Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Phoenix Magazine pokes fun at McDowell's planning matter

IT’S nearly two years since Michael and Niamh McDowell brought Roscommon CC to heel with their legal action compelling the council to rescind its impertinent blocking of planning permission for the McDowells’ country retreat in Roosky. Now, the legal bill for this confrontation has been totted up and it totals just over €400,000 for Michael’s chums in the Law Library and attendant solicitors. Earlier this year the council paid off its legal fees and they amounted to €122,512.50 to James O’Reilly SC, Patrick Butler SC and Junior Counsel Conleth Bradley BL, plus €76,876.04 to county solicitor Dermot MacDermot, amounting in total to €199,388.54. Now McDowell’s legal team, Paul Gallagher SC, Michael Collins SC, David Barniville BL, instructed by solicitors Michael McInerney & Co, have totted up the cost of their valuable time. And would you believe it, it comes to €199,384.09 – a difference of less than a fiver out of a total of €400,000 circa for both sides. The justice minister had let it be known from the roof tops that his assault on the tiny kingdom of Roscommon would also include a suit for negligence in the matter and he accused the council of acting with “misfeasance” (!) in obstructing his holiday home.
This action could well have cost another six-figure sum in legal costs as well as swingeing damages for the trauma caused to the anticipated tranquillity and peace of mind of the McDowells. As things stand, the legal bill to date that must be picked up by the 55,000 strong local citizenry amounts to over €7 for every man, woman and child in the county.
However, the good news is that McDowell’s despotic tendencies are tempered wth a benevolence hitherto unrecognised and the misfeasance action has been shelved.

Hanafin's concern at objections to schools upgrading

It seems people even object to schools now. This by Sean Flynn in The Irish Times:

Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin has expressed concern about a new trend which has seen members of the public raise planning objections to new or upgraded school facilities. Until recently, she said, such objections were virtually unknown.
Ms Hanafin was speaking during a special briefing on the €32 billion education package in the new National Development Plan (NDP).
She said the objections raised - especially by those living in mature areas in Dublin and other major cities - was delaying the roll-out of some new school projects. She could understand people objecting to large-scale school developments providing for up to 1,000 pupils and the extra traffic this might generate.
However, she said, some applications for temporary accommodation like prefabs were drawing objections. "People are objecting to temporary accommodation which I cannot understand because it can offer an immediate response to the educational needs of children in their own community, " she said.
At present, the department is dealing with objections raised to school building plans in several counties including Kilkenny, Galway and Westmeath. Officials said objections usually come from long-established residents in well developed areas.
Meanwhile, the failure of the department's school-building programme to keep pace with rapidly developing areas in commuter towns in west Dublin, Kildare and Meath has been widely criticised.
Officials however said yesterday that new generic school designs and closer co-operation with local authorities would speed up the process. A series of meetings is ongoing between department officials and county managers to quicken the process of site-acquisition and planning.
Twenty-two sites have been purchased for school buildings in Dublin in the past year, most of them in rapidly growing areas.
More than €5 billion will be invested in school building and modernisation during the seven years of the NDP. Of this, €2.2 billion will go to primary schools, €1.6 billion to second-level with the balance made up of public private partnerships.
In all, there will be 100,000 additional places; this should meet the projected increase in the number of primary pupils over the next seven years.
The number of second-level pupils is also expected to increase dramatically from about 2012 but Ms Hanafin said there was sufficient surplus capacity in the second-level system to cope.

Tralee retail park development refused by one vote

Donal Hickey in The Examiner tells us that a RETAIL park for Tralee has been turned down by Kerry County Council.
The decision was made yesterday after councillors heard businesses in the county town were being hit by a growing number of out-of-town shopping facilities.
The proposed development had been earmarked for a 13.5-acre site on the southern side of the town.
However, it took the casting vote of mayor Ted Fitzgerald, also a Tralee town councillor, to defeat the proposed rezoning, following a 12-12 tie.
As a compromise, the 13.5 acres is to be rezoned from open space to retail /warehousing on a phased basis, subject to the building of a southern ring road and as part of an overall master plan for that area of Tralee.
Earlier, the council agreed to rezone land close to the current Manor West retail park to “mixed use” so as to allow for both large-scale retail developments and residential use.
But several Tralee-based councillors later came out strongly against proposal to rezone the Manor East site, as requested by Damien Smith and Michael Daly.
Fine Gael councillor Bobby O’Connell, who proposed the rezoning, rejected suggestions it would add to traffic problems and claimed it would enhance Tralee as a regional retail destination.
Former town mayor Terry O’Brien said the town council was fighting hard to keep Tralee town centre “alive” and warned that further damage would be done to business in the town, if more retail units were allowed on the outskirts.
“We may as well put up a for sale sign in the town centre if this rezoning goes through,” said the Labour Party’s Cllr O’Brien.
He added that he supported a phased development of the land.
“How can we put the rates on people and come on a few weeks after and bring in retail park a mile from the town centre?” he asked.
Cllr Norma Foley of Fine Fáil said the council would always have to ensure that any development would not have a negative impact on the town centre. “The town centre will always be the heartbeat of the town,” she remarked.
The issue arose in the course of a debate on submissions to a strategy for the development of Tralee /Killarney hub.
County manager Martin Riordan said there was no real case for rezoning the 13.5 acres which were separate from, but close to, the existing Manor West retail park.
“What may seem like a very easy decision will be like a dog’s dinner in terms of the overall environment of Tralee and could affect the potential of the business park to take off in the future. It would be a premature decision,” he said.

Planners concerned about rezoning proposal

Jimmy Woulfe in The Examinaer tells us that a HUGE planning row is looming in idyllic Adare after it was confirmed yesterday that local politicians agreed, at a private meeting, to push for the rezoning of farmland near the village for housing.
Opponents warned it could turn the hamlet into a sprawling town.
At current prices, a one-acre site within 10 minutes walk of the village centre can fetch up to €1.5 million.
Due to spiralling site costs, councillors want to develop farmland near the village to open up the housing market for locally-born people.
However, planners are concerned the proposal could damage the village which attracts visitors from all over the world.
The seven councillors, who serve the Adare area, agreed at a recent private meeting to support an amendment of the County Limerick Development plan and press for the rezoning of surrounding farmland from agricultural use to housing.
Senior council officials claim the proposal flies in the face of an expert plan drawn up by the council on the development of the picture-postcard village.
Urban design consultants, Nicholas de Jong Associates, were commissioned to compile the plan.
The confidential report, seen by the Irish Examiner, concluded there was already adequate space — approximately 150 acres to fulfil the future housing needs of Adare for the next 20 years.
However, on being given access recently to the report, councillors for the Bruff electoral area — which includes Adare — agreed to press for a review of the de Jong recommendation.
Director of planning Tom Enright said yesterday the draft plan was still being prepared. “It will be brought back to the Bruff area meeting in February. We hope to have it before the full council in March and then put it on public display in April.”
Councillors from the Bruff electoral met privately on January 15 and agreed to support a move to rezone farmland on the outskirts of the village. A number of local farmers have asked to have lands rezoned.
Rezoning is one of the few powers still retained by elected council members but it requires 75% support, at a meeting of the full council.
It is the practice of Limerick county council if councillors in an electoral area agree to rezone land, colleagues from the other electoral areas back the move.
Councillor Niall Collins, a Fianna Fáil general election candidate who is one of the Bruff electoral area councillors, said: “All seven of us are singing from the one hymn sheet on this and want the boundary of the village pushed out. As a result of the lack of suitably-priced housing for locals, Adare has the smallest percentage of under 18s in the entire Bruff electoral area.
“Only a handful of the local hurling team live in the village area. The land which we want rezoned from agriculture to housing will be ring fenced for locals or people with local connections.”
A senior official said the council was extremely concerned at the implications of land on the periphery of the village being rezoned.
He said: “The de Jong report identifies 150 acres of development land in the village area. The report suggested a gradual development of this land which would hold about 1,800 houses, eventually increasing the village population by more than 7,000.”
Converting farmland into a housing site and adding them to this equation, he said, would be a recipe for potential disaster.
The senior council source, who asked not to be named, said many local people were not aware at what was going on behind closed doors among councillors.
“If the draft county development is amended to rezone farm land, the process might take on a certain momentum which could be hard to halt,” he said.

European Commission to consider petition on Poolbeg incinerator site

Fiona Gartland in The Irish Times tells us that the European Commission is to hear a petition today on whether EU law was breached when the Poolbeg peninsula in Dublin was chosen as the site for a waste incinerator.
The case is being taken by Fianna Fáil councillor Chris Andrews, who believes the Government did not give proper consideration to a European directive that requires it to ensure waste is disposed of without endangering human health or the environment.
Mr Andrews contends that when former Dublin city manager John Fitzgerald commissioned a private consulting company to conduct a siting study in 1999, he in effect ordered the company to select the incinerator site.
By doing so, Mr Andrews said, councillors were denied their right to exercise control in the decision-making on the siting of the incinerator, and because of this, they could not ensure that the goals of the EU directive would be achieved.
In his petition to the commission, he said the Poolbeg peninsula and the surrounding residential areas of Ringsend, Sandymount and Irishtown were already subject to an "unacceptable degree of environmental pollution, accompanied by alarming noise levels and fierce odours due to industrial activity and severe traffic.
"In addition to these strains, the Dublin waste water treatment plant, which was opened on the Poolbeg peninsula in 2004 and was promised to be run at the highest of environmental and safety standards, has proven to have severe health and environmental implications," he said.
He called on the commission to ensure Ireland complied with its obligations under EU law.
Mr Andrews will be accompanied by representatives from the Combined Residents Against the Incinerator and the Ringsend-Sandymount Environmental Group at the hearing today.
The commission will then carry out its own investigation before making a decision.

