Commentaries


CiteisoftomorrowWhether it be through media discourse, policy orientation, or academic engagement, to name but a few, the question of the urban future is currently receiving a significant amount of attention. On the 17th and 18th of February, the European Commission hosted a conference entitled ‘Cities of Tomorrow: Investing In Europe’.

The aim of the conference was to widen discussion and debate around the development of a European ‘urban agenda’ (albeit, accepting that a form of ‘urban agenda’ has existed for a long period; e.g: Leipzig Charter or earlier documents from the Commission). The program covered a wide variety of topics and sub-topics related to the urban challenges facing Europe, including smart cities, green growth, the role of business, and social inclusion.

Somewhat predictably, perhaps, the context was set through the mantra of the importance of cities for the future of humanity, both at a European and Global scale. During the plenary discussions, the need to conceptualize cities in a manner that goes beyond their official boundaries was made. This was outlined both in terms of the relationship between cities and their regions by the Mayor of Venice, Georgio Orsoni and the European and global context by Benjamen Barber. On one level, throughout the conference, there was a recognition that as well as being sites of prosperity cities were also sites of a myriad of social problems. However, there was little discussion about the potential contradictions and tensions between a competitive city approach and challenges of achieving social inclusion.

The main sessions of the conference seemed to uphold the notion that social inclusion and prosperity will be offered through new fixes, whether they be business-oriented or through the implementation of a smart city agenda. That ‘cities and business’ was deemed worthy of its own session with little scope for interaction from the floor and little by way of critical discussion, is perhaps itself reflective of these wider issues. Instead delegates heard from a number of figures, such as Martin Powell from Siemens on technology and Chris Vein from the World Bank on how the business world can influence the running of cities. Topics that might need some urgent discussion, such as impact of speculative investment in real estate, remained absent from the debate.

It wasn’t until one of the later parallel workshop sessions that we heard any significant form of critical engagement. Jan Vranken’s presentation on the ‘urban dimension of inclusive growth’ gave a timely reminder of the shortcomings of the notion that growth reduces poverty. More detailed case-studies also illustrated the stark challenges facing cities. The discussion within The New Urban Development Network session by Yaron Pesztat of how the unemployment rate in Brussels of 20% had been brought about by a mismatch between job creation and the available skill-base is a case in point.

The desire to promote ‘best practice’ became a dominant feature of discussion in the conference. This call for agreement on certain guiding principles was referred to by Commissioner Johannes Hahn as a ‘consensus of the willing’. While on one level there was a discussion of the role of democratic engagement, there was little by way of discussion of how we define ‘best practice’ or what the transfer of policies from one place to another might actually mean for democracy, both at the urban regional and neighbourhood level. Although the need to combat low-density settlement patterns was emphasised by Juan Clos, there is a danger that a form of density=sustainability mantra becomes the end-goal of European urban policy. Such perspectives highlight the need for an understanding of how different political and economic structures influence such ideals and how these differ between different places.

Cities often reveal the particular social and political struggles of society, yet there is a tendency to perceive particular representations of the city as being somehow apolitical. In reality, the manner in which particular ideals of urban transformation are selected is strongly influenced by the motivations of those with greater levels of influence within society. The current trend for the regeneration of former industrial parts of cities into high density living and consumption spaces might be deemed as representative of best practice. Yet, there also needs to be a recognition of how, depending on the political and social context, such developments might just as easily be a perceived as symbols of exclusion for many. Seeking to select ‘best practice’ to be emulated in different places needs to be conscious of such factors.

The development of an urban agenda should not, therefore, seek to be an exercise in ‘getting everyone on board’ an already-defined set of ideals, but should instead seek to engage in the relationship between the multitude of factors which serve to shape contemporary urban society in Europe. There seems to be a dual challenge here. One the one hand, as discussed above and as already recognized by previous documents, such as the Cities of Tomorrow report from October 2011, there is a recognition of the social challenges facing European cities. Yet there also seems to be some form of expectation that these can be solved without fundamentally altering the structures that serve to produce and reproduce such problems in the first place (such as, for example, the stark differences in income within and between cities in Europe). If, as was argued during the Cities of Tomorrow conference, cities are to be given more power to retain the wealth they generate, there is also a need for debates about what is done with such wealth and how it is distributed amongst the wider urban population. The formulation of an urban agenda needs to get beneath the surface and seek to advocate structural solutions to the severe challenges now faced by European cities.

Philip Lawton

Recordings of the different sessions are available here

There is no official data regarding negative equity in Ireland in general, nor its geographical distribution.  By mid-2012, once house prices had fallen to 50% of their 2007 values Davy Stockbrokers estimated that more than 50% of residential mortgages were in negative equity.  Consequently, any house bought from 2000 onwards is likely to be in negative equity.

Negative equity is a significant issue because it creates a spatial trap that restricts mobility. Because the value of the property is less than was paid for it, owners cannot sell and move to another property without realising a loss.  This trap has three consequences.  First, it restricts labour market mobility.  Second, it keeps families in homes that may no longer be suitable to their needs.  Third, it restricts the pool of properties available to the market and limits any recovery to first time buyers, those prepared to realise a loss, those whose property is not in negative equity or have investment capital.  All three have social and economic consequences causing hardship and stress and slowing the recovery of the wider economy.

Negative equity is not evenly distributed because it is determined by the price paid relative to present prices and this is largely shaped by when the house was bought.  So where might this spatial trap be operating most perniciously in Ireland?

This is not an easy question to answer given publicly available data sources.  We have been looking at proxy measures and present one here, though it should be noted that it only captures one kind of property in negative equity – houses that were built post-2001.  It does not include secondhand houses in negative equity, nor buy-to-let properties in negative equity (though the latter can be estimated using a same method).

Our solution is to use two Census 2011 variables at the Small Area level. The first variable is the ‘% of housing units built post 2001’.  The second variable is the ‘% of outstanding mortgages in an area’ (i.e., the property has been purchased not rented privately or from a local authority or voluntary body).  These variables are not perfect, but when combined do give us, we think, a reasonably good proxy.

