December 2010

Yesterday saw the publication of a special issue of the Journal of Irish Urban Studies: Dublin 2026, the Future Urban Environment.  The papers are all taken from the Urban Environment Project – a collaboration between UCD, NUIM and TCD and funded by the EPA – that has sought to better understand the link between development, land-use change and associated economic and environmental impact within urban regions, focusing in particular on the Dublin region.

A PDF of the all the papers can be downloaded from here. There was some coverage in yesterday’s Irish Times – an article ‘Legislation on conflicts of interest key to city planning‘ and ‘Rectifying our planning errors‘.

To access each individual paper click on the links below.

Introduction to Dublin 2026: The Future Urban Environment Ronan Foley, John Sweeney

The Development of the Functional Urban Region of Dublin: Implications for Regional Development Markets and Planning
Brendan Williams, Cormac Walsh, Ian Boyle

Changing office location patterns and their importance in the peripheral expansion of the Dublin region 1960 – 2008.
Andrew MacLaran, Katia Attuyer, Brendan Williams

Biodiversity in Dublin, A case study approach
Carmel Brennan, Sheila Convery, Michael Brennan

Simulated future development of the Greater Dublin Area: consequences for protected areas and coastal flooding risk
Michael Brennan, Tamara Hochstrasser, Harutyun Shahumyan

Regional governance and the challenge of managing socio-economic change
Deiric O Broin



As reported in an editorial in today’s Irish Times, a special issue of the Journal of Irish Urban Studies has just been published, presenting work of the Urban Environment Project, a large-scale, multi-insitutional and multi-disciplinary collaborative research project led by UCD Urban Institute Ireland and funded by the Environment Protection Agency. Issues addressed by the special issue include biodiversity, city-regional governance, office location patterns simulated coastal flood risk and spatial planning. All articles in this issue are available to download here. The analysis below is extracted from one article of this special issue.

The spatial extent of Dublin’s functional urban region or commuting hinterland has served as a key indicator and point of discussion on the ‘sprawl’ of Dublin and extent of uncontrolled urban expansion over the Celtic tiger period. The location of unfinished and partially vacant housing estates in some locations suggests that private developers significantly overestimated the extent of the ‘Dublin market’. The analysis below serves to map the spatial extent of the Dublin functional urban region and identifies the share of the Dublin workforce commuting from the Mid-East Region (Kildare, Meath and Wicklow) and beyond.

The spatial extent of the Dublin Functional Urban Region and Economic Core Area is derived from 2006 Census of Population data. The Place of Work Census of Anonymised Records (POWCAR) subset of the 2006 Census of Population, allows for a direct assessment of employment density at a fine spatial scale and a direct matching of origin and destination data for the analysis of commuting flows. The Dublin Economic Core Area, as shown in Figure 1 comprises all EDs where employment density is at least 7 jobs per hectare (700/km2) within the four Dublin counties.  The ECA includes approximately 406,000 people at work and 525,000 residents in 159 EDs and covers an area of 150.0 square kilometres (km2). In addition to the traditional Commercial Business District (CBD) large suburban nodes including Blanchardstown, Swords, Dublin Airport, Tallaght and Sandyford, indicating the increasingly dispersed and polycentric pattern of employment distribution within the city

Figure 1: Dublin Economic Core Area. Source: Census of Population 2006 POWCAR dataset OSi boundary datasets, OSi permit no. MP009006(c) Government of Ireland

The spatial extent of the Dublin Functional Urban Region (FUR) is subsequently defined in relation to the ECA. The inclusion of EDs within the FUR is determined by two criteria:

  1. At least 10% of workers resident in the ED work in the Dublin ECA
  2. 50 workers, resident in the ED work in the Dublin ECA

