31 Oct 2008
After an inexplicable absence of two days, I’m back on the air. Not sure what happened - nothing sinister though, as far as I can make out (although that would have been fun too! … like the time… (sorry, I’m about to go off on one) …when I used to work on the pirate radio stations all those years ago…
31 Oct 2008
While John Gormley lines himself up to square off with Clare County Council about some things he doesn’t like in the new Ennis Development Plan, I can’t help feeling that he’s no idea what he’s getting into. Oh, my future predecessor in the Department of the Environment, you’ve picked the wrong county.
31 Oct 2008
Before I begin. Remember the Public Accounts Committee’s hearings into the unxplained, multi million Euro cost overrun on the Ballymun Regeneration Project (how many Medical Cards would that pay for?). The report on the Committee’s findings was due to be published in September , but does anyone know if that ever happened? I can’t find it anywhere on the internet. All I know is that, due to an email ending up in the inbox of someone it shouldn't have, it became obvious that the Committee had no intention of taking anyone to task on why such a phenomenal amount of money should have vanished. If anyone can shed light on the matter, send me an email.

Meanwhile, some of you may have already noticed that Bono is getting up my nose.

The AP had a thing the other day about how ‘activist’ Bono believes that next week's US presidential election provides a great opportunity to "relaunch Brand USA". He made the comments, apparently, as he was addressing thousands of Starbucks employees at an, em, leadership conference.  

‘The singer talked about brands and what they stand for,' the AP reported. 'In Starbucks' case, he said, some might see it as a place to hang out and get coffee - but the brand can also signify social responsibility.’

28 Oct 2008

Oh, my little SADDs sufferers, staring desperately into an earlier than usual dark-and-dreary season on an (after the summer we’ve had) empty tank – I’m in toasty warm Spain! lounging on a sleek terrazzo terrace and looking at the late evening sun through a balloon glass filled with something red and tasty, wondering whether I should abandon the whole idea of standing in next year’s Irish local elections and just run down here (i.e. Spain) instead…

… for the Communists. Seriously. There are enough planning issues in this part of the world to last an entire sunfilled, 25 deg C, Rioja pickled career. And don’t ask me why it’s so, but being on the extreme left is absolutely okay in Spain, way more okay than it is even in France. And, d’you know, all I’ve ever wanted out of life was to be warm, sozzled and on the extreme, extreme left… 

That’s not to say everything about our holiday is idyllic. Our nearest neighbours, a spiritedly amorous young couple by day, have been playing out some heavy domestic situations by night. These scenarios are characterised by the launching of tremendously heavy and expensive flower pots from their upper floor terrace, the same typically landing with thunderous cracking sounds on the terracotta paving two floors below, the enervating drama continuing until one of the participants grows tired or both run out of flower pots to toss. Sadly, the cops arrived last night and took them both away in a van. Now we’re worried that we won’t survive the evening without the excitement to which we’ve have grown accustomed.

But what I wanted to know was this: is it true that the whole of Dublin is buzzing about the new ‘reversible’ roof which architecture aficionado, Bono (he declared Tadao Ando ‘a God’ of design, or something, not too long ago (which can only mean there’s a seat in Heaven for us all)) is proposing for his gaff in Killiney? It’s reminding me that there was something I was meaning to tell you all: I think I heard that Bono arrived at that same Tadao Andao bash, which was attended by the entire Faux-Frugal Carbon Neutral Set, on Norman Foster’s helicopter. (Allegedly, and so on and so forth). 

When it comes to Bono, I'm with Biffo. 

28 Oct 2008

Not too long ago, I posted about a design consultant specialising in school buildings who had gone to the papers to warn about the fact that the Department of Education, with the assistance of the planning authorities, was trying to kill off the school extension programme. What was happening, apparently/allegedly, was that the planning authorities were demanding that the scope of work on a typical school extension project be increased to the point where overall costs would exceed the €380,000 limit which the Department grant would cover, thereby ensuring that the project wouldn’t progress. The consultant, who says he was later threatened that projects on which he was engaged would receive harsher treatment from the powers-that-be if he didn’t keep his mouth shut, warned that hundreds of people involved in the school building programme would lose their jobs if the corruption of the system continued.

Well, in a related development, here’s what happened recently on a school extension project in Tipperary. After months of to-ing and fro-ing, planning permission was finally granted on a very modest, very necessary proposal. The contractor, who had been sitting on the sidelines for months, finally signed a contract to complete the work for an amount safely below the €380,000 limit. But then, absolutely out of the blue and without prior warning, the Department of Education demanded that the contractor reduce his tender figure by 4%! Or else! The contractor refused. The project is stone dead. And what I'd like to know is the name of the person who came up with the '4% saving idea' so I can write him/her a nasty letter.

