Search Results for 'scenario'

If there is one trait which should perhaps be the unique feature of planning and serve to distinguish it from all other disciplines, is its normative future-orientated agenda. In fact, planning has been singled out by futurists as a discipline where foresight and analysis of the future is most required – as nowhere in society are peoples futures mortgaged so far ahead as when local and national authorities make planning decisions, zone land and develop infrastructure. No matter how present focussed are current planning debates, the actual intent of decisions will unfold over decades. Decision-making in planning therefore cannot avoid addressing the future, and future generations. In this sense, we are all living our daily lives today with the locked-in, path dependent and largely irreversible consequences of past land use planning policy decisions.

While this may seem patently obvious, when I look around planning practice in Ireland today I see no evidence whatsoever of any foresight or analysis of the future. While local authority planning departments typically have a section which is nominally labelled ‘Forward Planning’, planning’s responsibility to be a source of thought, or even inspiration, about what might be, and ought to be, has been largely abandoned in favour of a conformist, reactionary and entrepreneurial approach. Paradoxically, one of the unintended consequences of the recent ‘turn’ to more evidenced-informed planning is that the overload of new spatial data from a proliferation of different sources appears to be simply adding to the general confusion about ‘what to do’. Rather than fostering a culture of initiative taking and adaptability, more evidence is creating a risk-adverse planning culture and dimming policy-makers horizons – and is certainly not leading to better decision making or even different decisions!

Good evidence is of course essential in making informed policy and planning decisions. However, as we are so often told these days, past-performance is also no guarantee of future performance. The problem is that the future is unknowable, uncertain and there can be no agreed description of what it will bring. Planners are faced daily with often high-stakes decisions with long-term implications which must be made in the context of immediate and messy short-term socio-economic and political imperatives where facts are uncertain and values in dispute. A useful example of this is the decision last week by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for a large peat burning electricity power station in Co. Offaly. This is in spite of a 2011 report prepared by over forty scientists for the Environmental Protection Agency which concluded that continued peat extraction and burning for electricity is the most climate-polluting source of energy and that “continued carbon emissions from peat burning are contrary to the national interest”. Climate change and energy descent are perhaps the two greatest ‘known unknowns’ of the forthcoming century. Yet, despite the transformative implications of these phenomena for how we use our land, to date they have not been considered germane to planning policy or decisions. In the context of this manifold uncertainty what is required are creative new methodologies, analogous to the greater use of evidence, which seek to make our ignorance of the future useable and help guide complex planning and policy decisions.

In Scotland, a jurisdiction which views planning as a progressive and proactive force for nation building, an entirely different approach has been adopted with the publication in 2011 of a new land-use strategy for Scotland – the first of its kind anywhere in Europe. Interestingly, the strategy arose not out of planning and development legislation, but as a requirement of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. The strategy, which sets out a long term vision towards 2050, explicitly recognises that land is Scotland’s fundamental and finite base asset and that decisions about how to make the best use of it are becoming increasingly contentious, complex and challenging in the circumstances of changing consumption patterns and a growing acceptance that we need to urgently adapt our lives and the way we use resources. As part of the public consultation process for the strategy, scenarios for the future were developed not to predict the future but to stimulate thought about what might be the logical outcomes and consequences of current trends and policies, and hence how policies might be altered to achieve a more desirable future. In Ireland, the use of futures methods and scenario-planning techniques in developing official planning policy has been completely absent with officialdom favouring instead a singular interpretation of the future – business-as-usual (An exception in academia was the publication in 2008 by the DIT Futures Academy of Twice the size?: Imagineering the future of Irish gateways).

In the UK, however, futures research is well established with the establishment in 1994 of the Foresight Programme which aims to assist the UK Government to think systematically about the future and to ensure today’s decisions are robust to future uncertainties. Foresight projects are in-depth studies looking at major issues 20-80 years in the future including, for example, tackling obesity, future flooding, demographics and wellbeing. A major piece of work currently underway by the Foresight Programme is Land-Use Futures: Making the Most of Land in the 21St Century which is taking a broad and overarching look at the future of UK land use over the next 50 years. It demonstrates that there is a strong case to develop a much more strategic approach to guide incremental land use change, incentivise sustainable behaviours, and to unlock value from land. The ESPON funded ET2050 – Territorial Scenarios and Visions for Europe is similarly involved in developing future scenarios on a pan-European scale aimed at policymakers in the field of territorial development.

Scenario 1: Economy to the fore Looking outwards, to enhance our economic position and competitiveness with respect to the rest of the world.A focus on major cities and larger towns as key drivers of economic activity and public services

Maximising agricultural output focussing on high-value dairy and beef primarily for export markets

Maximising renewable energy generation capacity, including export of renewables.

Increasing contribution of outdoor recreation and tourism to the economy

Scenario 2: Keep it localProgressive transfer of governance to local level.Self-sufficiency driving agricultural practice and community cultivation playing a bigger role in agriculture

Local food – protection of market towns and rural services

Transport considerations – focus on developing existing small settlements and villages as hubs and reducing dispersal

Small scale renewables with more dispersed supply networks

Maintaining cultural landscapes and distinctiveness

Scenario 3: Climate change exemplarOptimising use of land for renewable energy, including biomass, biofuels, wind energy and hydro powerMinimising need for travel, including minimising food miles.

Preservation of peat-rich soils and expansion of forestry for carbon sequestration.

Avoiding development on land liable to flood

Landscape ecology approach to biodiversity (creating green infrastructure networks and avoiding fragmentation of habitats)

Scenario 4: Ireland – a great place to liveProtecting existing designated biodiversity and enhance biodiversity through linking ecological networksSupport for rural services and new dispersed development in the countryside

Protecting iconic landscapes , recognising their role in tourism

Limiting onshore renewable energy and grid infrastructure

Conserving heritage and archaeology

Promoting high quality of life in communities.

Potential Land Use Futures for Ireland? – Adapted from the Scottish Land Use Strategy

In the context of the forthcoming review of the National Spatial Strategy and the new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies in Ireland, rather than passive adoption of the status-quo, the use of futures methods offers the potential to cast planning as a proactive, confident and dynamic ‘intervener’ in a fast changing and increasingly complex world.  Key questions which need to be asked in developing scenarios for the future are: What land use challenges could we face over the next 50 years? Will existing structures and mechanisms help us to meet those challenges? What opportunities are there to use and manage land differently now so that society continues to enjoy a good quality of life in the future? Developing scenarios for the future may assist in anticipating potential surprises – a good example of this is the current proposal to blanket the Midlands with large wind turbines for energy export which is not referenced anywhere in any national or regional planning policy.

Importantly, futures techniques also offers the potential to shine a light on alternative perspectives that are currently marginalised in mainstream planning policy debate and which can significantly contribute to questioning current hegemonic groupthink and the cosy post-political consensus i.e. that the sine qua non of a happy and affluent society is the neoliberal growth model. Moreover, as a consultation tool, sketching potential futures may help smoke-out entrenched positions and the usual zero-sum ‘winners-losers’ stalemate which accompanies public and political discourse on all matters related to spatial policy, to make our policy choices explicit and, dare I say, maybe a more mature debate and deeper political reflection on Ireland’s future? We live in hope.

Gavin Daly

Dublin City Council is hosting Business as Usual – What next for Planning?’ on Thursday the 5th of December 2013. Details of the event and how to book a place are available here:

NAMA s due to produce a new business plan this week.  It is speculated in the Irish Times that it will lay out three revised scenarios.

“In a worst-case scenario, Nama could end up losing several hundred million euro. If that is the case, the Government will levy the five participating banks – AIB, Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish, EBS and Irish Nationwide – in an effort to make up the shortfall. In a second case, it could gain several hundred million. In a third ‘very best case’, it could make ‘a couple of billion’.”

