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The National Spatial Strategy - another failure

  • 05-10-2010 1:23am
    Closed Accounts Posts: 6,093 ✭✭✭

    Too little, too late from the print media, and nothing that hasn't been written about at length in this forum over the past two years:
    IN 2002, WHEN the Government published Ireland’s first National Spatial Strategy (NSS), there was some incredulity that so many “gateways” and “hubs” had been designated for growth – nine in each category; it was as if our political leaders had adopted Gay Byrne’s oft-repeated Late Late Show line about how there was “something for everyone in the audience”. They could not bring themselves to make the really hard choices that would have limited growth to a more select number of centres outside Dublin, such as Cork and Limerick/Shannon, over the period to 2020.

    Eight years later, a review, update and outlook for the NSS has been published by Minister of State for Planning Ciarán Cuffe. Although written in bureaucratic style, it includes some facts and figures that add up to an admission of failure. Far from consolidating and strengthening Ireland’s cities, these show that the core populations of Cork and Limerick actually fell during the period while almost half of the total urban growth took place in and around towns with a population of 10,000 or less that were neither “gateways” nor “hubs”. A free-for-all was allowed to develop that turned many of these places into outposts of commuterland.

    As Prof Brendan Gleeson pointed out in this newspaper yesterday, much of this can be attributed to “an unusual level of malfunction in Ireland’s system of development control, sourced mainly in political venality” by councillors over-zoning land for residential development, pandering to landowners with a “get rich quick” mentality. What we are left with, as he wrote, is “a dispersed landscape of defunct estates, massive infrastructure deficits, countless households and firms caught with toxic fiscal obligations and incalculable damage to what is, arguably, Ireland’s greatest and most enduring asset, its uniquely beautiful environment”.

    The legacy of laissez-faire planning goes further. As Dr Edgar Morgenroth told the annual conference of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland yesterday, Ireland’s weak urban structure – with only one sizeable city – and its relatively dispersed settlement pattern was actually “reinforced during the boom” by permitting housing to be built far from where jobs were concentrated. As a result, transport costs here “will always be higher than other places”. And those costs are borne daily by a legion of commuters driving long distances to work, on motorways provided at enormous exchequer expense.

    The real problem with the NSS, as Dr Morgenroth said, was that it was largely aspirational. Indeed, the only real fiscal impetus – a €300 million “Gateway Innovation Fund” – was withdrawn not long after being established, due to the rapidly deteriorating public finances. According to the latest review, the Ministers for Finance and the Environment are to “consider the timing” of a revised package of aid for innovative projects in the nine “gateways”. But with unprecedented cuts in public expenditure being considered, this pledge is unlikely to be honoured in the short term and the NSS will be left to limp on as the aspirational set of objectives it was from the beginning, with no real policies to back it up.
    Growth cannot happen everywhere, says architect calling for emphasis on Dublin
    FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor in Westport

    IRELAND’S ECONOMIC recovery is being damaged by the delusion that growth can happen everywhere under the National Spatial Strategy, according to a leading landscape architect and planning consultant.

    Addressing the annual conference of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), Dr Conor Skehan said “misplaced notions of ‘fairness’ are doing untold damage to Ireland by pretending to offer something for everyone in the audience”.

    With the economy “in freefall”, the Government needed to “start being realistic and not give people false expectations that there’ll ever be an Intel plant in Castlebar”, when in reality Dublin was the only internationally competitive city we have.

    Describing Westport as “an artifact” and Dublin as “an organism”, Dr Skehan said official thinking “needs to move to the correct scale”. And while there were Ministers for the Gaeltacht and rural affairs, he complained that there was no minister for Dublin.

    Dr Edgar Morgenroth, of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), told the conference that “parish pump politics tends to dominate”, with often bruising competition between different towns. “They can’t all have a university or an international airport,” he said.

    Ireland’s weak urban structure – with only Dublin registering on the international scale – and its relatively dispersed settlement pattern had been “reinforced during boom”. As a result, transport costs here “will always be higher than other places – that’s now built-in”. Dr Morgenroth said the real problem with the National Spatial Strategy, adopted in 2002, was that “it is largely aspirational, with few concrete measures. What’s really missing is any adequate thought about what are we really trying to achieve and how do we make it happen.”

    Dr Rory O’Donnell, of the National Economic and Social Council, said much of the discussion about regional development was conducted on the basis of “zero sum – they get it, we lose it”. He also described the NSS as merely “a template for policy”.

    Property developer Richard Barrett, group chief executive of Treasury Holdings, said the Dublin region was not able to achieve its status as the main engine of the national economy because of the “guerrilla warfare” between its four competing local authorities. This had led to the provision of two convention centres – one in docklands, which Treasury developed, and the other at Citywest, on the periphery of the city.

    At the same time, it was proposed to “drag all the waste into Dublin 4”, to be incinerated at Poolbeg.

    He called for priority to be given to the public realm, to make it more inclusive, and for a recognition of public transport as a “social requirement for successful cities”. There was also a need in Dublin to “reinforce the centrality” of the river Liffey and the bay.

    Mr Barrett said culture should also be part of the “tool-kit” to attract investment and tourists. “Cultural tourism is growing much faster than general tourism, and the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao has generated 18 times its construction cost.”

    Referring to the debate about high-rise buildings, he said opposition to their construction was “a rational response to fear of the unknown” and he suggested that architects might help allay such fears by showing what these buildings might be like in context.