(By the way, the consultant/whistle-blower I mentioned at the start of the piece? He and about fifteen colleagues have since lost their jobs because none of the school extension projects they were working on could get planning permission. He has a lot more to say about the situation and I intend to provide him with a platform.)  

23 Oct 2008

Sorry - I've no idea what happened to this link. Perhaps the (presumably) liberal website who created the video I embedded think I infringed their intellectual property rights. Americans, of whom I'm typically so fond, can be terrible blow hards when they want to be.

http://view.break.com/592648 - Watch more free videos

21 Oct 2008
20 Oct 2008
Not so long ago, I posted on a situation where a group of citizens lodged an objection to An Bord Pleanala in an attempt to block a co-location hospital from being built in Limerick City. What happened was that in a manoeuvre which (by the most unlikely of co-incidences) turned out to be of tremendous benefit to the Government in ensuring its hospital building programme would continue unhindered, An Bord tried to make out that the objection lodged by the concerned citizens was invalid for reasons which were suspiciously novel, previously unheard of and too unbelievably trivial to bother explaining. The Bord’s behaviour was rendered even more absurd when it emerged that faxes submitted to them in relation to the same objection were said by ABP personnel never to have arrived at alll but were later found to have been placed in the wrong filing tray. And if that weren’t bad enough, other important documents sent by registered post were apparently signed for by an An Bord Pleanala employee who (allegedly) wasn’t authorised to sign for them – this was offered as an explanation for why these documents, too, never arrived on the desk of the intended recipient.
Well, after a period of quiet reflection, and with no great sense of expectation, our objectors sought legal advice.

To their surprise, their solicitors suggested to them they had grounds to seek a High Court review on how the Bord had handled the whole situation. The Bord’s initial response was to try to confuse the matter by batting it over to the Commercial Court (why? I’ve no idea). But the objectors didn’t blink: instead, they stuck to their guns and sought their High Court review. When push came to shove An Bord decided not to contest the matter.  

So, after all that, the objection to the co-location hospital now stands. And many are suggesting that, if the Bord's decision doesn’t go in the Government’s favour, it might spell the end of the entire co-location idea.        

13 Oct 2008
I’m seeking a nomination from the Fine Gael Party to run in next year’s local elections in the East Clare Constituency. The Party will hold a convention in Killaloe next Monday night, October 20th, to select their nominees. As you all know, the constituency boundaries were seriously re-jigged following the Boundary Commission's report last summer, so the road map is very uncertain. All I can say is that the redefined East Clare is now a six seat constituency, there are two sitting Fine Gael councillors and both will presumably run again. I understand a third individual (besides myself) is hoping to get the nod from FG to allow him to run as an official candidate. If it’s decided that four people will be allowed stand for Fine Gael in the contituency, I believe I’ll be included. If only three are allowed run, I’ll have to battle it out for the third place.

My issues are:
  • Immediate improvement of the planning service as it stands so that applicants are treated with courtesy and respect
  • Root and branch restructuring of the entire planning system to ensure quality, democracy and fairness as well as a better environment
  • The power to generate and enact Development Plans to be delegated to local communities
  • Radical reform of the local authority system to create directly elected mayors, with genuine executive powers
  • Control of the school building programme to be shifted to local communities
Wish me luck.

13 Oct 2008
The public demonstration in Carrick-on-Suir this past Saturday (about the fact that the Town Council is bloody-mindedly preventing traders from taking up tenancy in an already completed retail park at one end of town because it wants to develop a shopping centre in a flood plain at the other end of town) was a massive success. Not just the organisers but the ordinary people of Carrick-on-Suir themselves – about a thousand of them I’d say in all – deserve a lot of credit for giving up a Saturday afternoon and having the courage to march against Council beligerence for something they know is right. It was especially refreshing to see people who wouldn’t in a million years normally put themselves before a microphone, standing on the dais and speaking up for their community.

Mattie McGrath, T.D., and Councillor Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan, both of Fianna Fail (the top brass of which, I understand, wasn’t crazy about either of them making a public spectacle of themselves on this matter), displayed genuine sincerity in their support of the community’s position. They have my respect – it’s not an easy thing to do.

But Fine Gael’s Senator Paudie Coffey was abso-effin-lutely something else – I don’t think I’ve ever before seen a senior politician in this country speak the truth with such conviction. It was an immense, really immense, performance. I wouldn’t take any odds on him stealing John Deasy’s Dáil seat  out from under him the next election on his rapid route to much higher things.

