Thursday 23 January 2020

Caroline O'Doherty: 'Those in power need to accept the objections are often valid'

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Caroline O'Doherty

The hymn sheet that Brendan Kenny and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy are sharing strikes a discordant note.

They're duetting on a lament about planning objectors, blaming them for difficulties in getting housing built.

Kenny's comments follow Murphy's recent gripe to the Oireachtas Housing Committee when he complained of the "hypocrisy" that he encountered "every day" in the debate around homelessness.

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"When people start to speak they are visibly distressed about the number of people in emergency accommodation and by the end they are talking about how they are against apartments being built at the end of their road. The two things are connected," he said.

But are Nimbys really to blame for the housing shortage?

An Bord Pleanála received 2,208 appeals against council planning decisions last year, of which 812 related to houses or apartments.

Of those, 421 were stand-alone dwellings while the rest were clusters or larger schemes. The number relating to schemes of 30 or more homes was 65.

On average it took just over 22 weeks to decide on an appeal. Only 24pc of those decisions fully backed the council's original decision while 53pc required some variations or added conditions and 23pc overturned the council's decision completely. So there was merit in most of those appeals.

Possibly, appeals about housing were over-represented among the 24pc - the statisticians haven't drilled down deep enough into the figures to tell us. But even if they were, isn't it possible that the objections were less about housing and more about habitat?

When a few hundred new homes take away playing fields, maybe it's right that objectors kick up. Developers rarely make adequate provision for the open-space needs of children.

When local roads are clogged, public transport overcrowded and cycle lanes non-existent, maybe the responsible thing to do is say no more.

When there is a constant panic to build schools in areas where children enter their final months of Montessori or primary school not knowing where they will go next, maybe the sensible thing to do is put the brakes on more development.

When years of regional development strategies have been ignored so that population growth is concentrated in congested, creaking cities, maybe there is just no trust in planning policy.

There may well be people who object simply because they don't like the idea of their neighbourhood changing, but those An Bord Pleanála figures, with the 76pc of appeals proving to have merit, are worth heeding.

As is the fact 77pc of appealed developments do get the go-ahead in some form, after an average delay, as Kenny and Murphy call it, or scrutiny, as objectors might term it, of 22 weeks,

Dealing with objectors means listening to people's opinions and being open to those opinions reflecting badly on your policies and performance. That is part and parcel of the work of Kenny and Murphy, yet they seem to be saying, not in my job description. And that's just Nimbyism by another acronym.

Irish Independent

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