The current proposals regarding the introduction of a planning regulator in Ireland have the potential, as Gavin Daly suggests to insert a much need level of oversight into the Irish planning system which has been missing to date (notwithstanding the signficant role of An Bord Pleanala as a national appeals body). The question of the relationships between the proposed regulator and existing institutional structures are critically important. Perhaps more fundamental, however, are the implications for how we understand the role of local and regional democracy with regard to planning in Ireland. Given past experience, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a tendency to move a away from a local democratic model of planning to a more hierarchical, technocratic one, but it is important that both the positive and negative aspects of this shift in approach are fully considered. See the comments from Cllr Dermot Lacey on this issue here. The possibility for Regional Authorities to have a role in determining key aspects of spatial strategies at this regional level would seem to me to be worth maintaining and enhancing. A key element here is ensuring buy-in from the local and regional levels of governance. Maybe, an explicit acknowledgment and recognition of the contested and political nature of spatial planning is also needed? It may be helpful to consider the reasons why Northern Ireland is putting in place a major process of reform to decentralise planning powers and competences from the national/regional level to the local level.

Ireland after NAMA

Yesterday, Minister Jan O’Sullivan appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht to outline her Department’s proposals to legislate for the introduction of a Planning Regulator in 2013. The introduction of an Independent Planning Regulator was a key recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal Report published last year. The Tribunal recommended that the Minister for the Environment’s planning policy enforcement powers be transferred to an Independent Planning Regulator who should also be charged with carrying out investigations into systemic problems in the planning system as well as educational and research functions.

The introduction of an independent Planning Regulator, which the Minister has publicly committed to, does not entail a simple ‘bolt-on’ addition to the planning system. It will profoundly alter and transform the entire way in which planning policy has to-date been implemented in Ireland. It is clear from the text of the Minister’s speech that…

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Rethinking the Spatiality of Spatial Planning

Rethinking the Spatiality of Spatial Planning: Methodological Territorialism and Metageographies, European Planning Studies (online first)

This paper, accepted by European Planning Studies in Ocotber 2012 and now available in the ‘latest articles’ section online is my most theoretical paper to date, as indeed the title might indicate. The empirical work it draws on, is drawn primarily from my PhD research on strategic spatial planning for the Dublin-city region. The focus here is on the territorial politics (or perhaps, local scale geopolitics) of spatial planning. It is well-known perhaps that  ‘localism’ is a key feature of Irish planning and development practice. But what do we mean by ‘localism’ precisely? What type of geograhical associations does localism in spatial planning apply?

This paper contributes to partially answering these questions – although admittedly using more convoluted/technical/precise? terminology. Specifically the focus is on the influence of ideas of politically-bounded territorial space on the representation of space in spatial planning documents and in the spatial politics or discourses of political representatives associated with the planning processes for the city-region. In this case, county boundaries represent the dominant spatial imaginary or ‘metageography’. At the same time, however, processes of strategic spatial planning seek to introduce new ways of thinking about relations across space, based on ideas of fucntional geography and to smoe extent relational space. This ‘soft space’ approach is however constrained by the dominant territorial imaginaries which continue to focus on the political and administrative boundaries rather than functional relations.

The paper has gone through a long process with many iterations along the way. Previous versions were presented at the Regional Studies Association Annual International Conference in Pecs, Hungary and at a European Urban Research Association workshop in Oslo (both in May 2010). A working paper version was also published as part of the NIRSA working paper series  in November 2010.

Published Abstract

This paper argues for increased attention to the role of territory and territoriality in framing sociospatial discourses in the context of spatial plan making. In particular, it is suggested that the engagement of political actors with processes of spatial planning tends to be framed within particular spatial imaginaries which reflect established political-administrative and territorial boundaries. It is contended that a critical analysis of the territorial framing of processes of spatial planning is necessary in order to understand the capacity for spatial strategies to effectively challenge and reconfigure established sociospatial imaginaries in functional or relational terms. It is suggested that spatially explicit public policy statements, such as planning strategies, may be characterized by specific assumptions of territorial space, in a similar manner to which mainstream social science has contained implicit assumptions of state-centrism. The salience of territorial spatial imaginaries is demonstrated in the case of European spatial planning and through a local case study of city-regional spatial planning and politics in the Greater Dublin Area.

