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It’s almost hard to believe it now but, at one time, An Bord Pleanála was perhaps the only stand-up institution in the Irish planning system. Throughout the Celtic Tiger, it regularly sent packing some of the most egregious developments permitted by local planning authorities. Its reach was far from perfect, of course. Nationally, An Bord Pleanála reviews fewer than 10% of all planning applications on appeal, leaving its then outgoing chairman in 2011, John O’Connor, bitterly regretting that it could not have done more to take a stronger stand against the worst excesses of the property bubble and its calamitous consequences.

Nevertheless, its rulings did have a significant disciplining effect in setting precedents as a bulwark against the ‘all development is good development’ madness that gripped the Celtic Tiger. An Taisce, for example, previously noted that of the approximately 2,000 appeals it lodged over the ten-year period to 2008, 80% were upheld. And while An Bord Pleanála’s decisions regularly raised the hackles of local politicians, it was one of the few bodies that emerged from the Celtic Tiger with its reputation and good name largely intact and proof positive that, when removed from the malign influence of political clientelism and short-term local development concerns, planners and the planning system could make enlightened, impartial decisions, without fear or favour, for the common good and in the long-term public interest.

Unfortunately, those days are now long gone. The gamekeeper has turned poacher. Today, An Bord Pleanála has become a byword for ineptitude, and its reputation for probity, integrity and neutrality lies in tatters, at least in the minds of many in the public. It gives me no satisfaction to write that and I wish it were otherwise. But for any planner, to watch the fall from grace of this unique institution from its former position of authority at the apex of the planning system should be a matter of deep regret, profound concern and, yes, even anger. It is not An Bord Pleanála’s fault, needless to say, but the consequence of a decade where Fine Gael has single-mindedly pursued an ideological obsession with centralising planning governance at the behest of property developers and to speed-up the consenting process by bypassing local planning authorities, turning it from a largely appellate body to a national planning authority of the first instance, a role which it is uniquely unsuited or resourced for.

Back in 2016, when Fine Gael launched the now-defunct Rebuilding Ireland, I apprehensively blogged on the likely adverse implications for the planning system, and particularly the centrepiece of the reforms, the now soon to be abandoned fast-track Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system, whereby planning applications for largescale residential developments of one-hundred units or more would be made direct to An Bord Pleanála and where decisions were required to be made in just sixteen weeks. I wrote:

“The idea that adequate consideration could be given to such proposals, while fulfilling all requirements pursuant to EU and national law, within these compressed timeframes and without recourse to seeking further environmental or technical information or giving adequate consideration to local concerns or right of appeal, is a recipe for yet another great planning disaster.”

Regrettably, all my fears came to pass, and then some. It wasn’t difficult to predict. The SHD system can only be described as an utter omnishambles, severely eroding public confidence in the planning system and resulting in an upsurge in judicial reviews as the only means to challenge decisions. Tracking data compiled by solicitor, Fred Logue, shows that of the forty SHD judicial reviews decided so far, An Bord Pleanála has successfully defended just three (eight were withdrawn). Forty-five others are pending. According to its most recent annual report, An Bord Pleanála has shelled out over €8 million in legal fees, out of a total operating expenditure of €31 million. That’s right, a quarter of its annual budget! In fact, given the scale of its reversals, almost half of its legal expenditure was to pay the legal costs of those who took proceedings against it. To make matters worse, in a very serious recent development, its deputy chairperson and head of the SHD division, Paul Hyde, whom, it is reported, once co-owned a yacht with Minister Simon Coveney and subsequently appointed by former Minister Phil Hogan, is now under investigation over multiple allegations of conflict of interest, including charges that he granted planning permission for a development co-owned by his brother and sister-in-law which he did not declare. In the meantime, An Bord Pleanála has been forced to undertake an audit of hundreds of decisions made by Mr. Hyde to ensure there are no further possible improprieties. If the current investigation launched by Minister O’Brien bears out these accusations, GUBU doesn’t adequately cover it.

I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that the legacy of this period in An Bord Pleanála’s history will be looked back upon with similar disdain to that of Robert Moses infamous, hubristic attempts to reconstruct New York in the early 20th Century. No longer able to simply ride roughshod over planning regulation, as had been the case throughout the Celtic Tiger, the solution for development capital in the post-Celtic Tiger period was simple—regulatory capture. Particularly in Dublin, and spurred on by Fine Gael’s unctuous kowtowing to the property industry—such as the swingeing retrenchment of apartment size and building height regulations alongside NAMA’s fire sale of development land—has seen the rubber-stamping by An Bord Pleanála of tens of thousands of Build-to-Rent (BTR) units across the city to the extent that they comprised over 80% of all residential schemes applied for or granted in 2020 — a situation which even Dublin City Council supremo, Eoin Keegan, recently described as totally “unsustainable” and with the potential to have, “significant long-term adverse impacts on the housing needs of the city”.

Perhaps the supply-at-all-costs zeal of An Bord Pleanála would be justified if it had any effect on… well, supply. But as of February 2022, figures compiled by the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance show that, of the approximately 70,000 SHD units permitted to date, commencement notices had been submitted for just 13,000. What is most alarming, however, is not just the regulatory capture, but the level of ideological capture and the extent to which An Bord Pleanála has unthinkingly imbibed the kool-aid and the ‘obvious truth’ of the mainstream neoclassical economics dogma that flooding the city with hundreds of permissions for overpriced, elite shoebox tenements will somehow miraculously result in more housing supply at lower, more affordable costs. Contrary to the economist media doyens of the development industry, it won’t. As described by Professor Manuel Aalbers: “The empirical evidence invalidates the economic truism that oversupply must lead to declining prices and that rising prices are a result of undersupply”. The reason is quite simple and not really very difficult to comprehend—real estate developers and the financial and political system, more generally, have no interest in falling property prices and will only increase supply to the extent that it will not depress market prices. Unwittingly, all An Bord Pleanála has achieved in its craven abandonment of progressive planning values is to become a useful appendage to the development industry in the speculative, rentier assetization of property values or what Architect Alan Mee coins the ‘planning-industrial complex’, or in old money, an ‘urban growth machine’. I do not believe any self-respecting planner signed up for that.

At last year’s Housing Agency’s Annual Conference, An Bord Pleanála’s Director of Planning, Rachel Kenny, predictably defended An Bord Pleanála’s administration of the SHD system and, while on the one hand acknowledging that judicial reviews affected less than 10% of SHD housing units and that public opposition to new housing developments had not changed much in the past 15-20 years, on the other lamented that planning applications had become more adversarial with high levels of opposition, a situation which she described as unusual in Europe, justifying further legal and planning reform, and even parroting the development industry line that the only reason for increasing numbers of judicial reviews is because ‘objectors’ get a free ride on costs. The lack of self-awareness here was quite staggering. There was no introspection whatsoever of the fact that An Bord Pleanála had lost pretty much every SHD judicial review taken against it or, less still, of the quality of the units being permitted. Instead, specific opposition to high-volume, low-quality BTR units was lumped into a generalised opposition to ‘housing’.  Ms. Kenny rhetorically asks, “Who speaks for future residents…those that need homes?”. The answer is, An Bord Pleanála does! Fair enough, they might counter that it is simply applying ministerial guidelines. But as Mr Justice Humphreys wrote in one judgement on an SHD application:

“The clear language of the ministerial guidelines sends the message that the reasonable exercise of planning judgement requires that an enthusiasm for quantity of housing has to be qualified by an integrity as to the quality of housing. Among other obvious reasons, and speaking about developments generally rather than this one particularly, such an approach reduces the prospect of any sub-standard, cramped, low-daylight apartments of today becoming the sink estates and tenements of tomorrow.”

