6 Dec 2006

This from Michael Leahy:

‘Excellent dispatch. I'm delighted there is a forum where we may address the attacks against due process which are now inherent in the planning process. It is however important to propose an alternative system to the quite dreadful local authority system and to this end I think that a working group to look at best practice in other jurisdictions would be useful. As a practicing architect and planner I would happily undertake some work on this if others are interested in joining me.’
Michael, I’ve received several comments similar to yours. I have a few ideas in mind which I think would bring about an improvement in the planning system and I’d be delighted to meet up with others to toss some ideas around. Anyone else out there care to join us?

This from Fintan Duffy:

‘I commend you again on yet another interesting and relevant dispatch. However, I feel that complaining about inconsistencies in the Planning process is just the tip of the iceberg. The reality of the local authority system in this country (which includes the planning system but is much wider than it) is that it doesn’t function effectively at many levels. This is due to a number of factors in my opinion including; little or no financial autonomy at local level; archaic and anomalous staffing, recruitment and promotional procedures within the system; high-staff turnover due to job dissatisfaction against the backdrop of a booming private sector; low morale with a poor sense of teamwork and no real sense of public service (again a morale issue). Of course there are exceptional individuals within the system and I really admire those who stick with it and try to de their best each time round. However there are many more unhappy and unfulfilled people within the system who accept, with all its anomalies, contradictions and absurdities. These are system failures but what is much more serious is that this structural incompetence is mirrored within the DOE itself and there is no sense of crisis there either which means that the government is either indifferent to the system or quite happy to continue with it. One is tempted to conclude that it suits the political parties to continue to use and abuse a failing system to cut the political teeth of their councillors while grooming them for national politics. It suits the parties that the system be perceived to be arcane and corrupt because this allows patronage to flourish – how else does the ordinary citizen (and increasingly the professionals also) obtain planning without having recourse to councillors or TDs? We put up with a lot of nonsense from the public sector in Ireland. It is the only part of the economy that consistently underperforms and lags behind the rest. This is unacceptable, and until it becomes a political issue nothing will change, except for the worse.

I wonder am I alone in my analysis – I’d like to hear any reactions to this.’

Well Fintan, love the rant but would have preferred if you’d rhymed it over a gangsta beat. A ‘Snoop Duff’ kind of thing.

But on that topic, I recently came across a very interesting study on the Irish planning system published by Frank Convery, Daniel McInerney, Martin Sokol and Peter Stafford. It’s an academic piece of work, full of graphs and statistics, but it does make some very stark points.

The first thing that struck me is their commentary on the €34.5 billion Transport 21 plan which the government announced just over a year ago. The announcement was made at a fancy do with the Taoiseach, Tanaiste, and Minisiters for Finance and Transport all in attendance. The authors point out (and it went over my head at the time) that the Minister for the Environment, who is after all responsible for spatial planning, was not involved. They also mention that that the actual projects outlined in Transport 21 (motorways, Luas extensions, etc.) bear no relation to the policies which were outlined a couple of years back in the National Spatial Strategy (remember, that impossible to read and stay awake document which promised ‘development hubs’ and ‘gateway’ towns?). The whole thing, the authors suggest was a bit of a ‘flourish’: a showcase for the Government to grab some positive press while avoiding the serious issues.

Toward the end of the report, the authors go on to point out that the current Irish government has undertaken no serious studies of how the planning system is working, how it could be improved or how it compares with other systems in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, they suggest that the Government is focusing all its attentions on the success of the economy while treating environmental planning with ‘benign neglect’.

Their report appears in a copy of the journal ‘Built Environment’ (volume 32, number 2) which you’ll find in the big libraries in Dublin but I can’t seem to locate on the net.

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