The figure below is a density smoothed scatterplot of the two variables for all 18,488 Small Areas in the country.  Each Small Area has approximately 80-130 households.  We have divided up the scatterplot into four quadrants, one of which is subdivided based on the clear pattern of points, to create six categories that denote different levels of negative equity (category 1 has very low rates of both post-2001 build and outstanding mortgages), which we have then mapped from the country and for Dublin.

negative equity

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Map_NegativeEq_Dublin

It is important to note that all the Small Areas potentially have some households in negative equity, but that some areas have greater concentrations than others.  In broad terms, categories 5 and 4 are likely to have similar levels of private residential negative equity, but we have left them separate to denote their different characteristics.

When these categories are mapped the pattern that emerges is perhaps what one would expect.  The areas with the highest concentrations of negative equity are in the outer suburbs of the cities and the fringes of commuter towns.  These areas experienced high rates of newly built properties and new household formation all through the boom, but especially in the latter years when the inner suburbs became too expensive for first time buyers and those trading up to a family home.

This pattern is very clear around Dublin, Cork and Limerick, but is slightly different around Galway, where a number of rural Small Areas are highlighted where there was a lot of one-off housing and small nucleated settlement.  This pattern is repeated for many smaller rural towns.

Owner occupiers in these areas are more likely to be spatially trapped, though as noted any individual household in any part of the country could be suffering such a fate.  It is also likely that the same areas will have higher concentrations of mortgage arrears, given that negative equity and mortgage arrears are related.

Whilst further research is needed to refine this analysis it does give a proxy measure of one kind of negative equity in the absence of detailed data from mortgage providers.  We would be interested in any feedback about the approach taken.

Rob Kitchin

Previously published on The Journal.ie

The Reform Alliance is gathering momentum as it prepares for its conference on January 25th in the RDS. It appears to be the prelude to the formation of a new political party (although that’s been denied). But in the media coverage (at times overtly fawning) of the Alliance there appears to be little real questioning of the nature of the ‘reform’ they are claiming they stand for, nor much about who will benefit from such ‘reform’.

Lucinda Creighton, who is leading the movement thus far, has stated that the Alliance is “interested in anybody who is interested in reform… genuinely implementing reform and not just talking about it”. However, this, and the majority of their media statements, tells us nothing of the policies they are proposing – such as what would they implement in government?

Where we do get some insight into their policies, and their proposed ‘reform’, is in the political policies and stances that its leading spokespeople like Lucinda Creighton took prior to the formation of the Reform Alliance.

The same policies that caused the crash

Firstly, and most significantly, the economic policies advocated by Lucinda Creighton and the other TDs of the Reform Alliance have been the same neo-liberal, pro-capitalist policies that caused the crash. These are the neo-liberal economics that promote the concepts of deregulating markets, free trade, competitiveness, pro-multinational capital, privatisation of public services, low wages, reducing taxes on wealth and supporting corporate profiteering.

Lucinda and the other former Fine Gael TDs supported wholeheartedly the austerity approach which has kept us in the crisis and has imposed the burden of the adjustment on the poor and those on lower incomes. Lucinda and the other TDs involved in the Reform Alliance voted for each austerity budget since entering government in 2011 and they also led the campaign for the Fiscal Treaty Referendum in 2012, which enshrined austerity into the heart of the euro area and handed over more control over our budgets to the European Commission and EU institutions.

Even when they talk about the necessity of ensuring ‘social inclusion’ it is to be brought about through the Thatcherite economic theory of generating private entrepreneurial and corporate growth that will then supposedly ‘trickle down’ to the lower classes.

Influencing the balance of power

We would discover the true intent of their ‘reform’ policies if the Alliance declared its stance on forming part of the next government. With between five and ten TDs, the Alliance could be in a very influential position holding the balance of power after the next general election. The Alliance, therefore, should publicly state their position on whether they would support a Fine Gael or Fianna Fail led government after the next election (and it is up to the media to ask and get that answer).

If the Reform Alliance answers that question with ‘that will depend on the situation that we face at that point in time and it will require major commitment to radical reform by those parties’ (ie, yes of course we will enter government with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail), or ‘we have not determined our position on that yet’ (ie, yes of course) or, the straightforward honest answer of ‘yes of course’, then they are clearly not for any serious level of reform of our political or economic system. This is because both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have been in power since the foundation of the State and have clearly demonstrated that they are unwilling and unable to implement radical reforms, once in government, that would strengthen democracy and benefit the majority of people in the country.

What should we expect?

The policies of these former Fine Gael TDs makes it clear that if a new party emerges from the Reform Alliance its policies will most closely match those of the old Progressive Democrats Party. The Alliance’s policies, therefore, can be classed as right-wing on economic issues, conservative on many social issues, and pro a European Union – that economic and political superpower.

The media should be much more forthright in asking them (and ensure they provide an answer) on the detail on the type of reform the Alliance are proposing, and whether this is just another exercise in spin and PR politics that is becoming endemic in our political system.

Radical reforms that would benefit the majority of Irish people would include calling for an end to austerity and a government-funded stimulus of job creation expanding the number of teachers, guards and nurses, as well as building social housing and upgrading hospitals. They would include a reversal of the decision to introduce water charges and ruling-out future privatisation of Irish water; an increase in the minimum wage and support for worker’s rights; calling on the ECB to cancel the illegitimate Anglo Bonds and threaten default; and a write-off of mortgage debt of distressed borrowers in their family home.

It would also include an imposition of income equality measures such as a cap on bankers and higher earners’ pay, higher taxation on wealth, and a financial transaction tax to be introduced on markets. But we haven’t heard mention of any of these policies from the Reform Alliance TDs.

Therefore, there is no evidence to back up the claims of Lucinda and the other Alliance TDs that the Reform Alliance is about creating a ‘new politics’ and offers ‘radical’ and ‘substantial’ differences in policy from that what already is presented by Fine Gael or Fianna Fail (or even Labour at this stage). But watch how the Alliance spokespeople keep their policies vague, general and all-encompassing in the run up to the next general election. They will talk of ‘change’, ‘honesty’, and ‘accountability’, but in reality this is the PDs being revived in another form, and in time, could become even more extreme.

