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Accessibility and services of general interest

As remoteness is the main characteristic of Outermost Regions (ORs), these areas face the most challenges deriving from limited accessibility. When the European mainland is considered, it appears that islands, sparsely populated areas (SPAs) and mountain areas are most limited in terms of accessibility. Coastal areas and border areas fare much better in comparison, whereas Inner Peripheries are a specific case.

If access to an airport is taken as an indicator for general accessibility of an area, this confirms the picture: on the European average, 52% of population lives in a LAU2 area in which more than 50% of territory has access to an airport of over 150,000 passengers per year within 45 minutes travel time. This figure is strikingly higher in coastal areas (63%), similar in border areas (53%), but significantly lower for islands (37%) and mountain areas (31%), and negligible in SPAs (2%) and OR (almost 0%).

If the presence of urban agglomerations is taken as an indicator for access to many different services, a similar picture emerges: on the European average, 83% of people live in or around urban areas of over 100,000 inhabitants. In coastal and border areas, this number is even higher (87% for both), but lower for mountains (64%) and islands (57%), and significantly lower in ORs (23%), and (unsurprisingly) negligible for SPAs (1%).

The case studies confirm that low accessibility is a major concern for many GEOSPECS areas. Stakeholders have noted the remote location and resulting high transport costs in several case studies: first and foremost, both OR case studies (French Guyana and the Canary islands), but also in the Outer Hebrides, the Scottish Highlands, Torne valley, the Spanish SPAs, and Sicily. Inner Peripheries, represented by the two case studies of Parkstad (NL) and Werra-Meissner-Kreis (DE), have high accessibility by road to cities. The section on IP confirms this finding, as IP do not principally result from inaccessibility but from lack of employment and demographic decline. In fact, high accessibility to nearby urban centres causes the demographic decline in many cases.

The age structure of the population is also relevant in this regard, as a society with a high proportion of elderly requires more services in the health sector (care homes, hospitals, etc.), whereas a society with a high proportion of children requires more education services. While coastal and border areas, and even islands and mountains, overall do not differ significantly from the European average, the proportion of elderly (above 60) is higher in SPAs (24%) than on the European average (21%). Most significantly, it is the OR that differ, with 15% of elderly (compared to 21%) but 21% of children (under 15), compared to 17% on the European average. Nevertheless, individual mountainous or insular regions can feature a strong over-representation of older population segments, as confirmed by the case studies.

These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.

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