Search Results for 'Gavin Daly'


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

Mirror Picture 22.07.15

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

WW22

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

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

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

WW Graph

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

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

Gavin Daly

gavin.daly@nuim.ie

See also the AIRO Wind Energy Strategies Webtool 

 

A short animated film about rural Irish towns, directed and produced by Orla Murphy and Orla Mc Hardy in 2012

An excellent short animated film about the planning of rural Irish towns, directed and produced by Orla Murphy and Orla McHardy (2012), and presented at the recent MacGill Summer School session on ‘The Future of Rural Ireland – What Needs to be Done?’

Gavin Daly

Housing LandOne of the great innovations of the past few years has been the increasing availability of spatial data. User-friendly and freely accessible online interactive tools such as Myplan and AIRO provide easy access to a wide-range of mapped datasets and other resources to help inform policymaking, research and those commenting on matters of public interest. However, despite this, the problem of what Carol Weiss refers to as the ‘problem of little effect’ remains i.e. that a great deal of this evidence tends to sit on the shelf (or on the web) completely unnoticed and has, in fact, very limited impact on policy debates.

This is certainly true of Colm McCarthy’s most recent commentary on housing supply in Dublin. McCarthy’s long-standing thesis has been that the planning system (zoning) caused an artificial scarcity in the supply of development land for housing in and around Dublin throughout the Celtic Tiger, inflating a massive property bubble and simultaneously scattering new residential development to the four winds and far-flung corners of the Midlands and beyond. He further maintains that it is these same restrictive practices, with local authority planners and politicians unwilling to confront vested interests and local communities to zone more land, which is the root cause of the current lack of housing supply in Dublin. Instead, McCarthy argues, that the power to zone underutilised land should be removed from local authorities and centralised. (On this last point, he overlooks that zoning powers were de facto centralised with the introduction of the 2010 Planning Act.)

While this simple supply/demand thesis may, at first glance, appear convincing, it is undermined by one basic flaw. Throughout the Celtic Tiger period there was in fact an enormous surfeit of zoned residential land within Dublin and its environs. An audit carried out by the DoECLG in 2010 found that a total of 3,302 hectares of undeveloped residential zoned land existed within the four Dublin local authorities. Even with conservative residential densities of 35 units per hectare, this was sufficient for at least 115,000 new homes. Within the adjoining Greater Dublin Area (GDA) counties of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow there was a further 4,120 hectares. Most, if not all, of this land was initially zoned in the late 1990s and early 2000s and remained undeveloped throughout the Celtic Tiger period. For example, the 220 hectare Adamstown site in South Dublin was originally zoned in 2001 and was intended to provide 9,950 homes via a ‘fast-track’ planning scheme approved in 2003. Similarly, large greenfield tracts of land at Carrickmines, Clongriffin, Pelletstown, Phoenix Park Racecourse and Hansfield were all zoned well over a decade ago and remain undeveloped or only partially complete. The figures above are exclusive of the abundant supply of brownfield development land, infill sites and mixed-use zonings readily available throughout Dublin and which could potentially have provided for tens of thousands of additional new homes.

It is evident, therefore, that a deficiency in the availability of zoned land was not the cause of the extreme property price inflation in Dublin throughout the Celtic Tiger. Nor is it the cause of new housing undersupply today. The most recent 2014 residential land availability survey by the DoECLG shows that there are currently 2,654 hectares of ‘Stage 2’ zoned land available in Dublin i.e. lands which have been prioritised as potentially available for immediate development, much of it already benefiting from significant public investment in capital infrastructure and services. This is reported to be sufficient to provide approximately 117,000 new dwellings at modest densities i.e. an increase in the total number of dwellings in Dublin by one-quarter. In addition to being zoned and serviced, many of these sites currently also have extant planning permissions. In the remainder of the GDA there is enough land zoned for a further 95,000 dwellings, while zoned residential land nationally could currently accommodate approximately 415,000 units (The DoECLG have even gone to the trouble of mapping the precise location of each of these zoned land parcels). Despite the vast array of evidence to the contrary, it is therefore remarkable how the notion persists, particularly amongst leading economists, that an obstructive planning system is hindering the operation of the housing market and was, and remains, a chief cause of the undersupply of new dwellings to meet demand. For example, earlier this week in his evidence to the Banking Inquiry the former chief economist of the Central Bank, Tom O’Connell, submitted that: “the demand mania for property took off against the background of restrictive zoning which limited the supply of housing, the inevitable result was huge property price inflation”.

