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News : Irish Last Updated: Oct 16, 2009 - 7:47:46 AM

Some Irish land will have to be dezoned says planning board head; Ireland has 88 planning authorities for population of 4.4m
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Oct 15, 2009 - 4:10:25 AM

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The head of the Irish planning appeal board, An Bord Pleanála, said on Wednesday at the publication of  the 2008 Annual Report, that if Ireland is to return to realistic development planning, some of rezoned land will have to be dezoned and facing up to this has a part to play in deflating the bubble and restoring a sustainable market. He also said Ireland - - a country with a total population of 4.4 million,  has 88 planning authorities.

Up to half the political membership of some authorities have a commercial property interest and they participate in rezoning decisions.

Conflict of interest issues are seldom viewed as a problem in Ireland. 

During the boom, rezoning increased land prices by a hundred-fold or more and public data on Irish development land is almost non-existent, for a reason of course, but bet on it, that's it's not the public interest.

"It would be extremely short-sighted if there was any tendency to relax good planning standards in response to our current economic difficulties," John O'Connor, chairperson of the board said. "Now, more than ever, we need to embrace the principles of good planning and sustainable development in order to prevent further deterioration of our environment, to respond to climate change, to maximise the return from expensive infrastructure investment, to get the most efficient use of limited land resources and to help restore confidence by producing well located good quality developments."

O'Connor said excessive and unsustainable zoning of land has been a contributor to the property bubble and its aftermath.

He said there is increasing evidence that many of the current local authority development/plans are replete with such zonings.

The chairperson said that the planning Bill currently before the Oireachtas should ensure a much more coherent and sustainable approach to zoning and is a very welcome response to the trends over recent years to which he has repeatedly drawn attention to in the past. Anyone now assessing property values in terms of development potential must in many cases look beyond the particular zoning and focus on the availability of services and infrastructure and the other parameters of good planning such as densities, heights, impact on amenities and the orderly sequence of urban expansion. Bad planning has long term environmental, economic and social costs and there can be no expectation that proper planning standards would not be applied to development proposals, even where the land is linked to distressed loans.

John O'Connor said he was concerned that developers may be tempted, in the present market, to return to lower density development. However, national policies on building more sustainable communities for the future do not favour a return to old-style low density development due to the greater than ever need for the most efficient use of expensive infrastructure, for increased environmental sustainability and for less urban sprawl.

He also said that over the past couple of years, the board has dealt with a significant number of appeals relating to proposals to move major sporting facilities from their long established locations in the midst of urban communities to remote locations. Permission was refused for some of these proposals because of their poor accessibility, the increased risk to road safety, lack of services and diminution of urban amenities. Sometimes these proposals were facilitated by zoning decisions of local authorities that seem to be based "on a rather narrow set of considerations." The chairperson said that, while each case had to be considered on its own particular merits, he was concerned about the long term effects of this trend. The displacement of sports facilities that were sustainably located in established communities could represent a physical and social loss to the area and could in the long term impact negatively on participation levels in the sports concerned.

The lure of money makes issues such as the requirement of working parents having to arrange car rides for their children to out-of-town locations, seem irrelevant.

88 planning authorities

The An Bord Pleanála head said we have 88 planning authorities for a country with a total population of 4.4 million. While acknowledging the need to retain their local democratic character, many of these authorities have administrative areas that are much too small and fractured to constitute meaningful planning units in terms, for example, of efficient infrastructure provision, the strategic location of future development or the management of water catchments. Equally, they cannot be expected to have at their ready disposal the full range of skills and experience demanded by a modern planning service which must operate under an increasingly complex body of planning and environmental legislation.

"Sustainable strategic planning is sometimes supplanted by localised short-sighted competition for development,"John O'Connor said. "This is particularly evident at the edges of certain cities and large towns."

He said he believes strongly that the public service reform agenda must include rationalisation of the planning service in the interests of the quality of the planning and public service efficiency.

SEE: Finfacts article on the Irish land system, which has been a huge bonanza for some and where no official data is published on development land:

Irish Farmers and Sacred Cows

SEE: Finfacts article for data on empty housing stock:

Irish property market may recover in 3 years or 10 years; Can there be a phoenix-style rise from the economic wreckage?

SEE: Finfacts article on evidence presented in the ZOE Group examinership cas:

Kelly tells High Court Irish property prices are likely to fall back to mid-1990s levels

SEE: Finfacts article for house price data from 1970:

International House Price Comparisons 1970-2006: Irish price growth in 36-year period third highest among 18 Developed Countries

SEE: Finfacts article, which contains information on studies of teh time period of recovery from property crashes:

Lenihan, NAMA versus the “leave it alone liquidationists” or potential saviours of the Irish economy

SEE: Finfacts article on the Irish land system where no official data is published on development land:

Irish Farmers and Sacred Cows

SEE: Finfacts article on price comparisons with other markets:

International House Price Comparisons 2009: Dublin plummets but remains expensive; US average for management level house is $363,401; Most inexpensive at $112,675

SEE: Finfacts blog post 2007: Irish Property Obsession, British Landlordism and Myths

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