June 2011


The  2011 results are finally out. Lots of interesting figures at the county level and an overall national increase of 8.2 per cent. To get into a bit more detail we have updated all the mapping modules on AIRO with the latest (provisional) figures from the census. Data is now available for all 34 Local Authorities and 8 Regional Authorities at the ED level – Total Population, % Population Change, Total Male Population and Total Female Population. The mapping modules also contain lots of data from the previous 06 and 02 census.

Log-on to www.airo.ie  and then go to Mapping Modules/County or Mapping Modules/Region. To use the interactive mapping tools you need to be registered.

Enjoy. comments always welcome

Justin Gleeson

As regular readers of this blog will know, some of the contributors to Ireland After NAMA have been involved in debates over levels of housing vacancy in Ireland post the property crash and financial crisis.  We now no longer need to rely on models to predict the level of housing vacancy as the preliminary results of the Census 2011 provide a detailed breakdown for each local authority (see Table below – click on the image to enlarge – or Census 2011, Table 7).

The total stock of houses in the country grew by 234,562 (13.25%) between 2006 and 2011, rising from 1,769,613 units to 2,004,175 units.  The overall level of housing vacancy, including holiday homes, increased by 10.5% from 266,322 units in 2006 to 294,202 units in 2011. The overall level of vacant housing stock dropped slightly from 15% to 14.7%, but is effectively static, with growth in vacancy being matched proportionally by growth in housing units, which shrank markedly from 2008 onwards.

The much quoted figure in the media of 300,000 vacant units then has then been proven roughly right.  Of course, as we have pointed out several times, the real issue is oversupply not overall vacancy.  To calculate oversupply we need to subtract the number of holiday homes and also the base vacancy rate (calculated in Ireland as 6% overall stock; in 2011, 120,250) from overall vacancy.  The number of holiday homes have not yet been released, but it seems likely that oversupply will be 80-100,000 (it was estimated by the DECLG to be c.122-147,000 at the end of 2009) given growth in households between 2006-2011 and the tail off of construction in recent years.

Housing Vacancy in Ireland 2011, Source Census 2011

To look at the county level, there are ten local authorities where overall vacancy is over 20%.  These include Longford (21.8%), Wexford (20.9%), Clare (21.3%), Kerry (26.5%), Leitrim (30.4%), Mayo (24.8%), Roscommon (23%), Sligo (22.2%), Cavan (22.1%), Donegal (28.5%).  Only 10 LAs saw a reduction in the number of vacant dwellings, the largest of which was Fingal that saw a decrease by -425 housing units.  All other LAs saw a growth in vacancy, nine by over 20%: Carlow (32.2%), Clare (21.2%), Kerry (21.8%), North Tipp (24.9%), Leitrim (24.1%), Roscommon (24%), Cavan (24.7%), Donegal (26.4%), Monaghan (23.3%).

Once we have the holiday home figures we’ll be able to calculate a geography of oversupply, but it is clear from these figures that there is a pronounced pattern of vacancy.

Rob Kitchin

As reported by RTE this afternoon, the independent review of planning irregularities in six local authorities, commissioned by former Minister of Environment, John Gormley, has been terminated by the Department of Environment and will be replaced by an internal review instead.  The independent review was to be carried out by a panel of independently appointed reviewers (who have been recruited) and was due to focus on planning processes, systems and policies in Dublin and Cork City councils, as well as county councils in Carlow, Meath, Galway and Cork.  The reason given by the Department is that the format for the review was considered ‘inappropriate’ by Minister for Environment, Phil Hogan TD and Minister of State for Housing and planning, Willie Penrose, TD.

By ‘inappropriate’ one presumes they mean ‘independent’ with a license to ask difficult and awkward questions.  By downgrading the review to an internal process, the Department has left itself open to accusations that it is seeking to narrow the parameters, remit, autonomy, openness and transparency of any review.  Whether such accusations are fair or not, presentation and process are important in creating trust, faith and confidence in the system of governance.  Downgrading a review does not built such sentiment.