It’s a sad indictment when a High Court judge exercises more planning foresight and agency than An Bord Pleanála. But here we are.

Slides from An Bord Pleanála’s presentation to the Housing Agency’s Annual Conference 2021

The reality is that, despite what is constantly reported in the media, there is very little fundamental or widespread public opposition to new housing developments in Ireland. The increase in judicial reviews in recent years simply directly mirrors the growing frequency in cases where decisions by An Bord Pleanála overrule agreed statutory development plans, which have been consulted upon with local communities and adopted by their local elected representatives. This is a situation that is unusual in Europe. Take, for example, the controversial Holy Cross College SHD development in Dublin of 1,614 BTR units comprising 70% tiny studios and one-beds. Here the local planning authority, Dublin City Council, expressed ‘alarm’ at what was being proposed but, despite its strenuous opposition, An Bord Pleanála simply went ahead and granted it anyway, using ‘Specific Planning Policy Requirement’ legislative directives introduced by former Fine Gael minister Eoghan Murphy to override democratically determined local development policy.

One has to ask what is the point in engaging in detailed public consultation and planning exercises to achieve consensus amongst all stakeholders on what is envisaged for a local area, only for it to be summarily ignored? It should come as no surprise, in these circumstances, that people seek access to the courts to challenge these decisions, as their only recourse to this breach of contract. Indeed, Dublin City Council has even had to take An Bord Pleanála to court on two separate occasions to defend the integrity of its development plan. Yet still, of the 381 SHD applications determined to date, just 84 have been subject to judicial review (22%). Overall, a tiny fraction of housing developments permitted nationally is subject to judicial review. Tens of thousands of units have been granted without any legal challenge whatsoever and are, in principle, ready to go—although, you would not know this by reading the pages of the national newspapers.

But here is the crux. The truth hardly matters. Just like in 2016, instituting a self-perception of failure amongst planners through constant criticism to generate a self-governed desire amongst them to adherently ingratiate their values to better meet short-term political objectives of governing ideologies, the same is happening again today. Neoliberalism fails forward, achieving its goals by whatever means necessary, often capitalising upon its own chronic failures to implement ever more regressive and anti-democratic planning ‘reforms’. Recently, for example, Minister for Planning, Peter Burke of Fine Gael has been out on the stump decrying the rise in judicial reviews, which are a direct consequence of changes to planning laws, including the SHD system, which his own party introduced! He quotes business groups who are telling him that the number of judicial reviews is “frightening”, insisting that “it’s so important that we have business leaders, business voices to the forefront”. The level of gaslighting here is again quite something. Before the introduction of SHD, you could count the number of judicial reviews against housing developments annually on the fingers of one hand, if at all.

Regrettably, debates on the future of the Irish planning seem destined to go the way of the English planning system which has gained an unenviable reputation in recent years for having undergone a rapid succession of reforms and counter-reforms as a consequence of persistent anti-planning rhetoric from the political right to make planning more market-oriented. As noted by planning scholars, Graham Haughton and Phil Allmendinger, the near-perpetual state of reform has created the very conditions of crisis instability that helps feed the perception of constant failure that the ideological right thrives upon and, in repeatedly failing to achieve their marketised outcomes, they can simply continually blame the planning system and try, and fail, again on the basis that any failures were simply well-intended experiments that went wrong and always someone else’s fault.

Right on cue, along comes Minister Burke’s recently announced establishment of a Planning Advisory Forum stuffed full of all the usual suspects from Property Industry IrelandIrish Institutional Property, the Construction Industry Federation and, of course as always, that erstwhile Fine Gael contrarian advisor Conor Skehan who recently proclaimed that, if you cannot afford to live in Dublin, you should just simply move somewhere else. According to the Terms of Reference for the forum, the main objective of the exercise is to ensure “increased clarity and streamlining” of planning legislation in the context of the “major debate, particularly on the scale of housing requirements”, “the needs of the future population of new and expanded communities”  and “the nature of planning decisions, which require careful balancing of public policy, public participation and environmental issues”. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought planning was about the public interest and the common good? Are environmental issues not amongst the most important public policy issues?

Regardless, we all know what this is code for—deregulation. Having previously unsuccessfully proposed a bill, again at the behest of the property industry, to effectively abolish public access to justice in planning cases, which was condemned by the Free Legal Aid Counsel and many others as offending both the Irish constitution and EU law, this latest initiative has all the hallmarks of a workaround attempt to give legitimacy to these reactionary intentions by co-opting organisations like An Taisce, the Environmental Pillar and, of course, the Irish Planning Institute. One wonders why we give credibility to such charades. The planning system does not require ‘reform’. We need to stop ‘reforming’. It has already produced all the permissions we need for many years of supply. What it needs is proper resources and for the incessant, destructive meddling by development lobbyists, which precipitated the current dysfunction in the first place, to cease. As for An Bord Pleanála, it is beyond time that it shunned the fast-track limelight and retreated back to being the relatively obscure, prosaic and largely progressive, far-sighted institution it once was. We need it, but it will take some time for public trust in its shattered reputation to be restored.

Gavin Daly

Photomontage of the proposed Dundrum Village SHD

I pulled together some notes when speaking to Rory Hearne for an article he was writing on the topic for the Irish Examiner. I am putting them up here without much additional elaboration, but they are based on research from an ongoing IRC-funded project that I have been working on along with Kathleen Stokes.

The question of causes and solutions to housing vacancy is a complicated one, and while it can’t be solved overnight there is an urgent need for steps to be taken that begin to address it.

As it stands, there are a series of challenges relating to identifying, measuring and bringing vacant housing stock back into use.

Housing vacancy is notoriously difficult to identify and accurately measure. We currently measure housing vacancy at the national level through the Census and the Geodirectory address database. However, in both cases data on vacancy is not the primary thing being collected, but is rather a secondary dataset generated through other data collection priorities. The Census has arguably the wider coverage because enumerators can get access to apartment buildings, which are not accessible to other forms of measurement. But because the Census occurs at 5 year intervals it can only offer a static picture that doesn’t capture a lot of the flux in property markets.

In addition to long-term vacancy, there will be short term vacancies of various types – properties for sale, going through probate, houses as part of the Fair Deal scheme, Airbnb or other short term rentals – captured in this overall figure by virtue of being unoccupied on the night of the census. The types of vacancy that may occur are diverse and present different challenges from a classification and policy action perspective. Similarly, determining the length of time vacant can be a challenge for existing measures.

Without having an accurate picture of the levels of different types of vacant housing, it can be a challenge to implement policies to bring vacant stock back into use. What is clear is that different types of vacancy produce unique challenges and that the geographical and property market context influences the form that potential solutions might take.

The government approach that was initiated under Rebuilding Ireland has essentially tried to use market mechanisms to incentivise owners to either sell or lease the property to local authorities for social housing. The uptake of these schemes has been modest and geographically uneven. Waterford city has brought half of all the housing units under these schemes back into use, for example, through a coordinated and targeted approach.