Zoned Land

The extent of zoned land currently available in the Dublin metropolitan area for new housing

What this analysis also plainly overlooks is that the simple act of zoning land (colouring in a map) does not ipso facto result in an increased housing supply. Urban development is a complex and heavily capital intensive enterprise on both the supply-side (buildings, roads, sewers, schools etc) and on the demand-side (mortgages) and requires a functioning credit system, state intervention through public planning and a means to bring zoned land into production (i.e. to prevent speculative hoarding). While it may seem counter-intuitive to economists , it was in fact a massive oversupply of zoned land (Ireland had c.44,000 hectares of undeveloped zoned residential land at the end of the Celtic Tiger) that caused the rapid price inflation and poor spatial outcomes of the property bubble. Within Dublin, planning typically operated with a certain modicum of probity (albeit not without serious deficiencies), requiring that development on zoned land took place somewhat in tandem with physical and social infrastructure delivery. Outside Dublin local authorities generally had no such compunction, zoning land and permitting massive developments willy-nilly, including regularly on land with no zoning whatsoever. Facilitated by the shiny new radial motorway network and cheap credit, developers simply leapfrogged the suburbs and extensive hinterlands were turned into fields of gold leaving a disastrous economic, social, environmental and spatial legacy. Amongst the Dublin developer cartel, there were few complaints at the slow pace of real development as paper asset prices continued to soar. Ironically, had restrictive zoning measures actually been put in place and enforced in accordance with the National Spatial Strategy, it would have precipitated the early confrontation of the supply/demand/location problem – and history would have perhaps taken a different trajectory. Such problems  were of course foreseen by the Kenny Report as far back as 1974.

Rail Focussed

Strategic rail focussed housing land-banks available in Dublin  

The solutions to today’s housing supply issues are not to be found in simplistic calls for more zoning.  One of the curious outcomes of the relatively slower pace of development in Dublin during the Celtic Tiger is that we now have more than sufficient suitably zoned and serviced land available to meet current demand. The National Transport Authority, for example, has identified strategic locations where thousands of new homes could be sustainably delivered focussed along rail and light-rail corridors. In a number of cases rail stations have already been constructed in anticipation of future development. What is needed is a means of prioritisation and to bring this land into production. Earlier this year, the Department of Finance launched a public consultation on precisely this question. The current Housing and Urban Regeneration Bill 2015 proposes the introduction of a vacant site levy to disincentivise the underutilisation of brownfield land. What is now also urgently required is the introduction of a similar Site Value Tax (SVT) as a recurring annual charge on all undeveloped zoned land as recommended by the Commission of Taxation in 2009 and by the ‘Thornhill Report’ in 2012. The numerous compelling arguments commending the merits of a progressive SVT have been well rehearsed elsewhere and McCarthy, of-course, will be well familiar with same, having previously written the preface for a notable book on the subject. We need smart future-orientated solutions to make best-use of available resources to solve Dublin’s housing supply issues and not a return to failed past thinking and the exclusively supply-side logic of the Celtic Tiger.

Gavin Daly

gavin.daly@nuim.ie

The problematic of rural Ireland and the rapidly emergent conditions of an increasingly urban-focused economic recovery has recently hit the headlines and moved front-and-centre in the concerns of both the media and government. RTE aired the “The Battle for Rural Ireland” documentary featuring the forlorn parents of emigrants and boarded up rural towns followed by the all too familiar, and equally depressing, ‘debate’ on Claire Byrne Live.

The column inches of newspapers have similarly carried numerous commentaries on the flatlining rural economy and rural depopulation with the chair of the government’s CEDRA commission, established to champion rural development, decrying the painfully slow progress in implementing its rural job creation strategy.  Dr. Brian Hughes on this blog and in the national media has been to the fore in arguing that the notion of balanced regional development is a fallacy and that “the future is urban” – something which the political class is loath to accept.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has declared 2015 “the year of rural recovery” where the fruits of economic growth will be spread equally across the land. Minister Simon Coveney was also on message pointing to the resurgence in agriculture and that reports of the demise of rural Ireland had been greatly exaggerated.

The IDA has even been mandated to develop new strategies to convince multinationals to invest outside of major cities while the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation proposes to publish new Regional Enterprise Strategies. Ireland’s uneven economic geography – temporarily masked by the property bubble – has re-emerged as a major political battleground for the upcoming general election and the trite urban versus rural ‘Punch ‘n’ Judy’ show, which has disastrously hampered the national territorial planning agenda for decades, appears set to continue in perpetuity.