The criteria outlined above, are selected to reflect the actual spatial extent of the FUR based on daily commuting flows (Figure 2). In total 454 EDs are included within the 2006 FUR. The total FUR area covers 4,138 km2. For comparative purposes the spatial extent of the Dublin Sub-Region as defined by the ERDO strategy on the basis of 1981 data is shown in Figure 6.12. The area of the Dublin Sub-Region (2,016 km2) is less than half that of the 2006 FUR. Differences in methodology preclude further inferences to be drawn regarding the spatial expansion over the 1981-2006 period. With the exception of Togher, Calary and Altidore, located in north Wicklow, all EDs included in the ERDO sub-region are also included in the 2006 FUR. The principal contiguous area of the 2006 FUR extends to include all of the Dublin Region and large parts of northeast Wicklow, northeast and central Kildare, south and east Meath and southern Louth.  Urban centres located at some distance from the principal contiguous area but included within the FUR include all or parts of Dundalk, Kells, Portarlington, Borris, Athy Baltinglass, Arklow, and Gorey. It should be noted that the spatial extent of the FUR as defined here is less than that defined by Williams et al. in the Society of Chartered Surveyors commissioned study (published in 2007). The FUR has not contracted between 2002 and 2006. Rather, improvements in data availability and methodological changes have allowed for a significantly more accurate assessment of the spatial extent of the Dublin Functional Urban Region. In total approximately 388,000 workers resident in the FUR in 2006 commuted to work in the Dublin ECA. This is however only 52% of the total number of resident workers in the FUR, indicating the continued significance of smaller dispersed centres of employment.

Figure 2: Dublin Functional Urban Region. Source: Census of Population 2006 POWCAR dataset, OSi boundary layers, OSi permit no. MP009006(c) Government of Ireland, ERDO Eastern Regional Settlement Strategy (1985).

A county and regional level analysis of the workforce in the Greater Dublin Area is provided in Tables 1 and 2 below. The Greater Dublin Area workforce (defined by place of work) is composed of workers commuting to a fixed place of work (‘commuters’), those working primarily at home (‘home’ workers) and those with no fixed place of work (mobile’ workers). In this analysis mobile workers are excluded as their principal county of work is unknown. Almost 70,500 mobile workers are recorded with places of residence within the Greater Dublin Area. This compares to a total of 626,162 commuting to work in the GDA and 25,968 working from home in the GDA.

The statistics in Table 6.2 include both commuters and home workers. The place of work of home workers is determined by their place of residence. The total number of jobs in the Dublin Region (525,204) was significantly higher than in the Mid-East Region (126,886) in 2006. Comparing with total population figures, however, provides a more meaningful basis for comparing the regional distribution of employment. There were approximately 442 jobs per 1000 population in the Dublin Region, compared with 267 jobs per 1000 population in the Mid-East Region.


Table 1: Greater Dublin Area workforce classified by place of work and place of residence, 2006, Source: Census of Population 2006 POWCAR dataset

In total 82.6% of those at work in the Dublin Region were resident within the Dublin Region[1]. An additional 13.4% are recorded as commuting from the neighbouring Mid-East Region. By comparison 77.6% of those at work within the Mid-East Region were resident within the Mid-East Region. 11.4% of those at work in the Mid-East Region commuted from beyond the Greater Dublin Area, a significantly higher proportion than for the Dublin Region. In total 35,845 workers are recorded as commuting from beyond to the GDA to places of work within the GDA. This figure, however, represents only 5.5% of the total workforce in the GDA.

Region of residence of GDA workforce, 2006 Data Source: Census of Population 2006, POWCAR dataset

Williams, B. Walsh, C. & Boyle, I. (2010) The Functional Urban Region of Dublin: Implications for Regional Development Markets and Planning, Journal of Irish Urban Studies, vo. 7-9, p. 5-30.

Please reference the published version!

Note: the research was conducted as part of the Urban Environment Project, hosted by UCD Urban Institute Ireland and funded by the Environment Protection Agency. The author’s access to the Census of Population POWCAR dataset was possible by kind permission of the Central Statistics Office.
Cormac Walsh, Brendan Williams and Ian Boyle

[1] If mobile workers are assigned to their region of residence, this figure increases to 84.0% for the Dublin Region with a corresponding figure of 81.4% for the Mid-East Region.

