31 Mar 2009

#

The Elwoods were great. Denis Byrne’s design was awesome. And, Tom Johnson, I have to hand it to you: you really know how to make a television show.

26 Mar 2009

I don’t know the extent to which this kind of thing is happening but, I suspect, a lot. It seems that one of the consequences of the combined evils of the downturn in the economy and our disregard for planning/public administration is that overstretched developers are abandoning new housing schemes and leaving them half finished.

This one,

in the midlands, is typical of what I believe to be occurring: in this particular case about half of the forty-odd houses which the developer received planning permission for were completed before being sold at the very height of the market. But when things started to go pear shaped, all work stopped and the site was more or less abandoned leaving the following: about twenty houses occupied; a cluster of almost finished houses;

another cluster of half finished houses;

some exposed foundations for intended houses;

unfinished roads; street lights that don’t work; piles of unused timber frame walls which are now home to a large population of rats (the HSE has written a report about it);

and a storm water system which empties out onto neighbouring land which, itself, is only yards away from a cemetery.

The local Council has issued enforcement notices and so on, but I’m sure it will come as no surprise to the unfortunate residents of our housing estate when I express the opinion that it’s only a matter of weeks before some of the half finished houses, which sit unlocked and unguarded,

will be taken over by drug addicts: this, the punishment the people who bought the houses receive for mortgaging themselves to the hilt for the rest of their lives for the crime of wanting somewhere modest and respectable to raise a family.

I seem to remember a time when it was standard practise for developers to post bonds with local authorities to ensure completion of projects – whatever happened to that? has the practise stopped? are the bond amounts too small to see the projects through to completion? Or what?  What is the point of having a planning system at all if situations like this are allowed to happen? What is the actual point of hiring architects and engineers, what is the point of wasting time at meetings with mid ranking bureaucrats, generating masses of paperwork, getting into scrapes with An Bord Pleanala, and so forth if, in the end, this is all it amounts to?

24 Mar 2009

What’s the deal with Twitter? For a start, how to you upload those groovy personalised graphics everybody else has? I signed up a couple of weeks ago and waited for it to turn me into an overnight twitterrstar but, so far, nothing (except that I very quickly picked up a ‘follower’ (not very reassuringly, he’s pictured aiming what appears to be a Magnum Forty Four with a silencer at some unseen victim - http://twitter.com/PuckaneSean (its okay, Sean, I know you're not really a psychotic cyber stalker. Am I not right?))) 

And are you up to speed with the most deliciously satisfying obsession that the German meedja have developed with Ireland, our economy, our national character, etc?  Newspapers, TV programmes, magazines, radio chat shows, and so on – all of them withering in their assessment of how we're dealing with our economic situation. This is from their paper of record, Die Zeit:

The Germans think it, so I'm probably not mad.

And by the way, if the trillion dollars that Barack Obama is spending on clearing up the sub prime mortgage situation increases liquidity, does that mean the Irish banks will recover as well? I'm very much hoping they do. We'll all know what it means if they don't.

***

Just heard that my old pal in County Monaghan, Cllr. Vincent Martin, has the Minister for the Environment’s endorsement in forcing the Local Authority to get independent professional advice before purchasing land. Ironic really: the planning policies implemented by the Department of the Environment cause such price instability that the same Department needs professional advice to assist it in dealing with the mess it made, if you’re still with me.

23 Mar 2009
A while back, I opined that An Bord Pleanala’s decision to prevent Heatons from moving into a ‘bulky goods only’ retail park on the outskirts of Carrick-on-Suir wouldn’t lead to the closure of any of Heatons’ other outlets already operating in Bulky Goods Parks elsewhere in the country. Perhaps I’m about to be proved wrong. For, in a totally separate situation, An Bord ruled a couple of weeks ago that discount fashion retailer, TK Maxx, were in breach of planning by operating an outlet at the Butlerstown Bulky Goods Park on the outskirts of Waterford. The County Council is about to shut them down.
22 Mar 2009

Maire Hoctor has been in correspondence with the Nenagh Guardian complaining about the treatment she received at the Nenagh Hospital rally a few weeks back when she was ordered to stop talking by an irate member of the public and was forced to sit down when the same member of the public received general support from the rest of the crowd.

