Eoin O’Mahony, UCD and TCD.

I have been working for a while now with the data produced by the InsideAirBnB project. I teach students how to map and analyse these kinds of datasets when they are learning to use geographic information software. The data are really useful to understand how the city changes, how urban unevenness plays out and what can be done to undermine the ‘sharing economy’. That last phrase in particular, the sharing economy, is very pernicious. Sharing usually involves me giving you something and, maybe, you giving me something. In the case of AirBnB, money is given over for a space to sleep and eat.  That doesn’t sound like sharing to me but old fashioned marketised social relations. The same goes for the gig economy: the last time I went to a gig, I wasn’t asked up on stage to pound out a few tunes with The Unthanks.

This morning, I read that Dublin City Council have finally published their report on the impact that AirBnB is having on Dublin City’s housing. One of the more significant reported findings is that there are many individual people renting out multiple short lets. Downey’s report for the Council (which I have yet to read) recommends that two Council committees work together to figure out a way to “tackle the issue”. While we await the Council’s prognostications, let’s examine some of the impacts that the most recent batch of data (February 2017) points to. This is a kind of geography of AirBnB in Dublin, a way in which to help analyse the current housing crisis. This is the housing crisis that Coveney would like to solve part of before June, you know, after winning the leadership race of his party. Priorities, right?

Firstly, within the City Council area, there has been an increase in the number of listings between August last year and the February scrape. In August, there were 4,931 listings for the city area – the vast bulk of all Dublin region listings. By February, this had increased to 6,729, an increase of 36%. There must be few other things in the city that have increased by this amount in this period, except perhaps seagull droppings.  There has not been a 36% increase in the output of social and affordable homes in the city over this period. There is clearly a number of people out there who have apartments in the city who know that if they rent the spare room or the whole apartment they can make some money. Short-term lettings like these allow people the flexibility to rent some weekends and not others but also to pay a mortgage on a second (or fifth or eighth) rental property they just happen to have lying around. It beats having long term tenants it would seem. Perhaps significantly, the proportion of listings that rents the whole property out (as opposed to a room) has remained stable at 47% of all listings.  So where are these listings located?

One of the really good features of a geographic information system (software that allows for spatial analysis) is to be able to see patterns across the city. I conducted a point-in-polygon analysis of the data from the February 2017 listings dataset. As the name implies, this counts the number of listings within each predefined area, in this case electoral divisions (EDs). There are 162 EDs in the DCC area. Location information for these listings are anonymized by Airbnb so any scraping process encounters the following spatial constraints:

    • the location for a listing on the map, or in the data will be up to 150 metres from the actual address.
    • listings in the same building are anonymized by Airbnb individually, and therefore appear “scattered” in the area surrounding the actual address.

I would be interested to see how Downey may have compensated for this in his report for the Council. Any point-in-polygon analysis is therefore compromised by these two constraints. Knowing this, what spatial patterns can we see? The average number of listings per ED is about 34. In the first map below we can see the distribution of listings below, around (±10), and above the average.

Edit: dynamic map is now available here.

number of listings per ED

 

The parts of the city that have above average listings include the docklands, the north inner city around Mountjoy Square and near Stoneybatter. By the far the largest concentrations of listings are seen south of the river, particularly in the south docklands and around Temple Bar. Focusing on those EDs with 100 or more listings, it is clear that the areas south of the river have many more listings than those north of it. This may point to a greater availability in these areas.

EDs with 100 or more

 

Interestingly, the gap between in the southside of the map above contains the areas fancifully known as ‘the Georgian core’. The sabre-shaped ED known as South Dock has well over 300 listings. This takes in an area including the south docklands as well as the area immediately to the south and east of Trinity College. In and around the City Council building on Wood Quay is an area of high concentrations. Thanks to a suggestion by Martin at NCG, I then normalised these listings data by the number of housing units per ED from the 2011 Census. This gave a slightly different geography to the listings data. The average per area is a little under 2% of all housing units. Again, I classified the normalised listings data by below, around and above average but have not displayed the below average areas. We can note a number of differences, as is clear from the final map below.