It seems to me that the first case is not the the worse-case scenario.  If a ‘very best case’ is making a couple of billion, then it seems to me that a very worse case is losing a couple of billion, or several billion.  The government has consistently over-estimated the tax returns over the past couple of years, and there is nothing to suggest that they will get the NAMA estimates correct, especially since they’ve already downgraded the return by €4.8b and they are claiming to be ‘shocked’ by the state of the portfolio and its loan book.  Until the full loan book has been transferred in, it seems the best the agency can do is produce semi-informed guestimates about the state of the portfolio and whether it is going to cost the taxpayer dearly over its projected 10 year lifespan.  Losing €4.8bn in a year is not a good start and hardly inspires confidence.

Rob Kitchin

Make no little plans, once wrote American modernist architect and planner Daniel Burnham, as “they have no magic to stir men’s blood. Twas ever thus. National planning has always been the political terrain of narrating a grand hegemonic fantasy of an ideology that is never clearly expressed. With the publication of ‘Project Ireland 2040’, jointly comprising the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the National Development Plan (NDP), Ireland’s recrudescence as a neoliberal vassal state is reaching towards its apotheosis. No longer a ‘society’, we are now a ‘project’ and there is no doubt as to what the project is about – growth! In fact, a stupendous 1.1 million additional people, 660,000 new jobs and 500,000 additional homes in the next twenty-two years.

It is perhaps testament to how normalised growthism has become in colonising the national consciousness that these quixotic projections were near-universally greeted as a deterministic fait accompli. Their provenance, or desirability, has caused not even a ripple of debate or discussion amongst the national commenteriat, planners or academics. On the contrary, with remarkable consensus they have been largely hubristically hailed as a self-congratulatory and entirely logical consequence of Ireland’s post-recession economic renaissance and prospects, and even, by business lobby groups, as far too conservative.

It is true, of course, that, if the past was a reliable guide to future events, demographic change actually exceeded the growth scenario selected in the NPF’s predecessor, the National Spatial Strategy, rising by 844,662 between 2002 and 2016. This primarily occurred during the rapid pell-mell expansion of the Celtic Tiger era and driven chiefly by natural increase.  This time, according to the ESRI population and economic projections which underpin the NPF, population growth will be principally propelled by sustained in-migration as a consequence of “a relatively benign scenario which would see Irish GDP grow by 3 per cent or more each year until 2040.” (p.5). In other words, the NPF projections are fundamentally tied to the immigration patterns that would arise from this very optimistic economic trajectory, which, it is accepted, exceeds that anticipated for most international economies.

This magical growth rate of 3 per cent has become something of a fetishised article of faith amongst economists in recent years and fits with the conventional wisdom that it is the minimum acceptable level for ‘sustainable’ economic growth. In fact, the current mid-range ESRI econometric model runs only to 2030, so the last ten years in the projection horizon were simply linearly extrapolated forward to 2040. It is worth mentioning that a compound growth rate of 3 per cent per annum to 2040 would see an approximate cumulative doubling of total Irish GDP over this period.

Despite repeated caveats in the ESRI report which heavily emphasises that “the projections should not be taken as a forecast, but as a scenario that might arise given a set of assumptions and unchanged modelling parameters” and “subject to significant uncertainties” (p.15), these population ‘projections’ have now been unproblematically transcribed into ‘targets’ for an additional 1.1 million people (25% greater that the ESRI baseline) which the NPF, at a minimum, shall aim to achieve. A number of alternative sub-national ‘macro-spatial’ options were evaluated in order to allocate the regional distribution of this growth, albeit the headline national population target was considered a non-negotiable point of departure i.e. consideration of alternatives was permissible so long as they remained fully circumscribed within the clearly defined parameters of what was open for discussion. Notably, in a separate study, quoted extensively in the analysis underpinning the NPF, three hypothetical population scenarios were examined, whereby the difference between the ‘Low’ and ‘High’ scenario was over 800,000 by 2030. Regardless, and without much justification, the NPF discounted such options and selected a high growth scenario, apparently on account of [t]he lack of fully worked alternative scenarios at the national level that might encompass higher and lower growth than the baseline” (p.4).

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 12.23.04Alternative Population Projections in Wren et al. (2017)

The inadmissibility of genuine alternatives and the pensée unique of a ‘growth first’ approach to spatial development has, of course, long been recognised as a core feature of planning. In this view, ‘Project Ireland 2040’ is simply the latest attempt of an unquenchable political desire to capture and reorientate planning, and its associated geoinstitutional architecture, to provide for a new ‘spatial fix’ of collective consumption and to re-establish the self-fulfilling conditions for sustained capital accumulation. In order to displace political tensions, the resurgence of the inveterate growth agenda has now being wrapped in the soothing banner of a renewed national imaginary of harmonious balanced growth and parity, despite the sustained evidence (even, most recently, from the World Bank) that acute socio-spatial disparities are increasing globally, and will continue to increase, despite all territorial policies to the contrary.

The inherent contradiction of this ideological commitment is laid bare in the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Statement accompanying the NPF, belatedly published over a month after its launch. Climate Change is touted as one of the central pillars of ‘Project Ireland 2040’ with an aggregate reduction in emissions of at least 80% targeted by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels) in line with binding international obligations. Due to its exalted status, agriculture has been effectively exempted, with all the burden of reduction efforts now to come from the electricity generation, built environment and transport (the so called ‘EGBET’ sectors). Greenhouse gas emissions in these sectors is currently running at 31.8 Mt CO2eq (c. 6.6 t CO2eq per capita) and, if population targets were to be achieved, by 2040 emissions would need to decrease to 11.8 Mt CO2eq i.e. a wholly implausible 2 t CO2eq per capita. By 2050, per capita emissions in the EGBET sectors would need to be further reduced to less than 1 t CO2eq per capita, assuming there is no further population growth targeted beyond 2040 (For reference, this is the approximate emissions per capita of most ‘developing’ countries e.g. Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Angola etc). To date only economic recession and mass emigration (c.2008 – 2013) have been proven to be effective in achieving the scale of emissions reductions required to meet our 2050 trajectory.

This abstraction from reality is further underscored by the very latest EPA projections, published last week, which show that, following a brief downward interregnum during the recession, Ireland’s emissions have rebounded lockstep with the economic growth and, at best, an abject 1% reduction of emissions will be achieved by 2020 compared to a target of 20%. As it turns out, economic growth and emissions reductions are, as long predicted, inimical goals and, despite the mantra of ecological modernisation and ‘sustainable growth’, economic growth does not result in absolute higher returns to resource efficiency (See Jackson (2009) for a useful exposition on this). The EPA also projects that emissions will continue to grow in tandem with a growing economy and, with all existing and currently planned measures, a further meagre decrease of emissions of 1% is projected by 2030 compared to a target of 30%.

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 21.35.15

Latest EPA Projections for the EGBET Sectors (2018)

It should be noted that the current EPA projections are based on a future population in 2035 of 5.2 million, 650,000 less than the NPF 2040 targets, and do not take into account any of the policy measures included in ‘Project Ireland 2040’. However, for Ireland to achieve its 2050 emissions reduction target alongside 2040 growth targets, only the mobilisation of revolutionary policies and investment measures together with a massive technological shift on an historically unprecedented scale and scope would suffice, so as to deliver a decoupling of carbon intensity to outrun scale. Notwithstanding its superficial commitment to progressive climate measures, ‘Project Ireland 2040’ is certainly not that, and with its duplicitous promise of new business-as-usual fossil fuel dependent motorways, airport expansion, agricultural productivism and exponential economic and population growth, does not provide us, in any way, a pathway out of this dilemma.