Kicked into touch

Interesting case from The Dublin People:

ONE of the Northside’s best-known GAA clubs is on a collision course with its local council and residents over a new floodlighting pylon it has erected at its grounds. St Vincent’s GAA Club in Marino replaced an existing floodlighting pylon in December, with a new larger structure to help accommodate a mobile phone mast and three-metre control box.
Local residents have reacted angrily to the erection of the mast, which they claim is in breach of safety guidelines that recommend phone masts should not be placed beside schools or houses.
And Dublin City Council has already ordered St Vincent’s to remove the new pylon, because it is in breach of strict planning regulations.
St Vincent’s had a planning exemption based on erecting phone antennae on the original pylon, but not for the erection of a new bulkier structure.
The club has been given a month to comply with the request from Dublin City Council, after a letter was sent to it from the local authority’s planning enforcement officer.
However, a spokeswoman for St Vincent’s told Northside People that the club was unaware it had violated any planning rules.

Similarly, a spokeswoman for Vodafone, the mobile phone company responsible for the erection of the phone antennae on the pylon, stated that no planning regulations had been broken.
She said Vodafone was very confident of proving this to Dublin City Council and that the new pylon with mast would be retained at the grounds.
Should St Vincent’s and Vodafone’s claims prove successful, it is sure to bring an angry response from residents living beside the club.
Speaking to Northside People, Conor Horgan, from Charlemont, Griffith Avenue, Marino, said the local residents were forming a group to appeal against ‘retention’ permission for the mast, if this is applied for.
Mr Horgan said he was horrified when he noticed the new pylon with the mast going up, without any prior knowledge or consent from local residents.
“The first we knew about this was when we seen the construction equipment arriving,” Mr Horgan stated.
“This new pylon with mast was subsequently erected in a matter of days and is now domineering over our homes.
“From discussions with my neighbours, we are in shock that this could have taken place.”
Mr Horgan said the residents are extremely worried about the possible health implications of having a mast so close to their homes.
The mast is less than 20 metres from the closest houses in Charlemont estate.
Mr Horgan added that following local discussions between neighbours, it was agreed that if St Vincent’s move the mast to their second pitch, which is away from houses, local residents would not object.
Cllr Gerry Breen (FG) supports the residents and brought the issue up with Dublin City Council.
Cllr Breen said the club had no right to go ahead with the new pylon, without first contacting local residents and obtaining the proper planning permission.
The spokeswoman for St Vincent’s said, however, that the club would not have gone ahead with the pylon and mast if the health of local residents was at risk in any way.
“The club did extensive research into the possible risks, including gaining information from Government agencies and relevant health authourities,” she stated.
“We are very confident that this new mast will not pose any health risks to the residents.
“Besides that, we have a very large local juvenile base at the club and if we felt this was posing a risk to them in any way, we would not have gone ahead with it.
“Anyone with concerns can check out the relevant links on our website, paying specific attention in regard to any of the health issues with masts,” she added.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Vodafone said there has been a misconception about what exactly is, and is not, exempt from planning permission under Department of Environment guidelines.
“The guidelines specifically state that a new structure cannot be taller than the original,” she explained.
“The new pylon erected at St Vincent’s is wider than the original but it is not taller and is therefore not in breach of the regulations.
“We are happy to revert back to Dublin City Council in relation to this and are very confident that the new pylon with mast will be retained,” the spokeswoman added.
A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council said the council’s Planning Enforcement Officer inspected the new floodlighting pylon and issued a warning letter to St Vincent’s.
“One of the requirements in this letter requires the removal of the unauthorised floodlighting pole together with all fixtures and fittings, including the antennae,” she said.

Monday, 29 January 2007

2007 Sustainable Energy Awards

The annual Sustainable Energy Awards are intended to encourage, recognise and reward excellence in energy management.

The awards focus on the individuals and groups who demonstrate a commitment to include energy management as part of their overall management structure and provide an opportunity for organisations - regardless of size - to gain public recognition for their achievements in reducing energy use and emissions.

The 2007 Sustainable Energy Awards will be launched on 7th February at the Heritage Hotel Portlaoise. Delegates will have an opportunity to hear from 2006 winners and participate in energy workshops.

Attendance is free. However, early registration is recommended as spaces are limited.

To attend the launch - or learn more about the awards - contact:
Deirdre Farrelly
Email: deirdre.farrelly@sei.ie
Tel: +353 (0)1 8082087.

SEI event - European Perspective on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)

The EU Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings (EPBD) contains a range of provisions aimed at improving energy performance in residential and non-residential buildings - both new-build and existing.

The EPBD obliges specific forms of information and advice on energy to be provided to building purchasers, tenants and users. The intention is that this information and advice will help consumers make informed decisions leading to practical actions to improve energy performance.

The European Commission encourages and supports dialogue between Members States through the Concerted Action (CA) programme. Concerted Action - funded by the Intelligent Energy-Europe Programme of DG TREN - works in certification of buildings, inspection of boilers and air-conditioning systems, procedural aspects for energy performance characterisation and specification and training requirements for experts and inspectors.

Participants of the Concerted Action Programme are representatives of national governmental ministries or governmental affiliated institutions from 25 countries that are in charge of preparing the technical, legal and administrative framework for transposing and implementing the EPBD in their own country.

On 24th January 2007, contributors to the Concerted Action met in Dublin. To coincide with this meeting, SEI organised an EPBD information event in Dublin. The target audience was made up of Irish building professionals - particularly those involved in non-residential and public sector buildings. A number of speakers from EU member states shared their experience of the introduction of the EPBD.

Engineers Ireland allays concerns that NDP will boost inflation

Concerns expressed about excessive construction inflation and cost overruns in respect of the new €184 billion National Development Plan are being over-stated - according to the Director General of Engineers Ireland, Kevin Kernan.

"While it is understandable that this matter should be raised, the clear record of the last couple of years in respect of major infrastructural projects in terms of timely delivery and being on budget, highlights the expertise now built up in the engineering and allied sectors" - he said.

Mr. Kernan said that the threat to the timely delivery of key elements of the new NDP should not be understated either - and "it remains to be seen if the Strategic Infrastructure Act - specifically aimed at speeding up the planning process, including processing objections - can achieve a real breakthrough when these problems arise."

He added - "In order to ensure value for money in the NDP, it will be vital that projects are clearly defined and scoped prior to tendering. Recent experience has indicated that demand for infrastructure has usually been underestimated - so, it is essential that this time around, capacity is provided ahead of demand."

The Engineers Ireland Director General also warmly welcomed the emphasis in the new Plan on achieving balanced regional development - and the focus on further ICT and broadband development, as vital to achieving the goal of transforming Ireland into a knowledge economy.

"It is essential that the NDP is closely linked to the key elements of the National Spatial Strategy - updated in line with data from last year's census."

DAA to host information session on €2bn Airport Development Plan

The Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) is to brief construction firms on its €2bn capital development plan for Dublin Airport.

The event - which is open to all interested firms - takes place on February 14th 2007 at the Carlton Dublin Airport Hotel and is aimed at giving companies, interested in bidding for work, an overview of the DAA's capital plans for the next three years and the types of contracts that will go out to tender during that period. About €1.2bn of the €2bn capital programme will be delivered over the next three years.

The event will also explain the innovative multi-package contract system that is being used for the €600m-plus T2 project at Dublin Airport. The project - which includes a 75,000sq m terminal building, a 24,000sq m pier building, apron works and a wide range of other campus upgrades - is being broken up into 16 separate packages, each of which is being tendered separately.

Mark Foley, the Director of Capital Programmes with the DAA, said that while this type of multi-package approach is rarely used in the Irish market, it is becoming common in large aviation construction contracts overseas and has been used successfully at Heathrow's T5 project.

"By dividing the job into specific contracts - tailored to key disciplines within the T2 programme - our intention is to get the right company with the right skills for each of the 16 individual jobs" - Foley said. "We and our partners are focused on delivering T2 within a tight timeframe and this process also allows us to move at the required speed to have the project completed on target by the autumn of 2009."

Each of the T2 contracts - as well as all other major contracts that collectively comprise the DAA's Airport Development Programme - are being advertised under the OJEU tender process.

The information event begins at 10am on February 14th and will include presentations on the T2 project, the Dublin Airport Masterplan and the other developments that are scheduled to be delivered over the next three years. Senior DAA executives will also be on hand to answer questions on the capital development programme.

Interested parties can confirm their attendance by contacting -
Karin Morkovska at the DAA
Tel: +353 (0)1 814 5423
Email: karin.morkovska@dublinairportauthority.com

Good luck to the Senior Exec' interviewees for DCC

Apparently a few of the applicants for DCC's Senior Exec' interviews are using the blog for revision. I hope you all do well. Good luck, Brendan.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Who actually gets the affordable houses?

Planners deal regularly with Part V 'Social and Affordable Housing' requirements, all understand where the social housing goes, but few know who gets the affordable housing. We hope it is people who really need it: those on very low incomes, those in jobs which require a certain location (Gardai, nurses, etc.) and so on. It seems this is wishful thinking. Kate Holmquist in The Irish Times tells us you can get one and work for Price Waterhouse Coopers or be a couple earning €100,000. Seems the housing is going to people who don't really need it. Perhaps affordable housing needs reviewing, as it is not meant to be a cheap way to get a house/apartment.

Some 40,000 affordable homes are promised, but the people at whom they are aimed are confused about the system, writes

For the smug middle classes, the very thought of one of their own turning to the local authority for housing would have caused apoplexy only a few years ago. But with the average home now costing seven times the average industrial wage and adult children coming with begging bowls looking for deposits, the 50- to 65-year-old age group have clued in to the biggest giveaway in the history of the State. Instead of remortgaging their own homes, they're telling their kids to apply for affordable housing.

