Two pieces in the Irish Times today about zoning and planning enforcement; another a couple of days ago in the Examiner about planning permissions. All three raise some questions with regards to the planning system.
Story 1. The Sisters of Charity are up in arms about Dublin City Council’s rezoning of their 108 acres of land in 18 parcels in the city. It has been classed as Z15, which means that if developed it has to have a greater proportion of open space and affordable housing. They are arguing that the 2011-2017 development plan is ‘diverting private property into public ownership and ‘steralising’ its lands without compensation’. They claim the plan is illegal as ‘applies a restrictive zoning to an arbitary selection of lands’. The IT reports that they want the rezoning quashed, a stay put on sections of the plan affecting their property, and ‘damages for alleged breaches of private property and religious freedom rights under the Constitution and European Convention of Human Rights’. It’s the same rezoning that RTE are challenging.
Story 2: The Examiner reports that Athy Town Council have endorsed an application to build 8 additional properties on an estate where ‘residents have lived for three years with unfinished roads, incomplete public lighting and inadequately secured construction sites’. There were 27 objections to the application, with residents concluding that the “Approval of this application is tantamount to endorsing the dangerous and reckless abandonment of site works.” The senior planner for the council concluded on a site visit that: “Any unfinished areas have been fenced off and the site is kept relatively tidy.” One resident notes: “It’s very frustrating. Since we moved in 2007, nothing has been done. I am still looking out on the shells of three unfinished houses, gardens are not maintained, sections of footpath unfinished, the green area out front is without public lighting. It really has been left very shoddily.” Clearly the residents and the planner agree that the existing site is still unfinished and some houses in the earlier phases are still vacant, which begs the question as to why give an endorsement to the next phase?
Story 3. An Taisce has accused Dublin City Council of neglecting planning provisions with respect to unauthorised shop fronts and signage, and of failing to take enforcement proceedings against signage erected without permission or which had been refused permission. In particular, they highlight the state of the main thoroughfares to the south of the Liffey – Westmoreland Street, Dame Street, Parliament Street and South Quays – an area of major civic and architectural importance, and a core area for tourists. They argue that these streets are becoming dominated by low-order shops – mostly fast food and convenience stores – which are competing against each other through garish signage. This signage is transforming the look and feel of an important part of the city.
These three stories relate to three core areas of planning: zoning, permissions, and enforcement. They are three snapshots of a regime that is creaking along under old values and practices, that needs a branch and root review and updating for the twenty first century. All political parties are promoting quite radical reform of a political system that is not fit for purpose. It’s time we had a look at what works and doesn’t work in planning in an era when many planning tools are inappropriate or blunt (for example in relation to addressing the problems of unfinished estates) or have not been used in any kind of effective way in a very long time (e.g. enforcement). And we really do need to move from individualism to utilitarianism as a guiding ethos.