But those working on bringing vacant housing back into use have highlighted a range of other barriers. These include regulatory issues like fire safety standards or conservation of structures with heritage status; market factors like land speculation and site assembly but also market failures to provide appropriate finance to build-out small and medium sized projects; and governance issues relating to the capacity of local authorities to enforce existing measures.

One significant issue underpinning all of this is the strength of private property rights inferred by the constitution. Put simply, the greatest barrier to bringing vacant housing stock back into use is that many owners simply don’t want to engage in doing so. Given the length of time involved, the resources of labour and time needed and the unpredictable outcomes, local authorities have indicated that they often only initiate compulsory purchase orders (CPO) as a last resort. They have much greater success with owners who are willing to engage.

The flip side of the slow take up of these ‘carrots’ is of course is that the existing ‘sticks’ do not sufficiently penalise owners for leaving property vacant. However while taxes on vacant property are certainly part of the puzzle, they won’t provide a silver bullet to fixing problems of vacancy. This is in part because there are many different types of vacant property and reasons for it being vacant; indeed, incentives may be a more pragmatic approach to unlocking some in the short term. But it is also because our property and land markets – especially our housing markets – are dysfunctional in many respects. Vacancy is one component and feature of this dysfunction. Therefore, it is impossible to solve vacancy without also addressing these wider problems with how urban development and housing works in the interests of some groups and against those of others.

A starting point is thinking about ways to make it less attractive to sit on vacant property as a speculative asset. But this is only a beginning. Building from an expanded typology or set of classifications, more detailed qualitative research is needed on the institutional, legal, market and social barriers involved in bringing different forms of vacant properties back into use in different geographical areas. Tackling problems of vacancy requires moving beyond technocratic fixes and opens up more fundamental questions about how we value urban space, prioritise particular forms of development, and balance the rights and responsibilities of property as absolute right to exclude against the common good.

Cian O’Callaghan

The CSO has just issued its annual Population and Migration Estimates for 2021, and 5+ million is the headline figure. That’s the estimated population of the Republic of Ireland – the first time the population has been this high since 1851. It’s an important milestone.

There’s another important story in the estimates, though. This is what has happened to migration patterns in the past year. The 2020 estimates covered the period to the end of April 2020, just as Covid was beginning to make its presence felt. The 2021 estimates cover the period from May 2020 to April 2021, and give the first indication of how Covid has affected migration to and from Ireland.

The first important point to note is that immigration to Ireland has dropped by around 24%: from 85,400 in 2020 to 65,200 in 2021. The last time immigration levels were this low was in 2013. While there have been falls across all immigrant groups, there’s a particularly marked fall in immigrants with a nationality other than UK or EU. This figure was 30,400 in 2020: it has more than halved, to 14,100, in 2021. This is probably largely connected to student visa holders: with the move to online teaching, students were no longer required to move to Ireland.

The second important point to note is that the level of emigration from Ireland remained relatively stable: 54,000 in 2021, compared to 56,500 in 2020. However, the proportion of Irish nationals emigrating has dropped to 42.2% in 2021, the lowest in a number of years. In contrast, the proportion of emigrants with a nationality other than UK or EU has increased, from 12.6% in 2015 to 28.5% in 2021: this is likely to include students, workers, and their families.

There have also been changes in where emigrants are going. In 2021, 33% of all emigrants (18,200) went to the UK. In 2020, that proportion was 17.6%. In contrast, 12.6% of all emigrants went to Australia, Canada or the US in 2021, compared with 27% in 2020. There’s a long tradition of people moving from Ireland to the UK at times of crisis. Most recently, the numbers emigrating to the UK jumped from 7,600 in the year to April 2008, just before the period of austerity, to 20,000 just three years later, in the year to April 2011. Writing in 2008, geographer Bronwen Walter described:

“the ongoing need for Britain to provide a ‘safety-valve’ for vulnerable Irish people”

Bronwen Walter, 2008

This is evident in these Population and Migration Estimates, with Britain again becoming a significant destination for emigrants from Ireland.

The impact of the fall in immigration levels in particular, coupled with the increase in emigration of ‘Rest of World’ nationals (those with a nationality other than UK or EU), is beginning to be felt across Ireland. In the recent past, jobs in sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and services were often taken by immigrants. These are sectors that are now reporting labour shortages (see Irish Times, Dáil Debates, Irish Examiner, and Farmers Journal).

As we emerge from Covid restrictions, it’s unclear what will happen to migration patterns in the near future, and what this will mean for Irish society. However, we do need to pay attention to what this CSO publication shows us: ongoing high levels of emigration, the continued significance of Britain as an emigrant destination (even with Brexit), and the important – if often hidden – role that migrants play in key sectors of the Irish economy and society.

Mary Gilmartin

2KM from home

This is an image of my main cycling route that I have been using to try and keep my distance up during the lockdown since mid-March. It is about 15km all in all and I have varied it little over the weeks. (I find myself dreaming a lot about cycling much further and linear distances lately.) When I am out cycling, I am as careful as I can be in terms of distance from other road users, others on bikes and pedestrians. In the first three weeks of the lockdown, people seemed happy to walk on the road, taking wide arcs to avoid other pedestrians. We were getting used to these new metrics of public life: 2 metres, 2 kilometres. We walked languidly across main roads once filled with fast-moving cars and vans. More people feeling like they can walk at a human pace on Finglas and Glasnevin roads is a good thing. What was also noticeable was how few vehicle drivers minded this. There was an accommodation based on the frequent reminders that ‘we were all in this together’ and how we are all working to ‘flatten the curve’.

In the last fortnight though, things have changed. As some workplaces are adjusting and opening up and with the weather became more tolerable outdoors, we can note an increased weekday volume of car and van traffic. It means that the interaction between this motor traffic and other road users has reverted to what it was before mid-March. Pedestrians are back running across poorly designed vehicle entrances into rows of neighbourhood shops. Pedestrian lights are again being used and the kerb parking is back; we are conceding to motorised traffic again. When we talk about ‘a return to normal’ and ‘flicking a switch’ we have to remember that pedestrian and bike users will go back to normal first. Not because we are complacent or lacking in awareness but because we intuitively know two tonnes of metal, plastic and glass is being driven incautiously near us again. But this post is not about bikes versus cars.

In the last week or so we have seen the city council in Dublin making some concessions to pedestrians and commuting cyclists. A contraflow on a single street is an easy win, even if it took three decades to get done. The council is asking residents to make suggestions for alterations in public spaces to allow for physical distancing across the city. They are going to have a lot of work to do. Dublin’s footpaths are crowded and poorly bordered with road space. At every crossing in this city, pedestrians are hemmed in by barriers and bollards, a reminder that the city streets do not belong to us. Beg buttons dominate. Some are celebrating a bucolic urban age dawning: lower emissions, better quality air, the return of this thing called nature to our cities. All the other nice things we seek cannot be far behind: greenways for all, last mile supply chains springing up. As welcome as these concessions are, we cannot forget that power concedes nothing without a struggle. Car park owners are threatening legal action over the most minimal of plans to allow people to use more active travel modes. Their fear is that the car and their supposed wealthy owners will stop buying things they don’t need from shop workers increasingly threatened by a virus we still know very little about. Our food landscape is dominated by multiples, not craft butchers. We still do not have enough primary health care centres in this city but we have lots of empty hotel rooms.

