Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft spaces, spatial planning and territorial cooperation on the Island of Ireland

The following abstract was submitted yesterday to the AESOP/ACSP Conference at University College Dublin, which will take place in July:

Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft spaces, spatial planning and territorial cooperation on the Island of Ireland

Cross-border and multi-jurisdictional institutional contexts present particular challenges for spatial planning and add to the complexity of spatial planning tasks (see Weith 2012). Given the constraints of working beyond the territorial boundaries of a nation-state, processes of spatial planning in transnational contexts often work with soft instruments and a tentative, politically sensitive approach to the representation of cross-border spaces in policy documents (Faludi 2010). This paper demonstrates that spatial strategy-making can, however, play a key role in the process of shaping and reshaping the spatial imaginaries underlying public-policy and thus the framing of government responses to the challenges and opportunities of cross-border cooperation.

 This paper examines the role of soft spaces of cross-border cooperation and spatial planning in evolving processes of spatial governance on and for the island of Ireland.  The concept of soft spaces refers to non-statutory spatialities. They are specific social constructions of space which lie outside the political-administrative boundaries and internal territorial divisions of the nation-state (Allmendinger & Haughton 2010). Processes of strategic spatial planning, working through soft spaces at multiple scales have played a significant role in the renegotiation of the spatial relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the period of relative political stability since the cessation of armed conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1990s (Murray 2004). Drawing on the analysis of qualitative interview data and policy documentation, the paper will examine the role of spatial planning in reconfiguring territorial spatial imaginaries and developing a new policy vocabulary of functional and relational geographies. The paper also highlights the complexity of the spatial governance arrangements in this cross-border context and reflects on the implications of a continued dominance of territorialism among local scale actors (see also Walsh 2012).

The paper will hopefully be presented under Track 10: International Planning, Cross-border and Inter-regional Cooperation, chaired by Andreas Faludi (Delft) and Neema Kudva (Cornell).

The paper draws on case study research conducted under the Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and Territorial Management in Europe research project, led by Joerg Knieling and Frank Othengrafen at HCU Hamburg. It also, however, builds on previous work conceptual and applied research work conducted at UCD, NIRSA and for ICLRD.

Advertisements

Supporting Evidence-Informed Spatial Planning in Ireland: A Research Perspective

Walsh, C. & Kitchin, R. (2012) Supporting Evidence-Informed Spatial Planning in Ireland: A Research Perspective, Pleanáil, Issue 18, 75-89, Full Text

This paper, written in summer 2011 for Pleanail, the journal of the Irish Planning Institute (one of two professional associations for planners in the Republic of Ireland discusses the role of academic and applied research in supporting spatial planning in Ireland. It was published in November 2012. It focuses in particular on the applied spatial planning work of the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis  (NIRSA, where Prof. Rob Kitchin is Director) and the related All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) and International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD). AIRO plays a key role in making spatial data and publicly available on a comparable all-ireland basis. The ICLRD conducts policy and practice oriented research and training focussed on the cross-border region of Ireland/ Northern Ireland. At the European level, NIRSA contributes to the further development of evidence-informed spatial policy through its role as  ESPON Contact Point for Ireland and as a partner in ESPON projects.

Abstract

The Irish Planning Institute has recently highlighted the need for ‘coordinated and comprehensive research on planning and development matters at a national level’ to support evidence–based planning in Ireland (President’s address, Autumn Conference 2010). New legislative requirements and a rapidly changing planning and development environment have served to highlight the need for a robust evidence and research base to support decision-making and monitoring at local, regional and national levels. The National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) has since its foundation played an active role in articulating and implementing an applied research agenda for spatial planning in Ireland providing tools, analysis and research support on a wide range of issues. The recently launched All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) provides a freely available spatial data portal where key statistics, indicators and mapping can be easily accessed in a user friendly manner. The International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD), of which NIRSA is a founding partner, is very active, working at the interface between research, policy and practice with a particular focus on issues of North-South cross-border cooperation through spatial planning. Through participation in the ESPON programme, NIRSA is active in disseminating research findings and policy implications at a European level and translating them to an Irish context. This paper provides a research perspective on some of the key challenges and opportunities associated with the further development of an evidence-informed approach to spatial planning policy and practice in Ireland. In particular, experience in NIRSA points to the positive benefits of a dynamic interactive relationship between research, policy and practice, which is well positioned to respond to a rapidly changing economic, planning and policy environment.