as a percentage of

 

13% of the units in south inner city are listed as AirBnB-available units. About 9% of the units South Dock are. The Georgian core comes back into play. The heaviest concentrations of listings are therefore found in the south inner city, heading west. I would like to read Downey’s report on this before I do any more work on these data. What’s not clear to me of course is if the Council is going to take any concrete actions to at least curb the power of property to yield profits in the middle of the city’s worst housing crisis.  As Lorcan Sirr has indicated recently, some in control of this city have a strange relationship of denial with data. Action would require the Councillors to push back against the primacy of private property so you know…..not much will happen unless we organise like they’ve done in Barcelona and elsewhere.

Much of the coverage concerning the preliminary Census release from yesterday has focused on vacancy. This has meant distinguishing between those housing units classed as holidays homes in each area and units that are ordinarily vacant. One of the more puzzling statistics to emerge from this distinction is the 190% increase in the number of holiday homes in Dublin city since 2011. In that year, there were 322 vacant holiday houses in the city but those rose dramatically to 937 in April’s census.

What might account for this near trebling in five years? In particular why, in the middle of a housing shortage, is there almost twice as many housing units classed as holiday homes in a dense urban area when compared with five years previously? Speculation with some others on twitter concentrated on the possibility of these being AirBnB properties. I decided to put some focus on this explanation to see if there’s any truth to it.

In recent months there has been a number of online features concerned with how AirBnB (a company which matches bodies with beds across the world) might be affecting rents. If people are renting their city property through AirBnB for much of the year, how might this affect people seeking to live and work in the city full time? For example, in a number of North American cities there are concerns that full-time AirBnB rentals are displacing residents (e.g. see here or here) who are in lower paid jobs and subject to ever-increasing rents. Some city authorities are coming under pressure to restrict the use of full-time rentals through the company. A property owner can make far more renting out short term lets to passers-by than s/he can from locals who are seeking merely to continue living in a city they work and have a life in.

There is a vital politics to this displacement where AirBnB rentals are pricing people of lesser means out of particular areas of a city bustling with tourists. It is an extreme example of gentrification by displacement, almost making the popular term redundant in its bluntness. The uneven geographies of AirBnB rentals hits home for many in this city too.

In Dublin in June, the city council raised the prospect that full-time AirBnB rentals in Temple Bar, a particular zone of intense tourist activity, would be subject to planning permission. The Council argued that a particular property in the neighbourhood was effectively a material change of use from residential to commercial. It insisted of course that this ruling was “site specific” and did not cover the entire Temple Bar area. The prospect of an imposition of a change of use for the area as a whole is remote though: this seemed like a shot across the bow.

Luckily for us, InsideAirBnB allows us all access to data for rentals across a large number of cities to determine if the company is facilitating displacement. I took the January 2016 data from this site and, aside from knowing the first names of each of the renters, the database contains a number of interesting data.

There are 3,772 properties in the AirBnB database in the four local authority areas. Of this number, 3,116 (83%) are in the Dublin City Council area. 1,222 or 39% of this subtotal are for rent, according to the dataset available under Creative Commons, for 300 days or more per year. The heatmap below (Map 1) shows that near-year long rentals are broadly clustered within the Temple Bar, Cow’s Lane and north Docklands areas. Those rented 365 days per year (249 properties) are distributed slightly differently. They are by no means overlooking the splendour of Dublin Bay.

Map 1: a heatmap of the 1,222 properties available for 300 days or more on AirBnB. Data: InsideAirBnB and OSM contributors.

Map 1: a heatmap of the 1,222 properties available for 300 days or more on AirBnB. Data: InsideAirBnB and OSM contributors.

They are scattered across the city with some clusters in Drumcondra, Rathmines and Portobello. Map 2 below shows the distribution of these year-long AirBnB properties across the Dublin City area, Map 3 shows the distribution of entire house/apt available for rent for 300 plus days a year (as opposed to a room in an already occupied dwelling).  It is not beyond the realm of possibility therefore that the >300 days per annum rentals in this database includes a figure of 937 holiday houses recorded in the census. In fact, there are 934 properties rented out for 335 days or more per annum in the database. If you spent the month of December in your own city centre apartment, and rented it out for the remaining 335 days of the year, you might well be among the 937 recorded in the Census.

