Not too late for Ireland to take a lead in planning and design

The Irish Republic has the fastest growing population in Europe, rising at a rate of 2.5% per annum. It is estimated that the figure will reach 5 million before 2020, especially with between 70,000 to 100,000 immigrants arriving every year. This burgeoning population growth has led to an unrelenting boom in housing output with almost half of all dwellings in Ireland now having been planned and delivered by the private sector since 1990. Unfortunately a lack of planning has led to a situation where Dublin will soon occupy the same surface area as Los Angeles, but with less than a quarter of its population.

A report published by the Urban Forum – comprising architects, chartered surveyors, engineers, landscape architects and planners – has called for all-party agreement to chart a more sustainable pattern of development.

At the moment despite the population growth, the Republic’s town and city centre populations are declining as the suburbs continue to sprawl and grow. Cork and Limerick cities declined by 3.2% and 2.7% respectively, while their county areas grew by 11.4% and 8.3% respectively.

One suggestion put forward is for the creation of a new urban centre in the west to counterbalance the spread of Dublin:

Another dimension of Ireland’s new urbanisation is the extent to which this growth in population and development is being dominated by Dublin, with the province of Leinster now accounting for 54% of our population.
While decentralisation has been proposed as one means of addressing the Dublinisation of Ireland, the creation of so many new locations for these public service offices only tends to dilute the impact of this measure.

The reality is that the creation of a new major urban centre – with a similar pulling power to Dublin – is needed on the country’s west coast. The Government’s Atlantic Gateway project should become a priority to achieve this objective.

The report also points out that one-off houses in rural Ireland now account for up to 40% of the Republic’s new housing stock, a situation which could have severe consequences for infrastructure planning.

One of them is that schools and other facilities in our cities and inner suburbs are struggling to remain open while the demand for school places in outlying areas is booming. This pressure on infrastructure in the outer suburbs is reflected in increasing pressure on our water and sewerage systems and a distinct lack of social facilities.

There is also increased pressure on urban landscapes. Insecure public ownership, reduction in park lands and sporting facilities for new development and infrastructure as well as underdeveloped park resources contribute to a poorer urban quality of life.

The spread of housing also means that the average car in Ireland travels, on an annual basis, 24,400km per year – 70% more than France or Germany, 50% more than Britain – and even 30% more than the USA.

The price of this rapid economic success and our fast increasing use of cars is that Ireland has become the fifth most oil-dependent country in the EU and the ninth in the world. This is taking place at a time when oil is becoming an ever-scarcer resource.

The report also says there is substantial evidence to suggest that urban sprawl could contribute to social isolation as well as an increase in obesity levels due to increased car dependency, longer commuting times and fewer opportunities for physical exercise.

Not surprisingly, the Urban Forum, while admitting the National Development Plan (NDP) will help to address some of the issues such as the proposed Atlantic Corridor and provisions for social housing and schools, it says the National Spatial Strategy needs to be reviewed and updated.

The most recent Census shows that our population is growing at a much higher rate than was projected at the time when the NSS was prepared, so a new Spatial Strategy is required in order to create a more sustainable urban structure within a generation.

This updated NSS should have as a central objective support for the growth of a second major conurbation of international significance centred on Cork, Limerick and Galway as a counter balance to the growth of Dublin. The Atlantic Gateway Initiative is welcomed in this regard. There is an urgent need to update population and housing projections in the Regional Planning Guidelines in the light of the 2006 census.

As much of the building stock built in the coming years will be around for the next century, the decisions and actions we take at this moment will have a massive impact on the country’s landscape and cityscapes as well as on the lives of at least the next five or six generations.

On a related front, the National Sculpture Factory in Cork will be hosting a two-day conference on design and housing in May where participants will look to challenge the state of the housing industry and explore the responsibilities and opportunities for architects, designers, artists, developers, planners, educators and government to make it better.

  • slug

    “The spread of housing also means that the average car in Ireland travels, on an annual basis, 24,400km per year – 70% more than France or Germany, 50% more than Britain – and even 30% more than the USA. ”

    Add to that the low petrol tax and its clear that the Irish Republic isn’t doing much for the global warming issue.

  • prolefodder

    If every there was a reason needed for some Green thinking on infrastructure, planning (of the clean, non-corrupted sort, as well as informed by integrated joined up thinking) and sustainable development, this report provides it. The pressure on the environment and infrastructure are such now, that one cannot credibly deal with one without the other.

  • jamestwo

    Figures from 2005; housing completions rep of ire,population about 4 million then (now 4.3 million !) = 82,000………. housing completions UK , population about 60 million = 190,000 ! (national housebuilders federation UK) Something completely haywire here. I have always said that the Shannon Estuary would be an ideal location for a new city. Superb harbour facilities , port already in existence, existing international airport and rail infrastructure, two existing urban centres ( Limerick and Ennis)to act as cores while the new city develops.. I could go on. The ROI is turning into a city state on the medieval Italian model where the hinterland exists to serve the city. This has one good aspect in that Dublin though the capital of a small nation , can compete in many areas with cities in much larger states , such as financial services , specialist manufacturing and so on. The Greater Dublin Area is the eighteenth largest economic unit in the EU (Barclays Stockbrokers-London largest). This could not be if Cork etc were of similiar smaller size. Of course when a united ireland comes Belfast may fulfil this role ! It is a fact I think that unless something is done soon , Dublin , as the only city on the island worthy of the name will dominate to such an extent that no counterweight is possible as with Athens/Greece. ( the only more extreme example than Dublin in Europe). The population of Dublin is already larger than that of Belfast, Cork , Derry , Limerick , Galway and Waterford COMBINED! Unhealthy .These folks are spot on.