Irish Water and the EU Water Framework Directive: More than a Question of Water Charges

First posted on Ireland After Nama

Commentary on the recent announcement of the establishment of a national water company, has, perhaps, understandably focussed on the related introduction of household water charges. The significance of the decision to establish Irish Water goes beyond the issue of water charges (which was signalled long in advance of last week’s announcement). Given the minimal level of detail provided by government on the specific remit and function of Irish Water, it is as yet unclear, how precisely its establishment will impact on the management of water resources in Ireland. Nevertheless, government decisions across the spectrum of water policy have been delayed over the past twelve months pending the formal decision on the establishment of a national water company, a decision which was expected in September last year. In particular, the question of adequate governance arrangements and resourcing for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) has been put on hold.

recent study by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) on river basin management and spatial planning in Ireland, North and South, found very significant deficits in relation to current governance arrangements and resourcing for  WFD implementation. The study furthermore outlined three ‘strategic options’ for WFD implementation, each involving different institutional arrangements. These strategic options which include reference to the (expected) establishment of Irish Water are reproduced below:

A. Establish the implementation of River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) as a function of regional government

Allocating responsibilities to Regional Authorities would establish a clear linkage between river basin management and strategic spatial planning. It would also allow for a significant concentration of resources and expertise at the regional scale and thus development of the required critical mass for effective action, which is not currently available at the level of local authorities. The spatial mismatch between the boundaries of Regions (NUTS III) and River Basin Districts would, however, require a high degree of close cooperation among Regional Authorities. Regional Authorities would also need to act in close cooperation with the water management and spatial planning sections of local authorities, as well as coordinating with sectoral agencies and stakeholders. Imposing an additional layer in an already cluttered and complex governance landscape brings inherent risks which would have to be carefully managed.

B. Centralise implementation responsibility under a new National Water Company/Agency

The current Fine Gael / Labour Programme for Government, includes proposals for the establishment of a National Water Company, provisionally known as ‘Irish Water’.  This is likely to be a semi-public agency that will sit alongside the Office of Public Works (OPW), EPA and others.  This organisation could be established with a clear remit in relation to RBMP implementation from the outset. The recently published report on public sector capital investment indicates that a decision will be made in relation to the establishment of this agency by the end of 2011. It also refers to funding of ‘priority schemes’ in RBMPs under the Water Services Investment Programme (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2011).  An advantage of this model may be a close linkage between river basin management and water treatment and supply policy which may have significant benefits in relation to cost recovery and sharing of resources. Such a model, may, however, favour more traditional ‘hard’ engineering approaches to water quality protection; approaches which the WFD seeks to move away from and are associated with inhibiting the development of integrated cross-sectoral approaches. In particular, a centralised, sector-specific approach of this nature may make the establishment of links with spatial planning more difficult. This model would need to be accompanied by specific measures and additional resources to ensure that that planning decisions are informed by river basin management and water quality concerns.

C. Centralise implementation responsibility under the Environmental Protection Agency 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has significant technical expertise across the spectrum of ecosystem management, water quality protection and pollution control. The agency already plays a key role in the monitoring of water quality under the WFD. This model has the potential to lead to the development of innovative multi-disciplinary approaches to river basin management drawing on expertise, knowledge and data from across the environmental sciences. The disadvantages associated with a centralised model, outlined above, also apply in this case, however. Fostering stakeholder engagement and public support would require considerable additional resources and the development of skill-sets which are not currently well-developed in a technical organisation such as the EPA. The experience of water resource managers in Berlin-Brandenburg points to the challenges for technical organisations associated with a shift to the more participative form of governance which the WFD requires.

D. Further develop and enhance the lead Local Authority model

The preparation of RBMPs in the Republic of Ireland was led by local authorities with a lead local authority designated for each River Basin District. It is evident that local authorities currently do not have the requisite levels of resources required for implementation. With significant allocation of resources to lead local authorities, this model could, however, prove an effective means of coordinating and delivering implementation objectives. This model would involve limited reorganisation of existing institutional arrangements. The spatial mismatch issue would not arise, provided the lead authorities had the capacity to ensure cooperation from across the local authorities within the River Basin District. In Northern Ireland, the value of stakeholders was recognised from the outset; however, there is still work to be done in the Republic of Ireland to bring local stakeholders within the action programmes – for their value as environmental experts in their own right, and as leaders of community-based action and education projects.

Retaining responsibility for RBMP implementation within local authorities would provide opportunities for greater integration with the planning and development process than might otherwise be the case. This coordination objective would need to be supported with specific funding including enhanced capacity in the area of environmental planning.  It would also be possible to devolve implementation to individual local authorities. Again substantial investment of resources would be required in order for this model to perform effectively. Specific provision would also need to be made for coordination across local authority boundaries to ensure coherence at River Basin District level.   In the medium to long-term, enhanced local autonomy may be instrumental to ensuring community acceptance and indeed ownership of local project-based measures which seek to integrate river basin management, and spatial development objectives.

It is imperative that key issues of environmental responsibility and sustainable resource management are not forgotten in the current focus on water charges and the short-term costs to the taxpayer. The ICLRD report which draws significantly on international case studies of good practice details the extent of the challenges involved in moving towards sustainable water resource management in Ireland. These include the development of expertise in specialist areas of environmental planning as well as the challenges of communicating across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries which should not be underestimated given the integrated approach demanded by the WFD. Above all, however, adequate response to challenges posed by the WFD requires strategic leadership and the allocation of a sufficient level of resources through dedicated budgets.  Each of the strategic options outlined above have both advantages and disadvantages. What is important, now, however, is that decisive action is taken to provide an adequate framework for implementation to prevent further deterioration in the quality of Ireland’s water resources.