Fiona Dolan, a PA with Price Waterhouse Coopers, may have grown up with four siblings in a huge house on Leinster Road in Rathmines, Dublin, but she realised she could never repeat her parents' good fortune by buying a home on the private market. She could afford a mortgage of €160,000 - considerably less than the average of €220,000.

Eight months ago, her mother asked her: "Are you feeling lucky? There's an affordable homes lottery draw coming up." Like most people, Dolan didn't know what affordable housing was. She learned that it's not social housing, which is provided by local authorities for people who can't get a mortgage. Affordable housing is for employed people with good credit whose incomes are too small to afford a mortgage in the current market. So the State does deals with developers that result in whopping discounts of 30-50 per cent on brand new homes in developments where the neighbours, perhaps to their chagrin, will have paid full price.

Dolan got lucky when she applied for 12 properties in a Dublin City Council affordable housing lottery - she is now the proud owner of a new Cosgrave-built two-bedroom apartment near Parnell Square. It cost her €250,000 - including a parking space - which is about a €100,000 discount on the full price. She has trimmed her mortgage down to an affordable €160,000 by entering into a part-purchase and part-rental scheme that will allow her to buy the council out in later years. If she sells before the mortgage is paid off, the council will claw back a portion of the value. After 20 years, she'll own the property outright and will benefit from the equity.

"I know many people in my situation who never considered affordable housing, perhaps because people don't understand it," says Dolan.

It's a good news story and one that the Government hasn't been shy about publicising. The National Development Plan (NDP), announced on Tuesday, includes 40,000 affordable homes, and the previous week 70 new affordables for Killiney and 1,000 for Lucan were announced.

It's understood that shortly there will be a further announcement of at least 500 apartments in various locations in Dublin city that the State has purchased outright under the Affordable Housing Initiative in order to cater for some of the 7,200 people on the Dublin City Council "panel" for affordable housing lottery draws.

A word about that "panel": the figure of 7,200 is misleading, as only about half of those people are realistically eligible because they could actually earn enough to get a mortgage.

Dublin City Council uses "self- verification", which means that it is up to the applicant to decide if they can actually afford an affordable house.

The council does ask to see a payslip, but apart from that it seeks no evidence that the applicant has actually gone about securing a mortgage. In some schemes, half the lottery winners haven't actually got the house in the end because they weren't financially viable. So the council draws twice as many names as it needs, then contacts them one by one until it fills every place. For people on the panel who have mortgages ready to go, the delays are frustrating.

But supply is only part of the problem. Affordable housing has been developed so fast by so many different providers that it's mostly those who know how to "play the system" who have taken advantage of it so far. "I am concerned that houses are going to people who know how to play the system. In some local authorities huge numbers of housing staff have affordable housing . . . If the staff know the rules, then the public should know the rules," says John O'Connor of the Affordable Homes Partnership (AHP), a state agency that was set up 18 months ago to make the provision of affordable housing transparent and more efficient in the Greater Dublin Area.

Foreign nationals also have an edge on getting affordable housing because their own information networks are so efficient. "In some local authorities, such as South Dublin and Fingal county councils, the proportion of foreign nationals in affordable housing schemes can be 30 to 40 per cent," says O'Connor.

Foreign nationals don't seem to see a stigma around local authority housing, the way many indigenous Irish do.

"There is a stigma and we have to address it," says O'Connor. "My long-term view would be to take affordable housing away from the local authorities and have a central applications agency."

In a new housing development in Ongar, near Ongar Village outside Blanchardstown, foreign nationals have bought up a large proportion of the affordable housing because they were well-informed, says O'Connor.

Foreign nationals have snapped up 1,200sq ft houses at a price of €315,000 each, a discount of €100,000 off the full value. But, apparently, indigenous Irish are reluctant to apply because they don't want to live with foreign nationals. "If you wanted one of these houses tomorrow, you could get one. It's near a village and a train station is due to be built there shortly," says O'Connor.

Apart from the stigma, confusion about how the system works has to be addressed if everyone is to have a fair chance, he adds. Fiona Dolan says that the AHP website and Dublin City Council couldn't have been more helpful, but not everyone finds it so easy. Some of the local authority websites are difficult to navigate if you're interested in affordable housing.

O'Connor says: "I don't mind saying that the system, as it stands, is confusing. There shouldn't be different rules according to different local authorities. Different providers have different income requirements. I believe that we need flexibility so if someone can get a mortgage but is cut out because of house prices they should be targeted for affordable housing. I want to see clarity, simplicity, fairness and an equitable system where all applicants are treated the same."

Many local authorities operate on a first-come, first-served basis and the public often doesn't understand that when an ad for affordable housing is published in these areas, it's important to apply early, well before the deadline. Those in the know get houses by virtue of getting there first. "A huge number of undesirable housing developments have come about on the back of tax incentives. These include sub-quality houses and useless blocks of apartments in country villages," says Jim Power, chief economist with Friends First.

There are 100,000 families that can't afford houses, while 300,000 useless houses and apartments sit empty, according to Prof PJ Drudy, of TCD, author of Out of Reach: Inequalities in the Housing System. "It's time we started thinking of houses as homes rather than commodities," he says.

Clearly, the NDP's 40,000 affordable homes are desperately needed. "The biggest issue is whether this is achievable, because it would take a huge amount of hard work. As it stands, the system could not deliver these 40,000 houses because the system has to be re-organised," O'Connor says. As well as taking responsibility for affordable housing away from local authorities, he wants to see a fast-tracking system introduced for builders who include affordable housing in mixed schemes. This approach has worked well in Massachusetts in the US, where the affordable housing system is seen as an international beacon of good practice.

Currently, it can take five to seven years for a new housing development to come to fruition, but that could be shortened to a year or two. For some families, the waiting time could mean never being able to afford even an affordable home. Cllr Chris O'Leary of the Green Party in Cork tells of a couple, both aged 46, who have been waiting four years for a home. They've been approved for a mortgage, but with house prices rising faster than their incomes, and taking their age into account, they are worried they may no longer qualify by the time an affordable home comes up.

After a three-year wait for an affordable home in Dublin city, Michael and Rukhsana Ingle (both 32) are frustrated with the city council's lottery system, which means that someone who has been waiting for six months may get a home before someone waiting for three years. Every time the Ingles have applied, their number hasn't come up. In the last Dublin City Council lottery, 206 homes were awarded among a pool of about 3,000 eligible applicants, which put the odds of winning at 15 to one.

And bizarrely, Dublin City Council uses self-verification of eligibility for a mortgage, so that of the 7,200 people on the affordable housing panel only about 3,000 can likely get a sufficient mortgage.

The lottery aspect of it is fine if you're a winner, but if not, says Ingle: "One person gets a discount of €150,000, keeps it for 20 years and gets to keep the profit. While the other person gets no home and no money." The Ingles have their hearts set on an apartment in Longboat Quay, in the Docklands, where 11,000 new homes are being built, one fifth of them social and affordable. (So far, the social housing will be concentrated in one building, with the affordable housing in buildings mixed with full-price apartments.) But getting information about what is happening in the Docklands isn't easy. The Dublin Docklands Authority and Dublin City Council kept passing this journalist back and forth between each other for answers to my questions, even though the Dublin Docklands Authority brochure clearly states that further information is available from Dublin City Council. The AHP cleared this up - while the Docklands authority is building the scheme, the council is running the lottery for places.

The Ingles are anxious to know when Longboat Quay will be put up for lottery, and, according to the Dublin Docklands Authority, mid-2007 is now the date. The launch has been delayed over arguments about how much equity the affordable housing owners should be allowed to retain, should they choose to sell their affordable homes once their mortgages are paid off.

While prices are yet to be finalised, there will be discounts of 30 to 50 per cent on apartments worth in the region of €550,000, so interest is keen.

One view being bandied about in the Department of Environment, it is understood, is that after paying off a 20-year mortgage, the owner should keep the entire equity, as with current affordable housing schemes. However, the AHP and the Dublin Docklands Authority would like to see a substantial portion of the equity - perhaps 30-50 per cent - being returned to the Dublin Docklands Authority and "recycled" to provide further affordable housing. "We are not in the business of giving people presents," says O'Connor. "We need to be recycling equity back into the system in order to create further housing."

Taking some of the rezoning profit away from landowners and developers is another issue. The AHP is recommending that when land is rezoned for housing, the benefit of the added value should be shared between landowners, getting 40 per cent, and the public purse, which would receive 60 per cent.

This ethos is a world away from the quick-buck property deals of the not-so-distant past.

Judging by the presence of other political parties at the Green Party's well-attended conference this week, there can be little doubt that the current housing famine, in which houses sit empty while families seek homes, will be a top issue in the general election and that candidates are keen to get a handle on it.

Politicians could, however, be part of the problem. Nay-sayers who object to new developments in principle or as vote-getting exercises are holding back the development of affordable housing, asserts builder Bernard McNamara, whose McNamara Construction is building the Docklands developments. Regarded by Green TD Ciarán Cuffe as "one of the good guys", McNamara has an ambitious plan to establish a private foundation, independently run, which would build affordable housing on hundreds of acres of land he owns, but he has been frustrated by a reluctance by local authorities to take up his ideas. His overall plan to build 3,000 affordable homes embraces Castleknock, Sutton, Kildare, Blackrock, Lucan, Blanchardstown and Templeogue among other areas, but to make it happen he has to negotiate with local authorities and this can take five years. He says: "In my humble opinion, the only way to expand affordable housing is to build, and as quickly as possible."

Cuffe says that politicians are going to have to be "more open-minded" about high-density housing and moving it fast through council chambers. As economist Jim Power puts it, something is going to have to radically change, because as things are "my two kids won't be able to afford to buy a house".

Now that the middle classes are up in arms, perhaps something really will be done to solve a problem that has beleaguered the poor for generations.

