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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gavin Daly

Photomontage of the proposed Dundrum Village SHD

Embodied carbon is the elephant in the room that may stymie all of our best-laid housing plans

One of the biggest myths we tell ourselves, in the context of the unfolding climate emergency, is that our normative expectations of the future can, more or less, carry on as normal. This applies equally to national political debates around how to solve the housing crisis, as to anything else. Whether on the left or the right, everybody agrees that more housing supply is the answer, although the manner in which that supply should be delivered of course differs markedly.

Yet, more often than not, the issue of expanding housing supply is discussed in near total isolation from the climate crisis and how we respond to it. The most recent figures from the Central Bank suggest that approximately 34,000 housing units will be required each year for at least the next decade – a figure which is largely accepted as gospel by all sides of the housing debate and likely to be included as the headline target in the Government’s forthcoming ‘Housing for All’ plan. Other estimates, such as those from Trinity College Dublin’s Ronan Lyons, puts the required number at closer to 47,000 per annum. Regardless, the general consensus is that an awful lot of new-build housing supply is required.

Private developers and the construction industry respond with glee to such projections, using them to put downward pressure on planning and building regulations, and to delegitimate public opposition to the ever increasing preponderance of very poor quality mass housing schemes. Activists on the left, on the other hand, argue that the government must commit to a doubling housing capital expenditure, as recommended by the ESRI, so as to achieve a build target of at least 20,000 public homes annually, insisting that anything less is just tinkering around the edges of an ever ballooning crisis.

The trouble is that building new housing is an incredibly carbon and energy intensive process, a fact which gets virtually no coverage whatsoever in the debates. While the data inevitably varies, research has shown that, on average, the carbon emissions associated with the construction of a new dwelling in Ireland, known as embodied carbon, is around 30 tonnes. This does not include the ongoing operational emissions associated with the use of the dwelling over its life-cycle or its eventual demolition, just the upfront carbon emitted during the manufacturing of the building materials, the transport of those materials to the site and the construction process itself.

Traditional cement and concrete based products, which remain highly predominant in new building in Ireland, account for roughly half of this embodied carbon. Indeed, concrete has been described as the most environmentally destructive material on earth, emitting 2.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually and responsible for 8% of global emissions, approximately three times that of aviation. The figures on worldwide concrete use are truly staggering. Since 2003, for example, China has poured more concrete every three years than the USA managed in the entire 20th century. If concrete was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of carbon in the world and it is the second most used substance globally, after water.

In Ireland, buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy related carbon emissions, with 28% coming from operational carbon and 11% coming from embodied carbon. However, while the policy and media attention has focused almost exclusively on the issue of operational carbon, such as the roll-out of energy retrofitting programmes, according to the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC), following the introduction of new building regulations in 2019, it is embodied carbon which now accounts for the major proportion (c.50%) of the total life-cycle carbon emissions of new homes.

Taking an average value of 30 tonnes of carbon per dwelling unit, building 34,000 houses would result in the production of over 1 million tonnes of emissions every year. The IGBC has estimated that, unless embodied carbon is radically reduced, constructing the 500,000 housing units envisaged as part of the National Planning Framework, and all the associated infrastructure, would result in between 38 and 50 million tonnes of carbon being emitted over the period to 2040.

The recently adopted Climate Change & Low Carbon Amendment Act 2021, however, requires that Ireland’s emissions fall by an annual average of approximately 3.5 million tonnes per year to 2030, halving our total annual emissions to just 31 million tonnes per annum by the end of the decade. It is evident that when housing supply and climate targets are set out side-by-side, the dilemma is stark. Developing that many new housing units while seeking to reduce emissions by that magnitude is problematic, to say the very least. The irony here is that if we were actually currently solving our housing crisis by providing much more supply, we would be simultaneously making our climate challenge worse, much worse.

At present, there are no firm proposals to regulate embodied carbon in Ireland. However, there are some promised changes at EU level and a number of European countries have already introduced measures which may ultimately have an influence here. However, given the immense lobbying power of the Irish Concrete Federation (ICF) and the general deference to the construction and property sectors, alongside the huge political pressure to urgently deliver new, affordable homes, it is probably unlikely to expect Ireland to be an early mover on enhanced regulation.

