Ireland has suffered badly from a lack of long- term planning, but recent years have seen a reversal of that with Project Ireland 2040, the National Planning Framework, the National Development Plan and three Regional Assemblies, overarching the local authorities. So far so good, but the inherently slow pace of making and implementing long- term plans can see shorter term planning and development needs set aside and perhaps not always for the good.
Two development “pinch points” caught my eye recently, on opposite sides of Dublin. In the south-west suburbs a swathe of 700 hectares inside the M50, stretching from Ballyfermot to Ballymount, the city’s primary industrial location has been identified as a regeneration zone. The area is seen as suitable for redevelopment as a “mixed-use urban quarter” which would see the low intensity predominantly industrial uses replaced by higher density uses such as residential and offices.
This makes sense. This land is close to the city centre, a lot of the industrial estates are obsolete and the Luas has transformed accessibility. However, there are two issues for planners. The first is the multiplicity of ownerships and tenancies. Every square mile of this area will have scores of legal interests and the prospects of a developer acquiring all of those, relocating the occupiers and redeveloping brownfield sites are slim.
I can only see large scale regeneration taking place if the State compulsorily acquires land needed for development, which could be a role for the Land Development Agency. I suspect that a specific State Agency, similar to the development agencies that drove the regeneration of docklands will be required for this plan to succeed, together with the tax incentives that generate momentum.
Even with supports, this is a 100-year plan, and it’s at least ten years before any new development is seen.
The second issue is that we have a housing crisis now and we need more well-located zoned land.
The danger is that local authorities become preoccupied by the primacy of regional plans, forget how long term they are and stop catering for immediate need. An example may be the debate around Hibernia REIT’s proposal to re-zone land at Newlands Cross, south of the above industrial area. Hibernia REIT want to develop approximately 3,500 houses and apartments there and are offering “planning gain.”
It looks an appropriate site to me, within walking distance of Luas stops. And if the thousands of businesses inside the M50 are going to be pushed south, the area will need even more housing. Re-zoning this land would see houses built within five years, new social housing and tens of millions in tax income.
A related issue caught my eye in Co. Meath where the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy of the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly has set out primary locations for population and economic growth with a focus on regeneration of infill and brownfield sites. That strategy has caused Meath County Council to “de-zone” sites for approximately 10,000 residential units in East Meath.
The long-term planning aspiration has merit, but in a housing crisis, dezoning sites close to railway stations is questionable. People in need of housing now can’t wait forever for brownfield sites to be developed at high density nearer the city. And the pandemic means that more people want to live and work at home,at lower density and with a garden.
Nobody planned for that.