This is because the economic policies espoused by the TDs involved in the Reform Alliance caused the crisis and won’t get us out of it. They will in fact, as has already been proven in the austerity budgets they have voted for, worsen inequality and poverty.

Public anger

Lucinda and her Reform Alliance followers are politically astute, and just like the recent move of Colm Keaveny, they are prepared to do whatever it takes to get re-elected even if that means contradicting their previous policies. They know that the anger amongst the public will be seen in the coming elections and, therefore, they want to present themselves as something different from the Government. They are likely to gain further momentum given their access to resources, money, PR companies and a cheerleading media, particularly the right wing commentariat.

It is interesting to see how the Reform Alliance and Lucinda are fawned over by the media and promoted in contrast to the treatment of the Left TDs such as the United Left Alliance, who are often jeered and ridiculed. This is because the Reform Alliance is clearly on the side of the upper middle class and elite establishment, those who favour a capitalist Ireland, where everyone knows their place, and where, ultimately, the status quo is maintained.

In responding to the widespread public anger and desire for real reforming politics, the Reform Alliance have, however, highlighted what the Left should be doing. The Left, including the ULA parties and Left wing independent TDs should put aside their differences and get together to form a movement that could offer some real radical reform that would benefit the majority of Irish people, particularly the vulnerable, unemployed, youth and working classes.

Rory Hearne

Like many of you, I have been following the Limerick City of Culture debacle with a mixture of anger and amusement. Recent commentary has noted the lack of true appreciation of what the arts can do and the low level of trust between those in control and the people who create.

The picture in the heritage sector is depressingly similar. Since the 1990s heritage has been seen as a way of regenerating cities and towns through the country. This may take the form of an area based focus or by using a historic building as a totem around which a district may develop. From the outset, the obvious thing to do in both situations is to centrally involve a team of experienced, innovative, heritage professionals. However, just because something is obvious doesn’t mean it will be done.

What usually happens is that key decision makers in both the private and public sectors do their best to minimise the use of heritage professionals. There is a perception that archaeologists and conservation architects will only get in the way, slow things down and not allow them to do what they want!

In Ireland, most schemes in both the private and public sectors originate from the top down. Consultation is something you do after the plans have been made. One consequence of this is that the key decision makers often have a sense of emotional ownership. Put simply, it gets personal. Obviously, this situation does not lend itself well to compromise. Compounding all this is a general lack of knowledge by those in control about what heritage, used innovatively, can actually do.

The consequence of all this is conflict with locals, heritage professionals and national legislation. In this scenario, the archaeology and historic buildings being utilised move from being perceived as an asset to a threat. In the opinions of some decision makers certain heritage assets not seen as being core to the vision are seen as problems to be managed. Ultimately, opportunities are missed and initiatives suffer. Nowhere in Ireland is there a project like the Rocks YHA in Sydney. Located above one of the most important archaeological sites in Australia, this large four storey hostel has managed to reanimate an area of the city by fully utilising the potential that the underlying archaeology provided.

Without doubt, there are people in Ireland’s public and private sectors who truly value the contribution heritage professionals can make. However, within a development culture that is slow to change, they are a minority. Because of this, the prospect of places like the Rocks YHA being built around the country is sadly not great.

Liam Mannix is a heritage consultant with experience of working across the private and public sectors in Ireland, Australia and Papua New Guinea. He project managed the educational programme of the Irish Walled Towns Network which won the EU prize for cultural heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2013. @maxmannix

On Sunday I blogged on what is happening with respect to housing in Ireland, including a breakdown of some key stats, and also did an interview on This Week on RTE Radio 1.  In response, I got the following question via twitter: “So is it a bubble in Dublin then? And will govt. plans to build more houses help normalise?”  These are not really questions that can be answered with 140 characters.  I’ll take each question in turn.

Is a new bubble forming in Dublin?

Having fallen by 57.4% from the peak in 2007 (houses 56%, apartments 63.3%), since August 2012 prices in the capital bumped along the bottom for a few months then started to rise.  Between Nov 2012 and Nov 2013 prices grew by 13.1% to be 49.2% lower than the peak.  It is clear that property prices in Dublin are rising steadily at present (see CSO data and AIRO interactive graph).

Housing bubbles generally form when there is an excess of demand, credit and confidence in prices.  This is not the case in Dublin at present, with the rise in prices being principally driven by two related forces.  First, both residential buyers and investors are seeking to enter the market at its bottom; this way they minimize their cost, maximize any growth in equity, and for investors gain rental yield.  Second, they are competing for a small number of available properties leading to bidding scuffles.  Unlike a normal bubble when there is a large number of property transactions and mortgage draw downs, transactions and draw down in Dublin are presently at 40 year historic lows.  Slowing properties coming to the market are very high levels of negative equity (c. 50% of all properties with a mortgage) and low levels of new build (less than 10% the number built in 2006, and over 50% are one-offs that are not coming to the market).  Ergo, prices rise as demand outstrips supply.

Does this constitute a new house price bubble?  Not in the classical sense and it is only a bubble if prices rise in excess of what one might expect given the wider economy (and given they are still almost 50% less than their peak at best we’re only at the start of a potential bubble).

Will building more houses help normalise any bubble effect/slow house price rises to maintain affordability?

One proffered solution to tempering rising prices caused by a supply shortage is to increase the level of stock.  New supply might come from six sources:

  • new build by the private market
  • new social housing provision through government investment
  • defaulting properties due to mortgage arrears
  • second-hand properties coming onto the market
  • new areas becoming active as market activity spreads
  • completion of unfinished developments

With respect to new supply by private developers and government.  Whilst there is sufficient land zoned in the four Dublin local authorities (2,575 hectares/6400 acres for 132,166 units) and there are still a large number of outstanding planning permissions, the big issue is development capital and perhaps re-jigging planning permissions to cater for high density housing in some cases rather than mostly apartments.  The same issue applies to the government who have little money to invest in capital expenditure programmes, which they have significantly reduced over the past few years.  In both cases, even if development capital was sourced, it would be 12-24 months before new supply was available to the market/social housing waiting list.  As a consequence, new supply from these sources will be limited throughout 2014.

