A response to – Impacts of Abandoned Development for the Public Realm and Streetscape

The following is a response to a previous post in this blog : Impacts of abandoned development for the public realm and streetscape

The dereliction that you highlight in Sandyford and Dundrum is unfortunately quite common and is likely to increase as economic contraction sets in over the next period – particularly in main streets with many shops closing. In the last 20 years Ireland has become cleaner, tidier and more colourful than before but there must be concerns that incomes and profits will decline leaving less available funding for maintenance. We need to take care to redirect our attention to these matters as planning applications decline.

I think you are right to identify some lack of concern for the public realm as a cause of some of current problems and in particular to recognise the importance of the treatment of pavements. This has a remarkable impact on pedestrian’s experience of an area. With this in mind I would express my disappointment that proposals for taxing chewing gum to pay for cleaning the streets were dismissed in exchange for accepting a charitable donation towards an educational programme. We have seen new paving ruined within weeks of it being laid. You may be interested to read an earlier article in the Spring 2007 edition of the An Taisce magazine on historic stone pavement treatments in Dublin. (available at www.antaisce.org)

Other issues may be simply ‘house keeping’. Kevin Duff who wrote the piece for An Taisce has recently made a interesting study of street clutter in Dublin that was posted on archiseek.com. OK, this isn’t quite dereliction but Duff has counted numerous poles, old and new, creating a visual mess that definitely damages the quality of the public realm. Some of the old poles have been there, empty of signage, for years. With good management control of local authority crews this could be resolved. As Margaret suggests in her blog, a good house keeper wouldn’t tolerate this in their home.

Another critical aspect in how we perceive our urban environment is shopfronts. Just uploaded today onto the antaisce.org website is a submission from An Taisce in relation to unauthorised and non-compliant shopfronts, signage and landuse in Dublin 2. This well illustrated submission brings the problems into sharp focus.

Look now at this picture of one of Wicklow Town’s iconic views of the Norman arch in front of the 11th century Black Castle. The parking restriction sign, the dog litter bin, the ‘keep your dog on a lead’ sign, the parking ticket machine and the general litter bin could all have been sited a few meters away in the car park. Why weren’t they? Who would accept responsibility for this? I have recently written to the town clerk about this. Wish me luck!

There is also a problem with the maintenance of protected structures which are commonly left to rot – examples could be quoted where it has been established that this was clearly with the intention of ultimately obtaining permission for demolition and redevelopment as an easier option to increase profit from speculation. It is interesting to note that at an inquiry in an Oireachtas Committee in September 2009 the Department of the Environment officials were unable to say how many protected structures were in or near to a state of dilapidation. The website abandonedireland.com has some impressive photography of derelict manor houses.

The local authorities have powers under the provisions of the Derelict Sites Act 1990 to intervene in these circumstances but rarely do so, maybe because nobody monitors the situation but local councilors could put pressure on their officials to take action. A derelict site is (broadly) defined as land which detracts from the amenity, character or appearance of land in the neighbourhood because the structures are either ruinous, unsightly or littered.

A good example, or should that be a bad example, is the La Touche Hotel in Greystones. Planning permission was granted for a mixed development in 2005 but it never happened and the developer went bust. When the receiver reapplied for permission for a similarly over-dense development of minimum standard apartments (merely applying to change the use of the central protected structure from hotel to medical centre) An Bord Pleanala thankfully upheld an appeal from neighbours. The beautiful old hotel is now in a terrible state but nothing has been done about it.

Indeed even litter is a general problem that the country still hasn’t quite got its head around. Despite valiant efforts by some Litter Wardens and Tidy Towns Committees etc. there is still a long way to go. Litter is still strewn along the roads around the countryside. Whose job is it to clear this I wonder? You’d think a litter picker could accompany roadside maintenance crews but it doesn’t seem to happen. Perhaps this is another example of poor management practice in local authorities but I would still like to see property owners be obliged to fulfill their duty to pick up along the boundaries of their land. This is covered in the Litter Acts.

Lets look at the example cited by Margaret and what could be done to improve the situation in Sandyford. It seems to me that this could be a planning compliance issue. It seems unlikely that planning permission would have been granted for construction works to take over a public path or that the application would have included drawings to show this. In this case anyone can report unauthorised development under section 152 of the Planning Act. The local authority are obliged to issue a warning notice and, since the new Planning and Development Act 2010, shall issue an enforcement notice if planning permission cannot be established. (an unfortunate gap in the Act is that no time lines have been included for this!) I know I know. The councils are all very busy but following an EU case against Ireland (Infringement no. 2000/4384, Case C-215/06 ) the Department of the Environment have been drafting new guidelines for local authorities on how enforcement departments must be restructured to achieve better results. There’s no point having a shiny new Planning Act if we cannot enforce.

And of course what if the developer has gone? Well, again, a new manual is being prepared – Unfinished Housing Developments Manual. It is designed to help with the resolution of unfinished housing estates but gives a helpful outline of measures that could be taken on other developments too including how to trace a run away developer. A draft of these can be seen on housing.ie and although the public consultation phase ended last month, the draft does highlight a number of actions that are currently available including those already mentioned, that is development controls under the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Derelict Sites Act and Litter Acts.

The guidelines also discuss the calling in of bonds and securities – a big problem if, as commonly happened these were never collected in the first place!

All in all I generally find that something CAN be done about all these issues if only we can be bothered!

– Judy Osborne, MSc Spatial Planning

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