Such is the political uneasiness that, just like in 2002 when the publication of the NSS was delayed by a general election, it is unlikely that the proposed new National Planning Framework (NPF) will be seen any time before 2017. Plus ça change.

It is of course an inescapable reality that for a country where the entire economic foundation is built upon attracting mobile international capital in high-value knowledge economy and export-orientated sectors, such as ICT and financial services, that Ireland’s future is urban. The international experience and literature on why this is so is voluminous, requiring little explanation here.

Worldwide, urbanisation is progressing at an unprecedented pace. Unless there is a major shift in national economic philosophy or global conditions, no amount of strategising or rural broadband schemes will permit Ireland to buck that trend. Simply put, capital will locate where it is most profitable and that invariably means in cities. However, rather than continuing to flog the dead horse of a specious urban/rural dichotomy it would be perhaps more productive in the context of developing the new NPF to instead conceive of a new understanding of what urbanisation means in 21st Century Ireland.

We continually persist with outdated notions that ‘up in Dublin’ is some spatially discreet, densely agglomerated and bounded entity roughly delineated by the M50 motorway. Equally, we tend to mawkishly cling to 19th century romantic notions of rural Ireland as sparsely populated verdant and pastoral countryside ‘bright and cosy with homesteads’. Neither exists, and these crude morphological or population-centric typologies are extremely misleading lenses into the recent dynamics of Irish urbanisation.

Instead, it would be more instructive to reconceptualise urbanisation as a dynamically evolving process which is taking place at wider spatial scales with ever-increasing reach and extending outwards into broader operational landscapes, including new forms of land-use intensification, counter-urbanisation, logistical chains, commuter hinterlands, core-periphery polarisation and uneven development. Both rural and urban are increasingly interwoven, shapeless, formless making it difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. Distinctions that made sense in the past have become entirely moot.*

The 'Real' Urban IrelandCatchment

             The ‘Real’ Urban Ireland 2011 & 2016 (Source CSO 2012, Pg. 25 & CSO, 2017)

Maintaining the contested urban/rural political soapbox serves only as a comfortable façade for a body politic to beat their chests and engage in a disingenuous performance of seriousness towards the welfare of ‘Rural Ireland’ while the inevitable reality unfolds around them.

As a consequence, in a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem, we have unwittingly managed to produce the worst of both worlds – places that are neither city nor countryside – and much of the unplanned spatial chaos we have inherited today. Somehow, along the way Irish policymakers seem to have conflated economic spill-overs with sprawling ex-urban zones of high accessibility as a prescription for halting rural depopulation (what Fianna Fáil’s Eamon O’Cuiv approvingly terms the ‘melting ice-cream effect’).

Therefore, perhaps the biggest mistake the new NPF could make is to continue with this hackneyed straitjacket of the urban/rural binarism and the notion that Ireland can be analytically carved up into two distinct spatial categories for intervention. The ignored challenge facing ‘Rural Ireland’ is, in fact, that it is in variously advanced stages of becoming urbanised.

If we continue to relegate ‘Rural Ireland’ as being outside the urban condition then we will forever misdiagnose the problem. As a result, we will persistently fail to frame the appropriate policy responses to address the implications of these ongoing processes for the future forms and pathways of urbanisation and, more generally, for the organisation of the built environment.

Perhaps it’s time to confront an uncomfortable premise – ‘Rural Ireland’ no longer exists.

Gavin Daly

Updated 27 December 2017

* Neil Brenner, ‘Implosions/Explosions: Towards a study of planetary urbanization (2014)

After four years of little tangible progress in respect of planning policy agendas, the government recently published a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) to reaffirm its strong belief in the value of a forward-looking, visionary and dynamic planning process” together with the heads of two new planning bills. The first introduces a new vacant site levy and revised provisions in relation to social and affordable housing. The second presents proposals for the long-awaited planning regulator, following the recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal. It also sets out the legislative context for the successor to the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) – the National Planning Framework (NPF).

Both bills have also not been without their criticisms from, for example, the Irish Planning Institute and An Taisce. The proposed vacant sites levy mechanism appears so cumbersome so as to be unworkable in practice and exposes the strategic error in opting for a property tax over a more progressive Site Value Tax. I have previously blogged on the criticisms surrounding the independence of the planning regulator. Regulating planning is not like regulating the taxi industry. Planning is spatial politics – making choices on the use of land which are irreversible and will have profound intergenerational impacts. While I acknowledge that the track record of most former ministers inspires little confidence, the idea of handing such power over to a technocratic regulator outside of democratic oversight would be fraught with danger. It cannot be simply assumed that the regulator would be a benign or progressive force.