It is often said that what is ecologically necessary is not politically feasible, which raises the spectre that our (un)sustainability conundrum is one of those problems that is simply not solvable. The subterfuge of power, politics and economism generally trump evidence-based analysis and long-term collective interest, resulting in cognitive lock-in and an aggressive shutdown of alternative perspectives. If we are to have any possibility of meeting the biophysical realities of the 21st Century planetary climate crisis, what is desperately needed is a new planning pedagogy and practice that decolonises the future, repoliticies the realm of possibilities and negates the governing fundaments of growth-orientated planning. Of-course, I realise this call to arms is haplessly naïve against the backdrop of planning profession and society that angelizes the imperative of growth as an inviolable normative goal – but from conformity to complicity is but a short step.

Gavin Daly

This Blog Post featured on the Irish Times Inside Politics Podcast. You can listen below.

Screen Shot 2020-06-15 at 15.07.55

The Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework (NPF) currently under preparation, is tasked with providing a ‘framework for future development and investment in Ireland’ (Issues and Choices Consultation Paper). The consultation document makes clear that the NPF is intended to provide a high-level strategic policy document, working to coordinate the spatial aspects of a wide range of sectoral policies concerned with ‘housing, jobs, transport, education, health, environment, energy and communications’. The potential of strategic spatial policy to be provide a frame for the coordination of broad-scale policy objectives such as quality of life, prosperity and environmental sustainability and the development of place-based policy is explicitly addressed. It is evident that the NPF is intended to provide more than a reformulation of the politically-sensitive issue of balanced or effective regional development. It is also evident that it is not to be understood as ‘national plan’, prescribing where development should take place, as discussed previously on this blog here). Whereas the NPF will hopefully provide a central guiding framework for planning authorities, informing their decision-making and placing their work in a wider strategic context, this should not be understood as its primary function.

The NPF is asking to be taken seriously as cross-sectoral overarching framework for investment, rather than treated as a national plan to be ‘implemented’ by local authorities. These strategic cross-sectoral policy coordination policy coordination objectives are to be welcomed. The current context of Brexit-induced uncertainty calls for open dialogue, cross-sectoral communication and strategic stakeholder engagement, as Ireland-UK and by default, Ireland-EU and North-South relations are simultaneously re-ordered and re-worked. Indeed, this period of uncertainty calls for spatial public diplomacy. The NPF can play an important function in this context providing in particular a framework for working out island-of-Ireland perspectives and reaffirming existing commitments to cooperation in matters of spatial planning and regional development on a North-South basis.

The experiences of Wales and Scotland with strategic spatial planning furthermore demonstrate the potential of spatial strategies with strong cross-sectoral ambitions. The Scottish National Planning Frameworks build on a strong Scottish tradition of strategic planning and have played an important role as part of a broader ‘national conversation’ post-devolution. More importantly, they have served to focus policy attention on key projects of national importance and ‘spatial priorities for change’. The Wales Spatial Plan similarly was designed from the outset as an over-arching cross-sectoral framework, placing the work of the then newly established Welsh Assembly in a strategic spatial context and supporting joined-up thinking at a sub-regional level.

In order to be taken seriously and to have relevance as a framework at a strategic policy level outside of the Department of Housing, Planning Community and Local Government, however, the NPF needs to be explicitly linked to public sector investment decision-making. The National Spatial Strategy was of course, designed to give spatial expression to the National Development Plan with the Gateway Investment Fund as the bridge linking spatial and capital investment planning. Unfortunately, the GIF was one of the first items to go when budgets were cut and the decentralisation fiasco characteristically served to make the worst out of a bad situation. We should nevertheless expect and demand that the NPF contain explicit commitments regarding major infrastructure projects of national and regional importance, aligning the spatial framework with national transportation policy and other key sectoral policies. Debate on the NPF should focus on concrete substantive issues of strategic spatial significance such as outstanding commitments under Transport 21, sustainable energy and climate adaptation policy and the future of the border region in a time of uncertainty. NPF scenarios could focus on the spatial development implications of infrastructure investments and policy choices, providing informed insights into possible regional development dynamics in Ireland 2040. This of course is based on the perhaps naive assumption that the Irish Government is prepared to commit public funds to strategic investment projects rather than relying on private sector investment.

The NPF might also be expected to make funding commitments to support innovative regional development initiatives emerging from the bottom-up. It is possible to envisage a scenario where local authorities, business and community stakeholders could apply for capacity-building or small-scale investment funding on a competitive basis from funds administered by the three regional assemblies. Projects would be required to support the objectives of the NPF and to cross local authority boundaries, working with ‘functional territories’ in order to ensure strategic regional importance. Lessons can be learnt from urban-rural partnership programmes organised on a similar basis in Germany which have challenged metropolitan and rural districts to identify potential synergies and means of working together. Closer to home, the experiences of three Border Area Networks and work of ICLRD in developing common projects and strategies on a cross-border basis demonstrate the potential of this approach in the Irish context.

It is time for a mature debate on the substantive issues the NPF can and should address on a cross-sectoral basis, and time for the Government to commit to public investment aligned with national spatial policy.

Reminder: Submissions on the NPF consultation can be made until this Thursday 16th March (12 noon).

Cormac Walsh

To make a submission about the proposed NPF go to the website and follow the instructions provided; or email; or write to:

NPF Submissions, Forward Planning Section, Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Custom House, Dublin, D01 W6X0

The National Spatial Strategy was officially scrapped in 2013 by then Minister, Phil Hogan TD.  Soon after, the development of a replacement strategy, the National Planning Framework, was announced.  On Thursday the initial consultation document was published by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, and launched at Maynooth University by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, the Minister for DHPCLG, Simon Coveney TD, and Minister for State for Housing and Urban Renewal, Damien English TD.  It sets out the process and timeline for formulating the full NPF and provides an initial framing of government thinking with respect to what should be included in the plan.

The NSS was widely considered an unmitigated failure for a number of reasons: there were too many gateways and hubs; it was misaligned with its funding stream the NDP; it was not supported by government, agencies and local authorities and was actively undermined; and it was not implemented on a statutory basis (see this post for a full history and explanation). So have lessons been learned?  The Taoiseach would like to think so, stating at the launch that in the NSS, ‘towns were placed against towns, politics against politics … and we are not going there again.’ Instead, the NPF will seek to be more cooperative, coordinated, and regionally based.

The rationale for the NPF is broadly the same as the NSS.  It is to coordinate spatially the development of sectoral areas (economy, transport, housing, energy, education, health) and guide and drive balanced regional development as the population continues to grow.  If development is not managed and it is left to business is usual to deliver shared national goals, then Dublin will continue to expand, the regional cities will have modest growth, and smaller towns and rural areas will stagnate or decline, the document argues.  Instead, the document argues that there needs to be:

  • a coordinated, strategic approach with a twenty year time horizon;
  • this approach needs to be backed by government across departments/agencies;
  • be aligned with public/private investment, including capital spend;
  • a focus on health and well-being, the environment, North-South relations, as well as economic and property development;
  • a recognition that it is a strategy, not a wish list and that it will involve making hard choices;
  • address all parts of Ireland, avoid the perception of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, but avoid unrealistically seeking to treat all parts of the Country in the same way;
  • include a particular focus on implementation and evaluation, with capacity for review.

The proposed approach to organize and operationalize the NPF through the regional assemblies and in alignment with regional spatial economic strategies that are presently being prepared.  Rather than towns competing within a region, they should cooperate and work together as clusters.  And there should be stronger urban-rural interdependence, with large and small towns supporting rural communities.  Nonetheless, it is argued that there is a need for concentrated development of the five principal cities – Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford – and the towns around them, to create strong growth polls for business and to realise agglomeration effects and to create scales of economy/critical mass for service and infrastructure delivery.  Unlike other countries with a similar sized population – Scotland, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand – Ireland has a weak city structure with just five cities with a population above 50,000 (and only two above 100,000), that limits the ability to create balanced growth.  More modest growth will be sought in regional towns.  While growth would be welcome in rural areas, the priority is to stop further decline and to create resilience, sustainability and to improve quality of life.

