14 Nov 2006

On Wednesday developer Sean Dunne announced a plan for a massive scheme on his five acre site in Ballsbridge, Dublin. The project is located on the most expensive real estate in the country, so it was clear from the start that whatever he was going to propose, it was going to be huge. How do we feel about it? Well this is a no brainer, really. Unless local authorities put in place development plans which express the size, height, density, use, plot area ratios, parking requirements, etc., of future development within their area, developers will make the choices for them. And the kind of plan we're talking about here is much more detailed than the sort of thing they came up with for the Dublin Docklands, IFSC and Heuston Station: what we're talking about is the level of detail you'd find in the New York Zoning Resolution or in any German city plan.

The lack of detail in Irish development plans gives rise to two big problems. First, there is no vision for how cities and towns are to take shape as we go forward (this is why we end up with massive shopping malls on the M50, but we'll save that discussion that for another day). Secondly, the lack of clarity in our development plans is one of the reasons for the current (very scary) property boom. In other western countries development plans are set out in such a way that anyone can see the amount of development which will be permitted on any site. In other words, everyone knows exactly how much that site is worth. In Ireland, there isn't a single development plan in the country which describes what can or can't be developed. So developers take a gamble that they'll be able to squeeze a few more apartments onto a site than anyone else thinks and this drives up the amount they're prepared to pay for the land. It's a crop shoot. But if the developer gets the sums wrong, he doesn't suffer: the cost is passed on to the end user.

The particular irony of the Ballsbridge story is that media reports have been referring to the Dunne proposal as a 'mini-Manhattan'. Anyone with any knowledge of the planning system in New York would know that this couldn't be further from the truth.

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