Smart health and transport planning is key

David O’Connor

The Irish Times – Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE PRIORITIES set out in the Government’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012 – 2016: Medium-Term Exchequer Framework report of supporting enterprise, health and education are absolutely laudable. In a time when exchequer revenues are outstripped by expenditure, needs must.

But when one examines the transport stratagem against the three objectives it becomes clear the proposed investment does not deliver, nor on one other key criterion: maximising value for money. Most especially it will not promote public health, something that is increasingly linked to our level of active travel, to the best possible degree.

The irony is that we have adopted two transport strategies that have won wide acclaim. These are the Smarter Travel and National Cycle Policy Framework reports, that, if implemented, would substantially improve the health of society and economy. They would even improve our educational environment since children who are more active perform better in tests.

The Government, however, has reduced spending to €65 million to provide for all Smarter Travel and cycling investment over a five-year period. This level of investment is, in impact terms, negligible. And yet it is in this area we could get the greatest return on investment.

More cycling and walking means less car usage, less oil dependency, less carbon emissions and less congestion. There are huge knock-on effects in terms of public health.

The day before the launch, a group of Ministers plugged the Growing up in Ireland report in which a looming obesity epidemic is revealed. Some 26 per cent of nine year olds are found to be overweight or obese and Ireland scores near lowest among its European neighbours.

Recent cycling investments – Dublinbike, the Newport Mulranny Greenway, the taxsaver cycle scheme, new urban cycle paths among them – are delivering mode transfer way beyond forecasted levels, and at relatively little cost. The An Taisce Green Schools programme has delivered mode shifts of more than 20 per cent away from car reliance. It is a world-class scheme and we need more of it. Cost-benefit studies suggest that a euro invested in such programmes will be several euro saved in future healthcare costs.

The people of Swords are no doubt aggrieved by the dumping of Metro North. We can all be irritated by the best part of €200 million invested in abandoned mega-schemes. The committed upgrade of three quality bus corridors (QBCs) is a fig leaf to these communities. They might rightly see it as such unless the Government and the National Transport Authority commit to delivering not a series of corridor improvements but a high-quality bus network.

The idea of a network is critical here. We are not alone in facing capital expenditure cuts. Cities worldwide are reverting to bus in preference to high-cost rail schemes. The ones that develop integrated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) networks – Bogota, Curitiba, Nantes and Zurich – are not looking back.

Already, on Dublin’s North Quays QBC, inbound capacities of 10,000 passengers an hour have been recorded; equal, in fact, to the forecasted year-open capacity of the ill-fated Metro North. This is without integrated ticketing, high-capacity service design and high-level priority, all part of successful BRT network design.

Yet there is no reference to building integrated BRT networks in the programme. Or to the Blue Line, a well-conceived BRT link from Sandymount to Sandyford proposed by Dún Laoghaire- Rathdown council. In fact there is a BRT revolution going on in many of the world’s highest-ranked cities. Ireland’s low-density, suburbanised cities can be ideal for such networks. Belfast is in the process of developing its own version.

We need an integrated, people-centred approach to planning. We need connected, healthy neighbourhoods where we can live creatively, actively and socially. More promotion of walking, cycling and high-quality bus networks can deliver this. The Government has a great opportunity to save money, boost our economic recovery and help to build the healthy neighbourhoods we deserve.

David O’Connor is a lecturer and practitioner in Transport Planning and Urban Design and is Chairperson of the Spatial Planning Graduate Network.

Looking after best interests of Dublin must be top priority

Lorcan Sirr and Conor Skehan

The Irish Times – Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A new style of dynamic manager is needed to live in the city and ensure it is properly run.

WE NEED to stop ignoring Dublin. And let’s be clear: what is good for Dublin is very good for Ireland. In no way is that an anti-rural statement. Far from it.

Dublin and its associated region, especially the industrial ring just outside the M50, is the engine which keeps Ireland moving. Monies generated here enter national coffers to run regional hospitals, develop rural tourism, fund local authorities to maintain their areas, protect our water, wildlife, beautiful landscapes and much, much more.

 

Read more…

 

Insights from Dublin for City Development Beyond the Crisis

“From Making a City to Being a City”

Recently a group of Dutch and Flemish planners visited Dublin on a three-day mission to find out how the city is coping with the crisis.  The visitors comprised of many disciplines including planning, urban design, transport, anthropology and city marketing.  The visit involved meeting communities as diverse as Smithfield, Darndale, Newmarket and Northern Area Fringe.  The visitors met with project champions for Lifeline, the Complex theatre, the Dublin Food Coop, the “Learning for Life” project and the Fumbally Exchange “New Creative Quarter” initiative, among many others.   The DIT School of Spatial Planning also hosted a forum where discussions were had with Dick Gleeson, Chief City Planner of Dublin City Council and Mark Dyer, Research Driector of Trinityhaus along with other speakers from Ireland and the Netherlands.