Occupy May Day 2015 (17150201729)

We should be clear though that widening footpaths and making more temporary bike lanes does not mean that a deep well of communitarian values lying dormant is now being drawn from. These changes impact different groups in very different ways. Like the car users of suburban Dublin, normal daily life is being re-asserted in small places and in minor ways. We have seen how the CIF is pushing for building sites to be opened again supposedly to ‘complete the housing which we all need’. Their sudden appreciation for the housing that is not being built arises from a shrinking bottom line. They spent the last few years building hotels, student accommodation and luxury flats that cannot now be sold. If the first few days meant the appearance of a ‘new normal’, the last few days have seen significant changes to bring about the return of the old order. That this is being driven by the city’s most powerful actors (building developers, employers’ representatives) should not a surprise under the current way we go about creating things in this city. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by suburban customer rage and a growing sense that Nature is Healing (response: “we are the virus”). Our urban activity cannot be that passive that we watch things unfold before us. It is not wrong to want a cleaner city with more active modes of mobility but they are not adequate substitutes for an examination of what drives city development. To me and others, these are the very things that made a pandemic like this arise in the first instance. The old order conceded something called Sustainability and made us feel bad about not recycling correctly. The way we travel, eat and work is shortening our lives and killing others. Any new dispensation has to be thought up using the democratic tools and social and economic power at our disposal. This includes making more, not fewer, and radical demands of our elected local governments, officials and elected representatives. It means challenging extremely powerful actors in how the city changes. It cannot be done within the existing ways.

Eoin O’Mahony, UCD.

From 2013 to 2017, I lived and worked in Ireland. At University College Cork, I undertook my doctoral research project on the consequences of Ireland’s harsh austerity policies on youth living in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods (van Lanen, 2017). I employed qualitative methods, predominantly interviews with young adults, to investigate their encounters and experiences of austerity. Thus, I spoke with youth aged 18 to 25 in Knocknaheeny (Cork) and Ballymun (Dublin). These two neighbourhoods are among the most deprived locally and nationally, due to a combination of low educational achievements, high levels of unemployment, low incomes, and several other indicators. With this project, I aimed to understand how austerity is experienced in everyday life by a group that is vulnerable to the negative consequences of crisis, recession, and austerity.

Ireland is one of the countries that implemented a severe austerity package after accepting an external assistance package from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. I picked Ireland for my research into everyday austerity because its population predominantly speaks English rather than Greek, Spanish or Portuguese. Although sharing a language with youth from Ballymun and Knocknaheeny, I experienced some hesitation in establishing contacts and recruiting research participants in these neighbourhoods. A sudden awareness of my positionality regularly stopped me when I was about to call someone, start a conversation, or attend an event. Differences in social identity and status made me fear that youth from these neighbourhoods would not take me seriously. The Knocknaheeny population was Irish, was sometimes stigmatised, and regularly with low income and lower educational achievements. I was a highly educated, financially-secure foreigner working at University College Cork. I feared this difference was too big, and this fear was so overwhelming I would freeze.

Previously, Claire Mansfield (2011) also conducted research in Knocknaheeny. In her thesis, she writes that she felt an outsider in the neighbourhood because of her differing clothing style, accent, and because she was unfamiliar in the area. Fiona Kelleher (2013) was from Knocknaheeny and investigated teenagers in the neighbourhood. She established contact with local youth smoothly as she was familiar with Knocknaheeny and its inhabitants. However, the fact that she was conducting research clearly influenced her interactions with local youth too. I feared that, if Cork researchers were experiencing difficulties to be accepted and respected, this would be further amplified for a complete stranger.

In Body and soul, Loïc Wacquant describes his fieldwork as a white French academic in a black boxing club in Chicago. Wacquant argues that his French background made it easier to establish contacts in an American ghetto. He writes

‘(…) my French nationality granted me a sort of statutory exteriority with respect to the structure of relations of exploitation, contempt, misunderstanding, and mutual distrust that oppose blacks and whites in America. I benefited from the historical capital of sympathy that France enjoys in the African-American population […] and from the simple fact of not having the hexis of the average white American, which continually marks, if against his or her own best intentions, the impenetrable border between the communities.’ (Wacquant, 2004, p. 10)

Now, Cork is not Chicago, and youth from Knocknaheeny do not possess a different skin colour than me. However, I still found solace in this paragraph. And indeed, in Knocknaheeny, my ‘Dutchness’ proved valuable as it facilitated contact, and both youth and older inhabitants were quickly interested in my presence.

During Cork Culture Night 2014, I was the only ‘unfamiliar’ visitor at the Knocknaheeny hip-hop event. A Dutchman interested in the neighbourhood was received enthusiastically by the present youth. During the whole evening, I was approached by some and introduced to others. Like in the situation described by Wacquant, my ‘Dutchness’ reduced the sometimes tricky and charged relationship of misunderstanding and mutual distrust between Knocknaheeny youth and other areas of Cork city because I was an obvious outsider. Furthermore, especially male attendants were interested in the liberal Dutch attitude to recreational drugs or shared enthusiastic stories about their trips to Amsterdam. The Dutch drugs image thus provided a form of what Wacquant describes as ‘capital of sympathy’.

Ultimately, my status as an outsider, as a highly-educated Dutch qualitative researcher, did not hinder my research project. Perhaps, it even assisted me. Nonetheless, my insecurities never entirely disappeared. Simultaneously, others, like Marielle Zill, have shown that outsider-identities can also frustrate research and access to participants. Personal contact is in the nature of most qualitative research, resulting in a situation where various spheres of personal and academic identity influence the relationship between the researcher and their participants. It is impossible to bridge these differences in identities entirely. Still, it is essential to be conscious of their potential impacts on the relation with participants. Qualitative researchers should carefully consider how we position ourselves, what questions we ask, and how these impact the practice, analysis and results of our research. While this is not always easy, it is essential for high-quality, in-depth qualitative research.

Sander van Lanen

References

Kelleher, F. (2013). Place, teenagers, and urban identities: A new social geography of young people in Cork. Cork: University College Cork.

Mansfield, C. (2011). Social sustainability and the city: An investigation into the environmental geographies of two neighbourhoods in Cork. Cork: University College Cork.

Wacquant, L. (2004). Body & soul: Notebooks of an apprentice boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

van Lanen (2017) Youth and austerity in the city: geographies of precarity in disadvantaged urban areas in Ireland. Cork: University College Cork.

 

 

 

In political struggles for publicly funded housing in Ireland since the 2010 crisis, the word ghetto has re-appeared. When proposals for social and public housing are put forward by activists, unions and others, one of the ways they are opposed, whether it be via mainstream media, or elsewhere is by the deployment of the word ‘ghetto’. Opponents of a massed public housing investment programme raise the spectre of the ghetto if we were to invest in a housing programme that meant more than a handful of public housing units in the same place. In this blog post I want to trace the birth and development of this use of the word ghetto in a public housing context in Ireland, not in a theoretical but an empirical way. This provides some evidence for a paper I am returning to again having put it to one side in late 2018.