The high-level political commitment in the PPS is, of course, welcome – basic ‘Planning 101’ type stuff. The new mantra for the planning system is to ensure that “the right development takes place in the right locations and at the right time”. However, what is actually happening in the micro-politics of everyday practice, and which will no doubt continue, is more like ‘any development, in any location and at any time’. For example, in the majority of local authorities, ad hoc ‘one-off’ housing currently accounts for well over 70% of all new residential units granted planning permission and in many cases it is over 90% i.e. diametrically contrary to the lofty principles of the PPS.

The broader point here, and relevant to the preparation of the new NPF, is Niklas Luhmann’s famous assertion that planning is possible if people are used to being planned. Irish people clearly are not. The political class is equally apathetic, even ideologically hostile, to long-term policy planning. The reason the NSS failed was due to thousands of individual acts of resistance – death by a thousand cuts – which cumulatively undermined the whole foundations of the strategy. This was aided and abetted by the vague nature of NSS policies and objectives which simultaneously offered something to everyone and nobody at the same time. Text could always be pulled out of the NSS to justify almost any manner of development proposal regardless of location, the upshot being a complete loss of steering capacity.

While there will always be broad acceptance of notional long-term planning strategies and feel-good intentions as advocated by the PPS, short-term considerations will always win out in concrete practice. Such outcomes are often tied to emotional pleadings around children of landowners and the promise of local jobs which are impossible to resist. We are already seeing a return of the ‘development-at-all-costs’ culture which gripped the Celtic Tiger, where those questioning development proposals on the grounds of national policy are being pilloried by national and local politicians. Surely, it must be a concern that in almost 50% of planning cases where a decision of a planning authority is sent for an independent review to An Bord Pleanála, that decision is reversed?

In short, we must be realistic about the prospects for the NPF. There is growing academic evidence of the widening gap between the theory and practice of spatial planning, and Ireland is obviously a clear case in point. In fact, it is difficult to point to any instances where national spatial planning has actually worked. Simply, persisting with all of the borrowed buzzwords of the late 1990s (e.g. balanced development, gateways, hubs, networks etc) for continuity’s sake would be foolish in the extreme. So would be to try to ignore the contentious spatial politics at national level by shirking responsibility to the new ‘super regions’.

The fact of the matter is that Ireland is not a blank page onto which we can sketch abstract spatial policies. This has been amplified by the legacy of the Celtic Tiger which has accreted a complex economic, social and political geography which creates manifold path dependencies which cannot now be unpicked. These geographies are adversarial to national planning and present as countervailing headwinds to any strategy aimed at focusing development and infrastructure into a limited number of growth centres. Our widely dispersed settlement patterns make both the politics and technicalities of such explicit choices impossible. In fact, it is hard to conceive of a more unfavourable environment for conducting national spatial planning. Concentrating resources in one location inevitably means withdrawing them from others. Spreading them too thinly automatically undermines a strategy aimed at spatial concentration. The recent HIQA report on the under-performance of regional ambulance services, and the subsequent political outcry, is instructive here.

So in the end the NPF, like its predecessor, will fudge it. Within the fog, all development regardless of location will be justifiable. This depoliticised consensus will of-course suit the wider elite political project of maintaining the primacy of Dublin and Ireland’s competitiveness at the global scale. The NPF and the illusion of balanced development implies a form of spatial Keynesianism whereby resources are redistributed territorially. However, imposing artificial constraints on the growth of Dublin will inevitably be presented as counter-productive. FDI will simply not move to peripheral regions, but overseas. Figures released by the DJEI show that almost half of all FDI jobs created in 2013 were in Dublin with Cork, Galway and Limerick accounting for the majority of the balance. Demographic analysis by the Western Development Commission also shows that population is projected to become more regionally concentrated, particularly in Dublin and the Mid-East regions.

We have previously marshaled great effort and expense to produce a NSS which ultimately proved pointless. Before we embark on another fool’s errand we should first be asking ourselves the simple question – unless we are willing to confront the spatial politics that such a strategy implies, is there any point? Our experience  is clearly that a spatial strategy based on a bland depoliticised consensus is equal to no strategy at all.