    Kieran Rose, senior planner with Dublin City Council, said the debate about its development plan had been by vested interests and was largely about whether new buildings should six, seven or eight storeys high.

    This was happening against the backdrop of “massive unemployment and economic crisis” as well as “policy disconnection”, and he cited the Government’s key policy on innovation, complaining that it made “no reference to space, cities or even Dublin”.

    Kilkenny county manager Joe Crockett described Dublin as “the golden goose, an economic powerhouse”.

    But he said the motorway network was transforming opportunities for the regions.


  • Registered Users Posts: 18,536 ✭✭✭✭Del2005

    I think the NSS failed when a short time after it's announcement the government decided to decentralise the civil servants to everywhere bar the gateway zones.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 624 ✭✭✭Aidan1

    The distributive nature of decentralisation was a symptom, rather than a cause. In truth, the NSS failed for the same reason that Buchanan (in 1968) failed, it ran headlong into the localist nature of Irish politics. The authors of the NSS tried to water it down, and both picked a plethora of gateways/hubs/spokes and explicitly named as many towns and villages as possible in it to try and counter allegations of being city-centric. But no concrete policy measures were ever seriously pursued to try and deliver the NSS goals (despite a series of attempts by the Dept of the Environment).

    All that would have been required would have been a national land use and planning policy that restricted zoning and development to particular areas, and which prioritised infrastructure and FDI to those areas. Of course, this would also have helped deliver a load of other climate change/emissions related targets, reduced our dependence on imported fossil fuels, given life to towns and villages, and put an early stop to the property boom. Instead, infrastructure policy was partially linked to the NSS, but a number of Environment Ministers actually further loosened restrictions on councillors. Stand up Deputy Roche and Mr Cullen.

    The entire report is here - it's well worth a read.,24144,en.pdf

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 2,017 ✭✭✭invinciblePRSTV

    It was obvious since their inception that the NSS & Decentralisation policies were designed first and foremost to placate local interests, and equally as obvious that they would fail completely in actually being useful or relevant.

    My question is how do we go about formulating a new planning and land use policy which follows best practice relative to Irelands size and economy and without offending the good burghers of rural Ireland and all those citizens of large towns & villages that have, how shall we say, delusional notions of grandeur for their areas and whom expect parity of treatment with the major urban areas and/or the ability to build whatever they want wherever they like?

    In short how can it be sold to Irish folk that their town or 'city' isn't on the list when it comes to concentrating resources into our key urban areas and that they can't build a house wherever they fancy?

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,295 ✭✭✭dowlingm

    how do we go about formulating a new planning and land use policy which follows best practice relative to Irelands size and economy and without offending the good burghers of rural Ireland
    You can't. That's why the NSS failed before. All you can do now is be honest with the country and get on with it.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 724 ✭✭✭dynamick

    The NSS was a great success. People liked it and Fianna Fail got re-relected in 2002 and 2007. This is democracy. Give people what they want. Ask a random person in Ireland what they want and they'll tell you they want more stuff for their town.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip

    Its laughable the whole thing is laughable. I just wish I was in a position to get out, and from the folks who bought us the NSS they want to bring us national government in which they of course remain in power and if a National co-operative method of Government works they take the credit if it doesn't they will of course blame their partners.

    The NSS was a fine plan. The only problem with it - a few .pdf files on a government website will change nothing. It was a plan like so many others that simply never got implemented - but it did make good reading in the papers - who love all those graphics with arrows and bubbles pointers and linkages, but a fine graphic never built a road, factory, school, hospital, it never laid a cable. If made for great soundbites and glossy presentations on 6.1 and primetime and drivetime.

    It was actually a superb FF election manifesto that won FF two more elections - the last one they probably wish they hadn't but there you go.

    I just wish I could get out of here. The country's great opportunity has been passed. The only spacial strategy worth looking at now is the exit strategy.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 724 ✭✭✭dynamick

    westtip wrote: »
    The NSS was a fine plan.
    It designated 20 growth towns around the country so that everywhere was a priority and thus nowhere was a priority. It was followed by the Guidelines for Sustainable Rural Housing that advocated that councils grant planning permission for isolated houses in areas far from jobs where population was in decline. The problem was the policy not the implementation.

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,282 ✭✭✭westtip

    Point taken - I think I was being a little tongue in Cheek "sure it's a fine plan don't ya know." My point being we have seen dozens upon dozens of initiatives and plans and all they amount to is .pdf docs on a website. The points you made about the plan are of course correct, but it was still a "fine plan" - sure didn't we all know it was only ever a party political broadcast.

    I think one of the biggest laughs is all these signs up and down the country - you are now entering a gateway city WTF is it all about I wonder.

  • Registered Users Posts: 710 ✭✭✭Jayuu

    The NSS was a complete and utter waste of time and money. Like so many things in Ireland (health service reform, decentralisation to name just two others) it fell prey to the pandering nature of "cute hoor" politics and narrow minded parochialism. Until people in this country realise that its not possible for every single town to have every single service available then initiatives like this are going to fail over and over again.

    The problem is that Ireland needs a proper development strategy going forward. The lack of a coherent plan leads to bad decision making and poor outcomes. Of course with the failure of this plan it will be a long time before anybody suggests something like it again. And until we reform our political system to eliminate the need to pander constantly to local interest above the national interest we might as well not bother.