There are significant levels of mortgage arrears nationally (we don’t have figures for Dublin alone).  With respect to principal residential dwellings 141,520 (18.4%) of all mortgages are in arrears and of those 99,189 (12.9%) are more than 90 days behind in payments.  The situation is worse for the buy-to-let sector where 40,426 (27.4%) are in arrears, where 31,227 (21.2%) are more than 90 days in arrears.  Whilst repossessions have so far been small, it is expected that they will grow over the next couple of years.  This will increase housing stock available to the market.  However, their present occupants would still require accommodation having knock-on effects with respect to the social housing waiting list and the private rental market.

As house prices rise and household emerge from negative equity those wishing to trade-up or down, or to move to a new area, are more likely to place their property on the market.  This would create some supply, but may not lead to prices levelling off.  This is for two reasons.  First, part of the reason that house prices fell so much is that the stock on the market was not representative of all stock, but rather distressed assets that owners felt compelled to sell in a falling market, with owners who could afford to avoid selling staying out of the market (typically those who are better off).  Second, the majority of trading that has taken place has mainly been related to lower priced property rather than higher-end stock.  We might therefore expect prices to rise a little simply as function of the nature of stock coming to the market changing, with better stock demanding higher prices and higher value properties starting to be traded more frequently.  This effect would probably be little affected by more supply.

We lack detailed data concerning market activity in Dublin, but industry sources are suggesting that it is most prevalent in the city core and South Dublin.  As competition for property grows in these areas it is likely that other parts of the city will become more active.  The Dublin housing market stretches far beyond the M50 to the outer suburbs and commuting belt.  These areas still have locales with some oversupply.  Moreover, the completion of some unfinished developments would also add some new supply (though the number of such developments in and around Dublin is quite small).  Both the activation of other parts of the Dublin market and the completion of unfinished developments will re-distribute some demand and work to counter supply driven price rises.  Nevertheless, given the desirability of central and South Dublin and limited new supply in those areas in the very short term, one could reasonably expect rising prices to continue in the city core and South Dublin in the immediate short-term.

Two factors that might disrupt this scenario is a tailing off of demand and limited access to credit.  A phenomena that occurs after some house price crashes is a dead cat bounce wherein prices rise quite quickly from the bottom, but then slow and fall again before finding an equilibrium or rising again (this happened in London following the crash at the end of the 1980s).  The reason for a dead cat bounce is that those who have been waiting for the right time to enter the market (both residential buyers and investors) have done so and market demand drops leading to less competition for property, or supply has risen to meet demand.  Given the level of cash sales at present (c.50%), it is possible to envisage such purchases drying up and the market returning to a more balanced status where mortgage-backed sales predominate, thus removing a significant source of competition-driven pricing.  As such, a dead cat bounce could occur in the case of Dublin.

Moreover, access to credit at present is limited.  In the first three quarters of 2013 only 8,711 mortgages nationwide were drawn down.  Caution on behalf of lenders will limit the number of mortgages issued and the value of such mortgages, thus restricting credit-fuelled speculation and associated price rises.

With respect to the mid-to-long term it seems likely that there will be a continued rise in demand that may create supply issues in the Greater Dublin region.  The new revised CSO regional population projections 2016-2031 predict: “The Greater Dublin Area will see its population increase by just over 400,000 by 2031 if internal migration patterns return to the traditional pattern last observed in the mid-1990s.  … The population of Dublin is projected to increase by between 96,000 and 286,000 depending on the internal migration pattern used, while the population of the Mid-East is set to increase by between 78,000 and 144,000.”  These figures are based on projected national increase and internal and external migration and seem reasonable given the dominant economic position of Dublin in the Irish economy.  In addition, household fragmentation will also be a source of demand.  The extent to which such population growth/household fragmentation will affect property prices is dependent on the extent to which housing supply meets demand as and when it is required.

In summary

In the short term there are potentially different scenarios as to what might happen with house prices in Dublin — they might rise steadily, rise and then level off, or suffer a dead cat bounce.  Or a two-speed market might emerge in the Dublin region, with a division in market activity and pricing patterns between the city core/South Dublin and the rest of the city.  Which scenario plays out is dependent on a range of factors that shape supply and demand and how they evolve.  As I noted on Sunday, the market is far from normal at present and in need of a lot of correctives that could alter how the market behaves, and other factors such as the wider macro-economic context could re-cast how the market evolves.  What we really need right now is some decent modelling using detailed housing, demographic and economic data of potential housing demand and supply for the Dublin region and what we might expect to happen to prices under different scenarios.  We also need similar models for the rest of the country, which has a very different set of issues.  Perhaps the government might commission such work?

Rob Kitchin

Perhaps not unsurprisingly the start of 2014 has been greeted with a number of commentaries in the media concerning the Irish housing market, specifically about the upturn in the Dublin house prices and the possibilities of the start of a new price bubble, and the development of a two-speed housing market between Dublin and the rest of the country.  Part of the impression being given is things might return to ‘normal’ in the capital if issues of undersupply of family homes can be resolved, though the situation elsewhere is less certain given oversupply, demographics and labour market conditions. 

The reality is that housing in general is far from normal across every indicator there is both in and outside Dublin and a rise in house prices in the capital, whilst welcome for those in negative equity, is a symptom of these problems and a lack of a housing strategy to deal with them.   Prices will almost certainly continue to rise in the capital during the year, but it is only when all the other indicators – such as mortgage arrears, housing waiting lists, etc – start to be righted that the market will start to resemble a normal one.  That is likely to take a number of years given the depth of problems at hand.