There are a couple of big challenges in preparing the full NPF and getting it put on a statutory basis.  The first is the seeming paradox between ‘making hard choices’ and ‘addressing all parts of Ireland and avoiding the perception of winners and losers’.  The plan needs to make strategic decisions and prioritize areas for development and investment while also persuading everybody that those decisions are for the ‘national/regional good’ and that there is something there for them.  Given the legacy of the NSS, the localist/clientelist nature of Irish politics, and the siloed nature of government depts/agencies, that will be a challenge.  Second, and related, is given that the proposers are a minority government, the process of getting political support may involve a watering down of the plans aims, or the plan being tweaked in a way that undermines the plan’s logic to curry favour or ensure votes.  Third, in preparing the plan, it needs to be made clear how it will be implemented in practice, how it will be resourced, and how its progress will be tracked and steered back onto course if it falters, to persuade people to have faith that this isn’t a NSS v.2, but a strategic plan that will actually work in practice.

As someone who is in favour of a planned and coordinated approach – through a guiding framework, not a heavy-handed roadmap – the publication of the consultation documents for the NPF is a welcome first step.  The next step is to develop a full plan that can achieve political and public buy-in.  Part of the process to try and ensure this is, on the one hand, to produce a detailed evidence-base and various scenarios, and on the other to invite submissions as part of a consultative phase.

To make a submission about the proposed NPF go to the website and follow the instructions provided; or; or write to:

NPF Submissions,
Forward Planning Section,
Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government,
Custom House,
Dublin D01 W6X0

The deadline for receipt of all submissions is 12 noon on Thursday 16th March 2017.

Some related media commentary: RTE 1, Drivetime interview; RTE Radio 1 News at One; RTE 1 Primetime.

For additional information see the Ireland 2040 website.

Rob Kitchin

As the lifetime of the current government draws to a close, it is an opportune moment to review progress in planning reforms over the past five years.  Back in 2011 planning was very much front and centre of the national debate around the causes and consequences of the economic crisis. The highpoint of the reforms introduced under the previous government was the Planning & Development (Amendment) Act 2010, a piece of legislation that current planning minister, Paudie Coffey, once described as ‘social engineering’. The appearance of planning, on the very last page of the Programme for Government, almost as an afterthought, was perhaps a portend of what was to come.

It did not get off to the most auspicious start with the first of three ministers to hold the portfolio, Willie Penrose, resigning after just a few months. His only notable act as minister was to terminate the independent investigations into planning irregularities. Even after the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report and its findings of systematic corruption, Penrose’s successor Jan O’Sullivan was unmoved, describing criticisms of a cover-up as a smokescreen. It took a High Court case to force the government into a u-turn. In the aftermath of the recent RTE Investigates documentary it emerged that the independent review had been sitting on Ministers Kelly’s and Coffey’s desks for the past five months. In response, the government sheepishly announced a package of ‘radical’ planning measures which included the belated publication of the independent review, further rehashed details on the proposed Office of the Planning Regulator (the major recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal) and a ‘roadmap’ for the forthcoming National Planning Framework (NPF). The  independent review uncovered considerable evidence of malpractice throughout the planning system and includes 29 recommendations to improve “standards of transparency, consistency and accountability” which the Department has committed to implement. The foot-dragging on this issue has undoubtedly been a major blot on the copybook of a government elected on a mandate to stamp out cronyism and low standards. Despite the introduction of a new planning regulator having being approved by the government back in 2013 and the heads of the bill published almost one year ago, the legislation is yet to appear. Bizarrely, in September Minister Kelly even floated the idea of de-prescribing An Taisce  – the chief complainant in the review and which the report concluded had “raised issues of public interest and as such have served the common good in raising these matters.”

In fact, the only planning body which the government has subjected to an independent review has been An Bord Pleanála –  one of the few organisations to emerge from the Celtic Tiger with a semblance of integrity. More often than not it actually had the temerity to implement national policies in the face of local populism. It is widely reported that the trigger for this review was its handling of wind farm cases, a particular sore point for Minister Kelly. A public consultation on the review of the 2006 wind energy planning guidelines generated widespread expectations that setback distances between wind turbines and dwellings would be significantly increased (ironically an idea first tabled by the aforementioned Willie Penrose following his resignation).  The Minister has been running with the hare and hunting with the hound on this issue, formally intervening on three occasions to overturn restrictive setback policies introduced by local councils, prompting the mayor of Donegal County Council to initiate counter legal proceedings. The revised guidelines are yet to materialise, and the debacle has done little for the credibility of the planning system or government leadership in the face of a critical national policy priority.

One of the few achievements was the publication of a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) in 2015 replete with the usual lofty principles which litter the history of Irish planning and generally utterly ignored in practice. For example, 40% (over 15,000) of all new dwellings permitted by the planning system during the lifetime of the government were ‘one off’ houses – a spatial pattern which is completely inimical to each and every of the key principles of the PPS. This has not been helped by the Minister Kelly’s move to effectively exempt one-off dwellings from building regulations. The PPS also commits to the publication of the new NPF to succeed the National Spatial Strategy which was unexpectedly and unilaterally ‘scrapped’ in a solo run by former Minister Phil Hogan back in 2013. The roadmap for the new NPF, which is (rather optimistically) due to be completed by early 2017, continues the recent trend for planning discourses to depart from their progressive founding principles, which had social and redistributive justice at their heart, and folded evermore tightly into narrow neoliberal growth and global competitiveness agendas. Interestingly, as part of the preparation of the NPF it is proposed to develop long-term economic and demographic forecasting  through to 2040 (as previously advocated on this blog). Far from being radical, the roadmap sets out a conventional business-as-usual approach with scant reference to the foremost spatial challenge of the coming century – the requirement to completely eliminate fossil fuels from our energy and transport systems (as set out in the recent energy White Paper). There is very little sense that strategic spatial planning in Ireland has yet to get to grips with what this actually means in practice.

It is of course welcome that after years of retrenchment in planning departments at national, regional and local levels that there is a new impetus for spatial planning. Following the protracted reorganisation of the regions, new Regional Spatial & Economic Strategies are also to be developed to replace the Regional Planning Guidelines. The introduction of ‘Core Strategies’ in the 2010 Act has assisted spatial coordination but, as the economy recovers, there are already worrying signs that councillors are once again emboldened and overriding planning advice to zone land, particularly adjacent to motorways in contravention of new guidelines introduced in 2012. This  underscores the huge strategic error in opting for a property tax over a Site Value Tax (SVT) and the government’s abolishing of windfall taxes on zoned land. Just last week the National Competitiveness Council reiterated its call for the introduction of SVT that works in conjunction with the planning system. The ESRI has also called for the introduction of land taxes citing the example of Denmark where such taxes are shown to act as an incentive to sell/use underdeveloped or vacant lands in periods of increased demand.  The planning system now has all of the best-practice guidance it requires but will continue to be a locus for speculation, cronyism and corruption and hamstrung by shoddy practices in the absence of a strong fiscal lever. The new vacant site levy introduced in the Housing & Urban Regeneration Act 2015 is hopelessly limited in both scale and scope and a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem. Regrettably, following a recent public consultation on the issue, the government have once more been kowtowed to the development lobby and decided not to introduce any new tax on zoned and serviced land.

