NAMA and Better Spatial Planning

In this guest post,  David O’Connor and Odran Reid make the case to use NAMA as an opportunity for better spatial planning: you can read it here.

17 replies on “NAMA and Better Spatial Planning”

Another example of mission creep. NAMA shoould have no role in the planning system – thats for the other myriad of state bodies.
NAMA should stick to its remit – clean the banks balance sheets. At what cost…well

Seems an excellent idea- unfortunately, this State cannot afford an 80 to 90 billion property company even if this number is discounted.

Maybe it is being done to focus on hope for the future, that it is perceived as a chance to rectify previous bad planning decisions, as it would be easier to persuade people of a something new if it is focusing that it will fix a problem that is obvious and painful such as bad planning

But my understanding is that Nama is taking over loans and not assets. (i wrote a more detailed question yesterday) But I think the idea is great, except for a slight concern. As far as I am aware public bodies/councils have been in charge of planning before, so I am unsure of what will be done differentely this time

I’m with Brian Lucey on this one. NAMA will have its hands full with its core mission (which should be to minimise the pain to the taxpayer). It does not need additional tasks or constraints. In fact, a bit of calculus would immediately show that an expanded mandate necessarily reduces the core objective.

The banking system is broken so the plan is to fix it by fixing the banking system. If the planning system is broken, it should be fixed by fixing the planning system. This may need surgery, but NAMA is not the tool with which to make the incision. Because noone has had the details yet the NAMA concept has stayed remarkably on-message. Now that the documents are out, it is inevitable that people will want to change them to address their concerns.

At the moment, there is a mind numbing disconnect between the granting of planning and what happens subsequently to the buildings that have gone through the “planning process” and have been granted planning permission.

Every single toxic liability on the banks loan books were given planning permission. Every acre of “development land” purchased, was purchased because of the prospect of getting planning permission. In this respect, the planning process is seriously flawed. How can it purport to concern itself only with spatial matters? What in gods name, could be more spatial that half finished blocks of apartments, housing estates and office blocks littering the environment?

There is a complete absence of proper planning as evidenced by DCC doing several solo runs with their insane high rise projects, almost every one of which tried to nullify their own Dublin City Development Plan. Board Pleanala too failen in very many cases to exercising any kind of proper judgment when it came to the old chestnut of “sustainable development.” All this has led us to where we are very fast indeed. The “planners” must get it into their heads that there has to be basic demand for buildings in order for them to be sustainable otherwise you have slums and chaos.

The banks and their idiotic and reckless lending/gambling spree on the property market… their total inability to figure out that there was no demand for the product that they were financing with ginormous loans. This aided and abetted by no meaningful fiscal regulation and FF’s addiction to property taxes, the manure for which was all the tax incentives, is the rest of the story. But hey! Our planning system is in real disarray and is currently disconnected from any kind of reality.

Everyday they are still giving permissions for more toxic liabilities to be built. I thought that’s what NAMA was all about. NAMA or not, and I sincerely hope it is a NOT we had better get on top of this planning deficit now! Mr. Gormley are you listening? Because if you are not there will be the hell of a lot more toxic liabilities coming your way!

Given the drop in the value of zoned development land, its is now likely that the provision of public infrastructure will become a bigger element in the ability to develop land. We should restrict the quantity and the location of zoned land to that which we can afford to provide infrastructure for. We should choose fewer but larger locations

Perhaps we could enhance the value of the NAMA lands by giving the preference in regard to zoning and infrastructure – provided of course that the lands were suitably located

@Robert – I think Mr Gormley is listening. He has already vetoed dodgy rezoning in Monaghan and Clare as well as published new planning legislation which will end Councillors ability to go against national spatial strategy

Whatever about the merits of NAMA, I agree with those who consider this idea to be mission-creep.