There have been many accusations that planning has not worked as effectively as it should in Ireland and that clientelism, cronyism and in some cases corruption has been at work in the system.  An independent review seems entirely warranted to identify issues that need redress and reform.  If planning had been working properly, neither the councils involved, nor the Department of Environment, should have anything to fear from such a review.  Indeed, if that were the case, the review would highlight examples of best practice that other councils might learn from.  The fact that such a review was sought by the last government suggests that this is far from the case.  For an interesting account of planning irregulatories in Carlow, one of the councils that is due for review, see this article in The Village. Also, see this article in the Independent.

The present government were elected in part on a promise to address shortcomings in public administration and the political system – planning falls into the domain of both.  Cancelling an independent review does not instil faith that such a mandate is being persued.  Instead, it suggests that there are issues that need to be buried and glossed over.  We got independent reviews into the banking sector.  We need one with respect to the planning system to either identify and address shortcomings or to create confidence and faith in the planning system.

Rob Kitchin

Some years ago, a British newspaper reported on the death of an elderly gentleman in Hackney,London.  Apparently, among the deceased’s belongings were personal maps made of his walks around the neighbourhood.   These intimate spatial portraits of the relationship between an individual and his locality reflect the (often underestimated) significance attached to place in everyday life.   For this senior citizen it seems the project of generating what Edward Relph describes as ‘existential significance’ was deeply connected to a sense of place.

Place-making is a process in which we all engage to one degree or another.   Over the life course we develop loyalties and attachments to certain places, places that may even seem sacred to us although they are ostensibly secular.  The built environment forms a significant backdrop upon which we often inscribe our sense of place, our sense of the past and our projection of ourselves into an imaged future.

Place-making is of particular concern to professions whose work is intimately tied to the built environment.  Architects, planners, designers and social scientists amongst others are involved variously with the design and execution of buildings, project management, environmental sustainability and the assessment of quality of life and work for those who ultimately inhabit them.  But frequently these various disciplines work in isolation rather than in tandem with each other. The opportunity for knowledge sharing and creative cross-fertilisation is lost.

Today, June 27th Minister Willie Penrose will open a unique Summer School atNUI Maynooth which will challenge “silo” thinking within built environment professions and create a template for inter-disciplinary interfaces between the aforementioned disciplines.   The aim of the “Making the built environment work” Summer School is to foster exchange and knowledge transfer between architects, urban designers, planners and social scientists in order to address current challenges in the urban environment.   The pedagogical rationale is to promote the principles and practice of inter-disciplinarity between those professionals and practitioners who shape the places in which our everyday lives are encased- home, work, leisure facilities, service institutions, public and private spaces.  We hope to initiate a dialogue that will continue long after the week long deliberations are over.  While the Summer School was conceived primarily as a vehicle to broaden the horizons and strengthen the skill set of advanced undergraduates and postgraduate students, the School has attracted a range of participants from across public and private practice in architecture, planning, design, local government and the NGO sector.  The level of interest speaks to the prevailing consensus that we need to develop new creative ways of thinking about solutions to the myriad problems that this country now faces.

In the wake of the massive housing boom that took place around the turn of the twenty-first century, and the transformation of cities, towns and villages across Ireland public concern has (legitimately) been expressed about a range of physical, environmental and social issues including for instance, weak regulation of  peripheral urbanisation, scarring of the rural heartland by excessive holiday home building, inappropriateness in size and scale of downtown developments, the prospects for diminution of quality of life arising for those living in what Rob Kitchin has termed ‘haunted landscapes’ and the fear that trends in the built environment (for example,  gated communities) may further damage civic integration.