Here’s the present state of play:

House prices (CSO): Nationally: increased by 5.6% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 46.5% lower than its highest level in 2007; Dublin: increased by 13.1% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 49.2% lower than February 2007; Rest of country: decreased by 0.6% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 46.9% lower than February 2007

New mortgage draw-downs Q1-Q3 (Irish Banking Federation).  2006 (83,860); 2010 (14,289); 2011 (7,907), 2012 (8,582); 2013 (8,711)

Cash sales (industry anecdote): c.50% in 2013

Mortgage arrears for principal residences up to Q3 2013 (Central Bank): 141,520 (18.4%); of those 99,189 (12.9%) are over 90 days in arrears.

Mortgage arrears for buy-to-let (BTL) up to Q3 2013 (Central Bank):  40,426 (27.4%); of those 31,227 (21.2%) are over 90 days in arrears.

Negative equity (Davy Stockbrokers): c.50% in 2012

House building (Dept Environment): 2006 (93,419), 2010 (14,602), 2011 (10,480), 2012 (8,488), 2013 to Nov (7,425).  Of houses built in 2013 (to Nov); 4,274 are one-offs, 2,383 scheme houses, 768 apartments

On social housing waiting list (Dept Environment): 2008 (56,249), 2011 (98,318)

Housing Supply (CSO, Census): Oversupply of property outside of Dublin, with high levels of vacancy (10%+) in all but five local authorities; undersupply of family homes in some parts of Dublin.

Planning permissions (CSO): 2013 up to Q3 – Dublin: 3,116 (houses), 807 (apartments) [3,923] – Rest of country: 6100 (houses), 1035 (apartments) [7,135]; 2006 first three quarters – Dublin 6,482 (houses), 7,153 (apartments) [13,365] – rest of country 87,426 (houses), 8,397 (apartments) [95,823]

Land supply 2013 (Dept Environment): Dublin 2,575 hectares for 132,166 units; Rest of country 11,132 hectares for 262,191 units

Unfinished estates (Dept Environment): 1,258

Pyrite-infected homes (Dept Environment): 74 estates, consisting of 12,250 units.

As I’ve argued previously, we need of a coordinated strategy to deal with all the issues affecting housing in Ireland, including long-term plan of future need, and this needs to be part of a wider National Development Plan/National Spatial Strategy aimed at cross-sectoral recovery.  At present, we just seem to be hoping that the various problems will somehow be corrected through the market or piecemeal, ad hoc or limited schemes, rather than taking a more proactive, coordinated approach.

Rob Kitchin

Following on from my earlier post on developing scenarios for Ireland’s future, last week saw the publication by the CSO of new regional population projections for Ireland. The latest CSO projections present how the population of the regions may evolve under different scenarios by making assumptions about future trends in migration (both internal and external) and fertility.

In the context of regional development in Ireland, this latest release from the CSO is crucial as all current regional planning policy together with the settlement strategies of all local authorities are currently based on population targets (including those of ‘Gateways’ and ‘Hubs’) originally derived from the previous set of population projections issued by the CSO in 2008.

The CSO projects that, if internal migration patterns return to the traditional pattern last observed in the mid-1990s, the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) will continue to see its population significantly increase by just over 400,000 by 2031 which will account for two-thirds of the total projected population growth in the State over this period. As observed in the post below, this pattern appears  not only to be re-emerging but rapidly intensifying as the Government increasingly focuses its attention on a FDI led job creation strategy which favours agglomeration economies i.e. Dublin and to a lesser extent Cork and Galway.

Chart

In a marked change from the 2008 release, which projected that the population of Dublin would decline by just over 100,000 and that of the Mid-East increase substantially by over 350,000, the population of Dublin is now projected to increase by between 96,000 and 286,000 depending on the scenario applied, while the population of the Mid-East is set to increase more modesty by between 78,000 and 144,000. These trends would have profound implications for spatial planning, housing policy and infrastructure delivery in the capital.

While all regions are projected to experience net population growth, apart from Dublin and the Mid-East all regions will lose population to internal migration and population growth will be primarily driven by natural increase (i.e. birth rate). This will be most noticeable in the Border region with, under one scenario,  projected births of 123,000 and a population increase of just 18,000, and the West which shows projected births of 97,000 and a population increase of  just 15,000. In fact, under some scenarios the Border, West, Mid-West regions are projected to experience population decline regardless of the internal migration pattern applied.

Overall, the CSO projections paint a familiar picture with Dublin and the Mid-East gaining a higher share of the national population (particularly of younger and more highly educated persons) with everywhere else generally losing share. These demographic trends present a key national and regional development challenge and far-reaching questions for planning practice*. Depopulation and changing population structure implies severe impacts on every domain of urban and regional development, including local authority budgets, infrastructure and amenities, housing market and housing mobility, labour market and employment, residential composition, and social inclusion and cohesion – the entire basis of regional planning policy.

More generally, current and projected population trends highlight the urgent need for a new National Spatial Strategy and to transition beyond the current ‘performance of seriousness’ in relation to balanced regional development.

Gavin Daly

 *See Daly, Gavin and Kitchin, Rob (2013) Shrink smarter? Planning for spatial selectivity in population growth in Ireland. Administration, 60 (3). pp. 159-186. ISSN 0001-8325

The activities of the two main enterprise promotion agencies, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, play a key role in regional development processes in Ireland. In order to drive regional economic development, the IDA Horizon 2020 strategy aims for 50% of FDI projects between 2010 and 2014 to be located outside of Dublin and Cork.

 The IDA End of the Year Statement 2011 suggests that this target has proven very difficult to achieve. In 2011, 72% of investments occurred in the Greater Dublin Area and Cork alone (up from 63% in 2010). The Forfas Annual Employment Survey reports provide a bit more detail. In 2011 employment in foreign companies in Dublin increased by 4,018. Dublin’s 6.1% growth rate was the second highest after the Midlands region (9%) and substantially higher than the third-placed South West Region (4.7%).

One problem with the Forfas publication is that it only provides the net employment gains/losses. An assessment of regional employment dynamics against the IDA targets requires figures for job creation and job losses. In addition, a dynamic analysis would benefit from a distinction between job creation in existing firm and newly established firms.

