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Yesterday saw the publication of a special issue of the Journal of Irish Urban Studies: Dublin 2026, the Future Urban Environment.  The papers are all taken from the Urban Environment Project – a collaboration between UCD, NUIM and TCD and funded by the EPA – that has sought to better understand the link between development, land-use change and associated economic and environmental impact within urban regions, focusing in particular on the Dublin region.

A PDF of the all the papers can be downloaded from here. There was some coverage in yesterday’s Irish Times – an article ‘Legislation on conflicts of interest key to city planning‘ and ‘Rectifying our planning errors‘.

To access each individual paper click on the links below.

Introduction to Dublin 2026: The Future Urban Environment Ronan Foley, John Sweeney

The Development of the Functional Urban Region of Dublin: Implications for Regional Development Markets and Planning
Brendan Williams, Cormac Walsh, Ian Boyle

Changing office location patterns and their importance in the peripheral expansion of the Dublin region 1960 – 2008.
Andrew MacLaran, Katia Attuyer, Brendan Williams

Biodiversity in Dublin, A case study approach
Carmel Brennan, Sheila Convery, Michael Brennan

Simulated future development of the Greater Dublin Area: consequences for protected areas and coastal flooding risk
Michael Brennan, Tamara Hochstrasser, Harutyun Shahumyan

Regional governance and the challenge of managing socio-economic change
Deiric O Broin

 

As reported in an editorial in today’s Irish Times, a special issue of the Journal of Irish Urban Studies has just been published, presenting work of the Urban Environment Project, a large-scale, multi-insitutional and multi-disciplinary collaborative research project led by UCD Urban Institute Ireland and funded by the Environment Protection Agency. Issues addressed by the special issue include biodiversity, city-regional governance, office location patterns simulated coastal flood risk and spatial planning. All articles in this issue are available to download here. The analysis below is extracted from one article of this special issue.

The spatial extent of Dublin’s functional urban region or commuting hinterland has served as a key indicator and point of discussion on the ‘sprawl’ of Dublin and extent of uncontrolled urban expansion over the Celtic tiger period. The location of unfinished and partially vacant housing estates in some locations suggests that private developers significantly overestimated the extent of the ‘Dublin market’. The analysis below serves to map the spatial extent of the Dublin functional urban region and identifies the share of the Dublin workforce commuting from the Mid-East Region (Kildare, Meath and Wicklow) and beyond.

The spatial extent of the Dublin Functional Urban Region and Economic Core Area is derived from 2006 Census of Population data. The Place of Work Census of Anonymised Records (POWCAR) subset of the 2006 Census of Population, allows for a direct assessment of employment density at a fine spatial scale and a direct matching of origin and destination data for the analysis of commuting flows. The Dublin Economic Core Area, as shown in Figure 1 comprises all EDs where employment density is at least 7 jobs per hectare (700/km2) within the four Dublin counties.  The ECA includes approximately 406,000 people at work and 525,000 residents in 159 EDs and covers an area of 150.0 square kilometres (km2). In addition to the traditional Commercial Business District (CBD) large suburban nodes including Blanchardstown, Swords, Dublin Airport, Tallaght and Sandyford, indicating the increasingly dispersed and polycentric pattern of employment distribution within the city

Figure 1: Dublin Economic Core Area. Source: Census of Population 2006 POWCAR dataset OSi boundary datasets, OSi permit no. MP009006(c) Government of Ireland

The spatial extent of the Dublin Functional Urban Region (FUR) is subsequently defined in relation to the ECA. The inclusion of EDs within the FUR is determined by two criteria:

  1. At least 10% of workers resident in the ED work in the Dublin ECA
  2. 50 workers, resident in the ED work in the Dublin ECA