Both the Irish Times and Irish Independent carry the story of a Fine Gael councillor from Ennis, Tony Mulqueen, who has applied for planning permission for five detached houses on an area prone to flooding.  If granted the houses will be built adjacent to Mulqueen’s own property which was flooded last December, accessible only by dinghy. Besides the fact that Ennis has its fair share of empty houses presently available for sale (see this DEHLG map of unfinished estates in Clare), there are a number of developments in the town already prone to flooding (as last years floods amply demonstrated).  As anyone who lives in one of these houses knows, including Cllr Mulqueen himself I would hazard, one’s house being flooded is a disaster.  It takes months to clean-up and dry out, possessions are lost, insurance becomes impossible to obtain, and the ability to sell plummets.  It shouldn’t take Department of Environment guidelines to highlight to councillors and planners that building on floodplains is simply bad planning.  And yet, all through the boom houses were built in inappropriate locations liable to flooding.  And despite the obvious grief caused to home occupiers by flooding, we still have applications to build on floodplains – a fact acknowledged in this case by the person making the application!

A case of won’t learn?  can’t learn?  it’s up to the buyer to be beware?  an ah-sure, the taxpayer will step in and help them if they get into trouble? well, we can build flood defences at a later date at massive costs to the state if necessary? of profiteering and damn the consequences?  Here’s a potential test for a local authority to see how much they’ve really have learnt from the laissez-faire, clientelist planning of the boom years.  And if the planning permission is given, and by some miracle capital is lent for the houses to be built, will the council and the councillors personally take on the full liabilities of compensating any one who buys these houses of any flood damage?  That’ll be a true test of the soundness of planning decisions.

Rob Kitchin

I missed this when it was published on the DEHLG’s website on Dec 1st.  I don’t think it was picked up by newspapers either, so to encourage as wide a response as possible I’m sharing the details here.

The DEHLG has published a public consultation draft of its guidance manual for ‘Managing and resolving unfinished housing developments.’ The manual sets out the key issues facing unfinished estates and steps and responses to managing and tackling them.  Interested parties are invited to comment on the content and proposals in writing to Ms. Katherine Banks, Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency, Cumberland House, Fenian Street, Dublin 2.  Email: The closing date for receipt of submissions is 4 pm on Friday, 14 January, 2011.  Further details can be found here.

Rob Kitchin

Irish society needs all the youthful intelligence and imagination it can get. So it is not surprising that new figures showing Ireland’s decline in international rankings from fifth to 17th in reading and from 16th to 26th in maths have raised serious concerns.

Our drop in the rankings is the consequence of our own declining standards rather than a surge in other countries’ skills. The average score in reading for Irish 15-year-olds dropped 31 points since 2000, the largest fall in the OECD by some distance. Average scores in maths fell by 16 points. The decline has been across the board.

Many have already reached for the easy explanation of our decline – the arrival of large numbers of new immigrants to Ireland. However, even if we look only at native-born children, Ireland still ranks 17th in reading, the area where most information is available. This decline cannot be pinned on immigrants.

The trends in the report defy easy answers but there are clues in even a preliminary look at the results. Class inequality still takes a toll on educational performance. This is both unjust and a profoundly wasteful under-investment in the country’s population and capabilities.

While such inequalities have remained relatively stable, differences between schools have become more important in predicting student performance. There is significant evidence of the particularly difficult situation for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who attend disadvantaged schools. Such students perform significantly worse than students from similar backgrounds who go to schools with a more socially mixed student body.

Similarly, students from immigrant backgrounds do have significantly lower reading scores – but this disadvantage is almost entirely for students from homes where English is not the everyday language. Such students score an average of 444 in reading, compared to 503 for students who speak English at home. Even though this is only a small part of Ireland’s overall pattern of decline, this is a group that is clearly vulnerable to further marginalisation in a time of severe unemployment.

Maintaining and extending socially mixed schools and supporting learning in the most disadvantaged schools will be crucial. Ireland has less concentration of immigrant children in specific schools than most OECD countries. Serious support for preschool education would be a wise investment as children who attended a pre-primary school tended to score higher in their reading.

