SPGN Forum 2011 – Perspectives on NAMA and the Planning System

The Spatial Planning Graduate Network held its second annual Planner’s Forum on the topic of ‘Perspectives on NAMA and the Planning System’ at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Bolton Street on the evening of Wednesday, 15th June 2011. Four panelists, Joan Burton TD (Minister for Social Protection), Michael Wall BL, (Barrister-at-Law), Conor Norton (Government Advisory Group on Unfinished Residential Development) and Conor Skehan (Lecturer, DIT School of Spatial Planning) were invited to speak and to take part in an informal discussion and debate with the Spatial Planning Graduate Network and invited guests.

David O’Connor, Chairperson of the SPGN, opened the Forum by speaking about the key issue in any debate about planning and the National Asset Management Agency: can it be possible for NAMA to achieve the highest economic return on lands within their control while, at the same time, ensuring the long-term sustainable development of Ireland?  NAMA and concerns surrounding its operation seem to be generally accepted as economic concerns, but ignoring the spatial element could be short-sighted.  There are many examples of asset disposal and spatial planning working together (e.g., Shrinking Cities projects in East Germany) and, where spatial planning is a consideration, those cities are recovering fastest.

Joan Burton, TD, was unfortunately unable attend the Forum due to her Dáil commitments so Michael Wall was the first of the panellists to speak. Michael Wall BL is a former member of the board of An Bord Pleanála, who was appointed by the Minister for Finance as a member of the NAMA Planning Advisory Committee in April 2010.  Speaking in a personal capacity, Michael noted that, contrary to first impressions that planning plays a minor part in the NAMA legislation, when scrutinised, spatial planning would seem to play a larger part than first imagined.  In particular, Michael made reference to what might be considered extensive planning powers set out in five key provisions (sections 2, 10, 11, 12 and 33) of the 2009 Act.

Conor Norton, Director of Loci and Appointee to the Government Advisory Group on Unfinished Residential Development, stated his opinion that the NAMA legislation is designed to address a financial threat to the State and to the banking sector.  As such, the 2009 Act has little or nothing to do with spatial planning and is an inappropriate mechanism for confronting long term goals associated with the social and economic development of Ireland.  In order to realise important national, regional and local level strategic goals, it may, therefore, be necessary to transfer the wider goals of NAMA to a Strategic Development Corporation.

Conor Skehan, Director of CAAS Environmental Services Ltd and Lecturer at the DIT School of Spatial Planning, spoke in highly critical terms on the subject of NAMA, describing the legislation as destructive of our assets and our entrepreneurship.  Rather than planning for prosperity and then seeking to provide the property to accommodate it, NAMA seeks to somehow achieve economic return from land and leaves the formulation of a strategy for prosperity until later.  The circumstances that led to the establishment of NAMA are a symptom and not the cause – the cause is poor planning that is rooted in an obsession with housing and settlement.

Following the conclusions and presentations from the panellists, the floor was opened up to debate.  Topics raised included the potential for temporary use of NAMA lands as community gardens; the particularly difficulties associated with the conservation of NAMA-owned heritage buildings; the benefits of dealing with NAMA over abandoned unfinished developments with untraceable owners; remaining excesses of zoned land; and the need for an expert regional-level planning body.

The event was followed by a reception, which was generously sponsored by CAAS Environmental Services Limited.

Amy Hastings BCL, BL, MSc (Spatial Planning), MIPI works as a planning consultant in private practice, is a partner in ARC Consultants and Secretary of the Spatial Planning Graduate Network.

2 thoughts on “SPGN Forum 2011 – Perspectives on NAMA and the Planning System

  1. David O'Connor

    Thanks to Amy for this very good synopsis. All in all the level of debate was excellent, there was a big attendance and a good chance to mingle afterwards so it seems like the Spatial Planning Graduate Network Forum 2011 was a good success and thanks to all who contributed.

    Here are some of my own views on the event which may be worth sharing: –

    I was particularly impressed by Conor Norton’s plea for a Strategic Development Corporation (along the lines of that in Australia and many other jurisdictions). It seems incredible to me that with entities like NAMA at large we do not have a coherent and relevant national spatial vision. At the national level we have a development management department (an Bord Pleanála). So why no forward planning department, like in any proper planning authority?

    Michael Wall’s overview of the planning implications of the otherwise labyrinthine NAMA Act was highly instructive. It appeared (and this was strongly intimated in the discussion) that there are fundamental and worrying conflicts implicit in the legislation. Which values will win out: site valuation or wider economic benefits?

    It was hard to argue with Conor Skehan who said we must “plan for prosperity”. Unleashing a broadside on NAMA, Conor argued forcefully that the answer is good spatial planning, not perpetuating past errors.

    The comments from the floor were equally interesting. Judy Osborne, editor of an Taisce magazine, reflected on the need to consider fiscal tools, referring to “smart taxes”, as a mechanism for positive change. PJ Rudden, President of Engineers Ireland, expressed concern about the emergence of a “mystique” surrounding NAMA. He suggested a joint submission to the Planning Advisory Committee of NAMA by the Urban Forum putting forward a representative view from its constituent bodies.

    Positive actions that demonstrate the value of good debate.

    Reply

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