Affordable housing: the numbers

16,260 people on waiting lists for affordable housing, including Dublin City, 7,000; Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, 900; Fingal, 600; South Dublin, 700; Galway city and county, 1,220; Cork city and county, 4,200; Co Kildare, 900; Co Meath, 720.

9,896 affordable homes provided between 2003 and 2006.

500 affordable apartments purchased by the State are to be offered in Dublin shortly.

Docklands: 56 affordable units, including 41 two- and three-bedroom apartments in Longboat Quay, will be allocated in mid-2007, with 30 more becoming available at the end of the year or at the beginning of 2008.

300,000 unoccupied houses and apartments built under tax incentive schemes.

100,000 individuals and families in need of homes who can't afford to buy.

40,000 additional affordable housing units proposed under the new National Development Plan.

Sources: Affordable Housing Partnership; Department of Environment; Dublin Docklands Authority; Professor PJ Drudy, Trinity College Dublin.

Dun-Laoghaire Rathdown County Council Tall Buildings Study

In addition to my being surpised at the exceptionally fast turnaround time by the consultants - Urban Initatives - on a study of such importance. It appears that a study which took just a few months to complete, is now being used to call into question the development of Carlisle Pier whose proposed redevelopment has been a much longer process. How this study could develop a conclusion such as this so fast is, in my view, worthy of review. This from Fiona Gartland in The Irish Times.

A proposed development on the Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire could be ruled out if recommendations included in a study of tall buildings in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown are adopted by councillors.

The Tall Buildings Study, commissioned by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, recommends tall buildings should not be developed in conservation areas or along the coastline. This would exclude the 10-storey Carlisle Pier development, selected by the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, following public consultation and a tender process in 2004.

The pier development stalled in 2005 when the harbour company withdrew preferred bidder status from Urban Capital, the consortium chosen to develop the project. However, the harbour company has said that it is now in pre-planning discussions with the council in relation to the project.

The study, developed by planning consultants Urban Initiatives, recommended protection of "the unique skyline" and a general height of four storeys was recommended for Dún Laoghaire, with up to six storeys for exceptional landmark buildings.

In Sandyford, it recommended six-storey developments in central areas, with exceptional heights of 15 - 20 storeys, subject to certain conditions.

The study said that inappropriately planned tall buildings would seriously detract from a residential environment and would be especially harmful for listed buildings, conservation areas, and significant views.

Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council councillor Eugene Regan said that apart from the recommendations of the study, there are serious doubts that the proposed development for the Carlisle Pier actually complies with the requirements of the county's development plan.

"This is particularly the case in relation to the need for the development to incorporate uses that bring significant cultural, social, recreational and economic benefits to the town and that it should integrate with the immediate built environment," he said.

Richard Boyd Barrett, chairman of the Save Our Seafront campaign, said the study was "hugely significant" and a vindication and a result of the protests by groups against high-rise developments. It was also welcomed by the Combined Residents to Save Open Space group and by An Taisce.

A spokesman for Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company said that it could not comment since it had not seen the study nor had been advised about it.

The study will be on public display at Dún Laoghaire and Dundrum council offices until February 7th.

Corrib Gas Protectors Unhappy - News?

Lorna Siggins witing in The Irish Times tells us how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision on an integrated pollution prevention and control licence for the Corrib gas project has been welcomed by the Corrib gas partners and criticised by An Taisce and the Shell to Sea campaign in north Mayo.

Leo Corcoran, consultant to An Taisce, said the 85 conditions attached to the preliminary licence ruling included "no practical provisions" to protect the drinking water supply for 10,000 people in the Erris region, drawn from Carrowmore lake.

"If a major incident occurs it is highly likely that the surrounding blanket bog and consequently Carrowmore lake, close to the Bellanaboy terminal, would be polluted," Mr Corcoran, a former Bord Gáis engineer, said. He pointed out that the international code of practice which Government bodies are expected to apply "specifically requires engineers to consider the location of water catchments when selecting an appropriate site".

"Because Bellanaboy is within the water catchment of the major supply for this area its selection is in breach of the code of practice. Bellanaboy should never have been selected as the location for the terminal on this basis alone."

The Shell to Sea campaign said that it would be requesting an oral hearing into the decision, and questioned the timing of the announcement by the EPA when a decision had not been anticipated before March 7th.

Spokesman Dr Mark Garavan said once again it highlighted the essential flaws in a "project splitting" exercise. The issue of health and safety to residents in relation to the onshore pipeline and location of the terminal had still not been resolved, he said. Shell is currently engaged in a seven-stage procedure to modify the pipeline route.

These health and safety concerns, and the wider concerns relating to Government handling of natural resources, would be an issue in the forthcoming general election campaign, Dr Garavan said.

Imelda Moran, a local resident in north Mayo, said "no one could have faith in the planning process" as a result of the move.

"The EPA sought additional information from Shell in relation to its environmental impact statement (EIS), which it found to be defective," she said.

"This flawed EIS had already been used by other agencies, including Mayo County Council, to award planning permission.

"This effectively means that a developer can withhold essential information until it has to provide it - in this case, after planning permission has been granted," Ms Moran said.

She has already made submissions to the EPA, including cold venting of gas which was not included in the EIS presented to Mayo County Council. She has also expressed concerns about the impact of the refinery's outfall pipe into Broadhaven Bay.

The Corrib Gas Licence Saga Continues

Lorna Siggins , Western Correspondent with The Irish Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has denied claims that it was under political pressure to issue an early ruling on the licence application for the Corrib gas refinery in north Mayo.

The EPA was responding to criticism by the Shell to Sea campaign yesterday on the timing of its preliminary decision on a pollution prevention and control (IPPC) licence for the refinery being built at Bellanaboy.

The ruling has been welcomed by Shell E&P Ireland and its Corrib gas partners, Statoil and Marathon, and by the Pro-Gas Mayo group, comprising business interests in the area.

It is subject to a 28-day consultation period and may go to an oral hearing before a final licence is issued.

Shell to Sea said a decision was not expected before March 7th. However, the agency said this was the final date by which it must give a ruling.

As an independent body, it did not come under any influence in relation to the date of its decision, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

The licence deals with emissions and the environmental management of the facility. IPPC licences aim to prevent or reduce emissions to air, water and land, reduce waste and use energy/resources efficiently, according to the EPA.

Before a licence may be granted the agency must be satisfied that emissions do not cause adverse environmental impacts.

The EPA said that if approved, the proposed decision provided for the processing of 9.9 million cubic metres of natural gas a day which will be exported to the Bord Gáis Éireann distribution network.

The agency added that it was "satisfied that emissions from the refinery, when operated in accordance with the conditions of the proposed licence, will not adversely affect human health or the environment and will meet all relevant national and EU standards".

More than 85 conditions attached to the interim ruling refer to various aspects of the environmental management, operation, control and monitoring of the proposed refinery.

They include what the EPA describes as "strict controls" on emissions and a "high standard of treatment" of waste water which will be discharged from the terminal by a pipeline offshore.

The EPA said the discharge will be "outside" the Broadhaven Bay Special Area of Conservation.

The conditions, it said would be monitored by the Office of Environmental Enforcement, through "environmental audits, unannounced site visits and systematic checks on emissions".

An IPPC licence was applied for by the Corrib gas partners on December 8th, 2004, and the agency sought further information - specifically in relation to the environmental impact statement. This information was received on October 12th, 2006, and was available on its website for further submissions.

Submissions will be accepted during the 28-day consultation period, and an oral hearing may be requested by any person or group or by the applicant.

Ancient vessel discovered in the Boyne late last year is to be excavated

Dick Roche announced this on Friday. Mark Rodden in The Irish Times covers the story:

An ancient vessel discovered in the river Boyne late last year is to be excavated, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Dick Roche announced yesterday.

The vessel is thought to date from the early medieval period and was discovered by chance during dredging operations by the Drogheda Port Company in November.

The wreck lies close to Drogheda port and is believed to be between nine and 16 metres in length. It is described as "clinker built", which is a shipbuilding technology dating from the Viking era but which was still in use centuries later.

"Potentially this is an enormously exciting discovery," Mr Roche said yesterday. "But clearly we have to wait and see what condition the vessel is in and have it dated."

"Carbon-dating analysis of some of the vessel's timbers has been arranged by my department, with the results expected in a number of weeks," he added.

The vessel is lying midstream of the Boyne, meaning it poses a potential shipping hazard and cannot be preserved where it is.

It is hoped that after excavation and further investigation the vessel may eventually be put on public display.

It is envisaged that the investigation and excavation operation will be completed by the end of March.

Mr Roche said yesterday that the National Monuments Service of his department would oversee the excavation in co-operation with conservation experts from the National Museum of Ireland, while the Drogheda Port Company would provide logistical support.

"Discoveries of this type highlight the rich and varied heritage we enjoy in Ireland," said Mr Roche.

"My department and the other authorities involved will make every effort to ensure the preservation of this potentially highly valuable find and its safeguarding for the people of Ireland."

The Minister added: "A find like this can tell us much about the technologies, trading patterns and daily lives of our ancestors and can open a window onto how life was in Ireland over a thousand years ago."

Dublin Port Tunnel finally opens to cars

Tim O'Brien writes in The Irish Times that Dublin Port Tunnel will come a step nearer to being fully operational at 6am tomorrow when private cars are allowed to use the tunnel for the first time - but it will continue to close at night for the next few weeks at least.

Drivers however will face a further hurdle as "eazy pass" tags which work on the East and West Link bridges will not be accepted at the tunnel toll plaza.

Dublin City Council hopes the tunnel will be fully operation in about three weeks when the ban on HGVs (heavy goods vehicles) comes into effect in the city centre.

The council also hopes that the technology arrangements which have prevented the eazy pass system from being used in the tunnel, as well as on the M4 motorway in the midlands and the new Fermoy bypass in Co Cork, will be sorted out by then.