The criteria outlined above, are selected to reflect the actual spatial extent of the FUR based on daily commuting flows (Figure 2). In total 454 EDs are included within the 2006 FUR. The total FUR area covers 4,138 km2. For comparative purposes the spatial extent of the Dublin Sub-Region as defined by the ERDO strategy on the basis of 1981 data is shown in Figure 6.12. The area of the Dublin Sub-Region (2,016 km2) is less than half that of the 2006 FUR. Differences in methodology preclude further inferences to be drawn regarding the spatial expansion over the 1981-2006 period. With the exception of Togher, Calary and Altidore, located in north Wicklow, all EDs included in the ERDO sub-region are also included in the 2006 FUR. The principal contiguous area of the 2006 FUR extends to include all of the Dublin Region and large parts of northeast Wicklow, northeast and central Kildare, south and east Meath and southern Louth.  Urban centres located at some distance from the principal contiguous area but included within the FUR include all or parts of Dundalk, Kells, Portarlington, Borris, Athy Baltinglass, Arklow, and Gorey. It should be noted that the spatial extent of the FUR as defined here is less than that defined by Williams et al. in the Society of Chartered Surveyors commissioned study (published in 2007). The FUR has not contracted between 2002 and 2006. Rather, improvements in data availability and methodological changes have allowed for a significantly more accurate assessment of the spatial extent of the Dublin Functional Urban Region. In total approximately 388,000 workers resident in the FUR in 2006 commuted to work in the Dublin ECA. This is however only 52% of the total number of resident workers in the FUR, indicating the continued significance of smaller dispersed centres of employment.

Figure 2: Dublin Functional Urban Region. Source: Census of Population 2006 POWCAR dataset, OSi boundary layers, OSi permit no. MP009006(c) Government of Ireland, ERDO Eastern Regional Settlement Strategy (1985).

A county and regional level analysis of the workforce in the Greater Dublin Area is provided in Tables 1 and 2 below. The Greater Dublin Area workforce (defined by place of work) is composed of workers commuting to a fixed place of work (‘commuters’), those working primarily at home (‘home’ workers) and those with no fixed place of work (mobile’ workers). In this analysis mobile workers are excluded as their principal county of work is unknown. Almost 70,500 mobile workers are recorded with places of residence within the Greater Dublin Area. This compares to a total of 626,162 commuting to work in the GDA and 25,968 working from home in the GDA.

The statistics in Table 6.2 include both commuters and home workers. The place of work of home workers is determined by their place of residence. The total number of jobs in the Dublin Region (525,204) was significantly higher than in the Mid-East Region (126,886) in 2006. Comparing with total population figures, however, provides a more meaningful basis for comparing the regional distribution of employment. There were approximately 442 jobs per 1000 population in the Dublin Region, compared with 267 jobs per 1000 population in the Mid-East Region.

 

Table 1: Greater Dublin Area workforce classified by place of work and place of residence, 2006, Source: Census of Population 2006 POWCAR dataset

In total 82.6% of those at work in the Dublin Region were resident within the Dublin Region[1]. An additional 13.4% are recorded as commuting from the neighbouring Mid-East Region. By comparison 77.6% of those at work within the Mid-East Region were resident within the Mid-East Region. 11.4% of those at work in the Mid-East Region commuted from beyond the Greater Dublin Area, a significantly higher proportion than for the Dublin Region. In total 35,845 workers are recorded as commuting from beyond to the GDA to places of work within the GDA. This figure, however, represents only 5.5% of the total workforce in the GDA.

Region of residence of GDA workforce, 2006 Data Source: Census of Population 2006, POWCAR dataset

Williams, B. Walsh, C. & Boyle, I. (2010) The Functional Urban Region of Dublin: Implications for Regional Development Markets and Planning, Journal of Irish Urban Studies, vo. 7-9, p. 5-30.

Please reference the published version!

Note: the research was conducted as part of the Urban Environment Project, hosted by UCD Urban Institute Ireland and funded by the Environment Protection Agency. The author’s access to the Census of Population POWCAR dataset was possible by kind permission of the Central Statistics Office.
Cormac Walsh, Brendan Williams and Ian Boyle


[1] If mobile workers are assigned to their region of residence, this figure increases to 84.0% for the Dublin Region with a corresponding figure of 81.4% for the Mid-East Region.

As reported in today’s Irish Times, a judgement in the Commercial Court has found that Minister Gormley acted outside his legislative powers when he intervened in a land-use zoning case in Dun-Laoghaire Rathdown.  In April 2009, the County Council voted to rezone a ‘neighbourhood centre’ in Carrickmines to the status of ‘District Centre’ to facilitate the ambitious retail development plans of Tristor developments and developer Michael Cotter, against the advice of the County Manager. In March of this year Minister Gormley directed this rezoning to overturned, arguing that the draft development plan failed to provide an’overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area’as required by the Planning and Development Act, 2000.