Reducing costs to the developers in order to stimulate market supply has of course been a persistent theme over the past five years. New guidelines on Section 48 levies introduced in 2013 sought to reduce financial contributions from new developments, despite the fact that many councils are in severe fiscal difficulties and owed hundreds of millions in unpaid levies. The Housing & Urban Regeneration Act 2015 also halved to 10% the quantum of Part V social housing required from new private housing developments – a move which was applauded by the Construction Industry Federation. Similarly, despite the well documented failures in building standards, Minister Kelly has fixated on criticising local authorities who impose building regulations which exceed national minimum standards. Rather than using scarce Dáil time to put through the radical reforms promised, the Planning & Development (Amendment) Bill 2015 is instead currently being  rushed through to prevent local authorities defying the Minister in the future. Such measures will obviously make no discernible impact to housing supply. In the context where the minister has just this week issued an unprecedented planning policy directive to address the urgent homelessness and housing crisis and to direct local authorities to do more to provide social housing it is hard to escape the conclusion of fiddling while Rome burns rather than any real radical reform agenda.

Gavin Daly

Back at the end of May, Minister Alan Kelly was out flying a kite. His objective was to cautiously test public reaction to proposed new wind energy guidelines which would also see a new 700m mandatory minimum setback distance introduced between new wind turbines and private dwellings. The current guidelines, which include an advisory 500m setback, have been the subject to sustained and vociferous criticism by a plethora of wind ‘information’ and ‘awareness’ groups across the country. A public consultation on the revised guidelines launched in early 2014 attracted an unprecedented 7,500 submissions. Despite repeated pledges that the new rules would be published imminently, they have yet to emerge, it is suspected due to an internal row between Minister Kelly and Minister Alex White’s Department of Energy, Communications and Natural Resources; who are trenchantly opposed to mandatory setbacks. In the run up to next year’s general election, the battle lines have been firmly drawn with local protests becoming ever more heated. Not for the first time, Minister Kelly appears to have found himself at the epicentre of a political debacle and raised public expectations for a policy which he cannot deliver.

Mirror Picture 22.07.15

The reason of-course is spatial. Ireland has a fast-approaching legal obligation to achieve 16% share of energy consumption (electricity, heat and transport) from renewable sources by 2020.  It is estimated that any shortfall could cost the state up to €600 million. On heat and transport, progress has been abysmal. In customary fashion, government focus has therefore remained squarely on stimulating supply-side solutions in electricity generation. In reality, onshore wind energy is currently the only realistic available technology capable of attracting sufficient private capital investment within the rapidly shortening time frame (a trend not unique to Ireland). However, by 2020, Ireland would need to achieve annual wind power growth significantly higher than anything historically achieved to date i.e. an absolute doubling of installed capacity. A very tall order, given current planning and grid connection delays. It is therefore little wonder that DECNR have firmly set their face against further setback restrictions. Such is the geographical distribution of ‘one-off’ houses in Ireland that a mandatory 700m setback would result in less than 15% of the entire landmass of the state being available for development. However, as illustrated in Map 1 below, the vast majority of this available land is located in European designated Natura 2000 sites i.e. increasingly ‘no-go’ locations for wind farms due to strict new legal requirements and risk of planning failure . In contrast, as illustrated in Map 2, the current 500m guideline setback allows for a much wider range of locations as potentially available for development.


Map 1 & 2: 700m and 500m setback distances (Source: AIRO – Click on map for larger image)

When all is said and done, and after all the rancor, delays, expense and wasted political capital, even if we were to achieve targets, a paltry 16% of our total energy demand will be met from renewable sources. Beyond 2020, Ireland will be required to achieve ambitious new targets on a rapid trajectory towards a complete decarbonisation of our energy systems by 2050 i.e. tomorrow in energy planning terms. We will need all of the renewable technologies available to us (and more) to achieve this, including of-course an important role for wind energy. However, what these maps clearly bring into sharp relief is that Ireland is a contested and congested space and the conflicting land-use implications of renewable energy networks must be included as centrally germane to considerations on national energy policies and technology choices, including in the forthcoming White Paper on Energy to be published next month (see Andrews et al. 2011 for an interesting analysis of geographical footprint of alternative energy sources). The key flaw in the current National Renewable Energy Plan (NREAP) is that it is dominated by technological and resource considerations. It is therefore ‘spatially blind’ and does not factor in the socio-cultural and environmental contextual conditions into which these technologies will be inserted. Instead these considerations are very much relegated to secondary, exogenous and downstream issues with the planning system simply tasked with swiftly removing barriers to deployment.

Moreover, it is inescapable that if we are ever hope to deal in any fundamental way with the required renewable energy transition, the debate must be urgently repoliticised away from an exclusive focus on supply-side fixes towards analogous solutions on the social side. For example, transport (overwhelmingly by private car) accounts for one-third of Ireland’s energy demand, and growing rapidly, yet barely ever registers in the energy debate (See Figure 1). In fact, instead of transport demand growth being seen as an area of concern, government actually encourages it and then trumpets it as evidence of a recovering economy!

WW Graph

Figure 1: Total Energy Flow in Ireland, 2013 (Source: SEAI)

There is no scenario for an equitable shift away from fossil fuels which does not represent a radical departure at every level from the reigning business-as-usual neoliberal orthodoxy i.e. a strategic state and an active role for government in long-term national planning. That means intensive demand-side efforts supported by resource taxes and public investment; cheap public transport accessible to all; affordable, energy-efficient housing along transport lines; cities, towns and villages planned for higher-density living; land management that discourages sprawl; urban design that clusters essential services like schools and healthcare along transport corridors etc. It also implies a much stronger role for public sector utilities in developing renewable energy and to give communities the power to develop local distributed energy solutions. In short, as persuasively argued by Naomi Klein, it means changing absolutely everything about how we think about the economy. However, as I have previously blogged, even at this late stage we are failing to recognise this self-evident reality. We will therefore continue to pay a massive procrastination penalty for our legacy of decades of poor spatial and building control policies which have locked-in high fossil fuel energy demand and which will now be extremely difficult and costly to unwind.

Gavin Daly

See also the AIRO Wind Energy Strategies Webtool 

The planning of Dublin’s transport should be founded on a clear sense of priorities, based on (a) travel patterns and population, (b) the optimum use of resources available eg. street space, land use, finance, (c) investing in sustainability.

One would expect the National Transport Authority (NTA) to pay particular attention to the implications of the data in reports it has commissioned.  However, recent work by the NTA pays scant regard to the public transport needs of those living between the City Centre and Dublin Airport.   Despite NTA evidence, there is still an obsession with a City Centre-Airport rail link and journey times on this corridor.

An NTA report has shown travel demand is greatest inside the M50 during the morning peak ie. 1. between the canals and the M50 – the Inner Suburbs – with 27% of journeys in 2006 and 18% in 2030; 2. inside the canals – between the Inner suburbs and the City Centre – with 13% in 2006 and 15% in 2030. (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Travel Demand in Dublin Morning Peak 2006 and 2030



Source: National Transport Authority Greater Dublin Area Draft Transport Strategy 2011‐2030 2030 vision April 2012. Chap 4 p.9 (link)

This travel demand reflects activity in Dublin’s Core Economic Area as shown in Figure 2 (prepared by Justin Gleeson, based in Maynooth University).  However, in its do-minimum planning for enhanced public transport, the NTA has not focused on Dublin’s Core Economic area.  The NTA’s current Do-Minimum assumes DART Underground (the Yellow line on the map) as well as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to link the City Centre with the Airport and Swords.  Neither will enhance public transport within the Core Economic Area, nor enhance access to the Airport from the central business district.

Figure 2: Dublin Core Economic Area, 2011


DART Underground

This is a proposed 8.6km line from Docklands to Inchicore, mostly tunnelled, costing up to €4bn.  This will add another rail link between the Docklands and Heuston/Inchicore. These areas are already linked by LUAS (Red line in Figure 2). There will be another rail link between these areas when the Phoenix Park rail tunnel (Orange line in Figure 2) is opened for use by commuter trains in 2016.