The difficulty of course is that concrete is both abundant and cheap, very cheap, accounting for just 3.4% of the cost of an average semi-detached house, according to the ICF. It is also a brilliantly adaptable building material, hence its ubiquity. The ICF estimate that delivering 500,000 new houses over the next 20 years will require the production of 1.5 billion tonnes of aggregates, which is also essential for concrete and cement production. The industry has therefore been busy lobbying for new fast-track planning rules to facilitate expanded quarry development, despite it’s rather dubious history of planning and regulatory compliance. To this day, there are dozens of illegal quarries operating throughout the country, causing significant environmental damage. Even during the recent high-profile mica and pyrite scandals, political criticism of the industry has been extremely muted.

The IGBC, on the other hand, whom have been a very lonely voice in trying to raise the profile of the hidden significance of embodied carbon, has been advocating for Ireland to commit to Net Zero Carbon Buildings, which would account for both the upfront and ongoing carbon emissions. At the very least, this would involve prioritising alternative and more sustainable construction materials which are low or zero carbon, such as the greater use of ‘green concrete’ and locally sourced timber products. The bad news is that many of these alternatives are in their infancy or face significant technical barriers to adoption, not least cost. Worse still, is that the main problem is really a matter of scale and the sheer demand for new buildings and urban infrastructure, which greatly outruns any carbon efficiency gains.

The IPCC Report published this week has unequivocally shown that we have entered the age of consequences and we are witnessing first-hand the devastating effects of global heating wreaking havoc around the world. Increasingly our lives will become dictated by rigorous adherence to carbon budgets, due to be published shortly, which will intersect all policy spheres, including housing, in multiple, complex ways. It is perhaps because of our inherited, implicit biases towards departmentalised, technical and supply-side solutions that we consistently fail to apprehend that climate change is a classic wicked problem. For example, we are already experiencing a chronic shortage in the supply of timber and any major expansion of the use of alternative low-carbon building technologies to address embodied carbon, especially the use of biomaterials, would have very significant knock-on implications for land use, particularly in the context of competing priorities such as biodiversity, carbon sequestration and food production. Similarly, Ireland is currently experiencing acute skilled labour shortages and lack of capacity in the construction sector, exacerbated by the pandemic, which may even see it have to choose between building new homes and retrofitting existing homes.

University College Dublin academic, Aidan Regan, has been to the fore in attempting to break down the silo mentality infecting housing policy debates, insisting instead that it must be seen as part of a broader urban crisis. To this, we urgently need to add the climate crisis – not just in respect of the relatively well understood issue of operational emissions, but also the very significant hidden challenge of embodied carbon. Moreover, achieving emissions targets directly calls into question Ireland’s preferred means of delivering new housing – the private market. Over the past decade, government has repeatedly foot-dragged on introducing higher building efficiency standards, fearful that increasing costs would be an impediment to supply and deter international capital. Given the basic profit fundament governing the property market, it is probably unreasonable to expect that it will be capable of delivering the homes needed in the context of an increased regulatory burden. This is, yet again, further justification for a much greater direct state involvement in the regulation and supply of new housing.

All of this of course will also have profound implications for how we plan and develop our cities and towns into the future. It is often said ‘the greenest building is one that is already built’ and it is estimated that Ireland has somewhere in the region of 200,000 vacant homes, enough for at least six years supply. Currently housing targets are allocated centrally and handed down from on high for local councils to prepare their zoning plans. It’s a simple numbers game. However, living within carbon budgets will mean that planning policy will have to become less about zoning, supply and densification within ‘compact growth’ principles but increasingly about how to avoid new building and infrastructure altogether through the creative reuse and repurposing of existing built stock within existing urban footprints. It will also mean that, instead of slavishly responding to market vagaries, planning will have to become more interventionist and directly involved in dictating what gets built, where, when and by whom (e.g. homes v. hotels etc).

Source: IGBC

Using a simple linear trajectory, the MarEI Institute at University College Cork has estimated that Ireland’s maximum carbon budget to 2030 is in, or around, 423 million tonnes. This budget will be subject to many competing demands (e.g. agriculture) and very complex decarbonisation challenges (e.g. transport). On our current trajectory we are estimated to emit 654 million tonnes over the same period. The challenge is without parallel. How we choose to spend our available carbon budget will be a matter of political will and choice involving very painful decisions, at least in the short-run, in staring down business-as-usual vested interests.

None of this, of course, is to argue against developing new housing. There is an absolutely necessity to provide high-quality net zero carbon homes. But as I have argued before, we may also need to downscale our taken-for-granted assumptions of very high future housing demand, which are substantially based on an extrapolation of historic trends of high economic growth and immigration into the future. In a climate changed world, past results are not a reliable guide of future performance. Lands zoned for housing may also need to be re-tasked for other uses, such as providing more natural green spaces and adaptation to ever more severe and disruptive weather events (e.g. flood attenuation, urban heat island effects etc.). It is hard to overestimate the revolutionary implications this will have for, not just planning, but also land markets, the entire functioning of the economy, fiscal policy, balanced regional development etc., and will require nothing less than a transformed planning culture.