The visit was a chance to get a flavour of how the crisis is affecting the city physically as well as socially.  And it was an opportunity to meet with some of the local community champions that might, some day, be seen as the people who lead the city to a better place.

After the trip Stipo, the Dutch urban planning consultancy who organised the visit, surveyed all of the people who came on the trip and asked them what they learned from the experience.  What emerged was a document (downloadable from the Stipo website) which reflects on the impact of the sudden downturn on a city, but also how planners might react in order to create an opportunity from the crisis.

It is refreshing, perhaps, to gain a fresh and objective perspective on events as they happen.  It is also a tribute to the community leaders, politicians and officials who took the time to meet with the visitors that such positive and useful insights could be gained from a three day visit.

http://www.stipo.info/Artikel/Dublin_between_crisis_and_new_energy

For more information about the visit, contact David O’Connor at david.oconnor@dit.ie or  Jeroen Laven at jeroen.laven@stipo.nl.

 

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.

Transport 21 is dead, but what is to replace it?

At the recent Transport Ireland conference Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar TD, strongly intimated that a root and branch overhaul of our existing transport policy is due to take place in September 2011. The first key question is whether he is referring to our actual transport policy or our transport investment program, which are not one and the same thing, or both.

Our actual official transport policy is contained in “Smarter Travel – a sustainable transport future 2009-2020”.  It is the first time we have had a transport policy proper and it was broadly welcome, containing many progressive actions and a far more enlightened approach than practice hitherto.

A failing of the policy, however, was to wholeheartedly adopt “Transport 21”. Transport 21, is what the previous two governments adopted as our national transport investment program.  This policy was a quickly cobbled together amalgam of infrastructure proposals from many agencies dumped into a single highly publicised announcement during 2005.  Accompanying the press release was an implementation timetable.  This timetable was an extremely ambitious program to invest €56bn in hard transport infrastructure.  The program is now pretty much blown to bits, as much by unrealistic timeframes as by the ever deteriorating exchequer revenue position.

The Minister didn’t definitively state if he is referring to replacing Transport 21 or fully throwing out Smarter Travel.  The latter would, given its attention to environmental and social concerns, require more vigilance from those with an interest in sustainable transport.  However, tallying with the Minister’s statement is the following interesting remark on www.transport21.ie which suggests a new infrastructure plan is on the way:

“Transport 21, a capital investment framework under the National Development Plan, was launched at the end of 2005 and ran until 2010. It will be superseded by the new National Development Plan from 2012.”

So there you have it.  Transport 21 has been quietly, quickly and officially laid to rest.  So what will be in the “new National Development Plan” about to replace it?

As most people well know, there isn’t much money in the pot for any infrastructure so it will be quite a piece of gymnastics to produce such a Plan unless it incorporates a radical move to more cost effective strategies such as BRT Networks, carbon fuel tax increases and deepening the already positive emphasis on cycling contained in “Ireland’s First National Cycle Policy Framework”.

To make matters even more interesting, the National Transport Agency, established to plan, procure and deliver transport services for the entire State, has to deliver a Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area imminently.   The draft of this Strategy has been through public consultation (www.2030vision.ie) and contains more or less all of the megaprojects programmed in Transport 21, including Metro North, Metro West, DART Underground, etc.

The NTA Strategy is a Strategy for Dublin which must be completed by the NTA.  The DTA Act requires that the Authority “shall endeavour to ensure that the first transport strategy shall be published not later than one year following the review of the regional planning guidelines for the GDA” which presumably is legalese for “we’d like it if they do but it doesn’t matter if they don’t”.  Their deadline in that regard is 15th June 2011 for the record.

The question is what influence or role will the National Transport Authority (NTA) Strategy play in the national development plan?  The Minister has the sole responsibility to sign off on the Strategy for Dublin and it becomes binding on all other development plans once he does so.  How that would dovetail with a new National Development Plan is anyone’s guess.  Whether it includes the Transport 21 megaprojects is another.

As an adjunct to this discussion, it is most interesting that the NTA has no brief to prepare a National Transport Strategy giving the Minister and his office relative freehand in this regard.  It is a huge anomaly in the various bits of legislation that the NTA’s primary function is a Strategy for Dublin.  The NTA also has an advisory body which is Dublin-centric albeit powerless.  The NTA is governed by a board of 9 members appointed by the national Minister.  This is not necessarily an accountable corporate governance setup, to be determining decisions of such magnitude and importance to the future of the city and her dwellers.

David O’Connor is lecturer in Transport Planning and Urban Design at the DIT School of Spatial Planning, Chair of the M.Sc. Spatial Planning programme and is Chairperson of the Spatial Planning Graduate Network

 

A measure that would give power back to the people, and provide a new way to fund public infrastructure

Tax Increment Financing works in North America, but to be a success here would require a reform of local government.

