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 Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?

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PostSubject: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Wed Jul 16, 2008 7:24 pm

Do you ever wonder why Ireland looks the way it does ? This article goes some way towards explaining.

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16/07/2008 - 16:39:11 (Breaking News)
Clare is the worst county in Ireland to live if you’re looking for planning permission, architects claimed today.
The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) said its survey of members revealed the Banner county had lowest levels of satisfaction with planners.

Clare County Council rubbished the claims, insisting its own recent in-house customer survey showed the general public were happy with 70% of its services.
The RIAI said Sligo County Council had the highest rating when it came to satisfaction levels with the planning process.Eight out of 10 architects polled believe planning decisions taken in councils around the country do not support good design.

Sean O Laoire, President of the RIAI, also complained that planning practices varied wildly from one local authority to another.

“This lack of consistency is wasting the resources of architects who have lodged planning applications as well as that of the local authorities themselves,” he said.“The survey results show that we are not in a position to deliver quality in the built environment with current planning practices”.Mr O Laoire said architects were frustrated by barriers to communicating with council planners.

But John Bradley, a senior planner with Clare County Council, dismissed RIAI concerns that planners regularly have no architectural qualifications. “Most councils have very experienced and very dedicated staff,” he said.

“Any staff member that comes into our organisation, certainly as a planner, has to have very high technical qualifications, which are determined by Department of Local Government.”

Most planners would have two degrees, plus a Masters degree as well as other specialist qualifications in heritage, conservation and archaeology, he said.

Mr Bradley insisted Clare County Council had taken great strides to make its planning service available to the public through guides, the internet and planning clinics. “Clare County Council is very much customer orientated,” he said

The problem is that throughout the two degrees referred to by John Bradley, most planners have a maximum of 6 weeks training in design aesthetics, compared with 5-7 years for architects. Planners adjudicate on, and change by means of placing planning conditions, architects designs.
cyclops
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PostSubject: Re: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Thu Jul 17, 2008 12:18 am

A few observations.

1 Architects rightly complain that their design is often dictated by their clients but often it is an excuse for mediocre work.
2 Many Architects are paid inadequate fees, in fact many buildings are designed by people with lesser qualifications. I have found that paying them a basic fee plus a bonus, which is a percent of the profit, works wonders. It is folly to make savings on design and workmanship. If you need to resort to poor workmanship to make profit you are in the wrong game.
3 Too many developers don't know what they are doing and I doubt if some can even read the drawings. Yet these people are dictating to their professional consultants what buildings should contain and look like. These people only understand their hoped for profit. Basically they are flying blind, but it would take a very strong willed Architect or a real diplomat to disagree with them.
4 There is a distinct lack of clarity in what planners actually want and what exactly is their criteria and if criteria conflict what has priority. Basically why are they there? What are their essential functions? Read some of the planning documents and if you score out the subjective bits often there is little left.
5 Planners are poor on visual design and they should have the whit to stay well out of it.
6 Because of 4 above there can be a considerable waste of time and the lack of clarity does lead to poor design.
7 There are very few overall designs for how a development should look. Planning is by restriction. I think we could learn a lot from places like Bath, Paris and Nash's London. How do you accommodate different developers all within an overall design concept so that all know roughly what is expected and all sizes of developer can participate? They worked that one out 200 years ago and we need to relearn it. I am tired of piecemeal, parking lot developments. It is poor planning.

I have been at meetings with Planners and Architects, agreed changes, seen the changes enacted, resubmitted, change of staff, different opinion, change again and so on. I could go on but best to say, It just isn't good enough.

In the North the system is virtually dysfunctional IMO. You couldn't work there, you get approval for a certain building type on one corner and on the next similar application refused. So of to appeal and 18 month waiting list. Though I can't complain about planners in the North their change of planning policy regarding rural sites made me two fortunes. Thanks a million (or more). Come to think of it Planners are just great. Wink I have probably made more money on rezoning and changes in policy than by any other means. Buy a bit of land for 10,000, gets rezoned and wave the wand, and it is worth 500,000. Where would we be without planning policy?
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PostSubject: Re: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Thu Jul 17, 2008 12:46 am

Squire wrote:
A few observations.