Rethinking Planning and Development in Ireland After NAMA

First published on Ireland After Nama

Earlier posts on this blog pointed to the current period of crisis as an opportunity for rethinking accepted ideas, policies and practices in relation to future planning and development in Ireland (for example here and here). The introduction of a new Government with a fresh mandate and (potentially) fresh ideas (see here for a critical perspective!) provides a further opportunity to critically reflect on the role of spatial development policy and practice in the current context.
Understood in its broad sense, spatial planning refers to a state-led interventionist activity that seeks to pursue particular objectives for society through a focus on the diversity and specific qualities of individual places and social and economic relations across space. In contrast to traditional forms of land-use planning, strategic spatial planning claims to provide a focus for the coordination of the spatial impacts of other sectoral policies and public sector investment decision-making processes. In this way the National Spatial Strategy and Regional Planning Guidelines should be expected to inform the proposed new National Development Plan (2012 – 2019) and the decision to progress a new technical university for the Southeast in agreed Programme for Government.

The ‘governance capacity’ of spatial planning strategies is however critically dependent on their capacity to steer the geographical distribution of development and provide a reliable indication of the intensity, quantity and type of development anticipated occurring over the period of the plan. If this capacity is absent then higher level objectives in terms of providing a spatial dimension to sectoral policies will remain aspirational. Unfortunately the record of the past decade indicates that the governance capacity of spatial plans in Ireland, at national, regional and local levels has been rather weak indicating a need to fundamentally rethink some of the basic premises of planning and development thinking in Ireland.

The pointers outlined below are intended as an initial contribution to progressing the debate rethinking planning and development in the current context:

1.    Future planning and development policy and practice needs to make a clear distinction between development in its socioeconomic sense and spatial development. Potential economic benefits in terms of employment generation or commercial rates revenue cannot be the overriding factors in decision-making on spatial development, i.e. the future development of the built and natural environment.

2.    Spatial planning needs to be founded on realistic assessments of projected future growth (or decline) in population, numbers of households, numbers in the labour force and of the economy more generally. Spatial planning decision-making should therefore be needs-based and forward looking, thus reducing the risks of both undersupply and oversupply as we have witnessed recent years.

3.    Spatial planning policy and practice needs to be founded on acceptance that significant areas of the country most likely will not witness significant levels of development or employment creation and may need to plan for continued decline and population loss due to emigration. In this respect, Ireland has much learn from other parts of Europe and in particular parts of eastern Germany, where post-reunification expectations of rapid development have gradually given way to an acceptance of a need to plan for declining population, ‘shrinking cities’ and reduced economic circumstances.

4.    Spatial policy needs to balance normative vision with a pragmatic orientation. The NSS and Regional Planning Guidelines have provided a valuable frame of reference in terms of outlining desirable future spatial development objectives and patterns. The laudable policy goals of balanced regional development and ‘physical consolidation’ of the Dublin metropolitan area need to balanced with an explicit recognition and readjustment of future spatial development prospects in light of the experience of recent development trends. These development trends are well documented and include extensive peri-urban development, ghost estates and a markedly variable performance of Gateway cities.

5.    Spatial strategies should attempt to create a space for shared understanding and agreement among key stakeholders, including political representatives planning professionals, community development and environmental interests. Whether the proposed ‘democratically decided Regional or City Plan’ (Programme for Government, p. 27) with a significantly reduced role for City/County Managers is the best approach to this is of course another question.

Mapping the true extent of Dublin’s functional urban region – What the best available evidence tells us

Originally published on Ireland After Nama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please reference the published version!

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

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