The penny is beginning to drop that Ireland is one of the most centralised countries in Europe and the debate has begun in earnest for democratic reform. This can be seen in discussions surrounding the Dáil and the number of TDs, what they do and how they do it. The very presence of the Seanad is under threat from the main parties. The operation of local government is also under scrutiny. Whatever might or might not happen to the Dáil and Seanad, reform at local government level is very likely.

Is private funding the future for regeneration projects such as Ballymun?

Central and centralised government has arguably been responsible for much of the current economic debacle. Hence, the role of local government will be reassessed to see if affording greater power to the regions and local authorities – existing or newly reformed ones – could result in more efficiencies, better democratic procedures, and more locally responsive authorities. That’s the theory anyway.

Local government control over the raising and spending of its own finances above and beyond commercial property rates will be central to any debate about reform of governance. Reduced public finance available for infrastructure and regeneration developments, coupled with reform of governance, will lead to the need to explore new strategies for raising public funds.

In the UK – and particularly in Scotland – this search for new ways to fund local development has led to an exploration of a concept known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). TIF is not something new. It has been bandied about in various guises for many years. Around since the 1950s in the US, and popular in places like California and Chicago, TIF is a method of raising private finance for public infrastructure or development. Funds raised this way are repaid by future increases in local tax revenue from the improved facilities.

We need something like this. In 2007, Ireland ranked near the bottom of a 17-country European table in physical infrastructure. We were also near the bottom in the business-performance category. Ireland’s global infrastructure ranking has since improved, but at the same time funding has dried up, with spending on it due to be cut by €3bn to €5bn over the next four years.

Infrastructure does produce results. In Britain, for example, it is estimated that every £1 invested in infrastructure produces £10 worth of benefits in business support and job creation. These projects are typically done as a joint venture between the lender and local government.

Competence, both professional and elected, at the local government level is a prerequisite for the successful operation of TIF. They are long-term projects and can be complex to manage. For this reason, such a scheme should only be introduced in tandem with fundamental local government reform. A scheme of revenue raising that commits an area to repayments for many years needs to be introduced and implemented by people who will act in an open, competent, honest and considered way. Gombeen-ism and clientelism has no place when the long-term stakes are so high.

There are, of course, risks attached to TIF, the principal one being that the anticipated increase in tax returns on completion of the new infrastructure or development is over-estimated. This will lead to a situation whereby local government is left with insufficient funds with which to make the required repayments to the original lenders. This risk is greatest where population, and associated future income, is low. Another danger is that businesses may simply move from one location to another, thereby taking their commercial rates from one local authority to another. Again this risk is greatest

TIF is most likely to be successful and appropriate in larger metropolitan areas. In Ireland, this probably means it would only work in the Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway urban areas. Smaller areas will have less potential to raise income post-completion, and will have even less potential to attract lenders. Practice so far has seen the potential value of projects capped, typically at around the equivalent of €600m.

Crucially, a proper consideration of risk sharing is key to TIF; specifically, it involves commitment to the idea that if lenders are providing capital at a rate of interest which includes a premium for risk, then if the project fails to deliver expected returns they must take their share of the financial losses. Lenders will have done their research, calculated the figures and costed accordingly. If they lose, they lose.

It can only exist as part of a new fiscal system of local revenue generation and such changes, in turn, will require reform of Ireland’s property markets. In the residential market, this will involve production of the long-awaited register of property prices. On the commercial side, it may mean the adoption of European-style shorter leases with more frequent rent reviews pegged to inflation rather than the market. It may also involve a modernisation of commercial rating practice.

Transparency in transactions and valuations – or the lack thereof – has been a massive issue in the last decade. This is particularly pertinent when it is the taxpayer who will reap the rewards, but also foot the bill, as with TIF.

Ultimately it won’t solve all our urban regeneration ills, nor provide all needed infrastructure, but is worth considering. Central government hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in the last few years, so perhaps it is time to return some power to the people at a local level.

Dr Lorcan Sirr and Conor Skehan lecture in the College of Engineering and the Built Environment at Dublin Institute of Technology

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

Creative Industries in Ireland

With much discussion on the smart economy, the recent talk given at Forfas (11 Nov 2010) on creative industries by Professor Dominic Power, Uppsala University is instructive. Power has been asked by the EC to survey creative industries in Europe and is regarded as an authority on the subject. We are not alone is seeking to foster creative industries. In fact it is a buzz word in many parts of Europe. He had some useful advice on supports for new creative industries, including affordable space, and ‘ice-breaker’ funds.

There is a preponderance of creative industries in Dublin compared to the rest of Ireland, but it is notable that this is due to a large extent to media related industries. Manufacturing and crafts are more widely scattered. For more info see study by Declan Curran & Chris van Egeraat of NIRSA for Dublin City Council ‘Defining and valuing Dublin’s creative Industries’.

by Neil O’Flanagan