Currently each of the toll operators on the Republic's new toll motorways have separate electronic tags for motorists for expressways.

Despite a promise from Minister for Transport Martin Cullen that inter-operability issues would be sorted out within months of the M4 motorway opening, this has still not happened.

Jimmy Quinn for the Irish Road Haulage Association said hauliers were exasperated by the problem. "Everybody went ahead with their own tag even though we warned Séamus Brennan [ then minister for transport] five years ago, that this could happen."

However while the hauliers may have to carry a number of tags in the Republic they are not required to pay tolls at all on the Dublin Port Tunnel. Charges apply only to smaller vehicles including private cars.

Dublin City Council says nearly 6,000 heavy goods vehicles are already using Dublin Port Tunnel daily to travel between Dublin Port and the National Roads Network. The council's strategy on February 19th, banning HGVs within the cordon area, will also increase the number of goods vehicles using the Port Tunnel.

A spokesman said tunnel closures between 11pm-5am will continue for the next few weeks to allow for the completion of "final systems calibrations and testing".

Drivers using the Dublin Port Tunnel are advised to switch on dipped headlights.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Locals likely to appeal Dunlavin quarry decision

I had a call yesterday on this. This was a story the Wicklow People covered last week.

An appeal to An Bord Pleanala from residents of the Dunlavin area is likely following the news that a leading quarrying company has received planning permission for a 19-hectare (47-acre) quarry there.

On Tuesday, the planning office of Wicklow County Council granted planning permission for Kilsaran Concrete to quarry land at Ballyhurtin, Dunlavin, despite receiving 33 objections from concerned locals.

One of the objectors, Matthew Leith, runs a local bed and breakfast and is convinced that any quarry on his doorstep will kill off tourists visiting Rathsallagh House and the surrounding area. He is also baffled about the decision, considering how difficult it is for locals to get planning permission for one-off houses.

'My daughter has been looking into building a house quite near on a road not quite as bad as where this quarry will be situated,' he said.

'This has been ongoing for the past five years, yet the County Council and An Bord Pleanala have turned her down. It seems to be one rule for big companies and another for the ordinary local,' says a frustrated Mr. Leith.

The site will also necessitate the removal of an esker, a long narrow ridge of sand and gravel deposited by glacial meltwaters, which Mr. Leith further believes will completely change and ruin the local landscape.

'This will put us out of business,' says the downhearted bed and breakfast owner. 'The main industries here are bloodstock and tourism and I can't see how either will survive. The traffic on that particular road is already bad, especially around school time. I don't see how it can handle any more traffic.'

He and most of his neighbours have now vowed to take their objections to An Bord Pleanala, and have the support of the Dunlavin & District Forum as well as Deputy Billy Timmins.

According to the Fine Gael Deputy, 'the decision is a strange one, particularly considering people in the area are being turned down for one off housing due to the narrowness of the roads. Its also one of the scenic gems in the county.'

Wicklow locals voice fears about treatment centre plans

The Wicklow People tells us that Residents living on Marlton Road are currently engaged in talks with the town council to ensure their fears over the community addiction services centre based on the road are listened to.

Just before Christmas, An Bord Pleanala overturned a decision made by Wicklow Town Council and gave the centre the green light.

Part of the report maintained that the centre would be used mainly for counselling of people suffering from addiction and their families and loved ones, and the premises wouldn't be used for the dispensing of medicines. Medical treatment remains the exclusive statutory responsibility of the HSE.

While many residents remain concerned about the development, they at lest feel that the town council are taking their worries on board.

David Lang, Chairman of the Residents Association, says 'we have been engaged with the town council and the talks have proved very constructive. We want to ensure that the clinic adheres to the conditions.

'There are a number of points we have suggested and the discussions are still ongoing.'

While the Residents Association now accepts that the clinic will soon be up and running, they still maintain that Marlton Road isn't the correct location.

Opposition to regeneration plans in Muirhevnamor and Cox’s Demesne

The Argus tells us of how Dundalk Town Council is facing massive organised opposition to regeneration plans in Muirhevnamor and Cox’s Demesne.

And the two estates have plans to put past rivalries to one side and join together to form a united front against elements of the multi-million euro draft plans. They are demanding officials start listening to them.

This unity represents a headache for council officials who were eager that their ideas would be accepted so that funding could be applied for from the Department of Environment before the end of this year.

It is expected that joint meetings between the council and the two estates will be held and common approaches will be agreed on between representatives in both areas.

Last month, Dundalk Town Council officials held public meetings in Muirhevnamor and Cox’s Demesne to outline their architects’ visions for the regeneration of the estates.

The meetings, which were very well attended by people in both areas, showed detailed draft plans for regeneration projects that would cost upwards of €60 million.

Controversially, it was revealed that up to 114 houses were earmarked for demolition in Muirhevnamor while the main bone of contention in Cox’s was the proposed destruction of 13 homes on the hill at Ashling Park.

Following intensive negotiation with people in Muirhevnamor, it was yesterday announced that a petition has been signed by more than 80 percent of residents outlining their opposition to aspects of the plan.

At Ait na Daoine, members of Muirhevnamor Community Council (MMCC) said that while they broadly welcomed the regeneration programme in the estate, the building and maintaining of trust was crucial to its implementation.

The petition, which gave the MMCC an overwhelming mandate to represent the views of residents, calls for representatives to be elected from across the estate to a steering group who would handle meetings with council officials about the regeneration programme.

MMCC claimed there was little consultation by officials ahead of the announcement that 114 homes will be demolished.

There is also massive opposition in principle to the plan to build 220 new houses on what residents say is an already overcrowded estate. In addition, the demolition of the OPDs and their accommodation in an ‘isolated’ area is also rejected.
RAPID board member Kevin Mulgrew said fragile trust was smashed when officials presented the plans to the public as a ‘fait acompli’.

He said, “The news two weeks before Christmas that people’s homes, some of whom have been here for more than 30 years, were going to be knocked shattered confidence and caused panic and rumour.

“We welcome the regeneration project overall, but there are large aspects that we want officials to reconsider.

“We are willing to sit down with them and talk about the issues, but there is no trust here towards the Town Council after years of neglect”.

He also pointed out that the Department of the Environment, who will oversee any large project like this, have no formal guidelines for regeneration of estates.

Doolargy Avenue resident Anna Bond was getting positive signals from the council over the last couple of years about acquiring a green area beside her home, but that’s all up in the air now.

At the start of December, she was informed that her home was to be demolished. She said, “The only reason that they gave for this is that they want to turn the houses to face a different direction and to put one more house in the row - it’s senseless”.

Community worker Tony Jordan said that while no-one could deny Muirhevanmor needed a major facelift, homes, not just houses, were being razed for little reason. Siobhan McGarrigle is facing the demolition of not just her own home, but also her mum’s house.

Resident Ciaran Bond said the council should look at the more immediate problems such as the fact that 19 houses are currently boarded up and the remedial works scheme has not achieved what it set out to.

He said, “A lot of the problems could be solved if the council was willing to look at simple alternatives.

“We have talked to them before about what we think would improve the estate and they went away and drew up this regeneration plans that contain nothing that we suggested”.

Other issues such as the blocking off of access to the Avenue Road from some parts of the estate, the realignment of Hoey’s lane, the building of around 80 flats and duplexes on a green site and the lack of provision of proper facilities are also major bones of contention.

The first meeting between residents of Aghameen and council officials was due to take place last (Tuesday) night.

Friday, 26 January 2007

EPA proposes licence for Corrib gas terminal

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that the €900 million Corrib gas onshore terminal in Co Mayo be granted a licence.

The announcement constitutes a significant advance for the controversial project.

RTÉ News has learned the agency believes 85 separate conditions should apply, but will delay a final decision in case an oral hearing is deemed necessary.

See :http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0126/corrib.html for more information

see also the objector's website : http://www.corribsos.com

see epa website for more detail: http://www.epa.ie/NewsCentre/PressReleases/MainBody,11680,en.html

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Is the NDP built on poor foundations?

This is what Frank McDonald writes in The Irish Times:

The experience of the past 10 years, according to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, "shows the need for, and benefits of, longer-term policy planning to ensure that we rise to the challenges and maximise the opportunities facing us".
Would that this were true. Although the word "sprawl" is mentioned nowhere in the latest National Development Plan (NDP), the document concedes that most of Ireland's population growth "is taking place in the urban hinterlands".
Among the resulting changes, it says, "are longer commuting times, increasing car numbers and usage, and serious congestion difficulties with attendant impacts on competitiveness, quality of life and the environment".
Had the last NDP been properly focused, some of these negatives could have been avoided - for example, with a determined effort to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing in Dublin and the smaller cities, in order to curb sprawl.
Instead, the Government adopted a laissez-faire approach to planning, with the result that Dublin's commuter belt now extends to 100km and the same is true, to a lesser extent, within the orbit of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. There is much emphasis in the new plan on balanced regional development, with the Taoiseach saying implementation of the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) "is crucial to our ability to absorb the huge population growth predicted over the next 20 years".
As the plan says, "economic development in all countries, including Ireland, invariably occurs at a different pace in different regions", reflecting many different factors, "some of which can be directly influenced by Government policy".
The dramatic growth which Dublin has experienced is inextricably related to the fact that it "has spearheaded the growth of the Irish economy" and thus, in terms of scale and significance, it's on a different level to other NSS gateways.
The key question about the latest plan is whether it will succeed in developing these eight gateways and nine "hub" towns in a way that would ensure their growth and prosperity while simultaneously taking some of the pressure off Dublin.
As the NDP says, long-term population trends show that the economically stronger regions are those with large urban centres containing a high proportion of their population. In that broad context, some of the gateways hardly qualify at all.
The best bet in counterbalancing Dublin would be to strengthen the "critical mass" of the Atlantic gateways of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, both individually and collectively, to develop a second "major metropolitan corridor".
However, apart from better road links between them, there is not much on offer to Ireland's second-tier cities - though one of Cork's real strengths is its scale, which is equivalent to the combined populations of Limerick, Galway and Waterford.
Yet, notoriously, when it came to "decentralising" public servants from Dublin, the Government ignored Cork city, opting instead to scatter them around smaller towns throughout the county, from Clonakilty right round to Youghal.
Had the Government paid any attention to its own spatial strategy, this would not have happened. So now there isn't even a clutch of civil servants to people a single office block that would help underpin the redevelopment of Cork's docklands.
How can this be reconciled with the new NDP's declaration that promoting regional development "will aim to ensure that each NSS gateway region maximises its potential for economic and social development"? The answer is that it can't.
It is simply disingenuous to say, as the plan does, that the "direct instrument [ of decentralisation] will strengthen . . . the hub, smaller town and rural structure and complement the key and dynamic role to be played by the gateways".
As for the new Gateways Innovation Fund, worth €300 million over three years, each of the nine gateways (including Dublin) will have to make bids for a share of the money for projects that are not funded by "mainstream capital programmes".
This pilot programme is intended to "stimulate and reward joined-up thinking at local and regional level [ and] bring about better co-ordination in regional development and to support distinctive and innovative projects in gateway areas".
But there is a stick as well as this carrot: local authorities that adopt policies which are inconsistent with the NSS by facilitating development patterns such as extensive low-density housing "will not be favoured by investment under this plan".
In addition, Minister for the Environment Dick Roche "will as necessary use his powers under the planning Acts to compel local authorities to adopt land use policies that are consistent with the NSS and the regional planning guidelines".
Mr Roche has already intervened to curb the over-zoning of land in Laois by issuing a planning policy directive under the 2000 Planning Act, and he may well do the same in the case of Monaghan County Council's recent spate of land rezoning.
Roche's predecessor, Martin Cullen, declined to use these powers in 2002 to halt the over-zoning of land around Gorey, Co Wexford, even though there was evidence that up to 70 per cent of its new residents were commuting to Dublin.
The capital's sprawl was allowed to continue unabated, piggy-backing on major road improvements financed under the last NDP. It remains to be seen whether the Government will really crack down on similar piggy-backing on the latest plan.
At least it talks about the importance of promoting a switch from car to public transport. The critical issue for Dublin, it says, is to ensure that the range and quantity of housing as well as transport and social infrastructure can accommodate its population within the region, served by high-capacity public transport.
The real shame is that this was not recognised and made a priority by the last NDP.

IS the NDP environmentally responsible

Liam Reid writing in The Irish Times raised some questions about the environmental aspirations of the NDP The Government is keen to portray the new National Development Plan as a paragon of environmental responsibility. Addressing climate change was a "cornerstone" of the plan, Minister for the Environment Dick Roche was keen to stress to journalists.
Climate change does merit its own section in the plan, which also speaks about the need for a "holistic" approach to the problem, which included an important role for individuals. However, judging by the 48 cars parked in the upper yard of Dublin Castle at the launch of the plan - many of them gas-guzzling ministerial State cars - the concept of individual responsibility on climate change is one which has yet to make an impact on many junior and senior Ministers.
When briefing journalists, however, Mr Roche said climate change was now at the centre of the Government agenda, and the plan would produce real reductions in emissions.
He dismissed critics of Government as "dissembling" when they claimed the Government was not doing enough to combat climate change.
Whatever Mr Roche might say, the harsh fact is that the commitments contained in the plan will merely have the country treading water in terms of the serious emissions reductions that will have to be made over the next 13 years.
The main reason for this is that all of the measures included in the plan have already been taken into account in Government calculations of predicted greenhouse gas emission levels between now and 2012, which are modest to say the least.
The Government's own calculations show they make only a small dent in the growing levels of emissions from the Ireland. In fact the principle contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the plan is to pay other less developed countries to reduce theirs. And while this is relatively cheap in the short term, it is storing up considerable trouble in the long term.
One of the main elements highlighted in the plan as contributing to greenhouse gas reductions is what the Government describes as an unprecedented investment of €13 billion in public transport. It will see people switch from cars to public transport, thus reducing the amount of fossil fuels consumed.
A second element is the environmental benefits of the national spatial strategy. Balanced regional development will mean less travel for many people because they will live closer to their places of work, and facilities such as education, leisure and shopping.
A third element in the plan relates to the €270 million investment commitment in renewable energy. In one of the most oil and gas-dependent economies in
the world, it will increase the amount of electricity generated from wind, biomass and other sustainable sources. These measures are all commendable in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However they make but a small dent. And they have already been included in the Government's estimates and commitments on climate change.
At best they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than one million tonnes, at a time when the reduction required under the Kyoto agreement is closer to seven million tonnes. For example, the spatial strategy element will reduce emissions by just 50,000 tonnes, according to the Department of the Environment's own projections.
The main measure contained in the plan for greenhouse gas reductions is the carbon fund. This €270 million fund, announced in last month's budget, will enable the Government to buy carbon "credits" to make up for a predicted shortfall on emission reductions within Ireland.
Under the international scheme, the credits are purchased through investing in carbon dioxide emission reductions in developing countries. In short, the Government will purchase 3.6 million tonnes a year between 2008 and 2012 in order to meet its Kyoto commitments. It is the single biggest element in the Government's climate change strategy. But the main problem with this is that the cost of meeting future commitments could be much higher.
The reason is two-fold. The successor to Kyoto, which the Government is committed to being part, will require Ireland to reduce its emissions by up to 20 per cent below 1990 levels. It would require a real reduction of up to 30 million tonnes a year, five times the current shortfall in reaching the Kyoto target.
Secondly, the cost of carbon credits is likely to rise significantly above the current estimated cost of €15 a tonne, as making reductions become more difficult not only in Ireland but also in developing countries.
The absence of serious emission reduction policies such as carbon taxes, stringent energy requirements for new homes, means that ultimately the taxpayer could be facing an annual bill similar in size to interest payments on the national debt.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Full text of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 "TRANSFORMING IRELAND A Better Quality of Life for All".

The full text of the NDP can be viewed at:


Social & Affordable Housing to be a priority in the NDP

Do you believe it?

Mr. Noel Ahern T.D., Minister for Housing & Urban Renewal today (23 January 07) announced an investment programme of some €18 billion in Housing over the next seven years.

Speaking at the launch of the Social Infrastructure Priority of the NDP, the Minister said:

"An estimated 140,000 new households will have their accommodation needs met over the coming seven years. To achieve this, ambitious targets of 60,000 new units of social housing have been set and it is estimated that some 40,000 affordable homes will also be provided over the NDP period. Other households will benefit from the Rental Accommodation Scheme, under contractual arrangements with landlords for existing properties transferring from rent supplement, as well as from accommodation made available through vacancies normally arising in social housing and other social housing measures."

The investment of €18 billion, rising to €21 billion when rent allowance expenditure is taken into account, builds on the commitments agreed in Towards 2016. It is framed against the backdrop of the NESC report on Housing, acknowledging the recommendation of that report to expand the supply while maintaining an important focus on the quality of housing.

The Minister added:

"The Housing Policy Framework, launched at the end of 2005, set the building of sustainable communities as its guiding principle for our investment and this is reflected in the NDP. A new housing policy statement, due to be published in February, will provide greater detail on the actions required if the goals in the Framework document are to be achieved. The key objective in all of this is to build sustainable communities and to use resources to meet individual needs in a manner that facilitates personal choice and autonomy."

The Minister concluded:

"We are setting out a challenging but exciting vision for housing. One that is necessary to meet the needs of our growing population and to ensure that those who have affordability problems, or special housing needs, can be offered a greater range of choices to improve their position. Invariably with the launch of a seven year National Development Plan, there is a welter of statistical references in terms of investment figures, targets and outputs. But when the enormous sums of money that have been provided under the Housing Programme of this NDP are broken down, what we are about is providing homes. We will be using this investment wisely to provide choice and new opportunities for the maximum number of households."


What do you think? Here's the Dept of Environment's press release:

"Environmental sustainability and balanced regional development are cornerstones of the National Development Plan" said Mr. Dick Roche, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government following today's (23rd January 2007) publication of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 which includes investment of over €32 billion on measures for which his Department is responsible.

Environmental Sustainability
"The Government is convinced that economic growth and progressive environmental policies can, and must, go hand in hand. Sound environmental management is now an accepted prerequisite for all of Ireland's key industries and will create further economic opportunity. Environmental protection and economic progress are increasingly being viewed as mutually reinforcing.

Because of this the National Development Plan has been constructed around principles that are as environmentally robust as possible. The NDP does not simply list out some environmental projects on which money is to be spent: it analyses the principal environmental issues facing our country and it sets out the action to be taken to address them. Some of these actions require direct investment and some require other responses on our part. It adds up to a clear, rational and consistent approach which will generate results, just like the Plan as a whole" he said.

The Minister pointed out that some €25 billion will be invested in programmes generating an environmental dividend. The include, but are not limited to, public transport, water and waste water services, waste management, climate change, sustainable energy, natural and built heritage and research into environmental technologies. "All these programmes will give rise to real benefits for our environment. Better public transport systems will encourage people to switch from private to public transport and this is a win-win solution. It will enable people to travel for work or for pleasure more sustainably and quickly. It will see reductions in vehicle emissions and assist in meeting our Kyoto targets for greenhouse gases" said the Minister.

He also said that the Plan would continue to provide resources for drinking water quality, effluent disposal and waste management, all of which would build upon the rapid progress made in these services in recent years.