Quote :
1 Architects rightly complain that their design is often dictated by their clients but often it is an excuse for mediocre work.

Most clients who go to an architect want the architect to design something fit for purpose. That should be a good enough brief for good work.

Quote :
2 Many Architects are paid inadequate fees, in fact many buildings are designed by people with lesser qualifications. I have found that paying them a basic fee plus a bonus, which is a percent of the profit, works wonders. It is folly to make savings on design and workmanship. If you need to resort to poor workmanship to make profit you are in the wrong game.

That used to be the case but planning has got so complex in the last few years that most technicians have dropped out of the trade and stick to their own last.

Quote :
3 Too many developers don't know what they are doing and I doubt if some can even read the drawings. Yet these people are dictating to their professional consultants what buildings should contain and look like. These people only understand their hoped for profit. Basically they are flying blind, but it would take a very strong willed Architect or a real diplomat to disagree with them.
There are two sorts of developers in Ireland - builder developers who don't want to win prizes but need to be able to get planning permission and sell their end product and the big developers build to a precise market and who in some cases just buy land, get planning permission and sell it on. Again, in the last few years there have been quite a few new boys who don't know a thing and the architect's job then is to stop them from bankrupting themselves, if possible.
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4 There is a distinct lack of clarity in what planners actually want and what exactly is their criteria and if criteria conflict what has priority. Basically why are they there? What are their essential functions? Read some of the planning documents and if you score out the subjective bits often there is little left.
One part of the department writes a Development Plan and the other part deals with planning applications mainly on the basis of dimensions meeting standards and so on. When it comes to design they rely on their personal subjective views. As you say, the result is lack of clarity.
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5 Planners are poor on visual design and they should have the whit to stay well out of it.
Agreed. County Cork I think has done better than most by bringing in in-house architects to deal with design issues in planning.
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6 Because of 4 above there can be a considerable waste of time and the lack of clarity does lead to poor design.
Agreed.
Quote :
7 There are very few overall designs for how a development should look. Planning is by restriction. I think we could learn a lot from places like Bath, Paris and Nash's London. How do you accommodate different developers all within an overall design concept so that all know roughly what is expected and all sizes of developer can participate? They worked that one out 200 years ago and we need to relearn it. I am tired of piecemeal, parking lot developments. It is poor planning.
Again, agreed. A good architect thrives on working with constraints. But consistency is needed. Why spend time on design if a good design is no more likely to get planning permission than a bad one.

Quote :
I have been at meetings with Planners and Architects, agreed changes, seen the changes enacted, resubmitted, change of staff, different opinion, change again and so on. I could go on but best to say, It just isn't good enough.
I feel your pain. Sadly, I don't think you are alone in this experience.

Quote :
In the North the system is virtually dysfunctional IMO. You couldn't work there, you get approval for a certain building type on one corner and on the next similar application refused. So of to appeal and 18 month waiting list. Though I can't complain about planners in the North their change of planning policy regarding rural sites made me two fortunes. Thanks a million (or more). Come to think of it Planners are just great. Wink I have probably made more money on rezoning and changes in policy than by any other means. Buy a bit of land for 10,000, gets rezoned and wave the wand, and it is worth 500,000. Where would we be without planning policy?
My impression is that it is the same here.
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PostSubject: Re: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Thu Jul 17, 2008 1:27 am

Cactus flower

I quit development in Ireland about 3 years ago, could see the approaching storm. Planning was bad everywhere, but I found the North very difficult (really bad and well staffed) but perhaps lack of familiarity played a part. Pure inconsistency, one field gets approval next does not, one field 2 storey house, next bungalow max size 120 sq m ridge height 5.5m. Crazy. Interestingly up North they have policy that can't possibly hold regarding building 60% of houses on brown field sites. The sites just are not available and they are causing all sorts of undesirable development. A bit of rezoning is inevitable. Guess that one and you make a fortune!

Basically comments above were generally in relation to larger developments not the one off house.