Map 2: Year-long AirBnB rental properties (n=249) in the Dublin city area. Data: InsideAirBnB and OSM contributors.

Map 2: Year-long AirBnB rental properties (n=249) in the Dublin city area. Data: InsideAirBnB and OSM contributors.

13700067_10209303077727651_7192871880924738136_n

Map 3: 300 plus days per year of entire housing unit /apartment for rent on Airbnb. Data: InsideAirBnB and OSM contributors

But this is a numbers game. We’ll have a better sense of the distribution of the city’s holidays homes when the more extensive data release begins in April 2017.

Eoin O’Mahoney

 

For the past couple of years the housing discourse for Dublin city has been one of housing shortages and a homeless crisis. The preliminary census figures published yesterday reveal that while the vacancy rates (exc holiday homes) for South Dublin (4%), Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (5.7%) and Fingal (5.3%) are below a base vacancy level of 6% (in a ‘normal’ market we would expect c.6% of stock to be vacant due to selling/rental gaps, deaths, etc), suggesting that they have housing undersupply, Dublin City Council has a vacancy rate of 8.6% (exc. holiday homes).

In total DCC has 21,781 vacant units (20,844 exc holiday homes).  On a base vacancy of 6% (14,544 units) that suggests an oversupply of 6,300.

In other words, there is something pretty odd going on given the homeless rate has been increasing, large numbers are on the housing waiting list, and there’s a widespread belief that the city desperately needs to build housing.

So, what constitutes these 6,300 excess vacant units?

It’s somewhat difficult to know without visiting them and doing an on-the-ground survey, but let’s start with looking at the geography of vacancy in DCC.  Map 1 shows the % vacancy in the city minus holiday homes, and Map 2 shows change in the number of vacant units since 2011.

Map 1: DCC vacancy rates (exc holiday homes)

Map 1: DCC vacancy rates (exc holiday homes)

 

Map 2: DCC vacancy change 2011-16

Map 2: DCC vacancy change 2011-16

In Map 1, all the areas not shaded pale yellow has a vacancy rate (exc. holiday homes) above 6% base vacancy.  Much of the city centre and to the south have rates above 10%, and two EDs have rates above 20% (Mansion House B, Pembroke West B).  In Map 2, the blue areas have seen vacancy rates decline between 2011 and 2016, whereas red areas have seen an increase.  Interestingly, a number of areas have seen quite large increases in vacancy, especially within the canals near to the city centre, Ballsbridge and Rathmines.

Here’s some speculation as to what constitutes the excess vacancy:

  • some unreported airbnb/similar stock;
  • some second homes (used during week, but primary residence recorded as somewhere else);
  • some investment stock left empty;
  • some bedsits not yet converted after change in regulations that made them illegal;
  • some inner city obsolescence.

I’d be interested to hear about other possibilities.

Whatever the reason for the vacancy, it appears that this stock is not presently available to the market and therefore there continues to be a shortage of housing in the capital.

Rob Kitchin

'Dr Dan Explains Gentrification'

Dr Dan Explains Gentrification

In a recent piece in the Irish Independent (which is a reprint of part of the latest Daft.ie house price report), Ronan Lyons outlines what he refers to as ‘accidental gentrification’. This is brought up via a wider discussion of the housing market in Dublin as follows:

“What is clear is the different trend emerging between the cheapest and dearest areas. The strongest price growth is currently in previously unfashionable postcodes – the market’s judgment, not mine!

The link between incomes and house prices has forced people to reconsider some of their implicit assumptions about where to look when buying a home – leading to what might be termed ‘accidental gentrification’.”