I disagree completely with Declan O’Connor and Odran Reid’s depiction of the Docklands as being well planned as an attractive urban space. Where is the “sit-around/kick-around space” that enhances urban living? For my earlier querying of this view, see

I am not surprised that they claim to have found evidence that certain kinds of people (Robert Florida’s “Creative Class”) have been leaving Ireland.
Who can be surprised by such movement by the lack of joined-up thinking in developing Dublin over the last 20 years?
In 1998, the Government decided to build two non-inteconnecting Light Rail (LRT) lines – under pressure from certain sections of the Dublin Business Community which opposed the then proposed joined-up LRT lines. This was given cover by a badly researched PD policy document. This document (drawn up for a by-election) had a section entitled Economic Analysis. This one and half page section did not contain any such analysis at all.
Since then, the public authorities have not joined up these two lines. They now propose yet another rail line connecting the country’s main airport to the centre of the capital city that does not interconnect with any of the existing rail lines.
This does not strike me as the cast of mind that has even begun to understand what engineering a Creative City means. Policy-makers like the slogan. They do not have the capability of getting it done, because they do not implement such a policy consistently and coherently over the long time frames needed.

Town and Regional planners talk of “plan-led” development. Although Declan and Odran do not use this terminology, it seems that this is what they are advocating. Perhaps they could set out (subject to the Editor’s decision on the use of this forum) examples where this has been done successfully in the Republic of Ireland.

Do Minister Gormley’s vetoes mean that he now intends to apply the same powers to those aspects of the decentralisation policy (which many of his Government colleagues went along with – enthusiastically!) which do not comply with the National Spatial Strategy adopted by many of the same government colleagues?

The banking system is broken so the plan is to fix it by fixing the banking system. If the planning system is broken, it should be fixed by fixing the planning system.

I disagree with this on its face, even given the historical record (many disasters have been taken advantage of to ‘fix’ cities over the millennia, from war to earthquake, fire etc.).

Now, as to NAMA merely “owning the loans”, isn’t this simply a polite fiction – along with the one that our banks and developers are worth tuppence? If so, I don’t see a problem with getting some public good out of what is likely to be the biggest heist to ever occur in this State – God knows we’re never going to see the money ever again.

@ Andrew – With regard to Dublin City Council in very many cases of High rise madness and continued spatial illiteracy it was, and is, the bureaucrats in charge of planning i.e. the city manager, assistant manager, senior planners etc who were and are intent on crucifying their own Development Plan.
In fairness, it was the elected city councillors who had to do battle with the unelected mad cap planners to try and reign them in.

I had a private meeting with the city manage Mr. Tierney last year and warned him of the impending bankruptcy of the council if they did not alter their policies on the toxic assets they were giving the nod to on a daily basis. Did he listen? No! It is only because of their severe fiscal problems and debts that they have been forced into thinking about the true meaning of “sustainable development”. Up to now it was just a paragraph that popped out when you hit the F10 key on their key pads. Followed by F11 development contributions Hence, NAMA. I hope you can see the connection.

As regards National Spatial Planning I don’t have any confidence in National Spatial Planning, why should I? Has National Spatial Planning nothing to do with the toxic liabilities queuing up to be acquired by NAMA?. Does so called National Spatial Planning happen in a vacuum?

There are far to many quango’s that can write their own rule book on planning. We have the DDDA the RPA the NRA etc., any of whom can decide to ruin an area with their special pleadings and remits and their ultra vires bullet proofing.
For instance, if we take metro north which is a project the Greens are in love with, we are told it necessitate the destruction of Stephen’s Green. Fusileers Arch must be taken down, scores of mature trees chain sawed and pulped, the whole park remodeled and asymmetrically reshaped. Made much smaller. A total wanton act of destruction of unimaginable proportions by the RPA. I want a metro north but not at any cost and certainly not at the cost of Stephens Green, one of the only good things left in Dublin, which hopefully will survive the Green Party!

Apologies to David O’Connor for not using his name.

It would be good to have a reference to the source of data backing up the statement that “The CSO has been recording a perceptible ….’brain-drain’ as young, educated people opted to leave Ireland for more attractive, affordable and culturally vibrant environments….during the peak of the boom years”
To what extent does this migration arise from
1. people, who have come here to study/work, returning home or moving on;
2. people moving because of
– education eg. post-grad studies
– staffs of Irish-based businesses going abroad arising from growth;
– non-Irish multinationals located here moving staff;
– taking time off to travel ie. resigning from good jobs, with the intention of returning
3. If 2, is there anything in the CSO data that can lead to reliable estimates of the rate at which such people return (buried in the high-intake of migrants) and if so, after what periods.