Over the last decade a considerable body of research has been undertaken by academics from a range of disciplines that contributes to an informed understanding of how the built environment in Ireland is being produced at a range of spatial and temporal scales, and how these are reflective of complex processes and relations that are economic, social, cultural, political and aesthetic in nature. More recently, research including applied data and mapping analysis by NIRSA has graphically highlighted the legacy of developer-led planning on the Irish built environment. Other studies have investigated the attitudes and values underpinning life in urban, suburban and urban/rural fringe settlements all often pointing the continuing importance for people of ‘a sense of place’ in their everyday lives.  The arts have also trained their lens on the built environment providing both an aesthetic critique (for example,  Anthony Haughey’s photographs of ghost estates and Martin Cregg’s photographic chronicling of the Midlands) and a resource to communities grappling with regeneration change (for example, the arts practitioner Ailbhe Murphy’s Tower Songs project).

Much of this work however, has been conducted within disciplinary boundaries-or silos.  Academics and practitioners have few opportunities to reflect on each others research and practice and think creatively about how knowledge garnered across the spectrum of professions can be stitched together for the benefit of all. The forthcoming Summer School creates an opportunity for learning across disciplinary boundaries so that new inter-disciplinary skill-sets, tools and working methods can be identified, evolved and ultimately incorporated into pedagogy and practice.  In turn, this will generate greater synergy in how we respond to the design and management of the built environment.

The fast pace of development during the Celtic Tiger years resulted in built landscapes across Ireland that are often incongruous with receiving settlements and countryside, and also with people’s desires and expectations for their places of living, work or recreation. This was reinforced by a tendency to look to international ‘best-practice’ for examples of building and open space typologies, and by a frequently minimum standards approach to planning guidance. Furthermore, the abrupt halt to development with the onset of the current economic recession has created a set of very problematic conditions in urgent need of solutions. Given this context, the coming together of the different disciplines is both necessary and timely. New templates for use in research, practice and design are required that incorporate more localised knowledge of spatial, geographical, demographic and sociological understandings of place, space and landscape. Moreover, building and open space elements that are sensitive to people’s everyday aspirations, needs and lived practices are likely to be more sustainable in the long term.

“Making the built environment work” provides a unique opportunity to integrate the insights, processes and practices of   ‘research-based’ and ‘design-based’ disciplines.  Built environment experts from theU.K., theNetherlands,France,Germany, theU.S.andAustraliawill work with their Irish counterparts to think ‘outside the box.’ Together with staff and students from third level institutions across the island, they will focus on generating solutions to specific problems associated with the collapse of the economic boom- such as ghost estates and incomplete developments. But more than that, the Summer School aims to generate a new template for engaging with and re-imaging the  Irish built environment over the longer term, securing a ‘sense of place’ for the next generation.

The Summer School is funded by the Irish Council for the Humanities and the Social Sciences RDI and is supported by the Irish Social Science Platform. For more information see.

Mary P. Corcoran

The GAA publishes details of club transfers – players who move permanently from one GAA club to another – on its website, stretching back to 2003. The figures include interprovincial and international transfers – players moving within Ireland, and players moving to and from Ireland – and offer a fascinating insight into the mobility of young men that covers the Celtic Tiger era as well as the impacts of the recession.

At NUI Maynooth, we’ve looked at these transfers in more detail to see what kinds of migration patterns are emerging. The annual number of transfers has decreased since a peak in 2004, though it is rising again (see Table 1).

Table 1: Annual club transfers, 2004-2010

Year

Number of transfers

2004

2,225

2005

2,095

2006

2,159

2007

1,912

2008

1,526

2009

1,511

2010

1,893

Of the annual transfers, at least 40% are to clubs in Ireland. Britain has become more important as a destination, while Australasia and North America have become less important (see Table 2).

