This blog focuses on the spatial dimensions of Ireland after Nama. As such, I think it’s worth dwelling on Nama’s scale. Not scale in the ‘economies of scale’ sense, but in the ‘politics of scale’ sense.

The idea that there is a ‘politics of scale’ is not by any means new in academic Geography (in fact, it’s probably one of the biggest literatures in academic Geography). What it tends to point towards is the set of relations that exist between different scales of government (but note that it needn’t draw attention to governing; for example, it can be about the local, regional, national or global scales at which social movements act). So, a question about the politics of scale might ask how a national government interacts with local governments, or with institutions or actors that have a global presence, such as the IMF or even a transnational corporation.

In the ‘Namascape’, this line of questioning might lead us to examine how Nama, as a national ‘asset’ management agency, interacts with local governments in Ireland. Or it might mean asking questions about relations between Nama and even more local branches of the state, such as town councils (which the McCarthy Report wants abolished, by the way). Alternatively, we could ask questions about the internal scale division of Nama: will it have an office charged with looking after its international ‘assets’; one for its urban and one for its rural ‘assets’; or will the breakdown of its ‘asset’ management follow the scale division of the Irish state e.g. a Cork office, a Dublin office, etc?

Towards proposing that we think about these relations between Nama and local government, I’ve just conducted a search for Irish newspaper articles published in the last year that contain the words ‘Nama’ and the phrase ‘Dublin City Council’. Not much came up (nor did I get much by searching for Cork City Council). In fact, only five of the 49 articles had anything pertinent to say and none of these got to grips with the sorts of issues I’m thinking about: namely, will Dublin City Council, or any other branch of local government, have any input or dealings with Nama; will local governments know and have an up-to-date register of Nama ‘assets’ in their areas; or, will there be scope for local governments to use ‘Nama’d’ land in strategic or even ethical ways that benefit their local populations [don’t laugh here: I’m fully aware that some readers of this blog might find it difficult to grasp the idea of local governments acting strategically or, indeed, ethically!!]?

Anyway, back to the five useful articles. Here are some of the issues raised:

1. Dublin City Council’s Assistant City Manager, Michael Stubbs, acknowledges “that the council has a number [but how many and where?!] of developments that are unfinished” – and he flags the North Fringe area, in particular. Source: Irish Times, Oct 3 2009.

2. Ciaran Murray, managing director of Ballymun Regeneration Limited, acknowledges that Treasury Holdings might struggle to raise financing for its town centre development on the 15 acre site in Ballymun, which is owned by Dublin City Council and leased to Treasury. The Ballymun project is, “tipped [by whom?!] to be transferred to Nama…” Source: Irish Times, Sep 22 2009.

3. Dublin City Council is “on board” Harry Crosbie’s development strategy for the Point Village. Crosbie will be owing Nama and will “pay it all back…Every single cent.” Independent, Sep 20 2009.

4. The Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland met in September and slammed the McCarthy Report’s call to abolish town councils. The councillors passed a motion rejecting McCarthy’s ideas. Ok, Nama was only mentioned in the article because John Gormley couldn’t make the AMAI meeting because he had to “remain in Dublin to deal with the new Nama bill”! Source: Irish Times, Sep 11 2009.

5. Finally, acres of Nama’d land might need to be mothballed because the “country’s waste water infrastructure needs to be upgraded significantly before any development can proceed.” A spokeswoman from Dublin City Council said the council will endeavour to ensure that “wastewater facilities will not infringe on any future development.” Source: Sunday Tribune, Aug 16 2009.

There are clearly some indications here of Nama’s politics of scale: as the fifth article indicates, it will need local government to do a good job on Nama sites; as the third article makes clear, it matters whether local governments, such as Dublin City Council, are “on board” development plans for Nama’d land; and as the first and second articles highlight, key tracts of land owned by local governments (such as in Ballymun) or which form part of their long-term spatial planning (such as the North Fringe) look set to be Nama’d, which means strategic decisions in places such as Dublin are going to have involve Nama.

So these articles hint at some of the sorts of relations between Nama and local government (and hopefully comments to this post could expand on this list) but just what are the terms of those relations, whose interests are given priority and why, and just what impact will Nama have on local government in the future? And re-phrasing my questions from earlier, will local government have any input or dealings with Nama; will local governments have a register of Nama ‘assets’ in their areas? Just how much will Nama’s politics of scale hurt or help local development in Ireland?

Alistair Fraser