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How should Ireland’s planning system be reformed?

Thinking in three dimensions

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott
The Irish Times - Letters to the Editor.

Sir, – In his response (Letters, June 19th) to my article (“How should Ireland’s planning system be reformed?”, Opinion & Analysis, June 18th), Dr Sean O’Leary, senior planner, Irish Planning Institute, pointed out that “planning in Ireland has historically faced public and political suspicion which it has been suggested is rooted in agrarianism, postcolonialism and Catholicism.” This was particularly true when the Irish Planning and Development Act 1963 was adopted. This Act was based on the UK’s Town and Country Planning Act 1947 which was a laissez faire discretionary system as a result of a political arrangement between the Conservative and Labour parties in relation to the new towns and private sector planning.

While it was true, as he suggests, that “planning theory characterised a discretionary system as flexible and more responsive to socio-demographic change”, this theory, which emerged in the Anglo-American planning professions in the postwar period, is now discredited internationally in Europe, North and South America and Australia. This approach was, in effect, a manifesto for the unsustainable urban sprawl that characterises the suburban areas of most Irish towns and cities.

The planning of cities and towns is a complex process and requires careful consideration and application. The great cities of Europe, including Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and the Dublin created by our own Wide Street Commissioners, were all designed and laid out to create beautiful streets, squares and elegantly proportioned buildings in scale and height.

Throughout Europe there has been a recognition, over the past 30 years, that the growing complexities of cities and towns and the evolving social and environmental requirements for sustainable communities require purposeful planning and resilient urban design to meet these challenges.


City planners and urbanists in these countries now create city and town visions by combining traditional urban design techniques with digital twin technology.

Dynamic virtual models of cities and towns can be created with clear levels of detail to inform citizens, architects, engineers and all stakeholders of their future vision.

If our Government were to allow the local authorities of our cities and major towns to benefit from specialist urban design input in order to assist in implementing these techniques in preparing our next development plans, strategic development zones and urban development zones plans and to upskill existing planning staff, the task could be completed in three years.

If the Planning and Development Act 2024 is to meet the needs of Ireland over the next 50 years, it should be based on these modern techniques rather than the “text and coloured map” and the discretionary planning techniques of the past 60 years. – Yours, etc,


Reddy Architecture + Urbanism,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – The proposal put forward by Tony Reddy for a three-dimensional city development plan is surely the way to go.

What it would mean is that instead of flat blocks of colour on a map, the city would be modelled in 3-D and the height and mass potential of every site on every street would be clearly illustrated. The technology to do this is readily available and other European countries are moving in this direction. What it would mean is that that there would be a greater degree of certainty for developers and local residents alike as to the shape, size and density of any potential new development. This would help to eliminate a great deal of objections, appeals and judicial reviews because everybody would know where they stand from the outset.

Dr O’Leary (Letters, June 19th) expresses some concern with this approach and suggests that a discretionary system might be more appropriate than a rules-based system. Surely it is this discretionary system that has contributed to the imperfect planning system of recent years where increasingly taller buildings have been popping up willy-nilly on many suburban sites. These random schemes do not seem to follow any principles of coherent urban design and create a jagged skyline which jars with the existing streetscape.

They also fail to appreciate that sustainable residential densities can be readily achieved without resorting to high-rise. – Yours, etc,


Architect (retired),


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Robin Mandal’s recent comments on planning in your newspaper (Opinion & Analysis, June 18th) give some explanations as to the planning problems today such as the failed strategic housing Development (SHD) process which became complicated because of the involvement of An Bord Pleanála in combination with strict compliance with regulations and EU regulations.

If we require 50,000 houses per year over the coming years then we need an investment of circa €20 billion per year in order to fund such and there is further investment required for infrastructure. We see data centres now stalling at expansion due to inadequate electrical infrastructure. Our waters are being polluted by sewerage outfalls as Irish Water/Uisce Éireann inherited a deficient network from the public authorities and there is little or no capacity for expansion in order to provide more housing. In this regard Uisce Éireann would require an additional €2 billion per annum in order to upgrade existing plants. Drinking water systems also require upgrading. In the Greater Dublin Area, which encompasses parts of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, water supply is at capacity and cannot cater for any further growth. In order to solve this problem the proposed Shannon to Dublin pipeline requires immediate delivery of the scheme at a cost in the region of €2.5 billion.

It will be interesting to see how the drinking water supply in the Greater Dublin Region performs over the coming weeks with predicted daytime temperatures rising. On Saturday, May 11th, 2024, a warm sunny day, the consumption was 656 megalitres which was a new record for consumption being an increase of about 30 megalitres over the previous record and 20 megalitres above the actual production capacity. If this happens over a series of days over the coming summer months, then reservoirs shall drop in level with reduced pressure in the watermains. Locations at the end of the network and on elevated sites shall receive very low pressure supply or possibly none for certain hours.

So when this happens and places at the end of the line such as Howth and Dalkey suffer drinking water shortages, just remember that you can buy water in the local supermarket, but the aquatic species have been suffering from polluted waters for years.

So back to infrastructure. The housing constructed at the end of the Celtic Tiger period absorbed almost all of the infrastructure available at the time. The initial housing crisis was caused by migrants coming to work in the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google , the Financial centre, the pharmaceutical industry, etc. We actually had no capacity at the time to absorb all these people. Unfortunately, the migrants keep coming and we have no housing or infrastructure in order to accommodate them.

We should have been investing heavily in all of the infrastructure for the past 10 years if we wanted to grow the population.

Unfortunately, this did not happen and we will soon see the result of this failure. If you think that things are bad now, wait a while longer to really see how bad things will get.

The Government needs to wake up and allocate an addition €6 billion per annum toward infrastructural development without delay. – Yours, etc,