Table 2: Destinations of club transfers, 2004-10 (shown as percentage of total annual transfers)

Ireland Britain North America Australasia

2004

41.7

21.1

17.6

19.6

2005

47.3

20.9

6.1

25.7

2006

43.8

22.6

6.5

27

2007

54.3

18.4

5.6

21.3

2008

54.8

36.6

7.9

0.7

2009

54.5

28.9

9.2

7.3

2010

46.8

39.5

4.8

8.7

Over the period from 2004 to 2010, most counties in Ireland experienced a net loss of players: more players transferred out of clubs in the county than transferred in. The biggest net losses are shown in Table 3, and they show counties in Munster (Kerry, Cork, Tipperary, Clare), Connacht (Mayo, Galway) and Ulster (Tyrone, Down, Donegal and Armagh). Just three counties in Ireland experienced a net gain in the period from 2004-2010: these were Louth (+33), Kildare (+10) and Dublin (+3).

Table 3: Net player losses by county, 2004-10.

Highest net losses, 2004-2010

Kerry

-379

Mayo

-369

Cork

-362

Galway

-338

Tipperary

-267

Tyrone

-261

Clare

-220

Down

-197

Donegal

-191

Armagh

-189

These tables represent a preliminary analysis of the GAA transfer statistics. We will look in more detail at transfers between clubs in the coming weeks. In the meantime, though, it is important to be aware that patterns of transfers to and from counties within Ireland have not changed significantly in the period from 2004-2010, which raises questions about why these movements of players are just now being described as a crisis.

Mary Gilmartin (Geography) and Martin Charlton (NCG), NUI Maynooth.

Ballyvaughan Signpost

Fintan O’Toole has a piece in the Irish Times today decrying the removal of the road signs at Ballyvaughan.  He argues that it signals three kinds of stupidity.  First, that it erodes a sense of place.  Second, that it undermines local democracy.  Third, that it illustrates a lack of joined up thinking between the NRA and the needs of tourism and local economy.

The argument about place is well made.

“Like the rocks on the nearby seashore, it has accumulated an exotic accretion of barnacles and seaweed, in this case about 20 signs. They point in a conventional way towards other places: Lisdoonvarna, Corofin, Killimer, Fanore, though until fairly recently there were two signs for Lisdoonvarna, one pointing left and the other right. But local businesses and attractions – BBs, Monk’s Pub, the Tea and Garden Rooms, Aillwee Cave – gradually added their own markers. The result was a kind of organic art installation, a riot of letters, colours and angles.

The signs didn’t just point to particular places, however. They also indicated a certain kind of place, an Ireland that is a little bit different, a little bit more richly textured, where place itself is a multi-layered concept. It is not a piece of Paddywhackery or of self-conscious performance for tourists. It’s a real, functional thing that happens to tell you something about the way Irish people think of where they are. … The Ballyvaughan signpost is this kind of conversation stuck on to a pole to form a prickly porcupine of possibilities. …

There are now no pointers at all to the businesses along the coast road to Black Head, one of the most beautiful stretches of Ireland. This may be a small thing in itself, but it points to three different kinds of official stupidity, each of which has had a disastrous effect. The first is the stupidity of not understanding the importance of place. Place isn’t an abstract concept. On the contrary, it’s where all the big things come together – economics and society, the past and the present, the idea of what is distinctive with the idea of a shared space. And one of the things we screwed up so mightily in the boom years was this sense of place. Putting 300 suburban houses on the edge of an old village of 200 houses, leaving the whole thing as a ghost estate, is what happens when a sense of place is lost.

For the NRA, the Ballyvaughan sign isn’t an aspect of a particular place, it’s an affront to the proper sense of placelessness. They see the village as an obstacle to be driven through in the most efficient manner possible. As an NRA spokesman explained: “The purpose of signing on the road network is to promote safety and efficiency by providing for the orderly movement of traffic”. The sin committed by the signpost is that it exceeds its proper purpose of being exactly like every other signpost.”