The use of the word ghetto has been a feature of the story of local authority housing in Ireland since the 1980s. To understand the ways in which ghetto has become identified with public housing, we need to trace its origins. There is not a simple and defined correspondence with the use of the words ghetto and housing in Ireland. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, the word ghetto appears closely aligned with public housing in the newspapers of the time. To show how this alignment occurs, I have analysed the content of a range of articles, features and editorials for the period 1960 to 2015 where the words ghetto, housing and Ireland appear together.

While initial usages in Irish newspapers were concerned with the sectarian housing policies in Northern Ireland, later usages of the words show significant concern among policy makers and others for the potential and the reality of social housing to become like a ghetto. It is evident that ghetto emerges as a euphemism for housing segregation based on class. It is also more than a euphemism, as I will show. A wide variety of individuals, from politicians to government officials to members of the public, cite examples of concentrations of public and social housing in Irish towns and cities as something to be avoided in any new programme. Usage of the terms ghetto and housing together from about 1992/3 in particular onwards implies that mistakes have been made in the past in concentrating public housing because it leads to undesirable, yet unspecified, social problems. My content analysis shows how the development of public housing and planning problems are represented from this time as attempts to avoid ghettoization. Content analysis is a way in which to draw out significant themes from a corpus of text across time periods and can be used to show how specific ideas are represented together (Limb and Dwyer, 2001).

The Irish Newspaper Archive found the phrase ‘ghetto’ near ‘housing’ in 316 results in the period 1920 to 2018.  An Irish Times Archive search for the words ‘ghetto’ and ‘housing’, confined to Ireland, for the period 1960 to 2018 was also done. This second search yielded 243 results. In both databases a shift in usage over time is apparent. The word ‘ghetto’ alongside housing only appears with any frequency from the 1960s when it was used to describe the housing of nationalists and Catholics in the sectarian state of Northern Ireland. Discounting this particular usage and its usage to describe historical events in other parts of the world, a number of themes emerge from this brief overview of their usage together. The first theme identified in my analysis is that housing planning by local authorities, by its very house building activity, has created ghettoes. A selection of these usages shows a close association with public housing in particular. It is important too that such usage is found across a wide range of actors from across political parties. As early as 1972, aspiring Labour Party candidate (later minister) Ruairi Quinn wrote about Ballyfermot as a “poor community, a working-class ghetto with a high factor of crowding” (Mar 1 1972) having earlier described it as “a gross distortion of normal community in our society”. In 1976, a new private housing development in the Kildare town of Celbridge was offering a “mixed community within the development” in which the developer “anticipates the end of the ‘ghetto mentality’ that has disfigured many other Irish housing developments” (April 9 1976). When the 19th century housing at Mountpleasant in the south Dublin suburb of Rathmines was demolished in 1979, locals blamed the Corporation’s own policy for turning it into a ghetto through neglect (Mar 5 1979). In 1985, in the Donegal News, Fianna Fáil Councillor Bernard McGlinchey was recorded as warning that the town of Letterkenny could have social problems like the Dublin suburb of Ballymun unless “there is a rapid rethink on housing policies”. He sought the Council’s plans for the Ballyboe area of the town to be re-examined for fear that “The Council [would] site more houses in the area when the next allocation comes” and that it was “frightening that we are creating a ghetto in that area”. A total of 59 Council houses were planned alongside some private houses in a nearby site.

In 1986, with a new surrender grant scheme in place, Ray Burke TD, then a Fianna Fail spokesman, warned that the £5,000 given to local authority tenants to purchase a private house out of their own area was “creating a ‘ghetto’ in a Dublin housing estate”. He claimed that this policy resulted in higher unemployment and poverty in the district of West Tallaght. Other opposition deputies pointed out that only tenants in employment could avail of the grant and so those left behind were “becoming more concentrated with the unemployed, and an undesirable demographic imbalance was taking place.” This concern was echoed in a later report on house building activity during an upper house debate on small business (April 18 1986). The implication here is that the Council was creating concentrated areas of poverty by following national policy. Before 1990, the ghetto is used in an anticipatory manner, something to be avoided but only sometimes discernible as a problem.

The second theme identified is that public policy needs to avoid the ghettoes created in the past. By the mid-1990s, ghetto was being used in a near-historical framework as is clear from a 1996 Irish Times series entitled The Roots of Crime. The journalist frames the problem of crime as one of definition: “we are no longer defined by our green fields, but by urban ghetto areas which [police] call ‘hostile territory’” (Jan 22 1996). Later that year, a conference for local authorities heard how some of these authorities “use housing estates to hide rural poverty, creating ghettos on the edge of towns”. These council-established areas “had been, to some extent, ghettoised by virtue of their location outside the central areas of small towns” said consultant Trutz Haase. While this refers to much smaller urban areas than Dublin, the identification of an unspecified ghettoisation caused by public housing itself is evident. More especially, ghettos are identified by their own nature and characteristics rather than via their relationship to other policy measures of class formation.

In 1999, the Tuam Herald recorded that the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute (IAVI) had expressed concern that the Government’s new Planning Bill would hinder the development of affordable housing because it encouraged building by local authorities to shorten their housing waiting lists instead of making private housing more affordable. Their statement, broadly in support of the bill, felt that “ghettos may be created within future housing developments with ‘affordable housing’ being segregated by a high wall from the main site and accessed independently…”. “Quality residential enclaves” in these areas would undergo price increases because they will not have the social housing element of the mooted bill nearby. The concern of the IAVI was for (private) first-time buyers and the lack of flexibility in densities envisaged under the bill. By 2000, a new Fingal Council plan to expand the older suburb of Blanchardstown was written about by the Irish Times’s environment correspondent as “littered as it is with ghettoised low-density estates, both public and private” (Nov 23 2000).  Other accounts from the 1990s show how the phrase ‘mixed tenure’ came to dominate discussion of large new housing developments at the edge of Dublin.

In the period 2002 to 2006, about 300,000 new houses were built in Ireland. Like the word ‘ghetto’, the term ‘mixed tenure’ is a code word used to describe mostly private housing with some element of social and/or affordable within a scheme. Both terms obscure the class relations that are materialised within urban space. Fears of “ghettos in the making” are allayed by building developments with a majority of private housing with some element of affordable and social housing. This bracketing of public within large private developments came to dominate home building in Ireland (through policy instruments of an increasingly centralised state) until the debt-laden crises that began in 2008. There is evidence then to suggest that the word ghetto is used in newspaper reports of housing policy in two ways: firstly that local authorities, through policy instruments not always of their own making, created ghettos in public estates. These areas are unspecified but identified invariably with public housing. Secondly, and as the 21st century begins, that new housing developments (all tenures) need to avoid the mistakes of the past where public housing ghettoes were built. In a feature on the new suburb called Ongar on Dublin’s north-west fringe, concern was expressed that higher densities would bring about ghettos (December 2 2006). Later-expressed fears about ghettos are not exclusively related to public housing but to newer suburban forms and populations that are seen not to be integrating with other communities. Where public housing is aligned with the fear of a ghetto aids the expansion of private housing over a longer time frame. The Planning and Development Act 2000 in particular instituted a defined proportion of each new housing development to be designated as public housing. This housing tenure’s marginalisation as time goes on solidifies the place of public housing as a small part of housing provision more generally. Furthermore large concentrations of public housing become strongly associated with ghetto-creation in a way that was not evident before the 1980s.