The point is not to question whether or not gentrification is happening, and, as I will discuss later, I agree that it poses considerable challenges for the social reconfiguration of Dublin. However, invoking a notion of ‘accidental gentrification’ is not just a throw-away catch phrase, but encapsulates a highly questionable attitude to the dynamics of housing and urban change. One of the predominant dangers of the notion of ‘accidental gentrification’ is that it makes it seem as though it is an unstoppable force that has no discernible cause bar the ‘market’. Instead, the market is made out to have its own agency in making judgements about place. This perspective builds upon much of the current representation of gentrification within media discourse as though almost a natural force. Indeed, in this highly mediated world, gentrification has increasingly been put across as a form of saviour from ‘blight’ and ‘decay’, which are also outlined as inevitable parts of urban change. The notions that both urban decline and renewal operate in a form of power vacuum have been central to critiques of gentrification over the last forty years or so. Furthermore, there is, as Tom Slater has pointed out, nothing ‘natural’ about gentrification. Much of the literature on the topic has demonstrated how gentrification is symbolic of the inherent unevenness of contemporary capitalist cities and how this becomes represented through numerous factors such as rounds of disinvestment and investment, social class, and questions of ‘taste’.

In evoking a notion of a ‘accidental gentrification’, Lyons seems to be attempting to differentiate between different degrees of desire to live within a particular area. However, there is nothing accidental about this and the relationship between gentrification and notions of choice and compromise have formed a central feature of gentrification debates over the last number of decades. Indeed, perhaps the most lucid examination of the compromises of gentrification is the work of Sharon Zukin. In particular, Zukin has outlined the relationship between culture and capital in the urban core as a form of ‘historic compromise’. In making compromises, different groups have, to different levels of success, drawn on their own resourcefulness, such as lobbying, to promote their own social agenda in a particular locale.

While there may well be different levels of perceived desire to move to an urban locale, decision making needs to be considered in the context of wider processes and how they play out in different contexts. Not least in this is affordability and access to capital, factors that are by no means an accident. The combination of these factors may vary, but are of key importance in understanding gentrification. It could be the ‘artist pioneer’ in search of a new ‘frontier’ and cheaper rent, the, by now, almost cliched notion of the tech worker seeking the new fashionable location, or, the movement of the middle class to less well off parts of the suburbs. This is not even to mention the role of property agents, investors and banks. If the, at times highly charged, debates about gentrification over the last fifty years have thought us anything it is the myriad of actors and forces involved in urban change.

To declare any form of gentrification as a type of accident is not only highly reductionist, but it is severely misleading about the realities of urban transformation. It is as though the areas in question are a form of black hole into which house buyers involuntarily fall. This goes way beyond the rather problematic notions of gentrification as a ‘natural force’ and ventures into the realms of gentrification as a form of mystical activity that just happens. When taken to its logical conclusion, it could almost seem as though all housing choice is some form of accident.

Where I agree with Lyons is the potential danger that central parts of the city could be turned into an enclave for the rich. However, the means by which to address such a possibility will not be solved by the reduction of land-use standards and other measures that are entangled in speculative land markets. As is the usual with such an approach, it seeks market-bases solutions for a market-based problem. Not only is this not likely to be a solution to the issue, but it may reinforce it. Indeed, the notion that a more market friendly approach to the delivery of housing will produce housing for the less well off in society is highly questionable. Frank McDonald’s article on ‘designer shoebox living’ is a case in point.

As I have argued before elsewhere, we need alternative approaches to urban transformation. A deeper engagement with gentrification theory teaches us is the inherent unevenness of capitalist urbanization and how this is played out within housing. If we at least become aware of this, we might be able to conceive of new ways of dealing with it.

