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(Article) "Physical fabric of our country left in tatters"

  • 05-05-2010 11:52am
    #1
    Closed Accounts Posts: 6,093 ✭✭✭ Amtmann


    RENEWING THE REPUBLIC: We need to fashion a new sense of property and planning if we are to heal the blighted landscape left as a legacy by the boom

    THE MOST tangible evidence of the economic boom is all around us, in the way our cities, towns and rural landscape have been irretrievably altered. Everywhere we turn this small island now looks utterly different from the way it did less than 20 years ago. And yet in debates such as Renewing the Republic the radical physical changes our State has undergone in the recent past, and the long-term consequences of those changes for all of us, remain largely unconsidered.

    This is not an unusual state of affairs. During a recent week of discussion about the role of Irish culture in revitalising the country heard on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland , attention was paid to writers and musicians, giving an impression of our culture being entirely oral and aural. In Ireland the importance of the visual sense is widely undervalued.
    Must it be pointed out that we do not live in a state of mind? Ireland is a geographical entity, a physical place which we can choose either to cherish and improve or to harm [my emphasis].

    The choices we make directly affect our daily existence and those of generations to come. In any discussion of how Ireland might recover from its present woes, it is essential our physical circumstances be addressed as well as our cerebral and spiritual condition.
    Crucially we must accept that every one of us has an entitlement to participate in such a discussion, that Ireland belongs to all her citizens and not just to those in possession of documents proving their ownership of specific parcels of land. Title deeds may show that I own my own house, for example, but what I do to the building impacts on my neighbours, on the area in which I live, on the appearance and character of the entire region. Therefore, before I do anything to my property, I need to take more than self-interest into account: I must consider the interests of the wider community. This means I cannot necessarily exploit what I perceive to be my property’s potential. I may have to accept that land in my ownership cannot be rezoned, or that a building I have bought cannot undergo so-called redevelopment if existing structures are judged worthy of preservation. Land and property owners must appreciate that with entitlement comes responsibility and the latter will sometimes outrank the former.

    Our recent economic boom discouraged any concept of communal consideration with frequently dire results to the physical fabric of Ireland. Land and property were deemed valuable only for their financial worth and to be exploited for short-term gain, regardless of the long-term outcome. This is one of the reasons Ireland looks so radically different today: we turned into a nation of interim speculators. The consequence of these misguided efforts in this arena is a country replete with ill-sited, ill-conceived and ill-designed structures – office blocks, hotels, housing – which seem destined to remain forever surplus to requirements.

    Perhaps the solution is to replace the concept of ownership with one of custodianship, with an acknowledgment that we are just temporary caretakers of any property in our possession. As such we have a duty both to our fellow citizens and to future generations to take care of what is in our tenure, and we must expect ourselves be called to account if we fail in the task. Our successors will not thank us for the way in which we have systematically destroyed what was handed down to us by our forebears. They are liable to be puzzled by our preparedness to accept the second-rate, the shoddy and the low-grade because it offered the fastest financial recompense. They will wonder why we did not pause to consider the corollary of our rush to make a quick profit: that in doing so we committed a violent assault on our own country, an assault from which it can never hope to recover. If we are to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, changes must be made in the way we view our nation.

    To this end, we need to realise that planning cannot be conducted either on a pro tempore basis or taking only local interests into account. In matters of planning, the local ought to be national and the national local. What happens in any one part of the country is of relevance to all of it. Planning must be considered in its entirety, with an obligation on builders and developers to deliver on all amenities such as schools, shops and community amenities before they are permitted to construct new homes.

    We have to pay greater attention to the merits of good design and not merely regard it as an expendable extra. During the boom years many of our local authorities moved into new purpose-built premises designed to such high standards that they won awards. Yet those same authorities made no effort to encourage similar standards of good design in the areas under their jurisdiction. Architects will tell you that members of their profession were uninvolved in the majority of new housing erected during the past two decades. There was no requirement to call on an architect’s services and as a result almost all recent construction work in the domestic housing market is shamefully ugly and a blot on the landscape into which it has been inconsiderately dropped.
    Investment in quality pays dividends in any field; we should recognise that insisting on higher standards of design will in turn improve the appearance of our country with benefits for everyone. The calibre of every proposed development’s design should be critical in deciding whether or not it is granted planning approval.