Eoin O’Mahony (@EducGIS)

The following is based on research conducted in UCD School of Geography as part of the ESPON Ensure Project. The project team is Niamh Moore-Cherry (PI, UCD), Aoife Delaney (UCD), Eoin O’Mahony (UCD) and Cian O’Callaghan (TCD Geography). More details here.

The regeneration of Cork City’s waterfront has received renewed attention by central government through the National Planning Framework, National Development Plan and the availability of new urban regeneration development funding. As a result, regeneration is underway with interest from private investors and developers across three distinct land parcels (North Docks, South Docks and Tivoli Docks) each with their own narrative and timeline (see map 1).

Map 1: Land parcels in the Cork docklands Source: Cork City Council (2017)

Waterfront regeneration in Cork can be divided into three phases as seen in the table below. The first phase dates from the 1990s to 2007/2008 and saw the redevelopment of the city and Local Area Plans (LAPs) for the North and South Docks being developed. However, the first phase was interrupted by the global financial crisis and Ireland’s property crash. As a result, very little activity occurred during the years of austerity. Thus, phase 2 from 2008 to around 2015 was characterised by a few development proposals, but little in the way of delivered projects. However, phase 3 has seen activity dramatically increase, particularly in the North Docks and the transition zone between the city centre and the South Docks.  This indicates a new wave of urban and economic development in the city and a renewed focus on the opportunities of the docklands regeneration.

Table 1: Timeline of key projects and events

The vision and regeneration of the North Docks

The regeneration of the North Docks is substantially complete. Some key projects include;

  • 2015- The re-development of the area around Kent train station and the re-orientation of the train station towards the city centre. This involved a land transfer between the state transport agency Coras Iompar Eireann (CIE) and private developers.
  • 2016 -Clarendon Properties in partnership with BAM Ireland secured the development rights to a 2.5 ha waterfront site at Horgan’s Quay (HQ development also owned by CIE. The mixed-use scheme is currently under construction, including the 136-bed Dean Hotel and 37,000 sq. m of offices in three blocks and around 2,900 sq. m of retail and leisure space (HQCork, 2019).
  • 2018/2019- The developers of Horgan’s Quay have reapplied for permission to increase the number of residential units originally approved through the new Strategic Housing Development (SHD) scheme.

The vision and regeneration of the South Docks

In recent years, the transition zone of the city and South Docks has been substantially built out, while a number of large-scale land sales have paved the way for the regeneration of the South Docks itself. Nevertheless, a number of infrastructural challenges remain to be overcome before the full potential of the South Docks can be realised;

  1. Regeneration in this area is complicated due to the mix of landownership and the presence of existing businesses (Map 2).
  2. The South Docks is still an operational port area with associated uses.

Map 2 Land Ownership in south docks

  • The Elysian development (Fig. 1) on Eglinton Street comprises a 17-storey “landmark” tower, offices, retail, a new street, amenity area and landscaping. The opening of the Elysian coincided with the property crash of 2008. Thus, the tower became renowned as one of the most iconic ‘ghost’ structures in the country, with only 25 units in the complex sold by 2011. The Elysian cost €150 million to build but was sold by NAMA to global property investors Kennedy Wilson for €90 million in 2018 (Barker, 2018).

Figure 1: The Elysian Source: The Elysian (2019)

  • The One Albert Quay development (Fig. 2) is viewed as highly significant in kick-starting phase 3 of the regeneration. It opened in 2016 and is a €60 million office complex housing the headquarters for international technology companies. At the time of construction, it was the largest office complex in Ireland outside of Dublin and “the smartest building in Ireland”. Having built a reputation for office parks in suburban locations, the developers (JCD) were attracted to the city centre during the recession, acquiring a number of strategic central locations including the Albert Quay site.

Figure 2: One Albert Quay Source: One Albert Square (2019)\

The vision for Tivoli

The regeneration of Tivoli is reliant on the partial or full relocation of the Port of Cork to Ringaskiddy, but it is recognised as an area of significant potential for the wider city and metropolitan development, and already contains important infrastructure such as water and power. It is estimated that a minimum of 3,000 residential units could be constructed to house a population of 8,000 and a working population of 4,000. This would be a significant increase as approximately 300 employees currently work in the area.

However, there are a number of key interventions required to free up the site for development according to Cork City Council (2017):

  • re-location of port operation at the city quays and transfer of ownership;
  • relocation of existing businesses from Tivoli;
  • relocation of SEVESO sites (Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) importers, Flo Gas and Calor Gas Ltd);
  • remediation of contaminated land;
  • improvements to public transport infrastructure including a new train station and improved walking, cycling and road access.

Conclusion

Over the last few years, Cork has made a strong resurgence following the property crash and financial crisis. “A combination of new policy measures, investment opportunities and development proposals see the city once again on the cusp of major change through the regeneration of its waterfront” (ESPON Final report, 2019; np). The recent regeneration of North and South Docks is heavily influenced by changing post-crisis national policy measures (e.g. Fast-track planning – Strategic Housing Development) and urban development vehicles and funding (e.g. Land Development Agency, Ireland Strategic Investment Fund). Meanwhile, Tivoli Docks is still an operational port area, although a range of urban design briefs and land-use plans are currently being prepared to examine the feasibility of regeneration as primarily a location for housing.

Aoife Delaney

Dun Laoghaire: Social Change in a Historic Town

Philip Lawton, Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dun Laoghaire town is often represented within the media through a narrative of a thriving seafront and a struggling town centre, with a long-held desire to tie the two together. Socially, it is the focal-point of one of the wealthiest parts of Ireland, yet, at the same time it also reflects the actually-existing social unevenness of its surrounding area. As a point of departure, the relationship between social change and consumption patterns can be witnessed in the landscapes of the Dun Laoghaire area, such as in the nearby smaller villages of Monkstown and Glasthule, that have been significantly remade into spaces of conspicuous consumption over the last two decades. This transformation of social space is also increasingly relevant to Dun Laoghaire town.

Mellifont Ave, Dun Laoghaire

In keeping with its long history as a port, the town is playing out through a myriad of processes that are local, regional and global in scope. The transformations taking place in Dublin since it has emerged from the 2008 recession are perhaps exemplified through the locations such as the ‘Silicon Docks’. However, these spaces cannot be seen as a single point on the map, and must be seen in the context of complex socio-spatial networks at an urban-regional scale, that connect data centres around the M50 to broader economic transformations and associated residential changes. As an historically established population centre, and by virtue of its social context, this is manifest in particular ways within Dun Laoghaire town.