The other two arguments are a bit more tricky.  Admittedly we’re talking about a signpost here and there is latitude for some commonsense and pragmatism, but at the same time one of the prime reasons we’ve ended up in the mess we’re in is because of a lack of good governance and the fact that we haven’t been following sensible rules and procedures.   The reason we have ghost estates on the edge of villages is not solely because a sense of place was lost and local democracy was not allowed to operate.  In fact, local democracy in the form of councillors were allowed to lose the run of themselves and good practice around planning failed to take place.  There is a clearly a tension here between being over-officious and leaving things too loosely governed.

Exceptionalism is always a difficult issue to deal with.  Exceptionalism around one road sign is okay.  All road signs and it becomes a major issue.  Clearly a balance has to be found between local interests and good governance and democracy.

Rob Kitchin

The front cover of U2’s 1981 album, October, features the band members standing on front of the Grand Canal Docks in Dublin. In keeping with the same theme, the  scene is put to motion in the video for ‘Gloria’, the second single from the album. At the end of the video, the camera zooms to the sky to overlook an area that has now all but disappeared. The landscape presented is a bleak one of the Grand Canal Docks and surroundings heading towards post-industrial redundancy. When viewed now, within the context of all that has been built since, the presentation of the Docks becomes a powerful reminder of the Dublin from which U2 emerged.

Although secondary to themes such as love, loss, and faith, Dublin has been a regular feature of both the lyrics and visual effects of U2 over the last 30 years or so, presenting the everyday landscapes and spaces of the city to a global audience. Their rise to fame preempted the property boom of the 1990s/2000’s, and by the time Dublin had gone from bust to boom and back again their connection to the city that they are from had moved from that of a point of reference and emotional attachment, to being one that was visually and culturally inscribed within the spaces of the city. Over the years, this association has shifted from what Niall Stokes cites as the sea of North County Dublin in ‘The Ocean’, to the more overt mention of the ‘seven towers’ of Ballymun in ‘Running to Stand Still’, and on to what, for now at least, remains only as the mythical creation of the U2 Tower overlooking The Liffey.

For much of the 1980s, the references to Dublin were predominantly lyrical and audiovisual. For example, following on from the above-mentioned October, and, later the video for ‘Pride’, the opening scene of Rattle and Hum from 1988 changes from a live performance of ‘Helter Skelter’ to ‘van Diemen’s Land’. Here, the camera moves over a cliff and then suddenly shifts to the almost vacant post-industrial space of the Point Depot just prior to its transformation to a concert venue. For the duration of the song, the camera drifts in and out from images of the band to various Dublin landmarks of the time, including the Guinness ships with Liberty Hall standing boldly in the background, the now demolished Gasometer, the Pigeon House chimneys, and then back to Grand Canal Docks.

As U2 became more renowned, their relationship to Dublin began to change. Perhaps the first inscription of the band within the space of the city is the informal development of the graffiti wall in the area of the Windmill Lane studio (and, later Hanover Quay). Then, gradually, in as much as U2 set out in a raw post-punk format, and went on to become a sleek global rock act, their relationship to a rapidly transforming city began to change in tandem with such an evolution. The early 1990s heralded a new dawn for both the band and Dublin. Here, just as the architects responsible for the transformation of Temple Bar were taking reference from newly emerging design influences, such as IBA-Berlin, U2, now in the middle of their embrace of all things European, from the Trabant to ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, were buying their own bit of ‘European Dublin’: The Clarence Hotel.

While the Clarence sat neatly within the redevelopment of Temple Bar in the early 1990s, its planned transformation of the mid to late 2000’s was symbolic of the dawn of a new level of desire within Dublin. Gone were the contextual insertions and careful treatment of the historic fabric of the area, in came international star-architect Norman Foster to create a bold new Clarence Hotel topped with a ‘Sky catcher’.  The facades of the demolished buildings may have been retained, but the new Clarence was  to fit directly within the new language of ‘iconic architecture’ which was then gathering momentum. However, if the redevelopment of the Clarence was certain to stand out from its surroundings, it would be dwarfed by the plans to develop the U2 Tower in the docklands.