    Similarly we should require all owners to maintain any building in their care. Even at the height of the boom our cities and towns remained blighted by buildings permitted to fall into dereliction. The recession threatens to make this problem steadily worse. There should be incentives for maintaining a structure and penalties for failing to do so. It is utter folly not to realise the potential of our existing building stock before we construct anything else.

    Failure to cherish that stock displays contempt for our ancestors and the heritage they have bequeathed us. We pay a great deal of lip service to history in this country while in practice showing scant regard for our heritage. In this we demonstrate not just disrespect to those who have gone before us but also foolish ignorance of our own welfare since the nation’s built heritage is a priceless asset which, once lost, can never be replaced. Heritage tourism is one of the principal areas of growth in today’s global travel industry and tourism is now one of the State’s major sources of revenue. It makes sense therefore to conserve and cherish the buildings we have inherited since they hold the potential to attract more visitors to Ireland.

    We should put ourselves in the position of people who are coming to this country for the first time and in this way we have a better chance of seeing clearly the havoc wrought on Ireland’s physical fabric during the boom years. This Republic needs not just to be renewed but also re-viewed.
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0505/1224269725959.html

    A good and well-considered piece. The author shares my view that conceptions of "Ireland", among a large section of the populace, rest solely on people and tradition, rather than on landscape.

    Other countries have ruined their countryside too, though. I'm always going on here about how efficient German settlement patterns are, but it's also true that German farmland is utterly soulless. In the 1960s the Germans launched the Flurbereinigung ("countryside consolidation"), a massive project where almost the entire German countryside was remade: Most hedges and fields were removed and thousands of kilometres of old medieval roads were ploughed up with new ones put down. The loss of biodiversity and natural heritage was staggering.
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Comments

  • Banned (with Prison Access) Posts: 7,105 Stinicker


    Furet wrote: »
    Other countries have ruined their countryside too, though. I'm always going on here about how efficient German settlement patterns are, but it's also true that German farmland is utterly soulless. In the 1960s the Germans launched the Flurbereinigung ("countryside consolidation"), a massive project where almost the entire German countryside was remade: Most hedges and fields were removed and thousands of kilometres of old medieval roads were ploughed up with new ones put down. The loss of biodiversity and natural heritage was staggering.

    That was one of the best things the Germans ever did, a large portion of Germany is flat natural broadleaf woodland in its natural state, the were very correct to amalgamated all their land toghether unlike the Irish patchwork quilt of mosaic fields with outdated hedgerows and ditches. In Germany the improved their land so much and got so efficent that were able to set aside large portions of the land then for Forestry and they have far more forest cover than we have in Ireland.

    They got rid of the stupid ancient road squiggly road routes which are still the basis of our road network and rural Germany has excellent roads, very straight and wide. So the fields are open and empty but the efficiency in land use is so self evident when comparing both countries while looking out the window of a plane.

    After WWII most things in Germany were broken and with the Marshall Plan and IMF they got straight down to work and forged and economic powerhouse and planned it correctly. We could have done the exact same thing with a fraction of our state savings which Fianna Fail have given to their developer friends and cronies in the banks and robbed the nation.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 6,093 ✭✭✭ Amtmann


    It depends on what your priorities are I suppose. I know plenty of German ecologists who disagree with you, who say that it was taken way too far.


  • Banned (with Prison Access) Posts: 7,105 Stinicker


    Furet wrote: »
    It depends on what your priorities are I suppose. I know plenty of German ecologists who disagree with you, who say that it was taken way too far.

    The can bugger off down to the Bavarian Alps and they'll find all the Ecology the want.


  • Registered Users Posts: 3,807 ✭✭✭ CerebralCortex


    I haven't read the article yet and this is just a pet peeve of mine but I hate the way he refers to Ireland as a small island when it really is quite large in fact.