With one off developments for owner occupiers I would pity Architects. People are conservative and like what they already know. I bet if you asked the average young farmer what he wanted in his new house it would be 3 reception, a big kitchen and 4 bedrooms with lots of ensuites and of course the sun lounge and the whirlpool bath. Appearance wise I would doubt if someone proposed something radical that firstly their client would like it, and secondly it would ever get past the planning officer. There is built in conservatism and it makes innovation difficult. Why should a house of today have to look like a thatched cottage of 2 hundred years ago. It is insane.

Some years ago I commissioned someone to design some low energy houses with lots of green house on the south side etc. The planning service turned them down because they were not in keeping with the existing urban texture and were detrimental to the visual amenity of the area. The area is now bog standard hacienda bungalows and I think what was then proposed was a lot better, but subjective nonsense wins over innovation.
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PostSubject: Re: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Thu Jul 17, 2008 11:47 am

To widen this out a bit I have a theory that the best of Irish 'planning' was done by the Anglo Irish and Normans and that the Celtic settlements tend to look unplanned and scattered. These settlements tend to develop haphazardly at a cross roads. More recently we see this chaos approach continued in the scattered one of houses of individualistic but mundane design.

It is obvious that you need power and wealth to create good standards of development, and coherent town layouts, but is there also an Irish passion for chaos an unwillingness to conform and unite?

If you need power and wealth how do we now obtain good, well planned cities and townscapes. How do we do this without excluding the small local developers?

If I was now to try to build the modern equivalent of the Georgian Square the scale of the investment required would be colossal, so what we end up with is piecemeal lot developments. How do we coordinate and pull developments together? We can do it for the roads and services but why not the streetscapes and designs?
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PostSubject: Re: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Thu Jul 17, 2008 12:44 pm

Squire wrote:
To widen this out a bit I have a theory that the best of Irish 'planning' was done by the Anglo Irish and Normans and that the Celtic settlements tend to look unplanned and scattered. These settlements tend to develop haphazardly at a cross roads. More recently we see this chaos approach continued in the scattered one of houses of individualistic but mundane design.

It is obvious that you need power and wealth to create good standards of development, and coherent town layouts, but is there also an Irish passion for chaos an unwillingness to conform and unite?

If you need power and wealth how do we now obtain good, well planned cities and townscapes. How do we do this without excluding the small local developers?

If I was now to try to build the modern equivalent of the Georgian Square the scale of the investment required would be colossal, so what we end up with is piecemeal lot developments. How do we coordinate and pull developments together? We can do it for the roads and services but why not the streetscapes and designs?
Very interesting stuff overall - I live in Clare and have friends who have objected to large buildings going up in very sensitive places - for example a block of apartments in a cul-de-sac where they live, the impact being a rash of vehicles sharing a small access road, along with a the removal of an airy view not to mention the impact on privacy. They seem to think the planners were brown envelopers. An engineer assessed the place and reduced the planned size of the development but this was overturned by planners.

I don't really get the picture of the process to be honest - there are people with land who want to develop it; there are planners in the Council responsible for allowing or not, land to be rezoned; there are developers who may or may not be part of this and there are professional architects and engineers who seem like they should be playing a bigger role but are given token rubber-stamp roles. Somewhere along this chain the most important links are not given the best attention I think.

Interesting stuff above Squire - the chaotic nature of irish building - does it come down to personality or is it a lack of planning or the allocation of land plots which might go back historically? Sometimes it looks like Ireland is just one big village with a few parks like the Burren between the houses.
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PostSubject: Re: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Thu Jul 17, 2008 2:52 pm

Auditor

Several problems I see.

Planning is like a law, it tells you what you can and cannot do, but it is a law that is not applied evenly. If there is a conservation area you are severely restricted in what you can do , but elsewhere anything will do. It is like saying littering is an offence in Dublin 4 but mugging is OK in Tallaght, for it is a brute of a place anyway. You need high standards evenly applied everywhere.

We forget that people have to live and work in the places we wish to conserve. Who has greater rights the person who lives there or someone out for a Sunday drive?

