECP)', commissioned by Wexford County Council, setting out the huge problems we face and the socio-economic goals for the county, says: 'Wexford is the third most disadvantaged local authority in the State and its relative position is deteriorating, slipping from seventh most disadvantaged in 2006.'

The report pulls no punches and while it lists some positives, it sets out in detail the challenges and problems besetting a 'deprived' Model County.

It says the vast majority of Wexford electoral districts (EDs) are classed as 'Marginally Below Average' (80.6%) with the remaining EDs classed as 'Marginally Above Average' (12.9%) and 'Disadvantaged' (6.5%).

Of the four Municipal Districts New Ross MD is the most disadvantaged and Wexford MD the least disadvantaged.

There are 128 Small Areas (SA) which are classed as 'Disadvantaged' or 'Very Disadvantaged'. The most disadvantaged is located in Clonroche. Others include Taghmon, parts of Enniscorthy Town, New Ross Town, Wexford Town and Bunclody Town.

A lot of these areas have considerable levels of overall socio-economic structural weaknesses in the areas of unemployment, education, lone parents and other key demographic indicators.

There are six 'Disadvantaged' EDs in the county - Taghmon, Enniscorthy Urban, New Ross Urban, Wexford No. 2 Urban (which takes in the south end of the town), Newtownbarry and Ferns.

The report by the All Island Research Observatory, the research arm of the ESRI based at NUI Maynooth, says Wexford had the highest rate of rent supplement payments in the State in 2013 and a high number of owner occupiers are in negative equity.

It says the loss of a large employer or a decline in IDA investment would have a huge impact on the county's labour force.

A high-level workshop was held at the Ferrycarrig Hotel in May attended by 42 economic and community partners and stakeholders. One of the key messages emerging from it was that the change required by the LECP 'can only be achieved through partnership and collaboration with a wide range of economic and community agencies that buy-in at all levels and across the board is essential'.

The report provides the comprehensive data and evidence that is needed to identify the priorities areas/specific issues for the county and to develop targeted objectives and actions to address these priorities and issues.

It provides key information on how the county ranks/compares at regional and national level and these ranks will act as important measurement indicators for the implementation of the objectives and actions in the Plan. The report also outlines the keys strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the county and highlights that there are many strengths and opportunities that can be maximised upon.

In a section dealing with its vision for the county, the reports says that in view of the current socio-economic profile of County Wexford and the overarching purpose of local government to promote the well-being and quality of life of citizens and communities, the vision for the county and which will frame the high level goals is, that Wexford will be county:

• With vibrant, diverse and resilient sustainable urban and rural communities experiencing a high quality of life;

• Where people want to live, work and do business, which offers its citizens quality employment opportunities;

• Which offers high quality urban and rural environments supported by excellent sustainable physical and social infrastructure and sustainable employment opportunities, and which values its natural environment and heritage

The report, which is being studied by local councillors, says the county's '65 plus' cohort offer a wealth of skills/life learning that could be passed on young people/young families through mentoring/life coaching.

County Wexford, it says, is signed up to becoming an Age Friendly county. This will offer so many opportunities for older people and will make Wexford a great place to grow old in.

The report says the social housing problem in the county needs to be addressed. The response presents the opportunity to ensure that the design of new housing schemes caters for the needs of the different types of households on the social housing list.

The county's increasing young population brings with it the need for and opportunities to develop facilities such as childcare and youth services across the county.

In terms of tourism and lifestyle, it says the continued development of Wexford as a key tourist destination in Ireland for both overseas and domestic clients (is needed) and to maximise the potential of key Wexford tourism destinations.

Wexford is the fifth most popular destination in the country for domestic tourists. Domestic expenditure is the primary source of tourism revenue for the county with Wexford the 5th highest domestic tourism earner in the State. As of 2013, a total of €107m was spent by domestic tourists in Wexford. This is considerably higher than any other county in the South-East with Waterford having the closest income at only €49m.

The report says the county must further market and develop the environmental (including rich biodiversity and coast) and cultural assets in Wexford and highlight quality of life associated with residing in the county, for tourism, and as an attraction to big/high value businesses

There must be increased access to key settlements in Wexford as a result of new infrastructural development on the M11 and the N25 and further development of Rosslare Europort to maximise the presence of this significant port in the county by targeting and facilitating industries with export potential that would benefit from being in close proximity to such a port.

There is the potential to improve broadband accessibility to assist higher levels of the workforce to work from home and to help counteract commuting levels to employment in Greater Dublin Area and the (planned) extension of the gas network to County Wexford, including Wexford Town and Taghmon, offers significant opportunities to attract industry and businesses to the county.

The report says the county has a strong urban structure with four strong large towns (Wexford, New Ross, Enniscorthy and Gorey) supported by a network of district towns and strong villages. These provide key and attractive locations for employment opportunities and for people to live

In Q1, 2014 the retail vacancy rate was 9.8%. This was the 3rd lowest rate in the country. These vacancies offer opportunities for new retailers to set up business in the county.

The report says the level of micro-enterprises in the county is a testament to the culture of entrepreneurship in Wexford. There have been significant success stories in the county and these companies could provide mentoring and guidance for new entrepreneurs and for second level students to develop and maximise this successful area. These include:

• The development of stronger linkages with Waterford Institute of Technology and Carlow Information of Technology to provide more course and faculties. There are also opportunities to work with other third level education providers and private education colleges with a view to providing courses in the county.

• The development of improved local bus routes from key settlements in Wexford to both Waterford IT and Carlow IT would also provide easier access for resident Wexford third level entrants.

• As a result of unemployment there is an opportunity to re-educate a relatively low-skilled workforce to provide better opportunities for employment.

• Given the young population in the county, there is an opportunity to develop a culture of education.

Among threats to the county, the draft report lists:

• The viability of Rosslare port may be threatened by competition and this would have a major impact on both the tourism and logistics sectors.

• Recent closures to railway lines and railway stations have had significant effects on accessibility both within and to and from the county.

• The limited bus routes within, and to and from, the county also present issues.

• There are vacant houses in certain areas and a lack of demand for new housing will result in a continuation of negative equity levels. This will pose a major social and economic threat to households trapped in this situation.

• A lack of employment opportunities and local educational choices may result in a further loss of the young population from Wexford.

• A time lag in support and social initiatives to enable the full integration of new communities in Wexford may have a negative social impact on these communities.

• Dormitory towns and pressure for development overspill from Dublin and Wicklow due to house prices.

• Poor further job prospects and lack of suitable qualifications may result in the most disadvantaged communities in Wexford becoming further isolated.

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