Town Councillors Denis Landy, Patsy Fitzgerald, Josephine Waters, Liam Walsh, Patsy Murphy, David Shee and Jim Drohan were unfortunately absent from Saturday’s event. Happily they’ll have a second chance to show how much they value the people they represent this evening when, at a Council meeting, they’ll be given an opportunity to support a motion of variation to the development plan which will finally allow the already built retail park in Tinvane to take in tenants. I’ll keep you posted.    

By the way – has anyone got any photographs from Saturday? If you do send them on to me.

9 Oct 2008
Since becoming part of Government, Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, has declared on more than one occasion that he’s all in favour of devolution of as much power as possible to local authorities. In occasional effusions he has conjured up the idea of responsible citizens exercising their civic duty by vigorously participating in town meetings reminiscent of those held by early settlers in the Puritan Halls of Colonial America. Mainly, I suppose, he wants us to discuss planning. All this, as the Minister has – simultaneously – developed a reputation for exercising as much power available to him to instruct Local Authorities on how better their latest Development Plans might conform to his own visions on zoning, sustainability, and so on.
9 Oct 2008
3 Oct 2008
On foot of their survey of members regarding failings of the planning system, the RIAI sought submissions from members on suggestions on how the system can be improved. I made the following submission. I look forward to hearing your comments on it.

1.0       Development Plan


The basis of the planning system will be the Development Plan which will express a long term vision for the area within its jurisdiction describing, in as much detail as practicable (using 3D computer models and so on) the nature, scale, use, massing, appearance, etc. of permissible development. The document will also include all rules and regulations in relation to the development of new roads, paths, points of access in respect to new developments as well as all regulations in relation to connection to existing services, including detail on what measures will be required to be taken by the applicant in order to ensure that necessary service upgrades, etc., are fully understood in advance. The exact nature of the generality of the Development Plan will require detailed discussion but will be similar to aspects of the German ‘twin plan’ for urban areas as well as the prescriptive Zoning Ordnances used in some major cities of the United States.


Development which in all respects complies with the regulations of the Development Plan will be permitted ‘as of right’.

‘As of right’ developments may sometimes occur without any approval process whatsoever

For example, a single family, detached house located in an area where single family houses are permitted and complying with rules regarding dimensions, set backs, heights, access, etc. will, upon submission of a set of drawings certified by a registered architect (a ‘Notification’), be issued with a permit.

Or, take the example of a housing estate of two hundred houses, all to the same semi detached design and with little variation, located on the outskirts of Dublin. The houses have back and front gardens, side entrances and garages. A provision in the Development Plan allows the residents of the estate to be responsible for drawing up a Planning Scheme which will describe the types of alterations permitted to be made to houses located within the Scheme area. The Planning Scheme would comprise details of the size and nature of extensions to accommodation, attic and garage conversions, construction of boundary walls, use of materials, planting of trees in common areas, etc. Wherever a resident proposes to make changes to a dwelling (a kitchen extension, for example), drawings will be presented to the Resident’s Association to indicate how these changes comply with the Planning Scheme. Once accepted by the Residents’ Association, the resident will be required to have a registered architect lodge a ‘Notification’ with the planning authority.  


Where the development plan indicates that a building of ten stories; of ten thousand square meters; located directly on the street line; having one hundred percent site coverage at ground level; a parapet at twenty meters above street level with two meter set back above; having commercial use at ground floor level in a ‘double height’ arrangement; having commercial use above the residential with a maximum of four tenants per floor, a proposal for such a development will be permitted as of right, but subject to Approval of Architectural Quality.   


Where ‘as of right’ development can occur only after Approval of Architectural Quality (for example, on public streets, or other visible areas, etc.), the adjudication will be carried out by the Design Review Board for the relevant area which will meet regularly and, having first been apprised of the details of the planning application, hold public hearings on the architectural quality of the proposals before them. A majority vote from Board members secures an Approval of Architectural Quality.


The regulations set out in the development plan will continue for the long term. Any changes to the regulations in the Development Plan will only be allowed after a Land Use Reform Procedure has been followed (to be developed in detail, but similar to the ULURP system operated in New York City). Rezonings by simple vote of Councillors will not be permitted.

2.00     Planning Applications


There will be two types of planning application:

Notification – where ‘as of right’ development is proposed and is subject to no other form of adjudication. Notifications are lodged with a planning authority by a registered architect who certifies that the work to be carried out is in compliance with the Development Plan and qualifies as ‘as of right’ development. The registered architect also certifies that the works to be carried out comply with the relevant building regulations. The role of the planning authority is simply to maintain a record of the proposed works.