It is not at all clear this €4bh investment will enhance development potential.  Much of the DART catchment (dotted line along the coast in map) area is coastal.  DART Underground itself will not improve public transport links between the Airport and the Central Business District.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) link City Centre –Drumcondra- Airport-Swords

The NTA also plans to link Dublin Airport/Swords to the City Centre with a BRT service through Drumcondra.  A public consultation on this concluded in November 2014. (see here)

This is puzzling, as a previous NTA report found that this route has forecast demand that greatly exceeds the capacity of BRT in the current 2030 infrastructure scenario and also exceed the 3600 ppdph in the 2030 scenario.  (see Figure 1)  This 2012 report concluded that a BRT solution does not cater for the public transport needs of the northern section of this corridor over the longer term….the Swords to City Centre section was not progressed further within this report. (my emphasis)

Table 1: Bus Rapid Transit Demand Analysis


Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012. Figure 41  p.53 (link)

An NTA 2014 Route Options Assessment on the Swords/Airport-City Centre BRT shows that, with one exception, passengers forecast exceed the proposed BRT capacity.   This report assumes that the present bus network will still be in place.  This means that regular bus services will still run on the same roads as the two separate BRT services on the Dublin Airport/Sword-Drumcondra-City Centre route.

( see Summary tables 10.5 and 10.6 for the result for the opening year 2018 and the forecast year 2033 for 2 route options. National Transport Authority Swords/Airport to City Centre. Route Options Assessment Volume 1 : Main Report (October 2014) p. 187 (link)

This report also states that It is anticipated that demand will increase following a reorganisation of Dublin Bus routes.

BRT may appear to be a cheap option.  It is nasty on two grounds

  1. it will be overflowing from the day it starts;
  2. being diesel powered, it contributes to air pollution and thus damages human health.

In a recent article (Irish Farmers Journal 30 May 2015), Colm McCarthy pointed out that “…recent studies have been showing that air pollution in European city streets has worsened and the shift to diesel (cars) is being blamed…Diesel engines produce lower levels of carbon dioxide but also emit two other nasties.  These are low-level pollutants in the form of particulate matter (think of soot) and nitrogen dioxide and these do not disappear into the upper atmosphere… He pointed out that “Policy makers have long been aware that high emissions in built-up areas of either particulates or nitrogen dioxide are damaging to human health, aggravating respiratory conditions including asthma


NTA commissioned yet another study to appraise longer term options for Fingal/North Dublin (NTA AECOM November 2014).  A key criterion in assessing options is the journey time between the Airport and the City Centre.

However, another NTA study of Dublin Airport passengers found that:

  • Three quarters (75%) had a journey time of less than one hour to the Airport, with almost half (46%) having a journey time of less than 30 minutes;
  • Less than one seventh of trips (14%) were business related;
  • Three quarters of all trips were either for holiday/leisure (nearly half) or visiting friends/relatives (over one-quarter);
  • Less than one third of the trips originated in City Centre/South part of Dublin City.

Figure 3: Dublin Airport passengers – Purpose of travel


Source:  National Transport Authority Survey at Dublin Airport 2011.Fig. 3.11 p. 22 (link)

This suggests that the vast majority of passengers using Dublin Airport may not be very time-constrained in how they access the Airport. Most passengers are not bound for our capital’s Central Business District. Those passengers who are time-constrained have the option of taxis (which can use bus lanes) and/or using the Dublin Port Tunnel to access Central Business District. Consequently, in assessing options for public transport in north Dublin, travel times between the City Centre and the Airport should not be the sole or even the major criterion.


North Dublin city not being provided with enhanced public transport

The NTA is pursuing a do-minimum strategy for that part of Dublin’s Core Economic area between the Royal Canal and the M50.  It seems to be forgotten that more people live in the north part of Dublin city (306,425 in Census 2011) than in either the south city (221,186), Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown (206,261), South Dublin (265,205) or Fingal (273,991).  This has been so over the past 20 years, as is clear from Figure 3.

Figure 4: Population Dublin 1991 – 2011


The singular focus on BRT shows that the public authorities have learnt very little from the first LUAS line from Tallaght to Abbey Street.   The late Judge Sean O’Leary was the Inspector appointed by the government to consider for the first LUAS planning applications.  In 1998, he reported that “Having considered the evidence, the Inquiry is satisfied that in order to create similar condition of loading and unloading, ease of access and certainty…. that buses do not represent a viable alternative to the proposal”  (for on-street light rail).

The BRT Core Network Report supports this assessment. A comparison of the passenger carrying capacity of BRT with light rail and metro summarised is shown in Figure 5.  Note that this states that higher capacity BRT is not appropriate for Dublin.

Figure 5: Public Transport Mode Capacities


Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012.  Fig.3 p.4 (link)

Comparative investment costs for different public transport modes are indicated in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Comparative Investment costs – buses, BRT, LRT/LUAS, Metro


Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012.  Fig.2 p.3 (link)

Neither the proposed BRT nor the single LUAS line on the route now advocated by the Railway Procurement Agency (see Sunday Business Post 3 May 2015) can provide sustainable public transport for this part of Dublin.   This proposed LUAS line goes under Glasnevin Cemetery in a new tunnel.  This adds to the cost of a LUAS line that will not serve the centre of Dublin’s north city core economic area shown in the map.  Moreover, it is well away from important major trip attractors/generators eg.  Mater Hospital, Mountjoy Prison, Croke Park, St. Patrick’s College, Whitehall,  Santry, Beaumont Hospital.

This RPA proposal ignores the results of a 1996 Dept. of Transport report which compared three LUAS lines then being considered.   It is clear from Table 2 that a LUAS from the city centre through Drumcondra to Ballymun had much better potential for passengers than the two LUAS lines which were actually built.  This confirms the results of  recent NTA work which suggests that passenger demand can best be met by an on-street LUAS line for this central route in the north part of Dublin’s Core Economic Area.

Table 2: A Comparative Socio-Economic Evaluation of the Tallaght-Ballymun/Dundrum Light Rail Lines. Final Report 1996. Oscar Faber.


Source: Department of Transport, Energy & Communications. A Comparative Socio-Economic Evaluation of the Tallaght-Ballymun/Dundrum Light Rail Lines.  Final Report 1996. Oscar Faber.

NTA notes that the higher investment costs of light rail(LUAS) are offset by lower operation costs. (see Figure 7).   Light rail (LUAS) vehicles carry more passengers than buses.  Thus less drivers are needed than for bus-based systems carrying the same number of passengers.  Buses have a shorter life than LUAS vehicles, even if the maintenance costs are higher.  Buses are also less energy efficient and pollute more at point of use.

Figure 7: Public Transport – Investment v Operating Costs


Source:  National Transport Authority: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Core Dublin Network.  October 2012.  Fig.21  p.27 (link)

The capital expenditure envisaged for DART Underground and BRT would be much more cost-effective if invested in

  • extending LUAS CrossCity (now under construction) to create a north city LUAS loop (taking in Finglas, Charlestown, Poppintree, Ballymun, Santry, Beaumont, Drumcondra) with spurs to the Airport and to DART at Howth Junction (see Figure 8);
  • A Docklands loop to link the existing Green and Red on-street LUAS lines as put forward by the Dublin Transportation Office in 2002.

Figure 8: Dublin Core Economic Area with proposed north city/Airport-Swords proposed LUAS  lines superimposed (orange line)

Our public authorities are still using arbitrary criteria for planning public transport.  The feuding public sector baronies are still stuck in the property development whimsies of the early 2000s.   This is not the evidence-based transport planning which Robert Watt (Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform) claimed as an example of civil service reform.  (Commentary on public service reform is mired in the past Sunday Business Post 22 February 2015).

We deserve better.  To promote competitiveness and social cohesion, Dublin needs integrated and sustainable public transport. Achieving this needs quiet, consistent competence to bring working and living conditions to the levels of well-run European cities.  It would be a start if our public authorities drew the appropriate conclusions from their own reports and invested accordingly.