  • slug

    London has a similar dominance in the UK.

  • jamestwo

    Before I am jumped on from a great height I must qualify my comment re Dublin being only city worthy of the name on the island. Obviously Belfast and to a lesser degree Cork are substantial cities. But Dublin is a truly international city with around eighty embassies alone and many other international bodies present, it is the centre of sovereign government for a small but increasingly very wealthy nation; it has hundreds of Irish corporate HQs and hundreds more european HQs of global corporates; it is a major international financial centre with the only stock exchange in these islands outside London ; far and away the largest port and airport in Ireland ,retail,media,universities, manufacturing, —oh you name it. The list goes on and on. Thats what I meant. No offence intended.

  • jamestwo

    To slug; London most certainly does not have a similiar dominance in the UK. For one thing the population of Greater London is about 7 million. That is about 11 percent of UK population. Even the CORE Dublin population of 1.2 million equals 28 percent of the ROI population. Greater London does however produce abot 20 percent of UK GDP on some measures. Dublin though at least 40 percent on some measures. For example Dublin Port made their annual report today. They state that over half of goods imported through Dublin Port never leave the Greater Dublin Area. Astonishing. There simply is no port of consequence now in London though of course Londons five airports are dominant in UK air transport. These five airports still do not dominate the UK as Dublin Airport dominates Ireland though. Yet another example. Dublin airport handled more passengers last year than all the other international airports in Ireland AND Scotland combined. London is dominant but simply not to the same degree.

  • willis

    Perhaps it is the pedantic engineer in me but I was rather taken aback by this quote:

    “Dublin will soon occupy the same surface area as Los Angeles, but with less than a quarter of its population.”

    So naturally I resorted to Wikipedia where I find

    Los Angeles Area = 1,290.6 km²
    Dublin Area = 114.99 km²

    Those pesky zeros!

  • jamestwo

    i have no idea if these figs are right but i do know wikipedia is very unreliable having been compiled essentially by surfers. thinking of it 114km2 = is about 10km by 10km. Cant be right surely

  • jamestwo

    looked it up on wikipedia. your point still valid but ii4km2 refers to central dublin area as i thought. (pop 500,000 giveaway. Greater Dublin or Dublin metro far larger but still nowhere near LA.

  • willis

    Thanks Jamestwo

    What I think is disappointing and surprising is that no-one on Urban Forum said to themselves “Hang about, this can’t be right” which is what engineers and architects do all the time. Lets face it, would you hire these guys to build an extension?

  • páid


    the Irish Republic isn’t doing much for the global warming issue

    Au contraire, We’re top of the league.

    The republic of ireland is the worst planned crappy legoland sprawl in western europe.

    OK the North is a bit staid but at least it doesn’t look like it was designed by Homer Simpson. In Mo’s. After a session.

    “The supermarket is here. The parking lot is there. Doh! I mean here. The houses are way over there. Doh! Where’s the freeway? Train? What’s that? Lisa, get the crayons.”

  • Greenflag


    So naturally I resorted to Wikipedia where I find

    Los Angeles Area = 1,290.6 km²
    Dublin Area = 114.99 km²

    Wikipedia is becoming more and more like the Bible . The ‘meaning’ is dependent on who is doing the interpretation.

    The facts i.e the numbers are as follows

    County Dublin including City . =922 sq Km

    As the Greater Dublin economic zone includes ‘large’ swathes of counties Meath /Kildare /Wicklow and even parts of Louth it is probable that Greater Dublin exceeds the Los Angeles area by a couple of hundred sq km. Lest I incense NI residents I have left Newry out of the Greater Dublin economic zone /commuter belt:)

    Just the numbers !

  • Grassynoel

    ‘Not too late for Ireland to take the lead…’

    LOL…OOOOh, yes it is.

    Much, Much too late.

  • prolefodder

    Grassynoel, you’re right -‘we’re doomed, we’re doomed’ – someone send for Cpt. Mainwaring to save us!

  • GrassyNoel

    I challenge anyone to name an example of a country with uglier, poorer-planned towns and cities than Ireland. I’m not the most widely-travelled of people but I’ve been to a fair number of countries at this stage and I can tell you that Dublin is easily the UGLIEST city I have ever seen or lived in. If there’s one thing the Irish can never, ever lay claim to having excelled at, it’s architecture and urban planning.

    Quite simply, as a people we have no taste whatsoever when it comes to visual aesthetics. Plenty of people shake their heads and tut-tut when they look at the Heineken Building or Liberty Hall and throw their eyes up to heaven, but the monstrocities that are being thrown up all over the place thanks to the last decade of building boom are no better. It may take us another few decades to realise this yet because of all the dollar and euro signs blinding our vision, but in years to come it will be used as yet another example of our dismal efforts in this field.