Application for Approval – where in all other respects a development proposal qualifies ‘as of right’ but where there is a compelling public interest to ensure that, for example, it attains a high level of architectural quality, the proposal will be submitted before the Design Review Board for Approval of Architectural Quality in the manner described above.

Similarly, where an application for development involves works to an Historic Structure, approval will be sought from the Historic Buildings Board which meets regularly and publicly to decide on applications for Approval of Conservation and Restoration works. 

Similarly, where works to be carried out, for example, to an existing structure, and where strict adherence to the Building Regulations is not possible, an application for Approval of Building Regulation Compliance will be made to the planning authority.

3.0       Application Process


Planning consultations with the local authority will be allowed only where clarification on matters contained within the Development Plan is necessary. Any advice given will be considered material to future courses of action.


All planning applications to be validated (or otherwise) on the day they are lodged, documents to be sealed/perforated or otherwise marked ‘official’ and scanned on the premises of the local authority on the day of acceptance. The duty of the validation clerk to be limited to ensuring that information is correctly formatted and dated, etc. The validation clerk will not be responsible for making value judgements on the nature of the material submitted before accepting an application.


Notifications – material submitted as part of a Notification process will simply be maintained on file at the local authority office as a record of works carried out and for general availability to the public. No process of approval, public notification or commentary will be involved.


Applications for Approval – where Approval is necessary for ‘Architectural Quality’, ‘Work to an Historic Building’, members of the public will be permitted to air views during the public hearing or by written submissions to the board prior to the public hearing. An Application for Approval must be made one month before the next possible hearing by the relevant Board and the applicant is obliged to notify the public by placing an ad in a local newspaper. Applicants will be responsible for ensuring that adequate information is submitted to the relevant Board to ensure it can arrive at an informed decision.


Where an application has been made to the planning authority in regard to the compliance of a proposal with the building regulations, the planning authority will make a decision within two months citing reasons and relevant case history for their decision and suggesting ways in which the submission can be made more compliant with the regulations. Applicants may submit applications of this type as often as necessary.


Any comments by the planning authority in relation to connections to services will be appended to the Approval and will be taken on board by the applicant. The applicant may appeal these conditions to the Planning Board.


Where an application is for works which cannot be considered ‘as of right’ under the terms of the Development Plan or is proposed for an area for which there is no detailed Development Plan, an independent ULURP procedure (mentioned previously) will be conducted.


Where an application is for works which vary only slightly from the terms of the Development Plan, the variation to the Development Plan will be permitted, or otherwise, by an application to the Planning Board.
4.0       General Provisions


All planners employed by the Local Authority will have an undergraduate degree in architecture (B.Arch. or equivalent).


Any interactions, including meetings and telephone calls, between applicants and local authority officials during the planning application period to be minuted and included on the planning file.
2 Oct 2008
Remember how Kilrush Town Council decided to pay 1-point-odd million euros for a burnt out hotel, not to mention a further god knows how many million euros refurbishing the derelict pile, in the hope of turning it into their new offices?  Without any idea where the money was going to come from? Without any value-for-money assessment? Without considering the far cheaper option available to them of taking a lease on an already completed turn-key development down the street? Well the good news is that the plan has been abandoned. Not officially abandoned – abandoned in the sense that people are now talking about it in the 'ah sure' way that makes it sound as if it was never really on the table when, in fact, it most certainly was.

Meanwhile, down in Carrick-on-Suir in that situation involving:
A) a completed retail park which is standing idle because the town planner has decided Heatons don’t qualify to become anchor tenants because their goods aren’t bulky enough  (thereby ensuring that tenants can't be found for the other units and depriving an economically challeged town of much needed jobs), and
B) a planning application for a competing retail park at the opposite end of town on a site which is not only a flood plain but which also spends much of its time under the actual water but which the town planner for some reason seems to favour?
Well, on item A) the good news is that a local councillor has sought a material contravention of the development plan to allow Heatons to move in (if they're still interested). However, the bad news is that, simultaneously, the town planner has sought clarification from An Bord Pleanala that the position he's taking on the Heaton's question is correct (I’m sure the Bord will find that, technically, he is correct. I don’t know if they’re allowed to comment on whether or not he is wise. Or whether or not he’s wasting tax payer’s money. (And, incidentally, what effect will the Bord's ruling have on other Heatons outlets in other parts of the country?))