Residential Transformations

A cursory glance at the CSO census data from 2016 demonstrates that recent years have witnessed a number of significant demographic and social changes within the town (map excerpts located at the bottom of this blogpost). As a starting point, in the period from 2006-2016, the population of the two Electorial Divisions’s (ED’s) that roughly comprise the centre of Dun Laoghaire town – Dun Laoghaire-East Central ED and Dun Laoghaire-West Central ED – increased by 34.18% and 32.58% respectively. Meanwhile, in the context of the construction of Honey Park on the former Dun Laoghaire golf course, the ED of Dun Laoghaire-Sallynoggin West has increased by 45.31%. While it is hard to extrapolate directly, the recent CSO data suggests that parts of locations such as Honey Park are becoming focal-points of those working in professional occupations, and are thus socially differentiated from their immediate surroundings. Furthermore, in the context of the time-lapse between 2016 and 2019, this pattern seems likely to be repeated in the newer development of Cualanor, which lies between Honey Park and the town centre. This chimes with research I was involved in on the residential preferences of workers in the creative-knowledge economy from a number of years ago where professional groups seek out greater amounts of space, yet in a manner that retains proximity to transport nodes and amenities. However, is is also worthwhile to examine the changes taking place within the town centre itself, where, in the context of new-build apartment developments, 36% and 37% of residents at the Small Areas (SA’s) scale work within professional occupations. In as much as these areas contain a highly diverse population group, they also chime with the internationalized image of the new economy. Moreover, in both the town centre and in the case of the newer developments of Honey Park and Cualanor, the shift towards higher-density living in close proximity to services and infrastructure can be seen to play out.

These current changes, including a significant shift towards residential uses in the town and associated strategies of reinvestment can be perceived as a boon for the town. These changes, however, also present significant challenges for the future questions of affordability and inclusion. Although arguing through a very different context – that of the San Francisco Bay area – geographer, Richard Walker highlights the key role of ‘growth, affluence, and inequality’ in housing crises, to which he adds: ‘finance, business cycles, and geography’. While impacts of the crisis in Dublin can be seen across the urban region, the example of Dun Laoghaire and surroundings is perhaps of particular note given the extremes in both high prices and, as pointed out by Dylan Connor earlier this week, high levels of inequality. If, in following from Walker, albeit accounting for significant differences in context, we can look at the ways in which the residential choices of the wealthy influence the dynamics of housing, then the Dun Laoghaire area presents significant challenges for issues of housing affordability and inclusion. Yet, preferences don’t just materialize out of thin air, and the intertwining of market actors, social norms, and urban form needs to be more fully understood. In the context of Dun Laoghaire, the extreme edge of this is perhaps the recent granting of Co-Living at the centre of the town, where the invocation of cities such as London, New York and Vienna has been used as a means of selling a particular notion of urban living. While these forms of transformations may take a relatively long period of time to become fully manifest, there is need for significant care in how they are considered from the perspective of promoting an inclusive approach to housing.

Commercial Vacancy and Uneven Development

Overlapping with the unevenness at work in the residential sphere, a significant level of attention has also been paid towards the levels of vacancy on Georges Street, the main street of the town. This was recently highlighted in The Irish Times, but in a manner that quickly became somewhat sidetracked by essentialist notions of other locations as frames of reference, with Puerto Banus, Spain as ‘good’, and Beirut or anywhere in the Midlands or West of Ireland as ‘bad’. This approach was furthered in the same edition through David McWilliams’ invocation of the dated notion of ‘broken windows theory’, without recourse to its draconian reality via Rudolf Giuliani. Furthermore, through the use of terms such as ‘contagion’ or ‘endemic’, it was implied that vacancy can be perceived as something almost disease-like. Fundamentally, the problem with these narratives is in the degree to which they reproduce particular myths about a place without engaging in any meaningful manner with the day-to-day realities or intricacies of everyday life that exist within.

Recently refurbished shop unit and upper floor, Upper Georges Street

Units Beside Dunnes Stores on Upper Georges Street have been vacant for a number of years

There are other ways of understanding vacancy. Debates within urban studies have long highlighted the challenges of disinvestment and reinvestment over a prolonged period of time in the context of the market-oriented dynamics of urban change. This ‘seesaw’ is not just a question of theoretical interest, but has significant implications for the lived reality of towns and cities. This can be viewed as a combination of booms and bust cycles, urban-regional economic processes, and the ongoing social reconfiguration of the town centre and surrounds. Vacancy in this regard is not an anomaly, but the social and physical manifestation of how these contradictory forces play out. The role of governance is important here, and it is crucial that debates over a main street should go beyond that of functionalist notions of ‘mixed use’, but seek to understand the role that streets play in the daily lives of people. The mantra of consumption-oriented transformations has been all too dominant in the spatial imaginary of urban renewal in recent decades, and is a limited, if not socially questionable, ideal of urban change. An approach is needed that instead seeks to understand the dynamics of the everyday life of the street in all its complex forms.

The Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire

In the context of Dun Laoghaire, the challenges of the commercial role of the town are intertwined with that of the residential challenges outlined above. With the recent example of both the Lexicon library and the development of housing on Georges Place in the centre of the town, Dun Laoghaire continues a long history of providing for the public good. These are important steps that should be continued.

 

Appendix: Map Exerpts/Screenshots (Source: CSO)

AIRO Census Mapping: Population Change 2006-2016. http://airomaps.nuim.ie/id/Census2016/

Airo Census Mapping: Small Area data for Professional Occupations (1): Area encompassing Harbour Square Apartments

Airo Census Mapping: Small Area Statistics for Professional Occupations (2): Area Encompassing The Lighthouse Apartments

Airo Census Mapping, 2016: Small Area Statistics for Area Encompassing Part of Honey Park

Cherrywood – A 21st-century new town in the making

Michael Murphy, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Amidst the ongoing housing crisis, it is noteworthy that the first apartments in Cherrywood in south Dublin – reputed to be the largest urban development project currently underway in the state – began construction in early August 2019 and are expected to be completed by the end of 2021. These are the first of a predicted 8,000 homes to be delivered in Cherrywood since development recommenced on the site in 2017. While Cherrywood is largely being built and financed by a coalition of global private equity funds, the state has played a significant role in terms of funding and granting Strategic Development Zone status.

Plans for this ‘New Town’ in Cherrywood have been in the making for well over a decade, the site has been dogged by a combination of planning controversies and the small matter of the 2008 property and banking collapse which witnessed the collapse of the property empire of the then site owner and property tycoon Liam Carroll. In July 2014, NAMA, along with Danske Bank and Lloyds, placed much of the Cherrywood development in receivership and towards the end of that year,  US property group Hines with global investment fund King Street Capital swooped to purchase the 400-acre site for €280 million – quite the bargain considering that in 2011 the site was estimated at a value of €1 billion.  The presence of these global financial actors is illustrative of the deepening relationship between real estate and finance that is now ubiquitous in reigniting Dublin’s post-crisis property market.

 

Map indicating the location of the Cherrywood SDZ. Source: cherrywooddublin.com

Cherrywood is essentially a new suburban town, located in the Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown local authority area, located between the M50 and the N11, approximately 8km from Dún Laoghaire. The expected 8,000 homes will contain a population in the region of 30,000 people. The town centre which is currently under construction will have retail outlets, a cinema and 1,300 apartments. There is much to admire about the plans with good architecture, an emphasis on local employment, good public transport links, most notably the Luas Green Line which terminates at Brides Glen, however, there has been strong critiques that the town is still too car-dependent. In many respects, Cherrywood represents everything that the Myles Wright and the ‘New Town’ planners of the 1960s envisaged for Tallaght and Blanchardstown but took decades to achieve.