What about within schools themselves? Across the OECD more students are saying that most of their teachers really listen to what they have to say, that if they need extra help from their teachers they will get it, and that most of their teachers treat them fairly. Ireland is one of the countries seeing such increases: 5.5 per cent, 4.3 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively since 2000. In addition, Ireland is one of the leaders in the OECD in improving the disciplinary climate in schools. Some 11.2 per cent fewer students say students don’t listen to the teacher; 9.1 per cent fewer say there is noise and disorder, and 2.5 per cent fewer say students can’t work well. Teachers and students are connecting better than they did a decade ago. Nonetheless, reading and maths scores have still declined. Some of the most worrying trends in the report are outside schools. The percentage of students saying they read for enjoyment fell from 66.6 per cent to 58.1 per cent between 2000 and 2009 – and the greatest declines in reading for enjoyment were among girls from poorer backgrounds.

It will be important to take a closer look at these data to find out more about the sources of our declining standards in reading and maths. We need to recognise and face the problem squarely – the rise in immigrant children lets us off the hook but is only a tiny part of the story. It would be more useful to support immigrants’ education, especially where English is not the language at home, than to focus on them as the sources of our difficulties.

We have resources that we can build upon. For example, we can protect and extend the socially inclusive elements of our systems of schooling. A strong public system that promotes social mixing by class and immigrant background is crucial – and we have the building blocks in place. In the interim, we need to tackle pockets of disadvantage while working to integrate them into the broader educational system. We have good relations between teachers and students, built on fairness and responsiveness in the classroom. But we need to pay closer attention to a renewal of cultural and civic life beyond the school as these provide resources for students’ learning that are both crucial and under threat.

Most importantly, we need to move our debates about education to a more fruitful ground. These reports suggest that we should focus on supporting children’s home lives and access to cultural resources, extending community and public educational institutions, tackling inequalities, and learning from the progress being made in schools already. There are larger questions as to the purpose of our educational system in a changing culture and economy. But we will never address these if we get lost in a debate that is led astray through fatalism, sloganeering, or red herrings such as the effect of immigrant children on our international rankings.

Sean O’Riain (reprinted from yesterday’s Irish Times).

I don’t know what to call what’s below. It’s not a drabble; nor is it a typical IAN blog post. It’s more like the sorts of questions people might ask themselves and sometimes others in the context of our current crisis. Maybe it’s a ‘quog’ post!

Why don’t the Labour Party split from Fine Gael and promise the electorate that they won’t go into government with them?

Why is it that commentators keep implying that people are unemployed because they are choosing to do so, rather than the fact that there aren’t jobs?

Why don’t we just merge the gas and electric companies? Wouldn’t that save the state some money?

And why is there Iarnrod Eirean, DART, Luas, Dublin Bus, Bus Eirean? Couldn’t we just have one transport company and be done with it?

If we left the Euro, when would we be able to afford a trip abroad?

How come we cannot ‘burn the senior bond holders’? What’s so awful, so unimaginable, about that? And if we did, would we really not be able to borrow from abroad ever again, like we’re told?

If there’s a new government, how long will it last? Are we due more than one election in 2011?

Why didn’t the government impose a windfall tax on transnational corporations operating in Ireland?

See that new Social Sontribution levy, why don’t they just call it the Bank Bailout levy? ‘Cause surely that’s about where it’ll all go.

Alistair Fraser

The government is rapidly moving to ram through a serious cut to the national minimum wage. The proposed cut would slash €40 a week from the household budgets of tens of thousands of working families across Ireland — families that are already struggling to make ends meet. The government is attempting to ram the cut through obscure legal back channels, and the decision could be made as early as the end of this week.

Economists and basic common sense tell us there is no need for this cut — and even the IMF agrees! This is just one more attempt to force the most vulnerable people of Ireland to pay the price for greed and incompetence at the top. Enough is enough — it’s time to draw a line.