We have not just entered the age of consequences, but the age of (very hard) choices.

Gavin Daly

*This blog post was referenced in a recent media article by Dr. Rory Hearne in the Irish Examiner. You can also listen to the article on the Reboot Republic .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eoin O’Mahony (@EducGIS)

The National Spatial Strategy was officially scrapped in 2013 by then Minister, Phil Hogan TD.  Soon after, the development of a replacement strategy, the National Planning Framework, was announced.  On Thursday the initial consultation document was published by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, and launched at Maynooth University by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, the Minister for DHPCLG, Simon Coveney TD, and Minister for State for Housing and Urban Renewal, Damien English TD.  It sets out the process and timeline for formulating the full NPF and provides an initial framing of government thinking with respect to what should be included in the plan.

The NSS was widely considered an unmitigated failure for a number of reasons: there were too many gateways and hubs; it was misaligned with its funding stream the NDP; it was not supported by government, agencies and local authorities and was actively undermined; and it was not implemented on a statutory basis (see this post for a full history and explanation). So have lessons been learned?  The Taoiseach would like to think so, stating at the launch that in the NSS, ‘towns were placed against towns, politics against politics … and we are not going there again.’ Instead, the NPF will seek to be more cooperative, coordinated, and regionally based.

The rationale for the NPF is broadly the same as the NSS.  It is to coordinate spatially the development of sectoral areas (economy, transport, housing, energy, education, health) and guide and drive balanced regional development as the population continues to grow.  If development is not managed and it is left to business is usual to deliver shared national goals, then Dublin will continue to expand, the regional cities will have modest growth, and smaller towns and rural areas will stagnate or decline, the document argues.  Instead, the document argues that there needs to be:

  • a coordinated, strategic approach with a twenty year time horizon;
  • this approach needs to be backed by government across departments/agencies;
  • be aligned with public/private investment, including capital spend;
  • a focus on health and well-being, the environment, North-South relations, as well as economic and property development;
  • a recognition that it is a strategy, not a wish list and that it will involve making hard choices;
  • address all parts of Ireland, avoid the perception of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, but avoid unrealistically seeking to treat all parts of the Country in the same way;
  • include a particular focus on implementation and evaluation, with capacity for review.

The proposed approach to organize and operationalize the NPF through the regional assemblies and in alignment with regional spatial economic strategies that are presently being prepared.  Rather than towns competing within a region, they should cooperate and work together as clusters.  And there should be stronger urban-rural interdependence, with large and small towns supporting rural communities.  Nonetheless, it is argued that there is a need for concentrated development of the five principal cities – Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford – and the towns around them, to create strong growth polls for business and to realise agglomeration effects and to create scales of economy/critical mass for service and infrastructure delivery.  Unlike other countries with a similar sized population – Scotland, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand – Ireland has a weak city structure with just five cities with a population above 50,000 (and only two above 100,000), that limits the ability to create balanced growth.  More modest growth will be sought in regional towns.  While growth would be welcome in rural areas, the priority is to stop further decline and to create resilience, sustainability and to improve quality of life.

There are a couple of big challenges in preparing the full NPF and getting it put on a statutory basis.  The first is the seeming paradox between ‘making hard choices’ and ‘addressing all parts of Ireland and avoiding the perception of winners and losers’.  The plan needs to make strategic decisions and prioritize areas for development and investment while also persuading everybody that those decisions are for the ‘national/regional good’ and that there is something there for them.  Given the legacy of the NSS, the localist/clientelist nature of Irish politics, and the siloed nature of government depts/agencies, that will be a challenge.  Second, and related, is given that the proposers are a minority government, the process of getting political support may involve a watering down of the plans aims, or the plan being tweaked in a way that undermines the plan’s logic to curry favour or ensure votes.  Third, in preparing the plan, it needs to be made clear how it will be implemented in practice, how it will be resourced, and how its progress will be tracked and steered back onto course if it falters, to persuade people to have faith that this isn’t a NSS v.2, but a strategic plan that will actually work in practice.