Gavin Daly

The assessment last week by the European Environment Agency that Ireland is set to fail to achieve its binding 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction target comes as no surprise. At 20% below 2005 emission levels, the Irish target is the highest possible in the EU. This in itself is another fateful legacy of ‘Celtic Tiger’, as national targets were assigned based on relative wealth (GDP per capita). As we now know, Ireland’s wealth in the mid-2000s was largely illusory. The consequences now put the government in an unenviable bind of having to make the deepest cuts in emissions while also grappling with the aftermath of one of the deepest European recessions. The line coming from Minister Alan Kelly is that the 2020 target is simply unrealistic and unachievable”. Of course, in the continuous absence of any meaningful strategic efforts to reduce emissions, epitomised by the complete failure to enact a climate change law, it will continue to remain so. Despite the progressive rhetoric on climate change, to date there has been but paltry implementation of actual measures, with the bulk of any emission reductions largely coming as an unintended consequence of the recession.

Inaction on climate policy has been driven by the classic Irish persuasion of brushing inconvenient issues under the carpet, particularly when there are no immediate consequences for doing nothing. Unfortunately, this short-sightedness has only served to dig a deeper hole from which we must now get out of. For under EU law, further procrastination is no longer an option. From now, and each year to 2020, Ireland is under a direct and binding legal obligation to reduce its emissions in a linear fashion. This will not be achieved, and is likely to force the government to avail of flexibility mechanisms and to purchase compliance, such as buying expensive carbon credits. Furthermore, in accordance with the new EU Semester budgetary surveillance process, Ireland is required to achieve its national Europe 2020 targets, which also includes the 20% reduction in greenhouse emissions. The European Commission can issue annual Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs) and these could compel Ireland to introduce specific policy measures and, if necessary, impose financial sanctions. This may include, for example, environmental tax reforms, such as a significant increase in carbon taxes or other user charges (as was included in the 2014 CSRs for Luxembourg, for example). Similar to the current furore over water charges, such fiscal measures would obviously be extremely unpopular.

EMISSIONS

So what is the scope for reducing emissions in the Ireland? Agriculture and transport together make up approximately 70% of all emissions for the purposes of the 2020 target. As part of its economic recovery plans, the government has been categorical in its position that emissions from agriculture will rise under the massive Food Harvest 2020 expansion plans. In fact, Ireland has been very active in arguing for special greenhouse gas accounting rules for agriculture. However, such rules, if they prove their worth, could not be introduced until at least 2022. As a result, in the short-term a disproportionate burden will have to be placed on the transport sector. A further unfortunate legacy of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ is that from 1990 to 2012 transport was the fastest growing source of emissions, increasing by 113%, mostly due to a threefold increase in the use of private cars. In 2009, the ‘Smarter Travel‘ policy was introduced and proposed that by 2020 car commuting to work should drop from 65% to 45%; alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport should rise to 55% of total commuter journeys; and that future population and employment growth would predominantly take place in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel. This policy was a key component of the measures proposed to reduce Ireland’s transport emissions for the purposes of the 2020 target.

However, in the most recent draft ‘Investing in Our Transport Future’ policy document published by the Department of Transport in August, reality has bitten and these ambitious targets have now been abandoned. The report concedes that despite successive national policies which have had the consistent stated objective of promoting modal shift away from private cars and better integrating land-use and transportation, it must now be recognised that these policies have failed. As a result, given the diverse range and dispersed pattern of journey origins and destinations, there is now extremely limited potential for reducing emissions in the transport sector and “current spatial patterns remain very unfavourable to efficient and sustainable transport provision”. According to the report, even achieving widespread modal shift in our cities would yield little emission savings due to the short nature of such trips and the sheer scale of spatial sprawl and bloated commuter belts which have embedded car dependency. The report goes on to conclude that “reducing emissions from transport would require a transformation in the sector, relying on technological innovation and security of alternative fuels supply supported by enabling policies and widespread behavioural change”. What this in effect means is the extensive roll-out of electric vehicles. The government has a target of achieving 10%, or approximately 250,000 electric vehicles by 2020. There are currently around 250 in use. Worldwide there are only around 400,000.

