Effects of reckless planning 'to last decades'


IT COULD take more than 60 years to correct the chronic over-development and rezoning of land in some counties, caused by a litany of failures by government and local authorities, a leading research institute has said.

In a report published yesterday, the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI Maynooth has called for an inquiry into the “catastrophic failure” of the planning system.

Institute director Prof Rob Kitchin said the failure could seriously hamper both the recovery of the housing market and the operation of Nama. “The banks could have lent all they wanted but if zoning and planning permission was not granted, property construction could not have gone ahead,” he said.

Prof Kitchin said an independent inquiry was needed “to investigate all aspects of the planning system and its operation within and across different agencies and at all scales in Ireland including charges of localism, cronyism and clientelism.”

There are more than 300,000 housing units lying empty and there are now more than 620 ghost estates – developments of 10 units or more, where over 50 per cent are empty or unfinished.

Collectively, Cavan, Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo increased their housing stock by 49.8 per cent between 2002 and 2009, from 90,491 to 135,544 units. In April 2006, 19 per cent or nearly 20,000 dwellings were vacant in these counties but an additional 20,500 units were built over the next three years. The increase in households in the preceding decade was under 19,000.

These counties have land zoned for an additional 50,758 houses, enough to last 27 years if the number of households continues to grow at the same rate as 1996-2006.

The report said there was enough excess housing and zoned land nationally to last an average of 16.8 years. In Cork city, however, there was enough excess housing and zoned land to last for 64 years while in Monaghan the housing and zoned land would last for 59 years.

The report said planning was driven by the demands of developers and speculators. It also said that the Government not only failed to adequately oversee, regulate and direct local planning, but actively encouraged its excesses through tax incentives and by disregarding its own principles as set out in the National Spatial Strategy.

It argued that a number of local authorities ignored good planning guidelines, regional and national objectives, sensible demographic profiling of potential demand and the fact that much of the land zoned lacks essential services.

The report said while several local authorities “abjectly” failed to manage development, Fingal, Kildare, Galway city, Meath, Wicklow and South Dublin were relatively prudent and have low levels of oversupply.

It concluded that several issues must be addressed before the housing market starts to function properly again.

Supply and demand will need to be harmonised, a sustained growth in the economy with an associated fall in unemployment is also needed. House prices will have to align more closely to average industrial earnings and credit has to be available for first-time buyers and those trading up. Uncertainties concerning Nama will have to be cleared up, consumers will have to be satisfied that the banking crisis is over and there needs to be substantive changes in the planning system.

Minister of State with responsibility for planning Ciarán Cuffe said there was “a direct link between planning failures and the oversupply of housing in totally inappropriate places”. But he insisted many of the report’s recommendations had already been covered through the imminent Planning and Development Act and a forthcoming investigation into planning at six councils.

The report is available at nuim.ie/nirsa/