As someone who is in favour of a planned and coordinated approach – through a guiding framework, not a heavy-handed roadmap – the publication of the consultation documents for the NPF is a welcome first step.  The next step is to develop a full plan that can achieve political and public buy-in.  Part of the process to try and ensure this is, on the one hand, to produce a detailed evidence-base and various scenarios, and on the other to invite submissions as part of a consultative phase.

To make a submission about the proposed NPF go to the website and follow the instructions provided; or npf@housing.gov.ie; or write to:

NPF Submissions,
Forward Planning Section,
Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government,
Custom House,
Dublin D01 W6X0

The deadline for receipt of all submissions is 12 noon on Thursday 16th March 2017.

Some related media commentary: RTE 1, Drivetime interview; RTE Radio 1 News at One; RTE 1 Primetime.

For additional information see the Ireland 2040 website.

Rob Kitchin

The prelim results for Census 2016 make it clear that housing vacancy continues to be a serious issue in Ireland.  Given that new housing units grew by only 18,981 to 2,022,895 and population grew by 169,724 to 4,757,976m between 2011 and 2016, one might have expected vacancy to have fallen substantially.  However, housing unit vacancy fell by only 29,889 to 259,562.  Of these 61,204 are holiday homes (HHs), a slight growth of 1,809 from 2011.  On a base level vacancy of 6%, oversupply is 76,984.

Vacancy and oversupply varies geographically as Map 1 demonstrates.  Excluding holiday homes all but three local authorities – South Dublin (4%), Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (5.7%) and Fingal (5.3%) – having vacancy rates (exc. HHs) above base vacancy.  In several cases housing vacancy (exc. HHs) is running above 10% and four local authorities have rates above 15%.  The issue is particularly acute in the north west.

Map 1: Housing vacancy (exc. HHs) in Ireland

Map 1: Housing vacancy (exc. HHs) in Ireland

One might expect that the vacancy rate has been declining everywhere, but this is far from the case.  In fact, vacancy has been rising in many EDs.  In Figure 1, each dot is an ED, with each dot above the line representing an increase in vacancy (exc. HHs).  In some cases the increase is quite dramatic.

07_Scatterplot_BxPltSo, the question is what has led some EDs to increase in vacancy?  Some of it is obsolescence – in any housing market 3-5 properties drop out of use in a year.  Some of it might be properties under-construction and on unfinished estates being completed (and thus counted) but are not yet occupied.  And some of it will be related to population change and migration.

Here, we want to look at the latter since a large number of EDs lost population between 2011-2016, especially those in rural areas (with towns in rural counties growing).

Map 2 shows population and vacancy (exc. HHs) categorised into four classes.

  1. (light blue): population decreased and vacancy decreased (687)
  2. (blue): population decreased and vacancy increased (705)
  3. (red): population increased and vacancy decreased (1497)
  4. (light red): population increased and vacancy increased (517)

06_PopChg_and_VacChgThe relationship we would expect would be classes 2 and 3 – where population decreased, vacancy increased, and where population increased, vacancy decreased.  And that happens in 2022 EDs (out of 3406).  However, in 1204 cases (c. a third), something odd happens: as population increases, vacancy increases (517 cases), or as population decreases, vacancy decreases (687 cases).  In the case of the latter this might be explained by obsolescence and household fragmentation.  We would be interested to hear of other possible explanations.

Without further analysis it’s not possible to determine the causes of this inverse relationship.  However, what the data does show us is that how housing vacancy is unfolding is not universal and there are different social and spatial processes at work.

Rob Kitchin and Martin Charlton

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

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 

The recent closure of the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny City has end over three centuries of brewing tradition on the sixteen acre site. Its purchase by the local authority presents a once in a century chance to enhance the economy of the region and the liveability of the city. The Council are to be commended for purchasing the land at such a low cost. However, that was the easy part. Now begins the real work.

The whole place is dripping with heritage. However, heritage on a construction site is usually the last thing any developer wants to see. Clean, green, locations have few surprises and require less brain power to develop. Such sites provide the best opportunities to design easily, get planning, construct, and make a profit in as short a timeline as possible. This approach is certainly understandable, especially if you are the one paying. Heritage can add value but usually it is perceived to be not worth the trouble beyond a marketing driven sop. Typically, it is only in the highly developed marketplaces of major cities that heritage attributes are fundamentally incorporated into the design of a development. In these markets, heritage can be a key distinguishing factor that adds exclusivity and helps create a memorable experience. It is these latter developments that add positively to a city over a long period.