One year ago Van Egeraat et al. (2012)* conducted such an analysis as part of their assessment of the performance of the National Spatial Strategy (NSS). Focussing on the position of NSS Gateways, the study identified an increasing level of concentration of foreign firm employment in a select number of Gateways. In the period 2006 to 2011, Cork enjoyed an 8.5% growth in foreign firm employment while employment in foreign firms in Galway was stable (- 0.3%). Dublin, although experiencing a fall in foreign firm employment of 6.2%, was still among the better performing Gateways. As a result, the combined share of national employment in foreign firms attributable to these three Gateways increased from 50.3% in 2006 to 53.2% in 2011. More importantly, in relation to newly established firms, Dublin and Cork together accounted for 69% of all jobs in newly established foreign firms, with the Dublin Gateway alone accounting for 46%.

 As part of a recent study of industrial concentration processes in Ireland we investigated spatial concentration dynamics in 2012. We used the cruder spatial scale of Irish counties. Individual investments can have a strong impact on annual figures, particularly in small counties, but the results for larger counties are robust.  Growth rates of employment in foreign firms in both Dublin (6.1%) and Cork (4.6%) were higher than the national rate (3.9%). Combined, the two counties accounted for 78% of the net gain in employment in foreign firms. In a single year, Dublin’s share of national employment in foreign firms increased by 2.3 percentage points to 40.1%. Cork’s share increased by 0.8 percentage points to 17.3%.

Part of this new employment is created through expansions by existing firms in current operations. These operations are not locationally flexible in their investment decision. Therefore, from a dynamic perspective, focusing on future spatial distributions, the spatial pattern of investment by new operations is of particular significance. Results need to be interpreted cautiously due to the relatively small number of newly established firms in a single year but we identify one clear dynamic: the concentration of foreign firm employment in Dublin. With 24 new foreign operations, creating 1,147 jobs, County Dublin accounted for 71% of all employment in new foreign operations in Ireland in 2012. Financial services and computer consulting services firms show a particular preference for County Dublin.

Dublin's share foreign

We were also in a position to analyse the other side of the story: the spatial pattern of foreign firm employment losses. Foreign firms in Cork accounted for 16% of national employment losses in 2012, roughly proportionate to the county’s share of foreign firm employment in 2011. Foreign firms in Dublin on the other hand accounted for a disproportionately high share of foreign firm employment losses (46% compared to a 38% share in foreign firm employment in 2011). The data paints a picture of a very dynamic Dublin region, characterised by a disproportionately high level of employment loss in the foreign sector but even more disproportionate employment creation in the foreign sector.

Share losses foreign

The distribution of employment created by agency supported indigenous firms is more in proportion to the existing stock of employment. In 2012, Dublin and Cork experienced slight increases in their share of employment in agency-supported indigenous firms (0.5% and 0.3%, respectively). However, both counties accounted for a disproportionately small share of employment created by new agency-supported indigenous firms established in 2012. Dublin accounted for a mere 14% of jobs created by new indigenous firms, compared to a 40% share of indigenous firm employment in 2011. Cork accounted for 10% of indigenous jobs created in 2012, compared to a 12% share of the stock of indigenous jobs in 2011.

Share indigenous

Taken as a whole, the data paints a picture of an increasingly concentrated foreign sector. Foreign companies, notably in internationally-traded services, show a clear, and increasing, preference for the national capital.  The indigenous sector appears to provide hope for job creation outside Dublin. This indigenous sector should receive more attention in our strategies for counteracting un-balanced regional development.

Chris van Egeraat, Dept. of Geography and NIRSA, NUIM Chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie and Rutger Kroes, Wageningen University, The Netherlands and NIRSA

 *Van Egeraat, C., Breathnach, P. and Curran, D. (2012) Gateways, hubs and regional specialisation in the NSS, Administration, 60(3), 91-115.

protestimage

A shorter version of this article appeared today on the Journal.ie

On Wednesday 27th of November the Ballyhea Says No movement achieved an incredible step along the journey to rid the Irish people of the odious bank debt imposed since 2008. Their motion was put to the Dail calling on the Irish government to ask the ECB to have the Anglo bonds written off. Outside the Dail, last Wednesday night I, along with hundreds of other protestors from across the country, watched the Government TDs vote against that motion. But it is clear that this is far from the end of the campaign against one of the biggest injustices in the European crisis. I have been deeply moved and inspired by the way in which they have marched, every single week, in their small rural town in Co. Cork, since March 2011, in such a determined and dignified manner. Unfortunately, due to a form of media censorship, too few people have heard of the Ballyhea debt group. Even worse, many people have been convinced by government and media mistruths that the Anglo Promissory Notes were done away with in a ‘deal’ in February this year. This article is an attempt to contribute to the spreading of the Ballyhea campaign and provides some thoughts on how we can move forward together to end Ireland’s debt slavery and achieve an Ireland of equality and solidarity.

They were just a small group of residents who got together in the rural town of Ballyhea in Co Cork, in March 2011, and began a weekly march declaring, “Ballyhea says No! to bond-holder bailout” against the imposition of private bank-debt on the Irish people. They started after the newly elected Fine Gael-Labour government reneged on one of their most fundamental election promises, that there would be burden-sharing with the bank bondholders. The key organiser, Diarmuid O’Flynn, a local sports journalist, explained that he was inspired by the Arab Spring “to fight to have returned to us, by the ECB, the money they have forced us to pay out in pursuance of their failed policy…which has resulted in mass unemployment, emigration, misery for the Irish people…Until such time as that has happened…we will continue to march, every Sunday.” The group has brought their campaign to the national and European scale, submitting a petition for bank-debt write-off to the European Parliament Petitions Committee.