Philip Lawton

Dublin is so caught up in a maelstrom of ‘hyper-competitiveness’ that it barely has time to even think about what it is or what it means. At the centre of this is the tech industry, which influences everything from livable city agendas to housing discussions. It is a form of competitiveness that is presented in manner that makes it seem almost matter of fact or inevitable. When faced with this, the responses to recent announcement that the up-coming Web Summit will leave Dublin come as no surprise. The common mantra from various media sources (here and here) is one of ‘loss’, ’embarrassment’, and a sign that we must improve our infrastructure to cater for and attract events such as this. In a manner that would seem almost absurd to many, The Irish Times even went so far as to publish an opinion poll asking ‘Is the loss of the Web Summit a blow to Ireland’s reputation abroad’. In as much as such approaches are so dominant, it becomes completely accepted that the response must be for Dublin to reaffirm itself and ‘stay in the game’ or lose out. There is little reflection on what the level of mobility and ‘choice’ afforded to contemporary companies or organizations means for the city and for thinking about long-term sustainable approaches to economic development.

There are a number of factors worth remembering here. For one, the Web Summit is part of a culture of expectation, where every want and need is answered. If not, there is every chance that the relevant companies will move on. This reality is made explicit in this case, with the Web Summit blog stating: “We know now what it takes to put on a global technology gathering and we know that if Web Summit is to grow further, we need to find it a new home. Our attendees expect the best.” Thus, with one foul swoop, the birth-place of the Summit is rejected, with pastures new willing to cater to the wants and needs of the tech world. This is a world that is held aloft as proclaiming the arrival of a new world order of progress and betterment. Although most of us never experience it, it offers a luring image of inventiveness, youth, and progress all framed in a chic background of converted shipping containers and bright colours. Yet, in as much as this industry needs constantly innovate to remain competitive, it makes for a highly unpredictable outcome for host cities.

The Web Summit also forms part and parcel of a form of competitiveness that perceives and believes that any small dent in the shiny and glossy image of the city will end in a catastrophic result. It is yet another element in the firm belief of a ‘trickle down’ approach to economic betterment, even if we don’t know where it’s trickling. It is so normalized that it now presents itself as common sense – ‘we’ must fight for this agenda at all costs because these the outcome is ‘good’. As is nearly always the case, there is little to no questioning of why pursue this approach in the first place and of possible demerits.

If Dublin is playing a competitive game, it must be prepared for the possibility of losing out from time to time. It might be said that this is a small blip that we can recover from through the means outlined above. Yet, in so doing it must be remembered that in an industry that craves newness and innovation at every corner, a new venue every few years might be an inevitability, no matter how much is spent on infrastructure. In pushing the argument a bit further, we might also ask what might happen if this is just a pre-warning of an over-reliance upon the tech sector for the future economic viability of the city. We are playing an extremely fickle economic game and we need to brace ourselves for the possibility of failure based on overnight decisions for companies to move their location. Ireland is all too used to rapid economic busts, yet in entered into a game that is perhaps more unstable than the last, we remain blinded by the lights.

It is time to stop pandering to the mantra of ‘what they want, they get’ – who ever the ‘they’ actually are. It is time to turn around and actually really debate what it is we want as a city and ask how, in this example, the tech industry going to contribute to this – in the long-term. If nothing else, it is time to realize that in reality the hyper-competitive city is a fleeting and unstable entity with unpredictable outcomes.

Philip Lawton

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

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

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

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

Figure1

 

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

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

Figure 2: Dublin Core Economic Area, 2011

Map1_DublinEconomicCoreArea-01

DART Underground

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

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

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

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

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

Table 1: Bus Rapid Transit Demand Analysis

Table1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airport

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

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

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

Figure 3: Dublin Airport passengers – Purpose of travel

Figure3

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

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

 

North Dublin city not being provided with enhanced public transport

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

Figure 4: Population Dublin 1991 – 2011

Figure4

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

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

Figure 5: Public Transport Mode Capacities

Figure5

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

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

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

Figure6

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

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

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

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

Table2

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

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

Figure 7: Public Transport – Investment v Operating Costs

Figure7

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

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

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

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

Figure8
Our public authorities are still using arbitrary criteria for planning public transport.  The feuding public sector baronies are still stuck in the property development whimsies of the early 2000s.   This is not the evidence-based transport planning which Robert Watt (Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform) claimed as an example of civil service reform.  (Commentary on public service reform is mired in the past Sunday Business Post 22 February 2015).

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

Ireland After Nama Guest blog post by Donal O’Brolchain

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

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