Saturday 24 February 2018

Shortage of architects in councils will threaten our communities

Robin Mandal
Robin Mandal

Paul Melia and Ralph Riegel

Town and city planning is in danger of becoming developer-led due to a lack of architects employed in councils.

A survey by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) found that almost 40pc of local authorities, or 12 from a total of 31, do not employ any architects, which has contributed to a "lack of joined-up thinking", the regulatory body claims.

The survey comes after the Irish Planning Institute warned that a chronic shortage of planners also threatens to delay construction of new homes.

It says the number employed has dropped from 607 in 2006 to 415 today, down 32pc, which means delays securing pre-planning meetings and could result in projects being held up.

The surveys should raise concerns in Government about a lack of qualified professionals being in place to oversee the proper planning and development of our towns and cities.

This follows criticism of the Celtic Tiger legacy where many developments were located at a remove from local services such as shops, schools and parks.

President of the RIAI, Robin Mandal, said the shortage of architects had resulted in a lack of variety of housing types, the death of towns and villages, and the acceptance of "inappropriate market-driven solutions".

The survey shows that a dozen councils have no architects employed, including Wicklow, Cavan, Carlow, Galway County, Monaghan, Meath, Leitrim, Louth, Longford, Laois, Tipperary and Roscommon.

In five other cases - Carlow, Offaly, Kilkenny, Westmeath and Wexford - an architect is employed, but may work in other related duties, such as being a conservation officer rather than being focused in a decision-making role.

"People should have a reasonable expectation to demand more from our built environment where communities work with properly planned housing and recreational space that works for people at different life stages," Mr Mandal said.

"We must raise that expectation, so that our homes are close to our family, friends, schools, parks, shops and workplaces with different generations sharing in the same community. It would not make sense to build hospitals without doctors yet the analysis shows that far too many counties plan and develop communities without having architects at the heart of the decision-making process."

He said that examples of 'good' practice included Fens Quay in Cork and Adamstown and the Docklands in Dublin. There were also notable examples in Waterford, Kilkenny, Sligo, Westport and Clonakilty.

"With an architect there, you will have somebody who understands the history of places, how materials work, how the environment looks, how things function - you should be able to walk to the shops and there should be public transport.

"The feedback (from Government) is money. Our argument is that in a time of austerity, it's exactly the time to do it. As we come out of this, and the pace of development returns to normal, we need to ensure we don't make those mistakes again."

The IPI added that the sharpest fall in the number of planners employed has been in Dublin City Council, which has lost 44, down from 78 to 34. There were also steep falls in Cork County, down 15 to 50; Donegal, down 14 to 21; and Fingal, down 10 to 23.

Based on the number of planners per population, the average is one planner per 10,986 people. However, planners in Dublin City, Cork County, Fingal, South Dublin and Kildare cope with higher thresholds. These are areas earmarked for development in the short-term, and a lack of planners could result in delays.

The Local Government Management Agency, which works with local authorities, said recruitment was a matter for each council. Housing Minister Paudie Coffey indicated the Department of the Environment is in discussions with local authorities and An Bord Pleanala about filling vacant posts.

Irish Independent

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