Achievements of NDP 2000-2006
"This National Development Plan is being launched from a very solid base" said the Minister "with huge investment made and real and lasting outputs achieved under the NDP 2000-2006 which positions us well for the next phase of the development of our economy and society". For example, under NDP 2000-2006:

· 337 water and wastewater projects were completed (up to the middle of 2006) with an investment of €3.2 billion over the period of the Plan. The increase in wastewater treatment capacity since 2000 is the equivalent to the needs of a population of 3.1 million. Irish wastewater discharges rose from 25% compliance with the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive in 2000 to over 90% today.

· 39,000 Local Authority and Voluntary Housing units and 12,400 Affordable Housing units were provided with an investment of over €10 billion;

· spending on non-national roads reached over €3.1 billion – 30% ahead of target. Over 51,000 kilometres of non-national roads were improved/restored between 2000 and the end of 2005;

· the 2013 national recycling target was achieved in 2005, 8 years ahead of schedule.

National Spatial Strategy/Gateways Innovation Fund
"The National Spatial Strategy has already been a driving force behind infrastructure decisions taken by Government since it was launched in 2002" said the Minister. "For example, it was a key influence in determining the scale and priority of investment under Transport 21. It has led to a reorientation of investment under my Department's water and sewerage services investment programme and had led to the introduction of a scheme to support development of Strategic Non-National Roads for NSS gateway areas. This new NDP allows us systematically thread the NSS through our investment policy."

Continued and accelerated implementation of the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) is the Government's main policy instrument for achieving more balanced regional development over the period of the NDP.

Under the NDP, investment in the regions, particularly infrastructure investment, will be based on the regional planning roadmap set out in the NSS and which has already been translated into regional planning guidelines which set the strategic policy agenda for local authority development plans at city and county level. These guidelines will be the template to secure good alignment between public investment plans at national level and physical planning at regional and local levels.

The Minister particularly welcomed the establishment of a dedicated Gateways Innovation Fund with an initial Exchequer allocation of €300 million to cover its operations over the period 2008-2010; this will be reviewed as part of the NDP Mid-term Review foreseen for 2010. In welcoming the Fund, Minister Roche said, "The Fund is evidence of the Government's commitment to the NSS. It will provide tangible support to the development of the nine Gateway cities and towns designated under the NSS allowing them to provide a competitive and vibrant environment for enterprise, and a high quality of life that attracts people to live in them. Strong Gateways will be drivers for the development of their wider regions, including surrounding towns, villages and rural areas ".

The Minister highlighted the interrelationship between environmental quality and the National Spatial Strategy. "This Plan is a good example of joined up thinking," he said. "Better spatial planning reduces our environmental footprint. It enables us to avoid long commuting distances, and to live close to the infrastructure and amenities on which a modern society depends. It will give rise to the critical mass of development that will repay investment in public transport. Everyone benefits. A better quality of life and a better environment can, and will, go hand in hand".

National Development Plan 2007-2013
"We have committed very significant resources under NDP 2007-2013 so that we can decisively tackle the remaining priority infrastructural challenges" said the Minister. He pointed to:

· a proposed investment of over €21 billion, of which about €15.5 billion, will come from the Exchequer, on housing measures that will address the accommodation needs of 140,000 households;

· an investment of €4.7 billion on Water Services, to facilitate economic, housing, and other development while ensuring that environmental sustainability objectives are achieved. Meeting the development needs of NSS gateways and hubs while be a key priority.

· a total of €4.3 billion being invested in non-national roads aimed at improvement of and maintenance of the non-national road network and on strategic non-national roads with a particular focus on roads in NSS gateway areas;

· waste management remaining a key priority with total investment of some €750 million by the public and private sectors. The main aim of this investment is to address the problems associated with legacy landfills, support, through private investment, the development of thermal treatment plants to reduce landfill usage and continue to promote recycling and recovery;

· the Government's commitment to achieving it's Kyoto protocol targets with a provision of up to €270 million for the purchase of carbon credits through the Carbon Fund which is to be established through legislation this year;

· investment of €895 million on community infrastructure, which includes €476 million for urban and village renewal, public libraries and fire services:

o The Urban and Village Renewal programme will support projects aimed at enhancing the public realm such as streetscapes, public buildings, squares, parks and riverfronts, cycling and pedestrian facilities.

o Investment under the libraries programme will be aimed at further improvement and expansion of the public library service through library infrastructure provision, ICT provision, improvements in the range and quality of the stock and improvements in service provision. This will build on the major programme of improvements introduced since 1998 with the publication of the Government's "Branching Out – a New Public Library Service". Since then, 51 new libraries have been opened including 9 in 2006.

o Investment in Fire Services will support the further development of this key service which has benefited from the completion of 37 new fire stations since 1999.

· significant investment being made across a range of other programmes including Built and Natural Heritage (€540 million) and Environmental Research (€93 million).

"The key challenge now is delivery and doing so in a way that secures cost certainty and value for money. A flexible construction industry, a well resourced local authority system, new fixed price contracts and new streamlined planning processes introduced under the Strategic Infrastructure Act are important parts of the armoury that will allow us achieve these objectives" concluded the Minister.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

North Cork Dump Plan

The Corkman tells of how residents in Kildorrery are up in arms this week over proposals for the development of a landfill near the village which was previously turned down by An Bord Pleanála.
A planning application for the development of a landfill at Ballyguyroe has been lodged with Cork County Council by Dublin based company Greenstar Ltd, which failed in its bid to secure planning for a similar development on the same site back in 2004.
Plans for the landfill, which proposes to cater for 145,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per annum and comprising of eight landfill cells, has caused outrage amongst local residents who fought for years for the closure of a dump operated by Cork County Council in the same area.
Following a high court battle, the council dump was finally closed in 2000. Three years later, locals were also successful in preventing Greenstar from securing planning permission for a second landfill on the site next door. Following representations to An Bord Pleanála, a decision by Cork County Council not to grant planning was upheld with the Bord citing that such a development would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
However, the company has now returned with renewed plans for a dump to which locals have responded by reactivating the former Kildorrery Anti-Dump Group.
A public meeting has been called to discuss the proposals which will take place at Kildorrery Community Hall on Wednesday next, January 17 at 8.30pm.
A spokesman for the group, who resides within a half mile of the proposed landfill, said they plan to do everything in their power to stop this development from going ahead amid fears of contamination to the local water supply and increased traffic levels arising from the development.
“We will be objecting to Cork County Council on a number of grounds, paying particular attention to the threat which this development poses to health and safety. Kildorrery has taken more than its fair share when it comes to the disposal of waste and we are not willing to go down that road again,” said the spokesman.
The group spokesman added that locals had been left enraged by the erection of the site notice at Ballyguyroe just days before Christmas.
“Did the company hope their plans would go un-noticed and the five week submission period would be up before locals realised what was happening? They couldn’t have been more wrong and we are urging locals to attend next week’s meeting to help us in the fight to protect our community,” he added.
Cllr Liam O’Doherty, chairman of the local dump monitoring committee, said he was astonished that on foot of two refusals Greenstar Ltd would return to the negotiating table.
“Communities cannot be expected to keep fighting these multinationals which continue to target rural communities with limited resources,” he said.

Neeed somewhere to live? Try a shed

A twist in Dublin's housing market has provoked outrage.
Local residents are fuming after An Bord Pleanala gave permission for a shed in a Blanchardstown garden to be used as living accommodation.
Fingal Co Council learned this week that the board had overruled the recommendation of its own inspector and of the council concerning use of the shed.
Neighbours of the property at Summerfield Meadows said they were bitterly disappointed by the decision.
Labour TD Joan Burton said the development was "astonishing" and "disturbing" and could open the floodgates for similar shed conversions.
The Dublin West TD called on the chair of An Bord Pleanala to explain how it reached the "extraordinary' decision".
She also urged him to explain what precedence it set for similar applications, whether in Dublin 15 or nationwide.
"In making its decision the board overturned both the recommendation of its own inspector and of Fingal Co Council, who quite rightly opposed the conversion of a concrete garden shed, in the back garden of a semi-detached house, into living accommodation," she said.
Although the decision allowed the shed to be used for living purposes for just five years, and it had to be occupied only by people connected to the household, it was difficult to see how the board or the council was going to check that this condition was complied with, she added.
Mother of one Tanya Grogan, whose garden backs onto the property, said: "We are very upset and disenchanted with the whole system," said "What is the point of having a planning system in place if you can build and then get permission retrospectively? People can obviously do what they like."
She added: "When our neighbour built a flat roof, my husband objected to the size of the shed, but one day we came home and there were roof trusses there.
"It is so imposing. It is like the size of a garden wall and then the same height again.
"I wrote to every councillor in the area to get them to do something."
The decision followed an appeal by David and Mary O'Donnell of Summerfield Meadows against a decision of July 11 last year by Fingal Co Council to refuse planning permission.
Anne-Marie Walsh
© Irish Independent

Houses built on dump

Paul Melia in the Irish Indo' writes of how a mother blames family's illnesses on poisons left under home by developer
NEW council houses have been built on a site which was used for illegal dumping.
And samples taken from the back garden of one house show that traces of dangerous chemicals remain in the soil.
Since moving in last year Mary Joyce claims her children - Ellen (9), Bernard (20), James (8) and John (16) - have been constantly sick.
She is worried that dangerous chemicals could be in her back garden, and wants a full investigation to be carried out.
"Since I came up here it's nothing but sore throats and sickness. The colour of my kids is divine white," she said.
Her two youngest children, she says, had good health in their old home in Ballymun flats at Balcurris Lane. Now they suffer from stomach aches, diarrhoea and continuous sores.
Residents believe more could be present throughout the site.
Yesterday Green Party leader Trevor Sargent said he believed the site was a dump that had been covered over and called for a full public inquiry.
The houses on Balbutcher Lane, off the St Margaret's Road in north Dublin, were built as part of the €1bn Ballymun regeneration project, were completed last year.
More than 90 homes are in the development, which were built at a cost of €15m.
A sample taken from Mary Joyce's house shows that traces of phenols and thiocyanate are present in the soil.
These substances can be found in landfills and waste water. They are used in the production of herbicides and insecticides and in industrial processes.
Exposure can cause respiratory irritation, headaches and other health difficulties.
One forensic scientist said the phenols and thiocyanate could be 'witnesses' to serious contamination as they could move throughout a site and might be found in greater quantities elsewhere.
They suggested a full site investigation be carried out to ensure that residents health was not at risk.
Yesterday Ballymun Regeneration Ltd - an arm of Dublin City Council charged with redeveloping the north Dublin suburb - confirmed that the site on which the houses were built was used as an illegal dump.
Abandoned cars had to be removed before building work commenced but the council rejected allegations that there was a health risk to residents.
"Ballymun Regeneration is satisfied that there is no contamination on the site of Carton Court that could cause any risk to health," a statement said.
"The site in question was never a landfill site although it had been used for fly tipping and abandoned cars had to be removed before any development took place."
It said a specialist company had been commissioned to carry out site investigations and these showed no evidence of contamination.
It added that testing of one soil sample could not be considered representative of the whole area, and that it was satisfied there was no risk to human health.
But yesterday Green Party leader Trevor Sargent said he believed that waste discovered on the site had been covered over, and that the site had been a dump which was simply covered over.
He called for a series of independent tests and a full public inquiry.