Ireland After Nama Guest blog post by Donal O’Brolchain

Donal O’Brolchain lives in Drumcondra, Dublin 9.  He has been active in residents’ association for the past 25 years. As Secretary of Drumcondra 2005, he led residents’ support for the Dublin Port Tunnel during the 1990s, as part of a set of mutually reinforcing measures to improve transport in Dublin. This included a core light rail/LUAS system in Dublin. This support was to implement a local area plan for Drumcondra district which seven residents’ association commissioned and funded from their own resources. This was launched in 1994.

A depressing confession: I find it increasingly difficult to imagine a radical left alternative (RLA) taking shape anywhere, as perhaps my recent posts here and here indicate. It’s not that I am a TINA-tout, as Matthew Sparke, whose text on globalization I’m using with Cian O’Callaghan, puts it. There is an alternative. There are alternatives. But geography. Geography.

Ok, so let’s say Irish voters elect a government with a RLA mandate. Let’s hope so. What then? I don’t doubt for a second – and if I’m off, please correct me – that Ireland’s credit rating would sink immediately once the financial world believes an RLA government will emerge here. These guys would have a quick scan of what’s on the cards.

They might, for example, have a look at the taxation agenda (or other proposed policies, all of them with a radical progressive slant). The backdrop here, of course, is that rich people are quite astute when it comes to moving their money around. Not all can, or will. Lots of capital is fixed in place, not quite as mobile as we might think. Still, will the necessary sorts of progressive taxation policies, such as increases in higher rates of income or wealth taxes (but I’d hope also some reductions in sales taxes), scare off some, lots; or, maybe just enough? And what will the credit ratings agencies make of that? Surely they’d hit us. An RLA government here would be such an outlier amidst a wider geography of neoliberal and conservative – fascist? – governments across Europe. Maybe it’d all pass. Maybe we could get by for a while – or at least for the duration of the government’s term i.e. long enough for the sorts of progressive changes people might vote for to be made – without needing to borrow. Maybe.

But then there’s our debts. The orthodoxy – economists will scream: not the orthodoxy, the fact you idiot! – is that even an RLA government would need to keep making payments on all the socialised bank. But I’ve no doubt that, if an RLA government did indeed come into office, one of its promises would need to be that it’d cancel the debt. And there’s a bloody good argument for doing so, on ethical grounds if nothing else. Moreover, it’s costing us so much in real hard cash terms. Hard to fathom.

So what if we defaulted? Let’s run quickly through this scenario. Think about that wider geography. A neoliberal world where bank debts get socialised. Where ‘good governance’ says “ don’t default”. So again, it’s us here in Ireland as a massive outlier. A pariah. A Zimbabwe or a Venezuela in the Atlantic. Can an RLA government survive that? Probably yes. But if the taxation agenda is one thing that’d frighten the ratings agencies, defaulting would be something else entirely. If nothing else, it’d be an interesting time. It’d be risky. Europe would throw a fit. Our RLA Finance Minister would be in for an earful. Again, that wider geography: not just credit ratings agencies and their pals, but our supposed allies in Europe.

Consider finally our much-needed inward investors. They wouldn’t leave, would they? Surely they’d bargain. If conditions weren’t right, they’d push for changes. So maybe an RLA government wouldn’t have too much to worry about. Hmmm.

But there’s an underlying issue here: one of the arguments for an RLA government is precisely that too many workers work for low pay, often in unpleasant circumstances, lacking a sense of security. And while, yes (or no?), maybe the inward investors are less likely to employ people in these sorts of ways, the fact is that the cost of labour as a whole is kept low in Ireland by suppliers, services firms, contractors, who do rely on a ‘flexible’ workforce. We need a new RLA government to design legislation to fix this. It isn’t just about what firms do. They’re allowed to make workers flexible. Our governments don’t regulate them enough. Our unions are too weak to do anything about it. This is precisely the imbalance that rankles. It’s precisely one of the root causes of generally widening inequality here and elsewhere. So let’s say an RLA government comes into office. It pushes for legislation. But won’t it then come into conflict with EU directives on labour or services? What then? Is leaving Europe on the cards? Should it be? I’m deadly serious here: Can we have socialism a radical left alternative in one country?