Site Plan of 'The Park' Carrickmines, http://www.thepark.ie/

The court judgement found that the Minister was not entitled to impose his own views on the proper planning and development of a local area. In effect it clearly establishes that local councillors retain significant decision-making powers on planning matters. Whatever about the merits or otherwise of the land-use zonings in question, from the point of view of local democracy and politcal accountability this must be seen as a positive judgement. It would set a poor precedent if the Minister could intervene in any planning issues without a clear case being made that a local decision was in breach of the planning legislation.

It is through Court cases like this that the full implications of the 2010 Planning and Development (Ammendment) Act will be tested. There may a considerable grey area between what is considered a signficant and clear-cut breach of the National Spatial Strategy, Ministerial Guidelines or  Regional Planning Guidelines and what is just about acceptable. In practice, political decision-making at the local level will continue to be a significant element of the planning system. Part of living in a democratic society includes accepting the power of elected representatives to make decisions on the behalf of the citizens they represent. There is of course also a responsibility on elected representatives to make informed decisions which fall within the parameters set by legislation and policy and serve the public interest, but that is another story.

Cormac Walsh

The NIRSA Working Paper, A Haunted Landscape’ provides an analysis of the current situation of oversupply in the Irish housing market, focussing in particular on the uneven geography of housing development and so-called ghost estates as a very visible and tangible manifestation of the housing crisis.

Ronan Webster of CB Richard Ellis, speaking at the Irish Planning Institute Autumn Conference last week characterised recent trends in housing development in Ireland in terms of a shift from a perception of undersupply to a perception of oversupply. Indeed the Bacon reports of the late 1990s and much official and academic commentary since have pointed to a situation of very significant undersupply in the Dublin Region in particular. It has been widely argued that the undersupply in the Dublin market has contributed to the displacement of urban-generated residential development to the Mid-East region and further afield in ‘Outer Leinster’ (see Society of Chartered Surveyors Housing Study).  A Haunted Landscape, in the contrast, finds that residential development in Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown (and Cork City) was far in excess of demand, while housing in Fingal, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and South Dublin was ‘in line with demand’.

Clearly different notions of undersupply (and by inference optimum supply) are at play here. From a social equity or planning policy perspective it is evident that there was an undersupply of suitable residential development in Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown. This undersupply coupled with highly inflated and unaffordable prices inevitably contributed to the displacement of housing development beyond the boundaries of the Dublin metropolitan area. The characterisation of the housing situation in Dublin as one of oversupply betrays the influence of reductionist economics thinking but also reflects a spatial blindness. Housing supply in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown cannot be understood in isolation from the analysis of housing supply in the Mid-East Region and wider Dublin housing and commuter catchment areas.  The high demand for housing in the Mid-East Region and associated unprecedented pace and scale of development over the housing boom period may in large part be understood as the consequence of the undersupply of appropriate (i.e. family friendly and affordable) housing in the Dublin Region. Planning policy as articulated at national, regional and local scales in fact strongly supported the concentration of residential development within the Metropolitan Area of Dublin and the designated development centres in the surrounding hinterland area (see map below). It is the failure of the State (central and local government) to provide the necessary infrastructure, services and regulation to support socially sustainable residential development within the Dublin Region that has led to the perverse situation of reported oversupply in the Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and supply in line with demand in neighbouring Hinterland counties. In order to fully understand the social, economic and political geography of Ireland After NAMA, we need to move away from interpretations of statistical data which serve to reinforce the fallacies of methodoligcal territorialism (see Neil Brenner – New State Spaces…), where counties and other administrative units are understood as distinct spatial entities.

Constructing a geography of flows and functional relationships creates challenges in terms of data gathering and analysis but must be seen as a neccessary step in highlighting the evident deficits in dominant aspatial and terrritorial interpretations.