That’s why the Claiming Our Future community is launching an emergency petition to save the minimum wage. Our initial goal is to collect 5,000 signatures in 72 hours.  Your signature and comments will be sent to your TD and publicly presented to the Dáil by a delegation of minimum wage workers before the vote on the cuts. Please add your name right away here:

This is clearly a historic week, and the list of cherished services threatened by the government’s new budget is too long to count. In the midst of all the bad news and the European intervention, it would be easy to shake our heads and retreat. But we must not give up hope.

Claiming Our Future was founded on the belief that where the institutions have failed us, the people ourselves can succeed. Never was that idea more tested — or more needed — than today. We can’t reverse everything that’s happened all at once, but we can still fight for what’s right.

In difficult times, we know it’s right to support working families, not to pull the rug out from under them. The government knows the minimum wage cut is unnecessary and unrelated to the budget crisis, and that’s exactly why they’re trying to jam it through obscure legal back-channels.

They’re hoping we just won’t notice. So this emergency petition is our chance to show that the peope have noticed — and we have drawn our line.  Please add your name today at:

With hope,

The Claiming our Future team

P.S. After you’ve signed, please forward this note to any friends or family who you think would like to be involved. The more of us who speak up, the more powerful our voices become

The disproportionate burden that yesterday’s budget placed on the structures of care in our society – family relationships, health and education – will no doubt receive much justified critique in the coming days.  As the recent report from the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ study revealed – consistent with evidence from the ‘New Urban Living’ study – throughout the boom Irish people continued to rely on extended family relationships to provide care, in the context of comparatively weak state investment in social infrastructure.  In the new era of austerity – with high levels of unemployment and even fewer public resources for the elderly, disabled and sick – those family relationships will be stretched further.

In this context, I was puzzled to note an odd whiff of anti-natalism in yesterday’s announcements, specifically in the decision to remove the additional level of child benefit to third children, and to reduce maternity benefit.  Now many commentators from across the political spectrum think increasing women’s labour force participation is a good idea.  Over on Irish Economy, Richard Tol has argued that increasing women’s economic opportunities would contribute to economic recovery by increasing productivity.   Sociologist Lane Kenworthy has argued that increasing female employment can form part of a strategy to reduce social inequality – not just between men and women, but across the social class hierarchy.

It is true that caring for young children can act as a barrier to women’s employment.  It is also true that, despite the substantial increase in women’s labour force participation, a sizable minority of Irish women continue to withdraw from paid work following the birth of children, to a greater extent, perhaps, than  in some European countries.  But as our European partners must know, dis-incentivizing people from having children is a self-defeating response to the problem of balancing work and family responsibilities.

In fact, our comparatively high fertility rate is one big advantage Ireland has over the other troubled peripheral Eurozone economies, where underdeveloped welfare states have contributed to plummeting fertility in the context of rising female employment.  Ireland got away with rising levels of female employment in the context of an economic boom because of the availability of part-time employment and informal support from grandparents and other extended family members.

During the first phase of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ (when our economic growth rates reflected real increases in economic activity) researchers in the ESRI noted the importance of our ‘demographic dividend’ in making it all possible.  That same demographic dividend has ensured that the problems associated with ageing societies are not nearly as pressing in Ireland as elsewhere in Europe, such that we can raid the National Pension Reserve Fund with some regret, but with relative equanimity.  I can understand that Scandinavian-style investment in supports for working parents may seem out of the question in the current economic climate – although I think an argument could be made that such investments would foster sustained economic recovery and a more equitable society.  I don’t know if removing these small supports in the form of child benefit and maternity leave will have a material effect on Irish fertility levels.  But I do think the decision to do so is bizarre and unprecedented in Ireland.