Foster and Partners, U2 Tower Render. Source, Irish Independent

The story had now come full circle. The docks no longer represented the yearning to break out of the mold, but the desire for U2 to become inscribed physically in the space of the city, with a commanding view of the newly emerging landscape. That both the U2 Tower and the Clarence were designed by Norman Foster* reflected the strength of two powerhouses from separate elements of the globalised cultural realm. The U2 Tower was to become the symbol of the shifting nature of both the meanings of Dublin’s landscape and that of ‘culture’ in our society and city. That which had been outside and cutting-edge was now centre-stage. Culture was the future of the city, and here it was, in a sense, almost growing; 120 metres, then 180 metres in height.

Then, as though almost over night, all that emerged was a hole in the ground, and the Grand Canal Docks and surroundings took on a new feeling; one half vibrant, the other half vacant.

Philip Lawton

*The Foster design replaced an earlier design. For discussion and copies of various news stories on this, see here.

The All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) has just made the Unfinished Estates database from the DEHLG survey fully interactive and available on www.airo.ie. Users can compare and contrast counties using dwelling type, units by type and units by status. Click here for view the analysis tool

These interactive graphs complement the existing Unfinished Estates Mapping Module. Registered users can get access to the mapping tool under the Housing section, click here

The Journal.ie yesterday picked up on a Dail question asked by Sandra McLellan, T.D. to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, T.D.   Noonan responded by saying that NAMA will release shortly a database of NAMA properties.   The Journal.ie suggests that NAMA will ‘publish a comprehensive list of all the properties under its control.’  I interpret the Dail statement differently – that it will not be publishing a comprehensive list of all the properties in its portfolio but that it will only publish properties that are in ‘control of receivers appointed to enforce against NAMA debtors (appointed either directly by NAMA or by participating institutions working on its behalf)’.  In other words, they are only putting up the properties they are seeking to offload (effectively advertising them).  If the properties are not in receivership they will not be included in the database.  Whilst it would be preferential to have a list of all NAMA properties this is at least a start. Hopefully, more data will follow in due course.  Another Dail question in this regard might be a useful one.

Here is the Dail question and answer, with the latter part of the answer confirming that NAMA will give first option on receiver properties to public bodies, thus fulfilling some social and economic objectives.

53.  Deputy Sandra McLellan  asked the Minister for Finance  if he will engage with the National Asset Management Agency to identify buildings and properties in its portfolio which might be suitable for local sports pitches and facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13705/11]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): NAMA has, in the first instance, acquired loans and it advises me that property or other assets securing these loans remain in the possession of debtors unless it takes enforcement action against them. I am informed that, under an initiative currently in preparation, NAMA will shortly include on its website a database of properties which are under the control of receivers appointed to enforce against NAMA debtors (appointed either directly by NAMA or by participating institutions working on its behalf). This will provide a single source of information on NAMA assets which are for sale and it will be updated on a very regular basis. It is expected to be up-and-running within a matter of weeks.

Within the context of its commercial remit, NAMA has made it known that it is open to considering proposals aimed at contributing to broader social and economic objectives, including facilitating public bodies and it has committed to giving first option to such bodies on the purchase of property which is within its control and which may be suitable for their purposes. In these circumstances, NAMA is available to meet with public bodies to discuss any specific proposals that they may have regarding local facilities.

Rob Kitchin

Willie Penrose T.D., Minister for Planning and Housing, published two documents through the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government today relating to unfinished estates.

The first is ‘Resolving Ireland’s Unfinished Housing Developments: Report of the Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments‘, which sets out the various issues relating to unfinished estates and makes various recommendations with respect to addressing these issues.  It extends the Advisory Board’s draft report published back in February.

