Home Truths: No natterjacks in Adamstown
From the 1960s through to the property boom, an abhorrent and cynical trend dominated the treatment of communities by developers in the planning of suburban estate housing.
A developer might seek planning permission for say a community hall, a library, a medical centre and 400 houses. And such a plan, with obvious amenities attached, would look attractive to those who were of a mind to buy in the area.
Such lodged permissions encouraged residents already living in the vicinity that civic amenities would be provided alongside the additional housing. It meant residents were less likely to object. This was important because residents viewed the arrival of new homes with trepidation - they would change the look of the area, eliminate valued green space, increase traffic and put pressure on existing schools and local services.
On top of this, a shortage of available homes in any area kept the values of existing stock high. The builder would obtain the planning permission and then build the houses only. He wasn't obliged to build the rest just because he got permission for it. Later phases with new permissions might even see more houses built where the amenities were to be.
The other side of the coin is that residents groups of the past generation have also had a lot to answer for, particularly through the 1990s - the heyday of the Irish 'NIMBY' (not in my back yard). Existing residents of many areas formed militant groups who objected to pretty much every single plan that involved building anything at all.
A tinpot backyard selfishness dictated "once I'm here, I don't want anyone else getting in". Many groups began aggressive bargaining with developers for approval to seek compensations for new housing which included very unreasonable demands for built amenities. At one point it was not uncommon for objections to be lodged to housing schemes by people who weren't even living in the county.
An increased consciousness about the environment produced a fringe element who began to see all new construction as evil. Some residents groups began to opportunistically deploy or concoct environmental concerns as weapons in their backyard planning wars. As a result we became familiar with all manner of bats, snails and amphibians we'd never previously heard of - creatures whose habitats were continually threatened by any type of new construction.
For a time, many must have wondered whether the natterjack toad actually existed (like a leprechaun, they're so elusive you never see them) or whether it was simply a clever concoction of the Kerry NIMBY to derail housing and other development.
"You've never seen a natterjack? Well there you are. That's how threatened they are."
For a time, objecting residents groups and developers were both hiring professional representatives, spokespersons and lobbyists. Brown envelopes were changing hands to influence local politicians and certain lobbyists were present in the chamber for voting more frequently than many councillors. In the 90s and early Noughties we had planning war.
The truth is our combative system brought ineffective results - vast sprawls of homes lacking necessary amenities alongside them.
Adamstown in Lucan (see page 6) has for many years being blackguarded as an example of "development gone mad" of "Celtic Tiger excess" and latterly as a "ghost estate". But why?
On the contrary, Adamstown - which has been planned, designed and developed thus far under a pre-agreed and thought-out strategic development zone structure - is a gleaming example of successful non-combative planning. Thanks to the property crash, it's just not finished yet.
But it will be completed thanks to an uplift in the property market coupled with rulings by An Bord Pleanala last year which upheld the tenets of the original strategy and prevented them being watered down.
Development is set to proceed with remaining amenities like community centres and swimming pools set to be provided enforcibly in tandem with houses (X number of houses requires a community hall, X number more requires a swimming pool). As a result, residents are relatively assured amenities will be delivered.
It's a model we should have been striving towards decades ago and one we should be promoting elsewhere today. Residents groups in Adamstown pay their builders nothing but compliments. The homes are simple, but stylish, and extremely well put together. It had its schools from the get-go.
Now Ulster Bank is disposing of the remaining landbanks, meaning that after six years, Adamstown will resume construction. Others who buy into Adamstown when the next batches of homes arrive will be very lucky indeed.
When its done we should hold it up for all to copy - successful planning minus lobbyists, sprawl and elusive natterjacks.