Planning and Re-zoning

Planning and Re-zoning

Postby garethace » Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:48 pm

This is how the Times reports, the Department of the Environment's new initiative, to get involved in the planning process. It seems to me, as if some of the old cracks in the system, are finally being filled. Hu-ha! And about time.

Minister for the Environment Dick Roche is to link State spending on sewerage facilities to the national spatial strategy in an attempt to frustrate 'maverick' land rezoning. Mr Roche, who will today introduce the State's first comprehensive audit of sewerage facilities, has told local authorities that land rezoning that does not follow regional planning guidelines will not be serviced. The audit of sewerage facilities, which took two years to complete and cost €2 1/2 million, details an investment of more than €1 billion in town and village over the past decade. It also addresses issues of water pollution in the major river catchment areas. Mr Roche will use funding for waste-water treatment plants as a weapon to "frustrate" attempts by local authorities to undertake "maverick" rezoning.

Such large-scale rezoning can be attractive to local authorities as they come with the prospect of sizeable financial windfalls. The potential gains become available when a planning authority rezones land for more housing than is required locally. In granting planning permission for housing, a planning authority has the power to ask for up to 20 per cent of the development for social and affordable housing under Part V of hte Planning and Development Act 2000. Where the authority does not need so many houses, it is empowered to take land or money instead. In this way a local authority's share of a 600-house development could amount to 55 houses and about €10 1/2 million.

In the case of Co. Laois, a large-scale rezoning of up to a dozen villages, as proposed by councillors earlier this year, could represent a windfall for the council of tens of millions of euro. But Mr Roche has said his department is not prepared to pick up the bill for building waste-water treatment plans and other services where he believes the rezoning is aimed at enriching the local authority. Where he believes local authorities are simply cashing in on the Part V clause, he wil "moved to frustrate that", he said. The Minister is also anxious that county development plans follow regional planning guidelines that themselves support the growth centres identified in the National Spatial Strategy.

The key objective of the strategy is to create balanced regional development that prioritise "gateway" and principal towns. The department is, however, concerned at deals where property developers offer to put in sewerage facilities in return for land rezoning. In north Co Wicklow, a consortium of property developers funded sewers linking Newtownmounkennedy to the Greystones/Kilcoole mainsewer, in a move that facilitated large-scale development. In the current draft of the Meath county developmnet plan the lack of sewerage facilities in east Meath was a major brake on ambitions to rezone land around the villages of Gormanston, Stamullen and Bettystown. The department is also concerned that the acceptance of such a deal by an authority has the potential to subvert the planing process as developers would have to be given assurances on planning permission before they made an investment.

There are other failure modes, I am going to look at shortly, in how an environmental issue, falls between the cracks. But for now, lets look at the proliferation of 'paper' in the Irish government's solution to Environmental and Spatial Design. Or to develop that point, the proliferation of paper with the absence of communication. Communication, that should happen, informally and vertically, between many spatial and environmental design disiplines. Thomas J. Peters book, In Search of Excellence, provides us with some valuable insights into the issue of communication, and where there is a lack of it.

The proliferation of MIS and forecasting models, the endless battles between numerous staffs - and the attendant "politicalisation" of the problem-solving process - are among the reasons for growing unreliability.

The proliferation of paper, is a severe enough problem, because it is highly effective at diluting accountability. Politians here seem extremely willing to pay top dollar, to all sorts of 'consultants', to produce a mass of paper. First some background on a problem, that was identified in large corporations, a long, long time ago:

Both Warren Bennis in The Temporary Society and Alvin Toffler in Future Shock identified the need for the adhocracy as a way of corporate life. In rapidly changing times, they argued, the bureaucracy is not enough. By “the bureaucracy,” they mean the formal organisation structure that has been established to deal with the routine, day-in, day-out items of business - sales, manufacturing, and so on. By “the adhocracy,” they mean organisational mechanisms that deal with all the new issues that either fall between bureaucratic cracks or span so many levels in the bureaucracy that it’s not clear who should do what; consequently, nobody does anything.

I would accurately describe, what we have, in terms of a 'Planning Process', as a bureaucracy, and nothing more than that. We see in the following quote, how large companies attempt to deal increasing complexity, in doing their job. This is basically, what has happened to the planning process in Ireland, as it has tried to cope with an avalanche of development and projects of all sorts. Effectively, the planning process, has frozen up, due to the 'complexity' of the task, that stands in front of it.

It’s very difficult to be articulate about an action bias, but it’s very important to try, because it is a complex world. Most of the institutions that we spend time with are ensnared in massive reports that have been massaged by various staffs and sometimes, quite literally, hundreds of staffers. All the life is pressed out of the ideas; only an iota of personal accountability remains. Big companies seem to foster huge laboratory operations that produce papers and patents by the ton, but rarely new products. These companies are besieged by vast interlocking sets of committees and task forces that drive out creativity and block action. Work is governed by an absence of realism, spawned by staffs of people who haven’t made or sold, tried, tasted, or sometimes even seen the product, but instead, have learned about it from reading dry reports produced by other staffers.

When you think about any major projects the state has undertaken, to do with infrastructure, and the amount of reports and paper generated for every and any small decision, the following piece describes the situation well.

The problem we’re addressing in this chapter is the all-too-reasonable and rational response to complexity in big companies: coordinate things, study them, form committees, ask for more data (or new information systems). Indeed, when the world is complex, as it is in big companies, a complex system often does seem in order. But this process is usually greatly overdone. Complexity causes the lethargy and inertia that make too many companies unresponsive.

The only answer appears to be more communication, and an "Adhocracy", to supplent the bureaucracy.

But, Thomas J. Peters does state, how many have tried to use the adhoc mechanism, and how few manage to make it work.

What does it add up to? Lots of communication. All of HP’s golden rules have to do with communicating more. Even the social and physical settings at HP foster it: you can’t wander around long in the Palo Alto facilities without seeing lots of people sitting together in rooms with blackboards, working casually on problems. Any one of those ad hoc meetings is likely to include people from R&D, manufacturing, engineering, marketing, and sales. That’s in marked contrast to most large companies we’ve worked with, where the managers and analysts never meet or talk to customers, never meet or talk to salesmen, and never look at or touch the product (and the word “never” is not chosen lightly).

I really don't know, how the Irish Environmental and Spatial Design machine, can ever study or learn from the American companies, described in Thomas J. Peters book. But I do know, it would be worth a try at least. Even looking at the design of our civic offices, in Dublin and elsewhere. It is apparent, how much of an 'abortion', the Sam Stephenson bunkers, would have been, if completed, to instigate, the kind of Hewlett Packard, Palto Alto campus described above in the quote. When you are talking about large, complex organisationis, such as a local authority, you have to think of the inside - it's use by it's occupants - instead of trying to make some bald exterior statement, about the history of 'castle' architecture in Ireland. It is only now, when I look at the Scott Tallon Walker, patching up job, done to the two completed bunkers, I am aware of how lucky Dublin City Council are, to have anything useable from that site and building complex.

Brian O' Hanlon.
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