Cranes soar high into the sky over the emerging Cherrywood Town Centre. Source: Michael Murphy

An important factor here is the Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) status that Cherrywood enjoys, one of eleven sites around the country that includes Adamstown, two areas in Dublin’s Docklands, and Clonburris in West Dublin which is in the early stages of development. Strategic Development Zones are adopted when a site or development is considered to be of strategic importance to the state. SDZs allow for a more holistic approach to planning and many planners see them as a positive contribution to the planning system – they offer phased housing development whereby infrastructure must accompany houses and the next phase cannot be started until the previous phase has been completed. This is an attempt to avoid the infrastructural problems that bedevilled many previous major urban developments. The establishment of SDZs offer very favourable terms to development interests as they are subject to sweeping planning powers that once the objectives and contents of the strategic plan is agreed and signed off by An Bord Pleanála, the local authority, in this case, Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) must grant planning permission to the planning applications that conform with the plan and there is no provision for appeal (See: Murphy, et al., 2014). The planning authority also has powers of compulsory purchase to ensure that sufficient land is available to execute development within the SDZ.  The presence of these features offers great certainty to developers – there is no other planning mechanism available within the Irish planning system that offers the same degree of certainty, hence SDZs are a very valuable spatial unit for developers in which to develop residential and commercial property. So much so that, in their 2011 paper, Fox-Rogers, Enda Murphy and Berna Grist have argued that SDZs ‘demonstrate the facilitation by the state’s legal apparatus of the desire of private interests to secure local economic investment and property development, by creating what can only be described as an inherently pro-development planning environment’. This they argue creates a significant comparative advantage for investors, particularly those in the property development sector, over the general public in the planning system.

 

Artist impression of Cherrywood Town Centre. Source: cherrywooddublin.com

The Irish state has made a significant contribution to the Cherrywood project; it provided €15 million from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) – a fund introduced in 2016 to speed up the provision of housing by removing infrastructural log jams. The state also enabled the extension of the Luas Green line at Brides Glen which is a fantastic selling point for Cherrywood and as outlined above, the developers in Cherrywood benefit from its SDZ status. In light of these significant interventions by the state and against the backdrop of the ongoing housing crisis it is perhaps surprising that only 10% of the residences in Cherrywood will be social and affordable homes as per the rules around Part V, and given that estimates for apartments are in the region of €250,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and €440,000 for a three-bedroom apartment, they will be way out of reach of many people seeking a home. This begs a question about how serious the government are about the housing crisis when the returns are so low in an area they have designated as a Strategic Development Zone?

 

Urbanising Sandyford Business District: Game On!

Niamh Moore-Cherry UCD School of Geography

The sprawl of Dublin into much of the mid-East has been pre-occupying planners and policymakers both during the boom years and currently in the post-crash return to growth. Controlling the rapid extension of Dublin’s functional urban area is an important policy priority for a range of reasons not least of which is halting growing regional inequalities,  but how best to turn the juggernaut of continued urban sprawl is no easy feat. The new National Planning Framework advocates in general for more compact urban growth, contained as far as possible within the existing urban footprint. In the case of Dublin, that means identifying locations for consolidation and densification. The new Metropolitan Area Spatial Plan for Dublin identifies five strategic growth corridors within the metropolitan area (all of South Dublin, Dublin City, Fingal, Dun-Laoghaire-Rathdown and parts of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow). One of these corridors is the Metrolink-LUAS green line axis from Swords to Cherrywood. Along this corridor, Sandyford is identified as a core location for enhanced mixed-use residential use and higher-density employment. But transforming the old Sandyford Industrial Estate and a collection of smaller business parks, recently rebranded as Sandyford Business District, into an ‘urban’ neighbourhood requires more than just new construction.

Site awaiting redevelopment, Sandyford

While light industrial activity was an early feature of the area from the 1970s, during the Celtic Tiger boom years Sandyford evolved into one of the largest secondary business districts (SBD) within the metropolitan area. Today, the area contains approximately 3.5 million sq.m. of office accommodation including some significant global players such as Amazon and Microsoft, as well as smaller-scale and more local enterprises. The area represents about 8% of the total office accommodation in Dublin county, a share well in excess of many European counterparts such as Canary Wharf in London or Zuidas in Amsterdam.  Given the need to consolidate the urban footprint and meet growing demand for quality living as well as workspaces, how office parks such as these can become more ‘urban’ is a key challenge. Across Europe in cities like Luxembourg and Frankfurt policymakers and planners are grappling with the transition from mono-functional land uses (usually office based) to more mixed-use neighbourhoods.

One primary concern is usually enhancing accessibility and connectivity. In Sandyford, the Luas green line, as well as the M50 extension, have been central to the development of the business district but capacity is becoming a critical issue. Even before the new developments at Cherrywood come on stream relying on the same transport infrastructure, some stakeholders believe that within 18 months, transport infrastructure serving Sandyford will have reached peak capacity. Ensuring connectivity within the area is also a concern. At present, mobility options within the district are primarily restricted to car use but simple solutions such as a more extensive bus and bike network could be brought to the table alongside more complex options, such as an underground or monorail system.

‘The Sentinel building, Sandyford’

Turning a business park into a vibrant and living urban district crucially relies not just on enhanced mobility and residential units but also on the creation of a high-quality urban environment. The legacy of the crisis remains highly visible in Sandyford with the 14-storey landmark Sentinel building still vacant since the developer went bankrupt in 2010. It was purchased in late 2017 for €850,000 by an offshoot company of the Comer brothers with the intention of constructing 294 office suites and 28 meeting rooms. However recent publicity from the developers suggest they now plan to construct over 1300 apartments in the building. Earlier this year, two further development sites were purchased by other developers close to the Stillorgan Luas stop and there is planning permission for more than 1,000 new apartments between them. It would appear that all of these developments are taking advantage of new (reduced) apartment size guidelines and a loosening of building height restrictions. Within this context of ever-increasing density, the creation of a supportive and attractive public realm and provision of social infrastructure is needed more than ever.

The potential of green infrastructure to support broader sustainability goals is significant. Positive documented benefits of greening on air quality, drainage, and physical and mental wellbeing are central to why the Sandyford BID company have identified a ‘greening strategy’ as a key element in their vision of how the district might be transformed from its current wind-swept and fairly bleak appearance. Small-scale interventions are underway, but the biggest potential lies with the proposed Stillorgan Reservoir upgrade. As part of this upgrade, Irish Water will cover over the former reservoir and complete a 15-acre landscaping strategy. This is a major opportunity to create a new public park and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council granted planning permission for the project, in line with their green infrastructure goals on the basis of this condition. Irish Water subsequently filed an objection to An Bord Pleanala who upheld their view that the ‘park’ cannot be used as a public amenity for safety reasons. A local campaign is underway led by the local BID company to reverse this decision and have the area deemed a public open space available to the 40,000 residents and 25,000 employees in the area.

Greening Sandyford

On the surface, Sandyford is a business district undergoing physical change, but the story is much more complex. Ironically, it has fallen to a business lobby group to advocate on behalf of local residents and tenants with a semi-public utility company, for access to an enhanced public realm. The county development plan and its green infrastructure objectives have been undermined by a planning appeals board in favour of a semi-state utility company. And the reaction of developers in the area to the liberalization of apartment size and building density guidelines means Sandyford is likely to very quickly become a model of high-density urban living, without the broader infrastructure needed to support it either being in place or of sufficient capacity. Urbanising a former office park is not just a matter of constructing new buildings, but requires a more integrated approach from the range of public stakeholders and a broader conversation about the kind of urban environments we really want to live in.

For more on the campaign to ensure access to the reservoir park, click here

 

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