Re Item B) the goods news is that its very unlikely, given these flood-plain-sensitive times, that the application will be approved.

And the other good news is that a couple of thousand local people are expected to demonstrate outside the Town Hall on Saturday October 11 regarding Item A. Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what can you do for your country. Answer: riot.

1 Oct 2008
From Aiden O'Donovan
'... as most invalidations in planning applications arise from the display of site notices and interpretations of wordings on press notices why don’t the DOE solve this problem by having the council itself decide on the appropriate wording and press notice display and add the advertising cost at a fixed fee to the applicant? And also, as planning officers and area engineers are already inspecting the development sites, why don't theythemselves erect the notice? This would completely avoid the often vexatious removal of such notices by third parties .I was stunned to see on the  BBC’s 'Meet The Planners' program that in England the planning officer himself erected the public notice directly on a lamp post in front of the site !!'
Aiden, your suggestion might go some way to preventing a typical situation which occured lately and which led to an applicant writing a letter of frustration to a their local planning authority and which went as follows:
Good Morning ____ (senior local authority planning official)

I have been trying to reach you for the past few days in relation to an invalidation of application number ____.  I had reason to question the invalidation of this application with Ms ____ from your offices as there seemed to be a conflict between her reason for invalidation and our evidence of compliance.

We lodged the application on July 17th and one month later on August 13th Ms ____ visited the site and  "it was noted that the site notice was not signed or dated and not easily visible or legible by those using the public road", therefore the application was invalidated.  When I discussed this with my colleague who installed the notices I was assured that this was not the case and so I contacted your offices and subsequently emailed Ms ____ .

After spending several days trying to reach her, Ms_____ spoke to me on Tuesday but refused to discuss the issue and was very high handed in her approach. I asked about the situation when she visited the site as we are 100% positive that the site notice was signed and dated when they were installed and were located on the roadside as required as we have photographs to support that contention.  However Ms ____ said that she couldn't open the photographs and refused to discuss the problem, she would only say that she had to get out of her car in the rain to see the notice... [emphasis added]

... we need to know the reason (for the invalidation) in order to ensure that the notices are correct on re-submission, unfortunately it would appear that Ms ____ does not like to have her decisions questioned so I would appreciate it if you could assist me in establishing why the site notices which we thought to be compliant were invalidated.

I would also like to bring to your attention the problem that I encountered in trying to find your name and contact details.  I was told that the Council were not at liberty to divulge this information which strikes me as being highly unlikely.  I have been dealing with almost every Council in Ireland over the past decade and have never encountered this before.  When I questioned it I was told that it was because you received nasty emails from the general public in the past. However when I called your offices again this morning I got your email address without a problem. Unfortunately this suggests to me that your staff member was not keen for me to contact you.  I trust that this is not the case and I hope that you will be able to assist me in this matter.

Yours sincerely

1 Oct 2008
Last week I wondered what Council planners were doing these days to keep busy now that now one is making planning applications any more. But no sooner had I hit the ‘post’ button than John Gormley serendipitously answered my question. Planners are about to get busy interpreting a new set of guidelines regarding flooding and, in particular, giving folks living in terraced houses in the suburbs of Dublin and Cork a hard time paving their gardens to provide extra parking. From the draft ‘The Planning System and Flood Risk Management’ published by the Minister last week, we have this...

… written by someone who’s never had to deal with the planning system in their life. For example, can you imagine how many Requests for Information will accrue from the undefined term ‘significant hard surfacing’? (Significant in global terms? Or a significant part of what is in reality a tiny little garden?) Or the suggestion that conditions be added to approvals which ‘… minimise and limit the extent of hard surfacing…’? On this last one, I can guarantee you that every time an application is lodged which includes any amount of paving – any amount at all – a request will go out telling the applicant to reduce it. This will be a standard FI this time next year.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to say: anyone in a two up two down in the suburbs thinking of putting in paving around their house, use one of these three pre-approved details and you’ll be fine.  Write a note to us and confirm that you're complying with the rules. If we catch you out, you're in trouble.

The Planning System and Flood Risk Management’ is a 98 page document which could easily be edited down to four without loosing any of its meaning. The Glossary of Terms which includes...   

… eh, not really - and…

… should be tossed (as should the definition of 'Urban Creep' which suggests ‘the spread of surface paving into the countryside’ and not what you and I think it should mean).

I’ll leave you with this nugget of pseudo scientific jargon the drafters of the document delight in bringing to our attention:

To which I counter

Haemorrhoids = unaccountable local authority planning departments X government guidelines