Kilkenny is a relatively small place. However, it is a small place that can think big. The Council obtained the Brewery Site at a bargain price. This allows the pressure for quick returns comprising crass buildings to be somewhat relieved. There is time to reflect. It is interesting to note that the city’s best spaces and buildings are almost all hundreds of years old. That is the timeline that should be thought about when planning the future of the site. These are also the places that have led to Kilkenny being such a great place in which to live, work, and visit.

Plainly, the heritage of the Brewery site will be central to the long term success of any development. Unfortunately, despite having some interesting ideas about the reinstatement of medieval burgage plots, the current masterplan lacks creativity when addressing the past. This is not surprising given that there was no obvious heritage professional on the project team. Thankfully though, there is time to amend the document.

In the current plan, archaeological finds are listed as an opportunity. Despite this, during a recent public consultation meeting I got the feeling that some senior Council staff saw archaeology as a threat. According to this perspective, archaeology is best avoided, not so as to conserve it, but because it costs money to remove and does not add value. Nowhere in the masterplan has the possibility of having an exciting urban excavation open to the public been entertained. In York, thousands visited the Viking dig. Elsewhere in the UK, at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, 100,000 tourists pay each year to witness archaeologists peel back the soil. Hundreds more pay to dig.

Currently, very little is known about the nature of the Brewery Quarter’s archaeology. Despite some previous disturbance, it is likely that the archaeological deposits are extensive, dense, and deep. Clearly, more information is needed to enable a well thought out redevelopment. If this has to be conducted, is it not better that archaeological investigation is embraced and used as an opportunity to increase both the number of visitors to Kilkenny and their length of stay? Nowhere else in Ireland would there be an urban excavation open to the public. It would also bring added authenticity to the Medieval Mile marketing initiative.

The Council themselves admit that the site will take years to fully develop. All this offers the possibility for a large scale excavation to occur over two or three extended summers. Such a dig would attract tens of thousands of tourists to the northern end of the city. Finds could be stored and displayed securely in the Brew House. A pop-up museum such as the one on the Parade last August has shown the public’s thirst for archaeological knowledge. In just four days 3,200 people visited.

Learning about a place and avoiding archaeology for construction is one thing but how about using the information? In the Rocks district of Sydney there is a four storey 106 room youth hostel built over one of the most important archaeological sites in Australia. Constructed on steel columns, the hostel hovers over the archaeological deposits. Like in Kilkenny, the landowner was the local authority. For many years they had identified the then derelict site as a place of high development potential. It was also place that if its potential was realised would rejuvenate an area which was underperforming. In 2006 they put out a call for suitable proposals on how to develop this archaeologically sensitive place. The judging panel – which was dominated by heritage professionals – chose the youth hostel (YHA) project.

A 99 year lease was then granted. An excavation that had been partially undertaken in 1994 was restarted. The dig was halted when the archaeological research questions were answered. Throughout the whole project heritage professionals were at the heart of the design process. The excavation informed every aspect of the build. On several occasions steel columns were moved to avoid newly discovered archaeological deposits. Ultimately, only 10% or so of the remaining archaeology was removed to make way for the 4,700msq development.

Today, the whole building permeates with its past. The central atriums of both blocks look down on to archaeological remains, tourists walk along reopened historic laneways, and tens of thousands of students go to the education centre to learn about early Sydney. Overall, the Rocks YHA is a massive success, not in spite of its heritage but because of it. Imagine a similar approach taken to the abbey of St. Francis and its extensive medieval wall foundations that lie under the concrete slab.

During a recent public consultation meeting there was much made of the removal and retention of existing buildings. It was disclosed that the Brew House and the former Mayfair Ballroom were to be kept while all other unprotected buildings would be removed. In order to aid transparency the report upon which these decisions were made was released. Unfortunately though, instead of clarifying issues, the report has perhaps muddied them. How, for instance, is a 20th century former ballroom worthy of keeping while a 19th century oratory listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage is not? Similarly, the brewing equipment in the Brew House is marked for full removal even though it is this same equipment that the building was constructed to house. Surely, this wholesale removal radically reduces the importance of the building? Overall, there may be very good reasons for the recommendations of the report. However, these are not obvious when reading the document.

Certainly, many of the tanks and piping in the Brew House will have to be moved for the building to be made useable. However, by taking out everything, the chance to create interesting and special internal spaces is massively reduced. More imagination is needed. Items that are deemed not suitable for retention in the building should be considered for use elsewhere on site. During the redevelopment of the Carlton and United Brewery in Sydney, a survey was undertaken by heritage consultants and an artist to assess the possible use of industrial heritage components for art pieces in the new residential and commercial blocks that were on the way. Closer to home, Lough Boora, Co. Offaly, has shown how the reuse of seemingly useless industrial artefacts can add significantly add to the distinctiveness of a place and its ability to act as a tourist attraction. Similar actions could take place here.

