Sunday 17 December 2017

Mary Crowley: Planning is key to high density

Mary Crowley
Mary Crowley

Mary Crowley

There is no dispute that Ireland has an oversupply of housing units nationally. Conversely, we are now seeing a shortage of family-type houses in the Dublin area.

Even though it is almost 10 years old, the NESC Report "Housing in Ireland" documented that low-density development not only caused the problems of the property boom, but also made communities unsustainable as provision of services became financially impracticable. This legacy must never be repeated.

In order not only to meet the demand in the market but also to achieve appropriate social mix and build sustainable communities, it is essential that family housing is provided in inner urban and town centre locations.

This will need to happen in higher densities than what we expect in the suburban areas.

High-density development is not necessarily high-rise development. One of the common misperceptions is that high-density housing can only be achieved with the construction of multi-storey apartment blocks.

Sir Terry Farrell, Architect and Urban Designer, writing in Inside Housing (2009), contrasts perceptions of high density with the reality of Kensington and Chelsea in London, which have the highest density of dwellings in the UK.

This area of London is well-served by public transport, has the most used green spaces, the highest property values in the UK and the longest life expectancy. Sir Terry Farrell notes that "the contradiction is that high density is far from detrimental; it has created a highly desirable environment in which to live".

In order to realise places that people and families want to live, work and build communities in, we must think long term and avoid a knee-jerk return to the wasteful development of scarce land in Irish towns and cities.

The Irish Planning Institute strives to achieve good planning and sustainable development through strong, plan-led development.

Provision of high-density family housing poses significant challenges in terms of planning where houses can be situated and how houses should be designed and serviced. This requires collaboration between all the built environment professionals and is why the Urban Forum (chaired by the IPI) is so important.

The Urban Forum is a joint initiative of the Irish Landscape Institute, the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, Engineers Ireland and the Irish Planning Institute and provides an important platform for strategic thinking and discussion on a variety of matters of interest to the members of the professional institutes that work in the built environment.

Planning for the common good involves taking a long-term perspective to ensure the efficient use of limited land resources.

The plan-led approach advocates the allocation of land uses and densities in a coordinated manner in response to longer-term infrastructural investment and population trends.

This process must take precedence over a developer-led or market-driven approach. An interdisciplinary, incremental and layered response is now the order of the day.

Good, proper planning – sustainable planning – provides value not only to the exchequer in terms of the efficient use of infrastructure, but also to every citizen who engages in the built environment.

Delivering sustainable communities is a collaborative process that must be flexible, deliberate and measured. Effective plan-led development is central to building quality places where people and families want to live and work. Serviced urban land is a scarce resource that needs effective management. Therefore we must challenge our perceptions of high density.

Good enough is no longer good enough!

Mary Crowley is the newly elected president of the Irish Planning Institute and an inspector with Bord Pleanala

Irish Independent

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