Cormac Walsh

 

Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area (2004) Settlement Strategy

 

The National Spatial Strategy Update and Outlook, published on Tuesday, identifies the NSS as a ‘critical instrument for prioritisation and coordination of scarce resources ‘.  Integration between strategic spatial planning and capital investment prioritisation is further identified as a key means of delivering the objectives of the National Spatial Strategy. Indeed academic and policy advocates of European spatial planning have long argued that strategic spatial planning is a means of saving money, through its focus on coordination across policy sectors. The NSS itself is recognised as internationally as a leading example of national scale spatial planning in large part due to the formal links between spatial policy and capital investment allocation advanced through the 2007-2013 National Development Plan. See here for further details – ICLRD Briefing Paper 2.

The Update and Outlook seeks to strengthen the capacity of the NSS to act as a vehicle for the spatial coordination of sectoral policies through the re-establishment of a high level inter-departmental ‘NSS Coordination Team’. The focus of this team will be on ‘capital investment prioritisation’ which may be interpreted as Orwellian for spending cuts. Sitting high level representatives of the main spending departments ‘around the table’ in the context of spatial coordination is laudable but one must wonder where the momentum was lost following the initial launch of the NSS in 2002. It is also of concern however, that a new White Paper on Rural Development is under preparation in the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs with apparently no direct input to date from the Planning Section of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (who are responsible for the NSS).

At the regional level the Update and Outlook stresses the role of Regional Authorities (RAs) and the new Regional Planning Guidelines (published this year) as a framework for ‘monitoring the integration of national, regional and local planning’ and strengthening arrangements for policy coordination between government departments, public sector agencies and local authorities. Indeed the Regional Reports published by each RA in the late 1990s set out a strong agenda for joined-up governance at the regional level. The reports, however also point to significant obstacles, many of which remain equally relevant today. These include an incompatibility of regional boundaries used by different agencies, a culture of competition among agencies and a lack of incentives for coordination and collaboration. In order for the cross-sectoral policy coordination potential of RAs and regional planning strategies is to be realised significant changes in governance cultures will be necessary as well as substantial changes in funding structures and related resource allocation mechanisms.

The diagrams below contrast two distinct models of regional governance relationships which I term ‘traditional hierarchical’ and ‘multi-level network structures’ (see NIRSA Working Paper 61 for further details):

(Click on images to view full size)

As Regional Authorities in their current form must be seen as relatively minor actors, it may be argued that current governance arrangements resemble the traditional hierarchical model presented here. Relations between government departments, public agencies and local authorities are characterised by a mix of strong and weak hierarchical links with limited horizontal or networked linkages at national, regional or local levels. The multi-level network model in contrast is characterised by a multiplicity of network links. The model draws on the international literature on multi-level and network governance and indicates the potential for regional governance bodies to play a critical role in ‘organising connectivities’ across diverse policy sectors and institutional arenas. A multi-level governance framework takes the principal of subsidiary seriously in recognising the autonomy of regional and local government but sets this within the context of policy influences from both national and European Union levels. It also raises the prospect of a non-hierarchical relationship between regional authorities and central government. The German ‘counter-current’ principle (Gegenstromprinzip) may be instructive in this regard. In this case a balance between strategic direction and regional and local autonomy is achieved through an institutionalised process of negotiation across the different levels of government. Significantly the international literature suggests that this coordination role for regional authorities is not dependent on significant resources or implementation capacities attached to the regional body itself. Indeed a regional authority, supported by a relatively small number of core staff may perform better in this regard than a large bureaucratic structure.

The National Spatial Strategy is as much about joined-up governance and policy coordination across the public service as it is about planning policy per se. The importance of getting this right should not be underestimated in context of the current recession and assocciated pressures for ‘capital investment prioritisation’.

Cormac Walsh

A Haunted Landscape, the recent report on the housing crisis in Ireland published by NIRSA, identifies a ‘catastrophic failure of the planning system’ as a major contributor to the property crash and current housing crisis. While it is evident that governance failure in the planning and property development system contributed to unsustainable development patterns in recent years it is unclear where the actual problems lie. Is it a lack of strategic policy direction, an inconsistency between local, regional and national policies, clientelist and corrupt practices at the local level or the influence of perverse financial incentives or a combination of the above?