NaMa is pointless and considering other roles is a subversion of the planning laws.
The corruption in the public sector that allows the purchase of planning permission has not been stopped by any investigation. It has been established by the most expensive enquiries in the history of Europe. Yet we have suggestions that it can be addressed by a body brought in to cover up corruption in the banking and land development sector. There are inadequate laws on corruption yet there are no investigations by the gardai into corruption.
And we wonder how this could have come about!

Banana Republic.

Why should we have any confidence that a Spatial Strategy II would be any more productive than SpSt I? And yet, that is exactly what is needed – but in the hands of a Commission rather than TDs. But ABSN have proposed abolishing the Law Reform Commission (and putting legal evolution in the hands of Mass Card regulators) so what chance do we have of a National Development Lands Commission?

Any toxic liability that needs to have its “planning permission extended” under NAMA…. NO PROBLEM! Extend it for 10 years.. Whatever! Anything that can be done to artificially bolster the value of sites and developments…. Whatever! Acquire adjacent sites compulsorily… whatever it takes!

All these NAMA proposals distort and put a coach and four through current planning laws 2002 2008. If I suffer as a result of their gamble on NAMA it is straight down to the High Court!

Add NAMA the daddy of all quangos to my list of planning distortion quango’s NAMA, DDDA, RPA, NRA they are all ultra vires.

Gentlemen, there is a site near me (I can see the spire on O’Connell Street clearly from where I live – 300M away) and when I rang up about the site and the dereliction, I was told I could “grow potatoes on it!” These are the shocks that face the cosseted bureaucrats appointed to run NAMA. What cash crop will they plant at the tax payers expense?. What is the “notional value” of this NAMA site? The mark to market value is currently 14% of the original price.

They are in for some shock and so are the idiots that keep parroting that NAMA is the only game in town!

I’d like to reply to a number of queries raised in the above, most welcome discussion: –

SCOPE CREEP. On the issue of scope creep and the contention that NAMA should focus on financial return, this would be a fair dismissal of NAMA having a Spatial Planning function if it were not for the simple irrefutable fact that better spatial planning is essential for long term optimal economic returns. I use the term “economic” rather than “financial” because many economic returns of spatial planning are (a) indirect and (b) intangible. Take for example attracting and retaining high-end human capital. Is this something that would otherwise be included in an economic assessment of NAMA lands? In other words, NAMA needs a spatial vision.

PERFORMANCE OF PLANNING AUTHORITIES. It is hands up on this one as the performance during the boom years has been on balance regrettable (as encapsulated in the property bubble, no less). In the defence of planners they are operating in a system that is unaccountable and has inadequate controls. Nevertheless, because the planning system needs fixing should not preclude pressing ahead with proper spatial planning with NAMA fully on board. We should mend the planning system at the same time. The recently published Planning Bill will address some of the issues, such as making regional plans properly enforceable, rather than being lip service documents (the reason Spatial Strategy 1 was a failure being that it was largely ignored). But it does not address matters such as overzoning, lack of accountability or public participation and this is a concern.

LIFESTYLE EMIGRANTS. The CSO source regarding migration is the latest ( and previous QNHS Population Estimates. In the year to April 2008, 45,000 people left this country. That is only beaten by the shock peaks of the 1950s and 1980s but was cloaked by the arrival of 110,000 immigrants a year earlier. The political spin was that the departures were made up of gap-year students and departing economic migrants. However, the breakdown in Tables 3 and 4 suggests that many of the out-migrants were in their late 20s / early 30s and probably had “lifestyle” destinations such as US, Canada, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many highly qualified couples were departing Ireland during the boom because they could get a better overall return on their skillsets in cities that regularly top the MERCER and Economist Intelligence Unit Indexes of attractive places to live. The CSO estimates for 2009 are likely to throw up some heretofore unseen trends and must be eagerly awaited.

PLAN-LED DEVELOPMENT. Plan-led, as opposed to developer-led development is a marathon, not a sprint. In spite of some recent negative publicity, the Docklands and also Adamstown are likely to be long-term successes (and are already showing positive signs of maturity) because they are the product of integrated planning frameworks. NAMA could probably facilitate this in every town in the land. The alternative may be Wall Street or Middle-eastern backed funds taking 20-30 year bets on Irish land. That would leave the hoardings up and the lands sterilised for a generation. What are the economic, social and environmental consequences of that?

SUMMARY. Whether we like it or not, NAMA will influence planning and development in this country for the next generation. That has massive economic consequences. It must be managed in a spatially coherent manner.

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