The possibilities presented by the Brewery site are almost overwhelming. However, no matter what the area is used for, the true incorporation of the site’s heritage into its redevelopment must be done. To do otherwise would undermine the uniqueness of the site, and its ability to significantly improve the economy and liveability of the city. Bad places are cheap. Good places that provide a sustained long term benefit are not. That is the choice Kilkenny – the Medieval Capital of Ireland – has to make.

 

This article appears in an edited form in the current edition of the Kilkenny People.

Liam Mannix, Heritage Consultant

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

The following might be of interest to readers of this blog. Outline taken from: http://www.ria.ie/Publications/Books/Spatial-Justice-and-the-Irish-Crisis

1f0d6a25-3104-485e-8e53-82b77db843fb_146_220“As the global financial crisis enters its sixth year, this volume offers a wide-ranging critique of its handling. Academics in the field of social geography address the key political, economic and social shifts that have defined contemporary Ireland as it responds to the interrated collapses of the property market and the banking system. The concept of ‘spatial justice’ provides a cogent entry point for the authors into debates around austerity, equality and social justice. This volume enquires into the everyday concerns of citizens, planners and government officials alike. Each chapter undertakes a detailed examination of core aspects of the crisis and its management, including housing, planning and the environment, health, education, migration and unemployment. The analyses extend beyond the academy to questions of policy, governmentality, public participation and active citizenship. These contributions come from leading geographers across Ireland, the UK and North America.”

Contributors include:
Danny Dorling, David Harvey, Rob Kitchin, Mary Gilmartin, Gerry Kearns, Rory Hearne, Cian O’Callaghan, John Morrissey, Anna R. Davies, Ronan Foley, Adrian Kavanagh, David Meredith, Eileen Humphreys, John Agnew, Des McCafferty, Jon Paul Faulkner, and Marie Mahon.

Available September 2014

 

See here for more information: http://www.ria.ie/Publications/Books/Spatial-Justice-and-the-Irish-Crisis

Yesterday the Independent published an OpEd that discussed ways to try and start creating housing supply in areas that needed it – principally some urban centres, particularly Dublin.  It gave ideas grouped around land and sites, planning, costs, regulations, finance, and alternative solutions.  The piece was written by Karl Deeter, Ronan Lyons, Frank Quinn, Lorcan Sirr, Peter Stafford and myself, six regular media commentators on Irish housing.  The idea was try and see if six people who hold different views on housing and planning could reach a consensus position that provided practical solutions to creating supply.  The ‘rules’ were all the instruments suggested could be introduced quickly and with minimal or no legislative changes and it all had to be said in 900 words or less.

Inevitably, the list of solutions produced was a compromise and writing such a piece is an exercise in politics and principles.  No signatory on the piece is fully subscribed to each potential solution and all had to concede ground.  From my perspective, I have problems with removal or reform of Part V, I’m cautious about bringing aspects of Dublin planning regs in line with the rest of the country and the reduction of development contributions.  But I’m happy to see the use of the term housing sector not market, the advocacy of social housing and associated HFA financing and a reversal of the cuts to capital spending, and the ‘use it or lose it provisions’ on planning and land zoning.  I’m a little cheesed off that the Indo editors altered a couple of bits of the submitted piece, especially removing the phrase the “inventions should be time delimited”.

Some of the critique of the proposals on twitter and email has been that they overly favour market and developer interests.  There is, however, I think some degree of balance.  Ideas such as derelict/vacant site tax and a more aggressive use of the Derelict Sites Act are not in land owner/developer interests.  Moreover a range of interventions favoured by such interests were kept off the table: tax incentives, reduction of construction labour wages, radical laissez faire change to the planning system, alterations to build quality, radical changes to density targets, and state provision of housing.

What the piece hopefully does is move the discussion on from diagnosing the problem to practical solutions and towards action.  It provides a selection of options that can be debated and I would welcome counter-pieces.  If the piece does that, then it has done useful work.  At the same time, we also need to move towards action.  We have a real problem that has real consequences and is quickly getting worse, yet very little is being done to address the issue.  We therefore need that action soon, not in two or three years time.  If that requires compromise solutions, then I’m prepared to consider them.  And as this exercise proves, other interests are too.  What we can’t afford to do is nothing.

Rob Kitchin