Planning is deeply conservative at best it often just maintains a status quo,

My information is a bit out of date as I have been out of it in Ireland for more than 3 years now. The North of Ireland seems to have a better staffed planning service and it is worth having a look at what they produce to give us warning as to where we may be heading. Some unexpert observations.

They are virtually treating the whole of rural NI as a Green Belt. One off housing is a thing of the past, so they say. Fine we all say, but it was their previous policy about placing houses up lanes and behind ditches that caused a lot of the problems in the first place. Then there is the question of appearance, rural houses up there have to look like traditional farm dwellings, firstly why and secondly the pastiche architecture often looks very wrong. A 300 sq m house does not look like an old cottage so why pretend? Why not have very modern houses? Also is all rural NI an area of outstanding natural beauty, to require such draconian measures and why not have new towns and villages in the country and if you do should they look ancient? Also where are increases in the rural population meant to live?

They reckon that NI needs 20,000 new dwellings per year, yet they have never buiilt more than 17000 and more likely 15,000. So 5000 short every year, for over a decade, by their reckoning and into this mix they have obliterated rural housing. Hence the property boom in the North.

The Belfast Metropolitan Plan is the pinnacle of their achievement and is a document that is worth a read. (it is large, very large and is on their site http://www.planningni.gov.uk/) The overall policy relies on 60% of new housing being on brown field sites in the Greater Belfast Metropolitan area and then at length goes on to identify sites. . A complete and utter waste of time as any 2 year old can see that such a strategy relies on the people who own the land selling it. Would you? There is vast stretches of unused land not included but that is actually in the ownership of government bodies such as the roads service, even tried to buy some, waste of time. So to keep approval levels up they are relying on windfall (I think that is the term) developments ie building in peoples back gardens etc. This is dire.

So you think increased restriction, need for 20,000 houses per annum they must be radically increasing density. If you have a look at the major arterial roads they will allow 4 storey developments, in Paris and London 8 storeys are common so no big gain there, but worse still they require between 1.75 to 3.5 car parking spaces per dwelling, fortunately that is now often being overlooked if my sources are correct. This just can't hold they are going to have to rezone and there is a fortune to be had when they do.

The other problem in Belfast is the sewerage treatment and pipework is not in place for massive increases in population. Apparently developers are putting in holding tanks for surface water to collect during heavy rain and slowly feed it into the drains. This is not planning it is chaos.

The chaotic nature of building is due to poor overall management. I just don't think it is good enough to colour a field brown and say that one is for housing and another blue and it is industry. If there is going to be a good visual environment you need an overall developer and a designer with vision. Once you have a good (probably high density) design then you can sell off the lots to smaller developers and everyone knows roughly where they are. I think that when land is rezoned the state should employ Architects to design communities and recoup that expense from a tax on development land when it is sold. With regards the arterial road problem in Belfast, they need an overall template for redeveloping each site. It doesn't have to be too restrictive. Learn form Paris, Edinburgh, London and Bath.

Also we need to end strict zoning, people should be able to run business from their homes (within reason), if we do that we allow the development to develop and mature and allows services to be provided locally.

The main task of planners is to ensure that services are coordinated with development and I am not so sure that they are a great success on that front. Again perhaps a tax on rezoned land to provide some funds would not go amiss.

With regards Belfast one aspect I do think they are getting right is open space. Lagan Valley Park, Belfast Hills, Coastal walks all starting to come together.
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PostSubject: Re: Why Does Ireland Look the Way it Does ?   Sat Jul 19, 2008 8:10 pm

Squire said
Quote :
The main task of planners is to ensure that services are coordinated with development and I am not so sure that they are a great success on that front. Again perhaps a tax on rezoned land to provide some funds would not go amiss

Unfortunately there is no-one there to coordinate this since County Engineers were abolished a few years ago - the Departments are all separate and independent and it is generally a point of honour for engineers not to listen to planners. That is probably how we got a Dublin Main Drainage scheme that was over capacity as soon as it was opened. As the OECD said, more integration needed in the public services.
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