Significantly, the Ballyhea Says No! group encouraged other communities to march as well. There are now groups of people marching in Tralee, Killarney, Charleville, Listowel, Rathoath, Clonmel, and elsewhere. While in Dublin, the Anglo Not Our Debt campaign has organised protests in solidarity. A marcher from one of the groups explained to me on the protest on Wednesday night, how he had never been interested in politics before but was so angered by the bank bailouts and austerity that he felt he had to something. He has marched every single week and describes how it has changed him: “I have been reading up on economics and politics and trying to understand what is happening to us. All the political parties are the same. They don’t represent the people. We have been sold out. I was at one of the marches and one of the people said to me to say a few words. I had never spoken before in public and I said a few words about why I was there. Then I went off and read more and spoke again the next time about the debt and austerity. We are tired but we are going to keep on going.” Some also spoke of how they had linked up with anti-eviction protests. They feel completely alienated, abandoned and disillusioned with the government political parties, the state and its institutions.

The interesting thing is that these are the so-called ‘ordinary’ people of Ireland. They are not seasoned left wing activists and have not been involved in politics before. They are the voiceless people of Ireland. The excluded and ignored. Many of them are working full time and trying to do this in their spare time. Others are unemployed and doing it out of frustration and anger. They are doing it because they care about their family, their friends, their community and the people of this country. It is this that gives them their legitimacy, their power and potential.

It is worth reiterating that the Irish people have paid 42% of the cost of the bailing out the entire European banking system. The bailout of the private banking sector has cost us €64bn. We also gave €17bn of our National Pension Reserve and cash reserves to our own bailout by the Troika! The impact of this bailout, the debt interest repayments and austerity policies can be seen in rising poverty in Ireland with the deprivation rate rising from 11% in 2007 to 25% in 2011. Unemployment has risen from 5% in 2007 to 13% in 2013, while Ireland has gone from having the highest net immigration rate in 2006 to having the highest net emigration rate in 2013.

These are the reasons that have motivated the Ballyhea group. Their persistent work resulted in a significant achievement of getting the Technical group in the Dail to put forward the motion last Wednesday night which called on the Government to

“immediately lobby the European Central Bank for a one-off exemption from the rules of monetary financing, to allow the Central Bank of Ireland to destroy the €25 billion in sovereign bonds issued in February of this year, in lieu of the remaining Promissory Notes, plus the €3.06 billion bond also being held by the Central Bank of Ireland in payment for the 2012 Promissory Note; and
— to cease any and all interest payments currently being made on those bonds.”

The Ballyhea, Anglo Not Our Debt and the other Says No! groups, through this motion, and their ongoing work, have shattered the myth that Ireland achieved debt forgiveness on the Anglo promissory notes in February this year. The reality is that one of the biggest injustices of this crisis, the forcing of private banking debt onto the backs of the Irish people, was continued in that so-called ‘deal’. The Anglo Promissory notes were converted into sovereign (Government) debt, of which every cent of the €28 billion is due to be paid back by the Irish people, with interest, through the issuing of government bonds in the coming years.

The acceptance by the establishment organisations like the Labour Party and some of the larger trade unions that we should prioritise the requirements of the financial institutions in Ireland and Europe over society’s needs, and implement savage austerity and debt repayment policies, was made clear in their attitude to this campaign. Unfortunately, Unite were the only trade union present at the protest on Wednesday. It is a sad reflection of the Irish trade union movement that they have not given more support to this campaign. It casts a shadow of tragedy and farce over the commemorations of the 1913 Lockout.

Derek Nolan, a young Labour Party TD spoke in the Dail debate, where he showed a dismissive attitude toward the Ballyhea campaign stating: “I have lost count of the number of times slogans and empty rhetoric have been bombasted as the quick-fix solutions to all our country’s very real ills. Populist, easy to chant slogans included “Austerity isn’t working”, “Default, default, default”, “Bailout the worker” and so on. Those slogans are devoid of meaning and are not grounded in economics, finance or political reality.”

So the Government believes it is unrealistic to expect debt forgivenes or debt write-downs from the European Central Bank but it is realistic to expect the Irish people to accept the destruction of social and economic recovery, push thousands more people into poverty, destroy jobs, force emigration and fuel mortgage distress in order to pay back this illegitimate debt? It is economically ridiculous to think that Ireland’s debt is sustainable. It is morally wrong and unjust that this odious debt is expected to be repaid.

The continued imposition of this debt also makes a nonsense of the ‘celebrations’ of Ireland’s bailout exit. It will trap us in austerity for decades. It is an enforced debt slavery for us and our children.

The United Left TD, Clare Daly’s statement to the Dail on the debate is worth restating as it captures many of the issues that Ballyhea are raising:

“In a Chamber (i.e. the Dail) noted for its brass necks, tonight’s performance almost beat all. To have to listen to Deputy Spring (Aurthur Spring, Labour TD), who is a former Anglo Irish Bank employee and who contested an election on a programme of Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way, ridicule this motion takes some beating. This individual bragged about the Greek economy being on its knees and somehow thought that was something to crow about to his friends in PASOK but I can tell him there is nobody in Ireland who takes comfort from the situation in the Greek economy. We stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Europe, whether in Greece or in Iceland, when they stand up and say “enough”……Last night, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy O’Dowd, when speaking against the motion said we follow through on our commitments and that this is the message we want to deliver to the international community. What commitments and to whom? What message do we want to deliver to the international community? Is it that it can hit us with whatever it likes and we will bend even lower and take it? That is not a message I want to deliver. That is not our commitment nor is it that of the people of Ballyhay, the student nurses, the 100,000 young people who are now in Australia, the 400,000 people who are still out of work, the secondary school teachers, the children with special needs, the survivors symphysiotomy and all of the other people who have been shafted by this debt deal. It is not a message people want to deliver”.

It appears that the current Irish government have not pushed for any debt write down for Ireland. Just like many wealthy nationalists did the bidding of the British empire when Ireland was colonised before, so now their contemporaries in the Dail are bending over backwards to show that they are the good obedient children (or perhaps more accurately, colonial whipping boys and girls) of our new imperial powers, Germany, France, the European Central Bank etc. The Government TDs continue to act as if the European Central Bank has been a friend of Ireland. Let us not forget it was the ECB that refused us permission to burn the bondholders in 2010 which forced us into the bailout. It is the ECB who continue to impose on us unsustainable debt levels which, no doubt, the markets will begin speculating on again in the future and we will see our bond yields rise again and be forced out of the markets and into another bailout. The ECB are clearly not an ‘independent’ institution but a tool of the big European powers. They want us to pay back our debt, not because of some principle of debt repayment, but because it is going to French and German banks.