Aaron Wildavsky - American Political Scientist (1930-1993)

It may be argued that more fundamental questions need to be asked about our expectations of the planning system and more specifically how planning failure or success is evaluated. The academic literature on evaluation in planning highlights the difficulties in assessing the success or failure of spatial plans. American political scientist Aaron Wildavsky in 1973 famously argued that ‘if planning is everything, maybe it’s nothing’. He cautioned against an instrumentalist view of planning and plan implementation where planning becomes an attempt to control the future and argued that because uncertainty makes control of the future impossible, evaluating the failure or success of planning is an impossible task. More recent studies have argued for a more nuanced view of the application of spatial plans, arguing that strategic plans in particular should be evaluated according to their capacity to inform decision-making in practice. This perspective of course acknowledges that strategic spatial plans (such as the National Spatial Strategy or Regional Planning Guidelines) may not be the only or even the most significant influence on the ‘decision environment’ of planning in practice.

The ‘public interest’ is often cited both in public and academic discourse as the principal rationale for public policy intervention in land and development markets. Planning is conducted to safeguard the interests of the public or the common good and more generally to ensure a balance between public and private interests. It may be argued that it is self-evident that much of the development that has taken place in Ireland in recent times has not been in the public interest. Six hundred ghost estates clearly do not serve the public interest. At the level of individual planning decisions, however, it is more difficult to ascertain where the ‘correct’ balance between public and private interest lies. Critical to this discussion is the question of scale. In the planning context, the concept of the public interest is highly scale-dependent. For city and county councillors the public interest may legitimately be equated with that of the ‘local community’, local electoral constituency or Local Authority area. They are democratically elected to serve and make decisions on behalf of a particular spatially-bounded constituency. For councillors in parts Dun Laoghaire Rathdown for example, the public interest may translate into opposition to further housing development, irrespective of national or regional policies promoting urban consolidation within a designated metropolitan area. Similarly concerns for ‘balanced regional development’ in county Kildare as expressed by elected public representatives within the county are about ensuring an equitable balance between development in the North and South of the county which may in effect run counter to the explicit policy objectives for balanced regional development as expressed in the National Spatial Strategy.

Prof. Louis Albrechts University of Leuven

Spatial planning is in part about a negotiation of values articulated at local, regional and national scales of governance and by a range of sectoral stakeholders and policy coalitions. It is not simply a technical exercise, conducted in accordance with pre-defined universally accepted policy objectives. The final outcomes are therefore unlikely to conform exactly to the policy objectives or aspirations as set out by central government. Professor Louis Albrechts of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium argues that ‘planning is in politics, and cannot escape politics but is not politics’. He contends that the process of spatial planning involves defining the ‘values and images a society wants to achieve’. Any evaluation of the planning system in Ireland must take full account of the scalar and territorial dimensions of decision-making on planning issues and recognise the nature of planning policy and practice as a (legitimately) politically contested activity.

A recognition of the politics of spatial planning, however, does not reduce the need for a systematic investigation of the capacity of the planning system in Ireland to firstly guide the spatial distribution of development in accordance with agreed plans and secondly to provide a basis for coordination and integration with other policy sectors and activities.

Cormac Walsh

As noted previously on IAN the 2009 Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill seeks to require that future decision-making by Local Authorities on planning issues is consistent with national and regional policy objectives.

A core element of the Bill is the introduction of ‘core strategies’ in City/County Development Plans. Statements of core strategy are required to demonstrate the conformance of proposed developments to national policy objectives. In this way City/County Development Plans will be required to provide a rationale for both existing and proposed residential and mixed-use zonings, including an indication of the proposed number of housing units to be accommodated on residentially zoned land. This requirement will potentially make it increasingly difficult for councillors and Local Authority management to zone large areas of land irrespective of the demand for housing within the locality or region and ensure consistency between the written statements of Development Plans and the associated zoning decisions of councillors, something which was often absent in the past (see for example Meath 2001 County Development Plan).

Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area 2004-2016: Settlement Strategy (An example of a spatial strategy)

Spatial Distribution of Urban Development in the Greater Dublin Area: 1990-2006 (Source: MOLAND land-use datasets, analysis and mapping by the author) (An example of an evidence base)

The Bill also makes provision for an enhanced monitoring role for Regional Authorities. Regional Authorities are given an explicit role in the Development Plan preparation process, tasked with ensuring consistency with Regional Planning Guidelines (and effectively national policy). Significantly this enhanced role and responsibility for Regional Authorities is premised on the introduction of an executive role for Regional Authority staff. Currently the only official ‘voice’ of a Regional Authority on planning matters is that of the members (i.e. nominated councillors from constituent Local Authorities). This enhancement of the executive role of the Regional Authorities may, however, have significant resource implications, as existing capacities in terms of planning, research and policy development are quite limited.

The extent to which the Planning Bill (assuming it is enacted following the summer break) heralds a radical shift in planning practice remains to be seen. City/County County Plans in most cases include statements of consistency with regional and national policy and population and housing projections which are also generally broadly consistent with the NSS and Regional Planning Guidelines. In terms of implementation of the Planning Bill, the emphasis must be placed on monitoring, ensuring draft Development Plans are in conformance and more critically ensuring decision-making by Local Authorities on development proposals fully takes account of regional and national policy frameworks.

In particular, it is necessary for Local Authorities to assess whether a development proposal responds to an actual demand or need that is not already catered for by existing developments or proposed or developments, whether they are in the same Local Authority area or not. It is imperative that Local Authorities and An Bord Pleanála begin to refuse planning permissions on the basis that the demand for particular types of development is satisfied by currently and existing proposed developments. This criteria is over and above any consideration of consistency with Development Plans, Local Area Plans, or Regional Planning Guidelines which may have been produced five or more years prior to the time of decision-making on individual development proposal.

The experience over the last number of years has demonstrated all to clearly the outcome of incremental decision-making that does not have due regard to the bigger picture at regional and national levels, both in terms of the location and quantity of development. Strategic evidence-informed planning in this context requires a step beyond considerations of consistency with national policy objectives to decision-making based on a continuous monitoring of spatial development patterns and trends. Such a shift in planning policy and practice may require the development and application of a new spatial data infrastructure creating new challenges and opportunities for social and spatial science researchers as well as policy-makers and practitioners.

Cormac Walsh

The current Planning Bill which is due to be enacted before the Dail breaks for the summer next week has been described in the Irish Times as a ‘Rolls Royce’ of planning legislation. It is heralded as the centrepiece of the planning reform agenda of Minister Gormley’s term of office.

The Bill will have significant implications for planning policy in Ireland and in particular for the relationship between the plans of Local Authorities and the policy of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DoEHLG). The Bill seeks to ensure consistency between City/County Development Plans, Regional Planning Guidelines and the National Spatial Strategy and provides a more evidence-based approach to planning. In particular the Bill makes provision for future City/County Development Plans to be supported by a statement of ‘core strategy’ which sets out a rationale for the settlement strategy pursued in the plan itself. The Bill has the potential to make it very difficult for councillors to push through zoning proposals which are in conflict with national or regional policy objectives.

The full implications of the Bill have received limited debate, however. I focus on one key aspect here: implications for the relationship between central government, regional and local authorities.

It may be argued that the Bill provides for a more hierarchical and centralised planning system, characterised by increased policy direction from central government. A core principle of the planning system currently is that of subsidiarity: that decision should be made at the lowest level possible. While there may be ample evidence supporting a curtailed role for councillors, it may be argued that it is equally important to ensure that future spatial planning and regional development policy is prepared with due regard for policies articulated by Local and Regional authorities in addition to national objectives and concerns. Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs) provide a potential framework within which this negotiation or consultation process might take place, provided RPGs are not viewed solely as in implementation mechanism for the National Spatial Strategy (NSS).

The current NSS was prepared at a time of economic growth where it was possible to set out a vision where practically all regions and localities could benefit, based on their individual ‘potentials’. A ‘refresh’ of the NSS is due to be published shortly. This review of a key government policy document has not, however, emerged as the outcome of a transparent consultation process. It is not mentioned for example on either the website of the DoEHLG or that of the NSS itself. It is possible that given the ‘current economic climate’ the NSS refresh or any future review may favour a less ‘balanced’ approach to regional development in Ireland.

Cormac Walsh