Re: Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

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Nonetheless, if a town is lucky enough to have a by-pass or efficient route running parallel to a main street or equivalent, I think a case can be made for an in-town supermarket, provided it is thoroughly integrated with and complementary to the existing urban form, and that the facility is restricted solely to that of supermarket.

Well lets look at that. Some towns are lucky, but why shouldn’t they all be so lucky? Luck should have a lot less to do with it. There are structural and systemic reasons, why we are depending on luck to far too great an extent. When I read what GrahamH has gone to considerable bother jotting down above, I am very much reminded of the work that Emer O’Siochru has done with Feasta. I once got my hands on a report she completed for Comhar, on the subject of Irish towns and villages. I have never seen it published anywhere online, but it was a real cracker of a report.

Basically, its main thesis was very bold. That the land owners immediately in and around an Irish village, should be able to pool their respective land resources into some kind of joint company. That is, without a whole series of taxation charges kicking in. While it is very easy in the Irish situation, if you have a field of say 4 acres next to a town, to divest yourself of 2 of those acres to the local builder. There is no complementary way in which a 4 acre plot could be joined up with another 2 acre plot in order to make up a sizeable property. That is, without the respective land owners being caught out financially and taxaxtion-wise in all manner of ways. It discourages people from even trying.

The thesis of Emer O’Siochru’s paper, is that once the land owners put all of their property into a holding unit, then the servicing of the land becomes a much simpler matter indeed. Boundaries can be erased and land can be serviced therefore, giving back to the holding company the best value possible for its investment. There could be some kind of management ajency set up which funded this sort of work at attractive interest rates. Something that wouldn’t involve going to banks and the creation of more private debt. What the current system in Ireland favours is the practice of breaking up pieces of land into smaller and smaller pieces. (Don’t our little mickey mouse local developers love to do all of that kind of messing around, it makes them feel as if they are big shots. Usually there is a GAA club or something involved somewhere in the thick of it)

Then the real social cost of all of parish pump, Fianna Fail Tom-dickery, is passed on to the local authority. Who now has the job of servicing this very inefficient organisation of land. Doing a bit here and a bit there. Little by little as it were, rather like south Kerry and the exercise of filling the pot holes. All kinds of legal complications have to be surmounted to achieve anything. It is an on-going thing, it never really gets done. It costs a fortune and is a way for the local authority to pump cash into a local economy but receive very poor value for the investment. A way more money is spent that is initially intended. The capital investment is squandered over many years. The public money going down the drain, quite literally.

In the heal of the hunt, the Part V legislation put even greater pressure on land owners to divide up their properties. (And consequently, even greater pressure on local authority stretched budgets to provide adequate standards of servicing and road maintenace) Because then both developers of the 2 acre plots would request exemptions from Part V requirements, build less a lot less houses than what the land could take and try to sell them off as exclusive, non S&A residential MacMansions. That is why who need an artificial land boom, in order to raise the price of houses sufficiently, that such mad cap schemes become feasible at all. It is popular though, because a few local big shots think they are making a bit of money, at least for a while. Then when it all goes pear shaped, they can be philosophical and talk about ‘times being bad’.

What it amounts to is a very inefficient use of land resources and the needed services to enable any sort of development on the land. I once walked away from a job like this, because I was so disgusted by the whole toxic process and the arse holes I had to deal with. That was before I even knew what the word ‘sustainability’ even meant. I said if I am going to do this at all, I might as well do it right and work for the real experts at it. I am glad I did that. Even though in the end, the low cost developer ended up squandering more than the lot of them put together.

The more obvious way for Ireland to get value for money is to squash all of these taxations schemes and the Part V legislation, which encourage land to be spilt up into miserable pokey little parcels. Even Liam Carroll had understood this idea 20 years ago when he started to put together sites to build on in Dublin city. Frank McDonald would never describe Liam as a ‘sustainable’ developer. But in many respects the low-cost model of construction, will result in somebody doing many things which can be described as very sustainable.

If we abolished those capital gains and what not, we would make the money back elsewhere in more economical servicing of land in our towns and villages. Opening up all sorts of options for architects/developers to come along and design sustainable communities etc. We could set up a construction management body to be involved, like Dublin Airport Authority and their CIP.

Adamstown is worth looking at from this point of view. They certainly went about building the infrastructure in advance in a very sustainable and cost effective manner. The construction manager there for Castlethorn was ex. Project Management, and really knows what he is doing. I will leave you with this link in the mean time. It is something that Emer published on the Feasta website and has some interesting discussion in it.

This is why we need to get away from the U-value and light bulb definition of sustainable architecture. We need to get real as George Lee would say. We need to look for efficiencies at all stages of the development process. The local authorities, auctioneers and all land professionals have to start to get their heads together. In my blog entry here I tried to emphasize that as much as I can.

Brian O’ Hanlon

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