It was highlighted again and again by speakers at the protest that it is no accident that the politicians are not standing up to the ECB. They, and the wealthy and highly paid classes in Ireland, are doing just fine, and have no idea of the impact of this crisis. They have their well-paid, secure, jobs and do not want large scale protests or alternative politics or approaches that could jeopardise that cosy consensus.

The Ballyhea campaign also raises the question of what is the end game, the purpose, of all this austerity and debt repayments? Our economy is unsustainable and inequitable, dominated by an over-reliance on foreign multinationals who are here because it is one of the most profitable countries in Europe. A majority of people are affected by low wages, insecure employment, poverty, unemployment, and various forms of exclusion as a result of discrimination on class, gender, or disability. Austerity has hit the poorest the hardest. The European Central Bank, private markets and bondholders are insisting we live in penury and debt slavery for decades to come. Despite the demands for reform from the Irish public in the 2011 general election the political and state institutions remain as before the crisis began. We have been failed over and over by our political and state institutions and our model of economic development.

Our youth are emigrating, giving up on this country, turning to drugs and suicide. Notably, there wasn’t many young people on the protest. Emigration is clearly a useful political pressure valve for the elite. Then there is our health system which is becoming an apartheid system where access depends on ability to pay. We are not ‘turning a corner’ we are becoming a social wasteland.

The impact of Celtic Tiger neoliberalism has, as John Bissett, the community worker and organiser of the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope, has accurately described, turned us into individuals trying to fight each other to survive, rather than collectively responding as a community. As we ‘exit’ the bailout and enter a supposed ‘recovery’ the key question is what sort of society and economy are we now aiming to develop? It appears that it is business as usual for the elite who want the Irish people to suck it up and have austerity for decades in order to get us back to the days of unsustainable and inequitable Celtic Tiger growth.

The danger we face as a nation is the return of our dark history of division, silence, and acceptance of oppression. In more recent years the process of social partnership has resulted in civil society becoming part of the establishment, no longer challenging the system and offering radical alternatives.

But there is hope in what is going on at present and the action of the past provides some inspiration to keep us going.

Irish civil society has a long history of struggle from the land league, to trade union struggle, to the tax marches of the 1980s, the civil rights movement, stopping nuclear energy, the massive anti-war marches, co-operatives and community work. In particular, it seems strange and tragic timing that we are only a few years away from the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising. Connolly, Pearse and other leaders read the proclamation of the Irish Republic at the steps of the GPO in Easter 1916 declaring an Irish Republic which read: “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible…The republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…”. Despite their small numbers they challenged one of the largest empires in the world at that time.

We are constantly being told that the system would collapse if we didn’t pay back our debt, or if we left the Euro, or if we left some banks go bust, or if we taxed multinationals properly. But the truth is our society is collapsing. Isn’t it time to ask why we are destroying ourselves to save a system that has failed us and offers only further suffering into the future? Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of this system and rebuild it again in the interests of ordinary people, in the interests of the planet and based on the values of equality, environmental sustainability, participation, accountability and solidarity which were identified by the Claiming Our Future assembly of 1000 people in the RDS in 2010?

People claim that the Irish haven’t protested and that we are conservative and apathetic. Yet the ordinary people of Ireland have resisted the crisis, from the Ballyhea Bondholder protests, to local hospital campaigns, the hundreds of thousands who have marched against austerity and the majority who refused to pay the household charge.  We also have retained a strong sense of community, social justice, alternative value systems and our experience of colonialism provides an understanding and memory of oppression and resistance. But we have not done what the Icelandic or Cypriot or Greek people have done in mobilizing opposition in ways that forced the system to stop, even momentarily, and make the government and elite change direction.

We have the power to do it. We just need to figure out what will work for us. There will be moments in the coming months and years where the anger that has been internalised by the Irish people into passivity, depression, suicide, and emigration will erupt when the naked injustice of what has happened to us is revealed.

At those times we should be organised to maximise the potential resistance. Such moments include the local elections, the issuing of the first Anglo bonds next year, worker’s strikes, the local elections, water charges, the General election of 2016, the commemorations of 2016 itself. It was great to see the encouragement of the local campaigns to stand as independent election candidates in the local elections by Luke Ming Flanagan TD at the protest on Wednesday. It would be great to see dozens of councillors elected on an anti-debt and anti-austerity basis. The establishment parties cannot be relied upon to bring forward these issues. Another idea would be to try get a co-ordinated day of action before the first Anglo bonds are issued next year. Public buildings could be occupied for the week running up to it like the Spanish Indignados and Greek movements of the squares.

It is time for new approaches in Ireland. It is time for the Irish people to break the silence and rise up to demand the implementation of the values of the 1916 proclamation. We are not alone. We have friends in every community, town and city in Ireland. But we need to come together and realise our strength. To do this we need to unite the various campaigns and movements from Ballyhea, We’re Not Leaving, to the property tax to workers on strike in a broad campaign for a Ireland of equality, social justice, communities and solidarity.

It is important also that we develop our key demands and vision for what type of Ireland we want to see. People will demand that if we want them to take action.  We could start with the Ballyhea demands on ending our debt slavery and add to that the creation of real jobs, for equality, for affordable and social housing, for a quality public health system and for the reversal of cuts to communities, disabilities, and carers. Others I am sure will have other ideas to add. But it’s a start. It is clear that a radical transformation of our political system, economy and society is required if we are to achieve the values of the original Republic. Remember: we are the majority, they are the minority.

As Jim Larkin is quoted as saying “The great appear great because we are on our Knees: Let us Rise.”

Rory Hearne

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:

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