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,235 ✭✭✭ D.L.R.


    "Small island" is easier to type than "reasonably large island with a small country on top of it" :D


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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,784 ✭✭✭ #15


    I haven't read the article yet and this is just a pet peeve of mine but I hate the way he refers to Ireland as a small island when it really is quite large in fact.

    Out of interest, where does Ireland rank in terms of size (with other islands)? Off-topic I know, but it seems like you know the answer!


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 49 ✭✭✭ Soil Mechanic


    Wiki is your friend.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_by_area

    20th in the world by landmass. 19th/20th by census population.

    Cheers,
    SM


  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 4,409 Mod ✭✭✭✭ spacetweek


    Stinicker wrote: »
    That was one of the best things the Germans ever did, a large portion of Germany is flat natural broadleaf woodland in its natural state, the were very correct to amalgamated all their land toghether unlike the Irish patchwork quilt of mosaic fields with outdated hedgerows and ditches. In Germany the improved their land so much and got so efficent that were able to set aside large portions of the land then for Forestry and they have far more forest cover than we have in Ireland.

    They got rid of the stupid ancient road squiggly road routes which are still the basis of our road network and rural Germany has excellent roads, very straight and wide. So the fields are open and empty but the efficiency in land use is so self evident when comparing both countries while looking out the window of a plane.

    After WWII most things in Germany were broken and with the Marshall Plan and IMF they got straight down to work and forged and economic powerhouse and planned it correctly. We could have done the exact same thing with a fraction of our state savings which Fianna Fail have given to their developer friends and cronies in the banks and robbed the nation.
    The above is so thoroughly ludicrous that at first, I assumed you were joking. Only towards the end did I realise that you are in fact serious.

    Although formal forest cover is a higher % in Germany, in fact Ireland has a massive amount of foliage if you include hedgerows which were wantonly destroyed in Germany en masse. Sure, they have straight rural roads now, but look at the massive cost. I just got back from the Frankfurt rural hinterland and was amazed at the lack of hedges, and fields stretching to the crest of the nearest hill - zero wildlife habitat.

    Removing hedgerows to consolidate fields only benefits crop cultivation, as you need to turn your vehicle less. Since dairy farming is the predominant farm type in Ireland, this isn't needed. The cows will wander around the fields on their own. Countries like the USA and Germany have agriculture on a vast scale which destroyed ecologies but boosted output. With crop cultivation in Ireland only a minor thing, we don't need that and never will. We dodged a bullet, trust me.
    Stinicker wrote:
    They can bugger off down to the Bavarian Alps and they'll find all the Ecology the want.
    A pointless, ignorant comment.

    Ecology is not something you just put in a place. And the rest of the country is supposed to be, what? Cities, roads and cornfields? No habitats?


  • Registered Users Posts: 5,298 ✭✭✭ Pete_Cavan


    There should be incentives for maintaining a structure and penalties for failing to do so.

    Sounds good but don't think if is very practical. You can't charge people for not maintaining a building and pay people who do. Perhaps something like reduced stamp duty/charges when buying derelict sites and extra charges for buying green field sites for development.

    Not 100% sure about this but I think the English planning system is very restrictive when it comes to building houses outside of towns. As far as I know you can only build a new house outside of a town envelope if you are a farmer or use the land productively in some way. I think something similar should be introduced here.

    During the boom a lot of farmers sold their land to developers or decided they were developers themselves and threw up houses in crazy locations. The same also applies to industrial/commercial units. The housing stock in this country is quite high at the minute and there are enough half built housing estates that when (if ever!) completed would keep us for a good few years. One off houses in the countryside also has to be controlled.

    Now is the time to reform the planning system to encourage more efficient land use. With the current hatred of developers I'm sure there would be no problem getting support for this. It wasn't the developers who ruined the country, it was the planning system that should have stop them.
    19th/20th by census population.

    Just wanted to point out that should be 119th, according to wikipedia.


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