The stored up costs of past planning failures just keep on giving and latest draft transport policy document reads as a pretty damning indictment of the spatial chaos that was allowed to take hold during  the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and the complete failure of the national policy to curb sprawl. Aside from the climate policy implications, as a consequence of the new budgetary realities, major questions are posed in the report as to whether Ireland can now afford to respond to these spatial patterns in terms of investment requirements and service provision costs. We are already seeing the implications of this with the recent decision by the National Transport Authority to approve a further increase in public transport fares.  Options being actively considered include reducing the size and/or level of performance of the funded road and rail network to a more appropriate scale (particularly rail due to its high fixed costs vis-à-vis passenger numbers) together with demand management through fiscal measures, such as road user charging based on distance and time. Clearly, the scope for such additional charges, infrastructure downgrades or service withdrawals is limited by realpolitikthe existing burden of taxation, the hardship being experienced by many families and high levels of household expenditure on transport, where people have no or inadequate access to more sustainable transport modes.

Until now the debate on Ireland’s greenhouse gas reduction targets has largely taken place in the abstract. However, the latest IPCC report this week has further firmed up the scientific evidence and the scale of mitigation required, and this issue is not going to go away. Likewise, the EU has recently agreed a post-2020 framework to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030, with national efforts again distributed on the basis of GDP per capita. Despite the recession, Ireland still has the fifth highest GDP per capita in Europe, guaranteeing a relatively high emission reduction target. In the coming years the unreality will have to end and the choices necessary to reduce emissions will come into sharp relief. None of them will be easy, inexpensive or without controversy. According to a briefing this year by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in the absence of national mitigation, potential costs of purchasing compliance for the Irish Exchequer for the 2020 to 2030 period could have a cumulative total in the billions and there is cause for concern. Unfortunately, the fixed spatial legacy handed down by past planning failures has locked-in high fossil fuel use and entrenched car dependency which severely limits the choices now available and significantly increases the costs of mitigation options. In climate change policy jargon the ‘least cost principle’ would dictate that spatial planning practice and transport investment should be better and more firmly aligned. However, this lesson continues not to be learned – currently almost 50% of all new houses granted permission are for dispersed car dependent ‘one-off’ dwellings. It will be these same households that will bear the brunt of future transport cost inflation, downgrading of infrastructure and service withdrawals.

Gavin Daly

Just in case you may have overlooked it, today marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the planning system in Ireland! On the 1st of October 1964 the first planning act came into being. Since that time planning has soldiered valiantly, and despite the general apathy of the public and no little hostility from the political class, somehow remains standing, even if battered and bruised. If truth be told it is only in the past ten years that planning has actually existed in any meaningful form. Prior to that we had mostly men with t-squares largely concerned with pipe diameters, soak pits and sight-lines. Today’s planners toil through an unnerving jumble of complexity and tortuous process spoken in a strange-tongued language of technical jargon that nobody really understands. They have become handy targets, mudguards, used and abused and persistently caught in the crossfire of short-term expediency, long-term strategising and the conflicting expectations of the public, politicians and business. I doubt I am alone in hoping the question of ‘what do you do for a living?’ doesn’t come up in the pub!

As Irish planning muddles through middle age maybe it’s time to ask some uncomfortable mid-life crisis questions – the elephants in the room – what are we doing, where are we going, whose needs do we serve and does what we do actually work? If we take the simple measure of being able to control the future by current acts, which is what planning essentially is, then it must be concluded from the evidence that it doesn’t work at all, or at least not very well. I mean, while the counterfactual can never be fully known, would Ireland look any different today if we hadn’t mobilised great effort to produce spatial strategies and visions? Maybe at the margins, but not much, I suspect. While we wax lyrical about communities and sustainability, who has benefited most from planning – landowners? developers? banks? The influx of more ‘evidence’ into the process does not seem to be producing better results, although it is probably too early to tell. What we are very good at are attempts to plan, we produce nice glossy plans like the National Spatial Strategy. But just as a desire to be wise is not wisdom, planning can only be evaluated on whether or not the desired goals have been achieved. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. On pretty much every measure, it must be conceded that we haven’t achieved much. Even our glittering flagship planning visions, such as the Dublin Docklands or Adamstown, remain undelivered and hardly do much to justify our existence.

