Scrapping the Spatial Strategy
Deciding where major development should happen, and where it shouldn’t, is one of the primary roles of good government. That’s what the 2002 National Spatial Strategy was meant to do, however late it came or how widely it spread the spoils. As then taoiseach Bertie Ahern wrote in the foreword, it was “designed to enable every place in the country to reach its potential, no matter what its size or location” – in other words, there was to be something for everyone.
Nonetheless, the designation of nine “gateways” (including Dublin) and a further nine “hubs” attempted to put some shape on spatial planning and, indeed, the strategy has been repeatedly cited by An Bord Pleanála in its decisions to grant or refuse planning permission for various projects.
Now, it has been scrapped by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan on the basis that there was only a “tittle” to show for its existence because resources had not been provided, even in the boom years, to breathe real life into the strategy. However, his admission to the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation last week that a replacement was “about a year away” is equally worrying. Not only is this loose timeframe likely to be a serious underestimate, but in the meantime there will be no overarching framework in place to guide planning decisions by local authorities or, indeed, An Bord Pleanála. That the Government is prepared to countenance such a potentially damaging lacuna speaks volumes about its commitment to “proper planning and sustainable development”.
It is ironic that Phil Hogan’s abandonment of the National Spatial Strategy preceded publication of the 2013 Finance Bill’s imaginative proposal of a pilot scheme of incentives aimed to encourage people to refurbish Georgian houses in Limerick and Waterford for residential use. The incentive, described as “modest” by the Department of Finance, is nonetheless significant; it would allow such urban pioneers to claim tax relief on refurbishment schemes at the rate of 10 per cent a year for 10 years – providing they keep using a house as their principal private residence. Similar incentives to develop and upgrade shops in the same areas will also be offered.
There is no doubt that Georgian Limerick has been shamefully neglected for many years, rather than being recognised as one of the city’s prime assets. The 18th-century heritage in Waterford has fared somewhat better, but is still in need of care and attention. Both Limerick and Waterford were among the “gateways” designated by the Nationl Spatial Strategy, and policies aimed at regenerating and repopulating their core areas are long overdue. The same applies to Dublin’s southside Georgian core, and it should also benefit from incentives once they prove their value elsewhere.