Walsh, C. & Kitchin, R. (2012) Supporting Evidence-Informed Spatial Planning in Ireland: A Research Perspective, Pleanáil, Issue 18, 75-89, Full Text
This paper, written in summer 2011 for Pleanail, the journal of the Irish Planning Institute (one of two professional associations for planners in the Republic of Ireland discusses the role of academic and applied research in supporting spatial planning in Ireland. It was published in November 2012. It focuses in particular on the applied spatial planning work of the National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA, where Prof. Rob Kitchin is Director) and the related All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) and International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD). AIRO plays a key role in making spatial data and publicly available on a comparable all-ireland basis. The ICLRD conducts policy and practice oriented research and training focussed on the cross-border region of Ireland/ Northern Ireland. At the European level, NIRSA contributes to the further development of evidence-informed spatial policy through its role as ESPON Contact Point for Ireland and as a partner in ESPON projects.
The Irish Planning Institute has recently highlighted the need for ‘coordinated and comprehensive research on planning and development matters at a national level’ to support evidence–based planning in Ireland (President’s address, Autumn Conference 2010). New legislative requirements and a rapidly changing planning and development environment have served to highlight the need for a robust evidence and research base to support decision-making and monitoring at local, regional and national levels. The National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) has since its foundation played an active role in articulating and implementing an applied research agenda for spatial planning in Ireland providing tools, analysis and research support on a wide range of issues. The recently launched All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO) provides a freely available spatial data portal where key statistics, indicators and mapping can be easily accessed in a user friendly manner. The International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD), of which NIRSA is a founding partner, is very active, working at the interface between research, policy and practice with a particular focus on issues of North-South cross-border cooperation through spatial planning. Through participation in the ESPON programme, NIRSA is active in disseminating research findings and policy implications at a European level and translating them to an Irish context. This paper provides a research perspective on some of the key challenges and opportunities associated with the further development of an evidence-informed approach to spatial planning policy and practice in Ireland. In particular, experience in NIRSA points to the positive benefits of a dynamic interactive relationship between research, policy and practice, which is well positioned to respond to a rapidly changing economic, planning and policy environment.
Originally Published on Ireland After NAMA
The NIRSA Working Paper, ‘A Haunted Landscape’ provides an analysis of the current situation of oversupply in the Irish housing market, focussing in particular on the uneven geography of housing development and so-called ghost estates as a very visible and tangible manifestation of the housing crisis.
Ronan Webster of CB Richard Ellis, speaking at the Irish Planning Institute Autumn Conference last week characterised recent trends in housing development in Ireland in terms of a shift from a perception of undersupply to a perception of oversupply. Indeed the Bacon reports of the late 1990s and much official and academic commentary since have pointed to a situation of very significant undersupply in the Dublin Region in particular. It has been widely argued that the undersupply in the Dublin market has contributed to the displacement of urban-generated residential development to the Mid-East region and further afield in ‘Outer Leinster’ (see Society of Chartered Surveyors Housing Study). A Haunted Landscape, in the contrast, finds that residential development in Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown (and Cork City) was far in excess of demand, while housing in Fingal, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and South Dublin was ‘in line with demand’.
Clearly different notions of undersupply (and by inference optimum supply) are at play here. From a social equity or planning policy perspective it is evident that there was an undersupply of suitable residential development in Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown. This undersupply coupled with highly inflated and unaffordable prices inevitably contributed to the displacement of housing development beyond the boundaries of the Dublin metropolitan area. The characterisation of the housing situation in Dublin as one of oversupply betrays the influence of reductionist economics thinking but also reflects a spatial blindness. Housing supply in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown cannot be understood in isolation from the analysis of housing supply in the Mid-East Region and wider Dublin housing and commuter catchment areas. The high demand for housing in the Mid-East Region and associated unprecedented pace and scale of development over the housing boom period may in large part be understood as the consequence of the undersupply of appropriate (i.e. family friendly and affordable) housing in the Dublin Region. Planning policy as articulated at national, regional and local scales in fact strongly supported the concentration of residential development within the Metropolitan Area of Dublin and the designated development centres in the surrounding hinterland area (see map below). It is the failure of the State (central and local government) to provide the necessary infrastructure, services and regulation to support socially sustainable residential development within the Dublin Region that has led to the perverse situation of reported oversupply in the Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and supply in line with demand in neighbouring Hinterland counties. In order to fully understand the social, economic and political geography of Ireland After NAMA, we need to move away from interpretations of statistical data which serve to reinforce the fallacies of methodological territorialism (see Neil Brenner – New State Spaces…), where counties and other administrative units are understood as distinct spatial entities.
Constructing a geography of flows and functional relationships creates challenges in terms of data gathering and analysis but must be seen as a neccessary step in highlighting the evident deficits in dominant aspatial and terrritorial interpretations.
Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area (2004) Settlement Strategy