To be fair, planning is a messy business beholden to private capital and it has failed pretty much everywhere it has been tried. Achieving a desired end state is also not necessarily a good yardstick to measure success as the world is always in flux. Things change. But as I have argued before neither should the profession lapse into banal process and incrementalism as it is as present. We planners always tend to think of ourselves as victims, put-upon and marginalised by an unholy alliance of developers, politicians and county managers. If people had only listened to our recommendations and followed the plan, things would have been so different. I don’t buy this. Things wouldn’t have been much different. This is because our plans persistently seek legitimisation by appealing to consensus, superficially offering something to everyone and no one. The net result is that the short-term competitiveness and growth agenda wins out. As a profession, these are now our de facto values. I think most planner’s would think the ‘Common Good’ should mean more than that. A recent paper on this subject revealed that most planners have no idea what the ‘Common Good’ actually is (Murphy & Fox-Rogers 2014) . Planning education has a lot to answer for here. The intellectual horizons of the profession has shrunk so much that we are incapable offering any alternatives or critical perspectives to puncture the status quo. We must drop the instinctive notion that we are pursuing a progressive agenda. The opposite is often the reality. There was a call a few years ago by the then Irish Planning Institute president for a ‘Planner’s Charter’ setting out the broad values of the profession. That idea never saw the light of day. I suspect because of lack of consensus. But on the occasion of our 50th birthday, this should be the time for at least a debate.

Gavin Daly

On Tuesday, the European Commission published its Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion. The report, which is released every three years and charts the progress in implementing EU Cohesion Policy and European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds, includes a wealth of evidence and data on the performance of Europe’s member states and regions over the period of the economic crisis. Its publication comes at a particularly important juncture for Ireland, which is in the process of reforming local and regional governance, and finalising its plans on how to use EU funding between 2014 and 2020.

Overall, and unsurprisingly, the key message from the report is that across Europe regional disparities are widening due to the uneven impact of the economic crisis. This is particularly evident with regard to regional unemployment rates. In 2008, five EU regions had an unemployment rate above 20%. In 2013, the number had increased to 27. Among highly-developed member states, Ireland and Spain stand out as having suffered the biggest reduction in employment rates while having the highest productivity gains. Regional disparities within countries have also widened significantly. Between 2008 and 2011, two out of every three EU regions experienced a reduction in GDP per head, with the Border, Midlands and Western region of Ireland amongst those with the steepest decline. Ireland, along with Greece and Spain, also experienced the biggest fall in the EU Human Development Index – which measures health, education and income/employment – between 2008 and 2013.

employment

The Irish case shows some interesting idiosyncrasies which may have some important implications for the framing of future regional and spatial policy. For example, amongst more developed countries across Europe, low work intensity is typically more prevalent in cities, with the exception of Ireland. This clearly reflects national policy of promoting the Dublin city-region as a growth pole for global Foreign Direct Investment, most recently elucidated in the revised statement of government priorities, and the fact that the Irish crisis has been most acute outside cities. However, absolute deprivation rates remain on average 5% higher in cities than in the rest of the country. In respect of R&D – a major focus of Ireland’s drive to attract inward investment – the report states that, because manufacturing is spatially concentrated, it is unrealistic to expect that all regions can reach the Europe 2020 target for R&D spending and many regions should focus instead on other ways to innovate.

Regional Governance

In the context of the major local and regional governance reforms ongoing in Ireland, the report notes that EU sub-national governments contribute significantly to public investment. It further finds that this capacity is tightly correlated with the ability of sub-national governments to generate their own autonomous fiscal resources. In 2013, around 55% of total public investment in the EU-28 was carried out by sub-national authorities. However, in the case of Ireland, this share has fallen from 60% in 2000 to just 21% in 2013 – the sharpest decline in Europe. By contrast, central governments in 14 countries, especially in Germany, Lithuania, Sweden and Luxembourg, have increased support to local and regional authorities. The report concludes that it is no coincidence that in most of the countries in which net transfers to sub-national authorities increased, the recession was of limited duration and there was less need for fiscal consolidation.

LA Spending

As regional disparities increase, the importance of Cohesion Policy (worth €1.2 billion to Ireland) as a critical funding lever to suport investments in SMEs, R&D, ICT, energy efficiency, and physical infrastructure, and to cushion the impact of the crisis comes into ever sharper focus. The report places a major emphasis on governance quality and notes that poor quality governance institutions can directly and indirectly hinder social and economic development and limit the impact of Cohesion Policy. The Commission has therefore recognised the central importance of improving governance at all levels and is particularly supportive of the increasing trend towards regionalisation in many parts of the EU. As these sub-national authorities acquire more autonomy and more responsibility for public expenditure, the report endorses the principles of effective and integrated management of public investment recently approved by the OECD.