Jane Gray

Rates of stamp duty are presently zero on values below €125,000, 7% on the next €875,000 and 9% on the balance above €1m.  In today’s budget, it was announced that the rate of stamp duty on residential property will be reduced to 1% on all properties valued up to €1 million, and 2% on the balance above €1m.  All stamp duty reliefs and exemptions on residential property are to be abolished with immediate effect (I can’t see anything on stamp duty on land, so assume these remain as is).  Abolitions include:

  • First time buyer relief
  • Exemption for new houses under 125 sq m in size
  • Relief on new houses over 125 sq m in size
  • Exemption for residential property transfers valued under €127,000

New and secondhand properties, regardless of size and price, are now liable to stamp duty for all buyers.

For first time buyers a new barrier to entry has been put in place.  On a property costing €250,000 they will have to pay €2,500 stamp duty.  Not an insignificant sum given they will also need a need a minimum of a €25,000 deposit given no lender is offering above a 90% mortgage, plus solicitor and other fees (this is more than off-set by the drop in the value of the property they are purchasing, the issue though is immediate cash in hand for a new additional expense).  For developers seeking to sell brand new properties, stamp duty is also now liable, again also potentially placing an additional barrier to sale (though again drops in prices off-set this).

For secondhand sellers and buyers the situation is a little different, with a significant reduction in the amount of stamp duty liable.  For a house valued at €250,000, stamp duty drops from €8,750 to €2,500, a significant saving.

Is this likely to get the housing market moving?  For those looking at trading up or down then the changes may well get things moving, especially at properties valued at over half a million where stamp duty costs were prohibitive (for example, a house costing €1m incurred €61,250 stamp duty; it’ll now cost €10,000).  The big issue for this group is whether they are in negative equity and therefore feel able to trade down if desired in order to reduce their overall level of debt.  For those outside of negative equity, with prices falling the price gap for trading up might remain relative in percentage terms but lowers in real terms and thus becomes more affordable.  For example, a household’s own house might have fallen 40% in value from 300K to 180K, but the house they are interested in buying has fallen 40% from 500K to 300K, with the difference dropping from 200K+26K stamp duty to 120K+3K.

The stamp duty changes then will potentially get some of the market moving into both new and secondhand homes – those that are already home owners and are not in negative equity – it will potentially slow down, however, first time buyers from entering the market (despite the increased affordability of property overall).  The big question and uncertainty for buyers, however, is the forthcoming site-property tax and how trading up might be affect household expenditure on an annualised basis, rather than a one-off payment.  For the property market to really get going – other than the economy starting to recover, people returning to work, and credit starting to flow – potential buyers will need to know where they stand with respect to future property tax payments.

Rob Kitchin

Whatever the outcome of today’s budget, if there was ever a clear message that our political system needs reform, it is the amount of time spent by senior government ministers dealing with the wishes of two independent TDs ahead of the announcement, negotiating on local (as well as national issues – particularly those affecting their key voters).  Yes, the two TDs do and should represent their constituents and their interests, and this kind of deal making is always going to be a feature of coalition government, but that national policy and interests can be so cynically warped by vested interests for local issues is clear indication of how clientelism and localism perverts the Irish political system.  It is absolutely clear that we need local government reform, with power and funding devolved to the local level to deal with local issues.  The national stage should be deal primarily with national issues, with the local clientelism that TDs presently undertake passed to local councillors.  That so much of a TD’s time, and indeed the time of Minister’s, is spent dealing with local issues actively fosters localism to the detriment of national interests.  To let such a situation continue is to perpetuate the gombeen politics that has partially led us into the mess we find ourselves.  Politicians talk about the need for public sector reform – ‘reinventing government’ as Fine Gael puts it – but that needs to consist of more than reducing the numbers of TDs or abolishing the Seanad; it needs to consist of the reinvention of political structures and processes that redistributes political power and public finance across scales.  Until politicians are prepared to take the decisions needed to reorganise their own structures and practices, then the sorts of deal making undertaken over the past two weeks by two renegade, localist and clientelist politicians will continue to distort the national agenda.  Such reform is actually in the self-interests of TDs, freeing them from significant amounts of commitments and compromises, but whether they can see that is a different matter.  Hopefully whatever local deals have been done will be up for renegotiation once the forthcoming general election happens.

Rob Kitchin

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