The second is the Department’s response: ‘Resolving Unfinished Housing Developments: Response to the Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments‘.  This sets out four strategic aims for the next twelve months (developing a coordinated partnership approach to unfinished estates; tackling issues of public safety; putting in place stronger legislation/policy frameworks to tackle issues; building confidence in the housing market) and a number of action points for the Department and related agencies.

There are two other associated documents that have yet to be published – the manual on how to tackle in practical terms the issues related to unfinished estates (which will be an updated version of the draft manual published in Dec 2010) and the code of practice.  These are due shortly and will give more specific information for developers, local authorities and other stakeholders.

The Department’s response piece is, in my view, the more important document because it commits the DECLG to 20 actions set out in relation to five themes.  The most important of these are the development of Site Resolution Plans (SRPs) that will involve a partnership approach to estate completion, whereby all stakeholders (developers, banks, local authorities, residents, estate management companies, Health and Safety Authority, etc) will meet to negotiate a plan of action on an estate by estate basis.  The action points in summary are:

Coordination and Partnership

1.    A National Co-ordination Team on Unfinished Housing Developments, under the chair of the Minister, will drive the implementation process, with a particular focus on resolving sites.

2.    City and County Councils will each establish Unfinished Housing Development Teams to co-ordinate actions at a local level and to provide regular reports to the National Co-ordination Team.

3.    A Code of Practice on issues such as public safety, the site resolution plan process, information exchange and identification of development solutions will be finalised by the National Co-ordination Team to ensure buy-in by developers, site owners, funders, local authorities and residents.

4.    In cases where the relevant loans / securities fall within their remit, NAMA will work with local authorities, developers and/or receivers and the Department in facilitating early resolution of public safety issues and in co-operating with the other stakeholders in agreeing and implementing Site Resolution Plans, where feasible and appropriate.

5.    The Minister will engage with other financial institutions (both domestic and non-domestic banks) to ensure a full understanding of their statutory responsibilities and to secure their co-operation and engagement with local authorities and developers in addressing public safety issues and in agreeing and implementing Site Resolution Plans.

6.    An Information Pack for local residents in unfinished housing developments will be prepared and published by the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency.

7.    Guidance will be issued to City and County Development Boards on encouraging and facilitating community involvement in resolving unfinished housing developments.

8.    A best practice Guidance Manual on Managing and Resolving Unfinished Housing Developments on unfinished housing developments will provide practical guidance for local authorities and other stakeholders on how to manage unfinished housing developments

Public Safety

9.    Local authorities will complete their own initial categorisation of unfinished housing sites in line with the four categories identified in the Advisory Group’s Report and will monitor the developments in their areas, updating regularly the National Co-ordination Team on the status of housing developments in their area.

10.    The Department will expedite the approval of applications for funding support from the €5 million public safety initiative funding with the first allocations to be made in June 2011.

11.    Local authorities and the Health and Safety Authority will continue to liaise and engage in monitoring incomplete sites and any resolution activities being undertaken either by the developer or local authority.

12.    The Department will provide ongoing technical assistance to local authorities on the categorisation of developments, on the formulation of an initial site response using the funding at 10) above, on the preparation of Site Resolution Plans, as well as planning and building control queries.

Site Resolution Plans

13.    City and County Unfinished Housing Development Teams will identify priority sites that should be the subject of Site Resolution Plans and will work with site owners, developers, funders and residents in their efforts to develop such plans, reporting to the National Co-ordination Team, with a view to ensuring that 300 Site Resolution Plans are in place by end 2011.

14.    City and County Unfinished Housing Development Teams will develop best practice approaches to the re-use of vacant housing in each of their areas by the end of 2011.

Legislative and Policy Framework

15.    The Department will immediately review existing legislation as identified by the Advisory Group and develop any necessary amendments to the legislation to ensure that there are adequate powers available to address the efficient resolution of unfinished housing developments

16.    The Department will review taking-in-charge standards for public infrastructure within housing developments such as roads, public lighting and piped services with a view to making recommendations on how best to develop national standards.