Anyway, in her missives to the paper Maire alleged that the citizen who so disrespected her on the fateful day was a member of Sinn Féin. She’s wrong. I’m not. 

And thank you for uncovering the identity of KingKane: the genius who had the wherewithal to record Deputy Hoctor’s recent appearance on Prime Time when out takes of the Deputy failing to read from her own notes were broadcast by accident. He’s Dan Sullivan and he has an excellent blog at http://dansullivan.blogspot.com . Good luck to him in his campaign for a Seanad seat in the next election (if there’s still a Seanad).

Which reminds me. My own campaign for a Council seat in the next local elections has hit a snag. Around Christmas, It was odds on that the Fine Gael party would run me in East Clare. They (said they) needed three candidates to run in an area where they’re likely to win two seats. The party has one extremely strong candidate in Joe Cooney who’s immensely popular, hardworking and a shoo in to retain his seat. But for a while there weren’t any obvious heads ready to fill the ticket: the word going around was that Cllr. Mashem McInerny wasn’t going to run again and there wasn’t even a whisper about who’d run at number three.

The way it turned out, Mashem decided to run after all and then a chap from Whitegate, Pat Burke, put his name forward and snagged some official endorsements from local branches (which I didn’t have ) and which meant that, were I to be included on the ticket, someone would have to make way for me. That wasn’t about to happen.

So I’m not running or Fine Gael. And, even though winning a seat in this area is a distinct possibility, it’s a bit late to be thinking about putting myself forward as an independent. Without an organisation behind me, it would be very hard to gain any real traction. So... we'll see.

***

I’m checking out an excellent situation which I’ll be posting about soon regarding the smallest construction project in the history of the State and how it was handled by An Bord Pleanala. You’re all going to love it. And I’ve been following up on one of the new ways in which the planning system has been revealed to be a disaster: unfinished, rat infested housing estates which Councils are refusing to do anything about.

And, if you haven't already, check out the comments left by Mossie and Eamonn on the March 4th post.  

10 Mar 2009

Evidence that the multitude of elaborate planning policies introduced in this country in the past fifteen years had any beneficial effect on the quality of Tiger era development is hard to produce. These policies sure were elaborate and their outcomes sure were disappointing: normal democratic procedures were suspended to secure the efficient urbanisation of Dublin’s Docklands - the result is a featureless Mediterranean-resort-grid-iron of low rise streets lacking life or character. The acclaimed Adamstown experiment – the first of our Special Development Zones – feels unnatural and contrived. And hundreds of pages of planning policies couldn’t save Sandyford and Belmayne from becoming the vortices of woe they were to become. Housing developments and retail centres all over the country, the approvals for which took months and even years of deliberating over, second guessing and objecting to are, at their very best, unremarkable. At their worst, they’ve left big scars on cities like Galway and hollowed chunks out of towns like Carlow. If the development which took place in this country since the end of the 90s had happened without the benefit of a planning system, it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of difference.

But while the planning system has had no noticeable effect on the quality of our built environment, it certainly has had a very noticeable effect on our financial situation. There are many ways in which the Irish economy has been weighed down by an unthought-through planning system, but let me suggest just three:

  • In this country, the process of deciding whether or not a development proposal should be allowed to go ahead is indescribably long and unnaturally drawn out. Even when it seems like a decision has suffered a lifetime of delays, there may be another lifetime more to come. During the peak of the economic boom, when demand for new housing was particularly high, the slow rate at which planning applications for housing developments were being approved meant that supply was only a fraction of demand. As a result, house (and other property) prices went up. The inflated prices we were forced to pay due to planning delays might have been forgivable had the process led to better environments for people to live in. It didn’t so it wasn’t.
  • In recent years, the Government has tried, through the National Spatial Strategy and other instruments, to regulate sites for single family houses out of existence. The result has been to drive prices for sites suitable for ‘one off’ development into the stratosphere. After the turn of the century, common-or-garden half acre sites in edge of town locations which, in the mid 1990s, fetched modest amounts were suddenly worth upwards of £50K. At the height of the boom, the same sites – even those in the more economically fragile parts of the country – were selling for €250K and more. So, while the physical effect of the Government’s policy to end rural development was negligible (an orderly planning system would have allowed families to live in the houses they wanted to without destroying the countryside), the effect that the same policy had on land prices was outrageous. If the Government had had the slightest understanding of what was happening they would have intervened. They didn’t, so they didn’t. (The dramatic arc of this strand of Ireland’s economic collapse is yet to play itself out: when the thousands of middle income earners living on half acre sites around the country start defaulting on their mortgage repayments, banks will be left with properties worth only a fraction of their book value.)
  • After 2000, there was a general sense that if we wanted more ‘sustainable’ cities we needed higher densities and taller buildings. How dense or how tall? Well, this was never fully teased out, which encouraged developers to pay (in hope rather than expectation) ever more staggering amounts for underdeveloped urban sites. This is how it started: at the beginning of the boom, folks in the building game were sometimes surprised to hear that €10m had been paid for a site reckoned to be only worth €5m. Months later, there’d be more surprise when it was discovered that the subsequent planning approval had permitted an extra story of accommodation which nobody else had thought possible. When word started to get around that this kind of gamble was paying off, every horse racing syndicate in the land was coming together to fling money at zoned sites. Soon, people stopped caring whether or not the thousand units they’d hoped to develop (and upon which assumption the value of the site had been set) was later halved by the planners: so long as the banks kept shovelling out money, developers simply raised prices to whatever degree necessary to cover the increased land costs.

Three negative effects on the economy caused by the Irish planning system and, because planning systems in other countries wouldn’t allow these situations to develop, specific to Ireland.  

Which leads me to my question: if X is the degree to which the average western economy is in the hole as a result of the economic recession and Y is the larger degree to which the Irish economy is in the hole, does X – Y = the cost the Irish planning system? 
          

6 Mar 2009

Planning purists, forgive me if I return to a topic which you've already said has no place on my blog, but Maire Hoctor gives me haemorrhoids.

 

Nobody wants to be needlessly rude, but the time for niceties is over. We just simply can't afford to have the likes of Hoctor in positions of responsibility. Quite apart from anything else, its insulting.  

By the way, does anyone know who this Kingkane guy (the poster of the video) is? If anyone has an email address, I'd be greatly obliged. He sounds young enough to cause trouble.

4 Mar 2009

I found out about this unfortunate situation a while back but somehow never really managed to get to the bottom of it. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth presenting the generalities of the story because even if it didn’t happen exactly as I’m describing it, theoretically, it could have.  

Some years ago, a Planning Authority granted an applicant permission to build a family home in a non urban location. The applicants had to demonstrate that they qualified under the ‘we really are locals’ rules: however, the planners put one of those conditions on the approval that the resulting property could not be sold to a third party for a set number of years.

The house was built and the applicants moved in.

Since then, they’ve have had a child who, very sadly, suffers from a serious health condition and is obliged to attend a special hospital several times a week: the hospital is located quite a distance away from the family home. For all sorts of very understandable reasons, it would make a great deal of sense for the family to move from their current home and find a place closer to the hospital. The problem, of course, is that the condition on the planning permission is preventing them from selling their house. They live under extreme stress.

A situation like the one described (what happens when all those home owners with similar planning restrictions on their properties can no longer meet their mortgage payments as the economy hurtles into the abyss?) was easy to foresee - except, it would appear, by our Planning Authorities. A mess to add to all the others we’ll live to regret.