Alistair Fraser

Originally posted on Irish Left Review

1f0d6a25-3104-485e-8e53-82b77db843fb_146_220The new book Spatial Justice and the Irish crisis, edited by Gerry Kearns, David Meredith, and John Morrissey and published by the Royal Irish Academy is extremely timely given its extensive analysis and detail on the causes of the Irish financial crisis, its socio-spatial impacts on inequality and suggestions for alternative, social-justice based, economic development. The Irish elite, government, big business and media are trumpeting that ‘austerity’ and ‘neoliberalism’ have worked. The Irish economy is now fully in ‘recovery’ it is claimed, ‘austerity’ will be eased with tax breaks again to be given out to the middle classes, employment is rising and we have a mini property boom in Dublin to celebrate. Even potential social partnership agreements are floating in the political air. However, it is now more than ever that critical political, economic, and socio-spatial justice analysis of the Irish economy is required. Rather than cheerleading blindly into another boom and bust cycle based on inequality and spatial injustice there is a need for academics and policy makers to engage in rigorous analysis and reflection on the crisis and the political economic trajectory for the coming decades. Prof Gerry Kearns, of the Maynooth University Department of Geography, in the Introduction to the book, draws on President Higgins’ reflection on the importance of ‘critical thought’ in the wake of ‘failed orthodoxies’ as ‘the crisis is one of ideas as well as of policy’. Now more than ever, space and time must be given in the academic and public sphere in Ireland to identify the causes of the crisis, its impact on inequality, and alternative (non-capitalist) policies and approaches based on the common good and social justice rather than the interests of the minority elite – the 1%.
This book does this by placing social and spatial justice as an urgent consideration in all areas of social and economic policy. Interestingly, Kearns highlights how government responses to the current crisis go against Articles contained in the Irish Constitution including commitments of the state to ‘promot[ing] the welfare of the whole people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice and charity shall inform all institutions of the national life’ (Article 45.1). Significantly, this also includes ensuring that ‘the ownership and control of the material resources may be so distributed amongst private individuals and the various classes as best to subserve the common good’ (Article 45.2.ii).
The book covers the origins of the financial crisis, its political and territorial implications such as the outsourcing of state power to international credit rating agencies, the links between crisis, housing and planning, the uneven impacts of the crisis in different parts of the country and unevenly within cities such as failed regeneration, impacts on equality of opportunity, marginalization of migrants, and sustainability. Within these areas it addresses the questions of spatial justice and where the pain of crisis and the opportunities of recovery are distributed, geographically and socially. It highlights the uneven development that was at the heart of the Celtic Tiger in the inequalities that persisted through that period, how they were worsened by the crash and the forms in which they continue today.
The chapter by Prof Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, on Spatial Justice, Housing and the Financial crisis makes important links between rising inequality and housing crises internationally. This Chapter is very interesting for an Irish audience as it highlights how the current housing crisis in Ireland has similar causes to other countries and there is much we can learn in regard to social justice based responses. Dorling argues that “we really need to think of housing again as a way in which we feel safe about where we are: not as a source of investment or a pension or something that can be used for profit, but instead as primarily a source of shelter”. He offers suggestions to address this such as a mansions tax, rent control, and using second and third homes for housing for those who need it. He explains that “housing is fundamental. It is what lies at the bottom of this crisis. Housing is one of the basic things that everybody needs and that policies can work out a way to guarantee.” He surmises that the reason this is not the case is because current policy appears to be ”trying to protect the equity interest of a small proportion of people who happen to own quite a lot of very expensive housing”.
The Chapter on Spatial justice and housing in Ireland, which I co-authored with Rob Kitchin and Cian O’Callaghan, details the catastrophic fallout of the property crash and its social and spatial repercussions for households in Ireland. It analyses how, during the Celtic Tiger period, housing policy in Ireland was increasingly neoliberalised and the privatization of social housing and the rolling out of PPP regeneration schemes in many instances served to erode existing social housing infrastructures. It critiques the failure to alter the fundamentals of how the Irish housing market is constituted and works, and the assumption that future housing will be the preserve of the private market and the benefit of private interests. The current housing system is not only inherently unequal, but now fundamentally unfit for purpose and perpetuates and entrenches social and spatial injustices, making them increasingly difficult to dislodge. Through the Celtic Tiger many communities in our large cities and rural towns were excluded. Similarly in the crisis and ‘recovery’ places are affected unevenly with significant spatial inequalities remaining. The danger is that the imbalanced spatial and institutional landscapes deposited by the crash, left to the whims of the market, will calcify into a nation increasingly characterized by geographically uneven development. Echoing, Dorling’s conclusions, the authors highlight “the need for (and indeed right to) decent social housing cannot be questioned given the housing waiting list figures and the high dependence on rent supplement”. Providing social housing and regeneration can be a win–win scenario we claim, as “delivering it on a large scale offers the potential for real economic and social stimulus for local communities and for the wider society and economy”. Finally, it is clear that “the ideological opposition to social housing and obsessive support of the private rented and property market must be put aside to develop alternative approaches that place the primary value of housing as a home and a right, and not a commodity.”
In her chapter, Greening the economy in Ireland, Anna Davies provides extensive detail and analysis of the challenges and possibilities for a more just transition to a green, low-carbon economy through grassroots enterprise responses such as cleantech clustering. Three core elements pervade the discourse of just transitions: the need for wide and inclusive consultation about the economic changes involved in decarbonization; the requirement for green and decent jobs; and suitable mechanisms for reskilling people to work within resource-efficient economies. This chapter examines whether one novel socio-spatial configuration, hybrid clustering around cleantech, could function as a mechanism through which collaborative agendas for just transitions towards a greener economy might emerge in an Irish context. It details the case study of Ireland’s first cleantech cluster, An tSlí Ghlas ‘The Green Way’, a cluster of more than 200 public, private and civil society enterprises including those with a social and community focus, such as the Rediscovery Centre. It concludes that it could be “optimistically characterized as a novel socio-spatial arrangement for radical sustainability transformations.”
In their Chapter on Health and spatial justice, Ronan Foley and Adrian Kavanagh, explore the relations between ill health and poverty. They explain how they have devised an index that uses the measure of social description now collected by the Irish census to describe the healthiness of people in small areas. This will allow geographers to monitor the health consequences of the recession and recovery. Foley and Kavanagh highlight their findings and how unemployment, poverty and ill-health reinforce each other and the geography of the crisis is marked by these interactions.
This book is a significant departure for Irish geography. Since the 1970s geographers internationally have developed a rich tradition that critically and systemically analysed capitalism based on social and spatial justice perspectives. It is significant to see that in the last decade we are witnessing the emergence of similar progressive social justice analysis and research by Irish geographers that are engaging with issues of critical societal importance. Examples include the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, the Ireland after NAMA blog and leading work done by Irish geographers on climate change and associated justice issues. A critical and radical geographical perspective offers an important lens to understand the world around us as it focuses on issues that are often neglected from mainstream economics and political research and policy.
Geographers have a particular set of perspectives on social justice and each of the core themes of geography can be made the focus of a justice perspective; thus we may speak of spatial justice, environmental justice and place justice. As Kearns explains “geographers have also tried to understand these inequalities as having a structural basis so that they can examine the production of unequal space, particularly as a consequence of capitalism or of legal orderings of space around ethnic, racial or class apartheid”. Thus geographers highlight the importance of place and scale in frameworks such as solidarity, resistance and human rights in regard to the ‘Right to the City’.
These perspectives are important to challenge dominant narratives about society and politics such as the claim that the Irish did not protest the crisis and austerity. A geographical lens reveals that the Irish did not protest like the Greeks and Spanish but had its own, unique ‘place-specific’ socio-political response. This is evident in the new and (often local) social movements such as the youth against forced emigration ‘Were Not Leaving’, the Spectacle of Defiance challenging cuts to disadvantaged communities and the anti-household charge campaign, along with a rise in support for radical left and independent politics. This sits alongside the ‘hidden resistance and solidarities’ in the on-going local community struggles such as the anti-incinerator campaign in Poolbeg and Shell to Sea in Mayo. But a spatial lens also highlights the necessity for political resistance strategies to reach across scales in order to be successful – to build solidarity from the local to the national to the international. The recent Greyhound dispute which highlighted the importance of worker’s struggles connecting beyond the workplace into local communities is noteworthy in this regard.
This book goes beyond just interpreting the geographical dynamics of the current Irish crisis and aims to contribute key critical knowledges to changing the world around us. In this regard, the book also carries a fascinating interview with one of the leading social scientist academics and geographers in the world, David Harvey. His interview discusses the root causes of the crisis outlining his own discourse on the contradictions of capitalism and why we must take up a politics of anti-capitalism. Harvey makes some very interesting points that should be considered in relation to the ongoing analysis and development of political economy in Ireland. Firstly, he highlights that we cannot just address the symptoms of the problems but need to transform the cause of crisis and inequality and injustice. He argues that ethical concerns of approaches such as socialist humanism on their own are insufficient to deal with the underlying nature of the problem. A political economic project is also required “to displace the dominant system that is actually both producing wealth and producing inequality and poverty at the same time”.
According to Harvey we, therefore, “need a political system that is able to represent the interests of the mass of the population in a democratic kind of way so that democratic decisions can be made about the nature of development which is not going to be privileging big capital and financiers and developers but is going to be privileging the needs of people.” Harvey, interestingly, argues that we have to stop the state being a capitalist state and turn it into a‘people’s state’. But to do that politically becomes a real problem as there’s a lot of resistance on the left to going after state power, because state power is bureaucratic and because the current state is indeed a capitalist state. So Harvey calls on us to think through what a different state apparatus might look like? Does the entire state apparatus have to be dismantled or certain aspects of it? And are there aspects of it we should protect such as public health and education systems? Harvey also suggests that Ireland, in order to get around the fear of capital flight could, as a temporary measure, put a small surtax on corporate profits to gain extra revenue. He explains that this was done in New York State on high income, “and it was just for two years. And the theory was if you just do it for two years people aren’t going to move out just for two years, but if you do it permanently it might cause a problem”.
Overall then this book contains important information and analysis on vital aspects of Irish society and economy. It is also a very accessible and readable book that is extremely useful for academics, students, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, activists, trade unions and community groups interested in achieving social and spatial justice in Ireland. Running through the book is a clear emphasis on the idea that social, spatial and environmental justice should be placed as the central way to measure Ireland’s social and economic ‘development’, ‘progress’ and ‘recovery’. Rather than GDP growth levels or property prices the benchmarks and indicators identified by the authors should be prioritised such as access to housing, levels of health inequalities and poverty, community based regeneration, uneven development across Ireland, and sustainability.

Rory Hearne is one of the contributors to Spatial Justice and the Irish Crisis. You can order the book online, at a cost of €20, here

The book will be launched on Monday 29 September, 13.00, at the Royal Irish Academy, Dawson st, Dublin. As part of the launch the RIA and the Geographical Society of Ireland will host a lecture with Professor John Mohan, Director of the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, UK Charity deserts, spatial justice, and the distribution of voluntary resources: bad science, evidence-free policy, and the politics of the “Big Society”
The lecture examines the spatial justice aspects of the increasing reliance upon charity and voluntarism in welfare provision.
You can register for the event, here

Rory Hearne