17.    The Report of the Advisory Group will be referred to the Building Standards Compliance Group for its analysis and response.

Housing Market and Planning Supports

18.    The Department will re-state previous planning guidance to planning authorities on specific policy aspects regarding better phasing of development, the provision of bonds / securities and other DECLG policies as regards sequential and phased development to inform the resolution of unfinished housing.

19.    The Department, working alongside local authorities and voluntary housing bodies, will engage actively with developers and site owners, including NAMA, in seeking to ensure positive uses for vacant complete and near complete housing and in line with the achievement of sustainable communities and balanced tenure of housing developments.

20.    The Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency will undertake an examination of the potential role for self-build and equity partnership type models to enable residents and new investors to assist in resolving unfinished components of housing developments.

What is good is that the DECLG have now appraised the situation and set out a set of action points.  It is particularly good to see a National Coordination Team being put in place and that legislation is going to be reviewed with a view to putting SRPs on a statuary basis and make amendments to existing legislation to aid their implementation.  I do, however, still have a number of concerns.

First, the speed of response.  We are four years into the housing crash and the development of the unfinished estates phenomenon.  It has taken 15 odd months to get from the announcement of a survey to a report and yet a lot of these action points are still at the reviewing and assessment/formulating solutions stage.  In the meantime, lots of people are living with a whole series of issues, many of them concerning health and safety.  The latter has been an supposedly urgent action point for quite some time.  It is true that some local authorities and developers/receivers have already moved to address some of these issues, but it is only now that the first €1.5m of funding is being released to LAs to tackle issues on the worst 230 identified estates.  The aim is to have 300 SRPs in place by the end of the year.  That is 10.5% of all estates (2,846) or on average 9 per local authority.  It’s not clear also whether that is 300 SRPs drawn up or actually in the process of being implemented.  We need to get to the implementation phase across all estates sooner rather than later.

Second, finance.  Finishing off estates and addressing their various issues is going to cost money.  There are 1,655 estates with works outstanding.  At present, there seems to be four possible sources of funding: developer bonds; the DECLG through its €5m public safety fund; NAMA and its development fund; developers/banks who own the estate or possible new investors.  There seem to be massive issues in drawing bonds down and if they can be accessed they are often insufficient to complete outstanding works.  The DECLG €5m split across 1,655 estates is €3200 per estate, which will hardly scratch the surface; NAMA will only invest in estates that are commercially viable and for which they hold the loan book; developers are bust and banks illiquid.  It really isn’t clear to me where the finance is going to come from for either developers or local authorities (where developers are absent) to finish off estates without central government funds being made available (and no such fund was announced today beyond the €5m).  One suggested solution is to recoup the costs from future sales, but again this would only work if an estate is commercial viable, investors come in, and market conditions improve in the short to medium term.  I would like to know a lot more about plans with respect to financing and I’m sure stakeholders would as well.

Third, I am still concerned that the model for SRPs is one of partnership and has the feel of voluntarism about it.  SRPs seek to encourage and not compel developers and stakeholders.  The two documents today are full of phrases like ‘encouraged to work’ and ‘should undertake’ rather than be ‘compelled to work’ and ‘will undertake.’  Without the new full manual it is difficult to fully comment on this, but it also still seems as if there is no conflict resolution mechanisms or clearly delineated objectives, milestones and timeframes for SRPs.  The danger is that negotiations become divisive and fractious and implementation effectively gets kicked down the road.  The role of the National Coordination Team is also not clear.  It seems to have some monitoring function, but its not clear if it’ll be hands on in terms of overseeing, assessing and directing progress and what it’ll do if SRPs are failing.

The next stage is clearly the publication of manual and the code of practice.  Hopefully they will turn up soon.  Today’s report and the DECLG’s response is a step in the right direction, but whether the action points and strategy being pursued will deliver, or deliver significant improvements for residents any time soon, is still an open question.

Rob  Kitchin