RPS Planning Consultants hired to help Shell

Laura Siggins in The Irish Times Shell tells us that E&P Ireland has hired consultants RPS to assist it in finding a modified route for the controversial Corrib gas onshore pipeline.
The company's brief includes "consultation around the criteria for finding a modified route, surveying and mapping, engineering design, environmental assessment, procurement support and construction supervision", Shell said yesterday in a statement.
Public meetings are promised as part of the lengthy procedure which the company has been pursuing since a modified route was proposed by Government mediator Peter Cassells six months ago.
Under the company's plan, construction of its terminal at Bellanaboy may be well under way before a proposal for modification is submitted to Government.
Daily protests by residents as part of the Shell to Sea campaign are still continuing at the terminal site, and several demonstrators were injured last Friday in altercations with gardaí.
More than 100 gardaí are still deployed in Belmullet as part of security for Shell staff.
Shell has applied for a foreshore licence to carry out surveys on one alternative pipeline route via Sruwaddaccon Bay and is currently awaiting a decision from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
RPS is described as a company which is "highly experienced in gas pipeline routing and environmental assessment", having worked for Bord Gáis on the 335km gas pipeline from Dublin to Galway-Limerick in 2002.
Shell also said yesterday that more than 200 people, "including a number of school groups", attended its open days last week in Castlebar and Ballina, Co Mayo

Corrib protesters bruised

Liam McNally in The Irish Times writes of how three people sought hospital treatment following scuffles between gardaí and protesters outside Shell's Corrib gas site in north Mayo yesterday.
Between 50 and 60 protesters from the Shell to Sea campaign gathered at Bellanaboy bridge when workers at the Shell site were being driven past to the refinery site's entrance gates.
A Garda spokesman said scuffles broke out after a garda was attacked and pulled among the protesters. Other gardaí went to his assistance and were assaulted. He said some had their uniforms torn in the incident.
The spokesman denied batons had been used by gardaí and rejected claims that some gardaí were not wearing mandatory identity numbers on their shoulders. He said a Garda sergeant was pushed into the path of a slow-moving bus carrying Shell workers. He was not seriously injured and remained on duty.
Three protesters - all local men - were injured in the scuffle. One was driven to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, some 45 miles away. Another man received three stitches to an injury on his face, while a third man, with a suspected broken nose, also attended the hospital later for an X-ray.
An American television crew filming in north Mayo yesterday captured the incidents on camera. Gardaí are investigating the confrontation.
PJ Moran from the Shell to Sea campaign denied that protesters started the trouble.
"A Garda sergeant recognised one of the men in the group and ordered another garda to pull out the man. That is how it all started. That is when the scuffles broke out. We categorically deny that Shell to Sea initiated the incident."
Mr Moran also rejected the Garda claim that no baton was used. "One man was injured by a baton today. He was struck on the back of the head and a family member drove him to hospital for treatment. Several people asked to speak to the commanding officer today but no garda came forward."

Will the new NDP be better than the last?

Frank McDonald in The Irish Times tells how the new National Development Plan will be unveiled next week, but the current plan was a disaster, writes Frank McDonald , Environment Editor.
It is no secret that one of the key elements of the current National Development Plan (NDP) - the completion "by 2006" of motorways or dual-carriageways linking Dublin with Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and the Border, north of Dundalk - has not been realised.
It is also no secret that these roads will cost a lot more than the estimate of €5.6 billion given in the NDP when it was launched in November 1999. In fact, this "rough, ballpark, back-of-the-envelope" figure - as Seamus Brennan called it later - was a fiction from the start.
The original figure came from the National Roads Authority (NRA), but it was for something different altogether. As envisaged by its 1998 National Road Needs Study, the existing routes were to be upgraded, some to motorway standard, with bypasses built to relieve towns along the way.
But, less than 12 months later, the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure - consisting of Bertie Ahern, Mary Harney, Charlie McCreevy, Noel Dempsey, Mary O'Rourke and John O'Donoghue - decided to go for a motorway programme, and the NRA was told to recast its plans.
Despite this, Charlie McCreevy - then minister for finance - refused to increase the NDP allocation to reflect the likely cost of the Government's more ambitious programme. But even if the figure had been more factual, it would soon have been overtaken by construction inflation.
The cost of building roads doubled within a few years, fuelling spectacular over-runs - 92.4 per cent on the Cavan bypass (€33 million), 98.6 per cent on
the Nenagh bypass (€43 million), 117 per cent on the Drogheda bypass (€244 million), 306 per cent on the Youghal bypass (€44 million), and so on.
As a result, the estimate for completing the NDP roads programme rapidly rose to nearly €16 billion, and the Department of Finance was warned by economic consultants Fitzpatrick & Associates, in their November 2002 mid-term review, that the final bill could be €22 billion or more.
While stricter cost controls and better management have delivered more recent road projects within budget, the real issue is whether the plans currently being pursued make any sense - especially in terms of promoting the oft-repeated but elusive goal of "balanced regional development".
How can this be achieved if all of our major roads converge on Dublin (with the sole exception of the "Atlantic Corridor" mooted in Transport 21, the Government's capital investment framework for transport development)? There, they will feed into the congested M50, which will carry even heavier volumes of traffic after its €1 billion upgrade is completed in 2010.
What other country in Europe would have four motorways - the M1, M2, M3 and proposed Outer Orbital Ring road (an M50 bypass, in effect) - running virtually parallel within a corridor just 30km wide? The answer is none, mainly because planning for motorways is done more rationally elsewhere. The NDP never explicitly stated that the Government had opted for greenfield motorways, running parallel to the old national routes; this only emerged later. But had the Cabinet sub-committee examined a map of Ireland closely, it could have planned a quite different motorway network.
FOR EXAMPLE, AS former IFA president Joe Rea suggested in 2001, both Limerick and Cork could have been served by one motorway routed via north Tipperary running northeastwards to Dublin. Alternatively, a Cork-Dublin motorway could have been routed east to serve Waterford on the way.
Either of these options would have been much cheaper, and would have done more to promote regional development by providing a high-quality route between two of the smaller cities. But nobody who made the fateful decision to go for a radial motorway network ever thought so laterally.
As James Nix and I showed in our book, Chaos at the Crossroads, ministers had no real evidence on which to base this decision. It was grounded on the dubious assumption that the best way to grow regional cities at a faster rate than Dublin is to ensure better access to and from Dublin.
Radial motorways will simply reinforce Ireland's east coast-loaded regional imbalance. In Germany, by contrast, road planners have prevented the development of a "hub and spoke" motorway network because they realise that its centralising effects would be almost impossible to counter.Entirely new greenfield motorways, consuming thousands of acres of farmland, were chosen here because it would have been too controversial to compulsorily
acquire and demolish hundreds of one-off houses strung out along existing national routes, so that they could be widened.
In May 2002, Noel Dempsey warned that up to 1,500 homes would have to be demolished to improve existing national routes along the lines proposed by the NRA's Road Needs Study. "What we're trying to do is to get value for money by long-term planning", he said at the time.
BUT THE GOVERNMENT'S planning for motorways takes no account of wider environmental implications, notably the car-dependent sprawl they would inevitably promote and the rise in road transport's carbon dioxide emissions, which are up by 144 per cent - the highest for any sector.
Just this week, Minister for Transport Martin Cullen announced an allocation of €1.53 billion for NRA projects in 2007, which works out at €4 million-plus per day. The effect of all this spending on roads will lock us into car dependency at a time when global oil production is about to peak.
It is also a myth that the motorways are needed to cater for long-distance traffic. Roads may account for 96 per cent of all passenger traffic in the State, but the overwhelming majority of these trips are relatively short hops, typically for commuting, rather than long journeys from city to city. This was confirmed by a survey carried out by Scetauroute, a French toll consulting company, for the NRA's National Road Needs Study; it found that the number of vehicles travelling the full distance of a national route was low; the highest was just 1,700 per day between Dublin and Cork.
Yet, over the past seven years, massive investment in new roads outstripped public transport by a ratio of four to one. Indeed, some of the rail projects - such as four-tracking the Kildare line to separate commuter and mainline services - were dusted down to reappear in Transport 21.
On the last page of the NDP, an appendix conceded that "some unsustainable patterns of development" could emerge within its framework, as a result of "the pace of current economic development, unforeseen interaction between measures, or [ other] unanticipated consequences".
That's the classic get-out clause by a laissez-faire Government whose greatest single legacy is car-dependent sprawl.