Gavin Daly

  • The Commission also launched a new Cohesion Policy open data platform. Users can explore Report data with a range of interactive maps and charts.
  • The Sixth Cohesion Forum will be held in Brussels on the 8h  and 9th of September

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Lewis Dijkstra of the European Commission and Editor of the Sixth Cohesion Report will speak at the ‘Creating the Regions of Tomorrow -Maximising Ireland’s Reform Opportunity’ conference which will be held on Friday 26th of September, 2014 in the Renehan Hall at NUI, Maynooth, County Kildare.

The Final Conference Programme is Now Available to download

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I think there is an election on? From where I sit here in Luxembourg you would hardly know. The lamp posts are not festooned with every manner of local and European election candidate posters. Now and then a billboard reminds you that there is in fact a European election on – and only a European election. Meanwhile, the commuter buses are daily packed with bureaucrats busily going about the policy work of the EU – policies which are having an ever-increasing and direct influence on Irish people but which have barely registered in the European election debate.

election+posters+kerry+3

Take for example the Europe 2020 strategy which is currently the flagship overarching policy initiative of the EU. The strategy is built around five ambitious headline targets for each Member State to achieve by 2020 in the key areas of employment, R&D, climate and energy, education and the fight against poverty and social exclusion – pretty much the entire sphere of national government. Yet, reviewing the European election manifestos of each of the major political parties and trawling news reports on the elections, the Europe 2020 strategy is not mentioned, not once.

These are not vague or distant targets which have no immediate concrete policy meaning in practice for Irish people. The Europe 2020 strategy is now implemented and monitored through the new European Semester, the yearly cycle of coordination of economic and budgetary policies at EU level. Within this new process the European Commission can, depending on performance towards achieving targets, issue Country Specific Recommendations on the basis of National Reform Programmes which must be carried through in the annual budgets of each Member State. Where recommendations are not acted on within the given time-frame, policy warnings can be issued. There is also an option for enforcement through incentives and sanctions, including by withholding structural funds.

Ireland’s National Reform Programme 2014 was published just last month – again without a murmur in the media so fixated on reform at the last election. It is clear from EU monitoring that Ireland is struggling badly to meet many of our 2020 targets, particularly in respect of poverty and greenhouse gas reduction, which could prompt policy warnings from the European Commission. As part of the National Reform Programme, the government also published the Draft National Risk Assessment 2014 for public consultation. This new strategic policy initiative is designed to identify the future risks, both financial and non-financial, which Ireland faces and, which according to the Taoiseach, is “an attempt to avoid the mistakes of the past by not only identifying risks the country faces, but also encouraging debate in the Dáil and by the public”.   

It is hard to think of a more meritorious political debate to be had during the European elections than the future direction of the Europe 2020 strategy.  However, judging by the woeful election campaigns, most Irish people, including most of the candidates, have most likely never heard of it. Just this week the European Commission announced a review of the Europe 2020 strategy as it is now considered time to reflect on the design of a new long-term ‘post-crisis’ strategy. The review presents an opportunity for an informed national debate on a whole series of risks and issues which can now only be effectively tackled at pan-EU level including: fiscal imbalances, renewable energy, growing energy dependency, greenhouse gas emissions, real estate bubbles, unemployment, widening social inequalities, dysfunctional financial systems and underperforming public administrations. These are the real European policy issues which struggle to rise above the clutter and polemic of the election campaigns.

As we creep incrementally towards greater European integration and an ever greater importance of EU policy, it may be about time that we consider separating European from local elections. Having both elections on the same day, and with both sets of candidates competing for scarce space on lamp posts and in the media, inevitably results in a conflation of local, national and European issues.  Granted, there may be a genuine fear of plummeting voter turnout given the general apathy towards Europe. However, I am equally unconvinced that the status quo is the way forward. The important European reform agenda needs to be met with a maturing political discourse in Ireland and a significant change in attitude in how we engage with EU policy making.

Gavin Daly

  • Submissions on the Europe 2020 Strategy can be made here before the 31st of October 2014
  • Submissions on the National Risk Assessment 2014 are being accepted before the 30th of June 2014. See here.

 

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One-Day Conference:

The National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis in association with ESPON will host the following one-day conference: 

Creating the Regions of Tomorrow: 

Maximising Ireland’s Reform Opportunity

Renehan Hall, NUI Maynooth, County Kildare

Friday 26th September 2014

*Admission is free but registration is essential*

register

The Conference Programme is now available here:

Conference Programme

Conference Programme

Mark Boyle & Gavin Daly