Thursday, 28 December 2006

URBAN SPRAWL, ONE-OFF HOUSING AND PLANNING POLICY: PLANNING POLICY: MORE TO DO, BUT HOW?

This article by James Nix should be required reading for planning students. It was emailed to me yesterday following my oploading of detailing on the book "Chaos at the Crossroads":

Introduction

This article looks at the failure of land-use policy in Ireland. Mindful of writing about an area of legal failure, the emphasis is on legal reform (rather than the minutiae of existing planning regulations). The analysis spans four inter-related topics: first, the cost of housing sprawl; second, the cost of failing to distinguish development land from agricultural land; third, incentives for sprawl inherent in Irish tax legislation; and fourth, legal measures which would release “locked land” in existing urban centres providing for sustainable new development. It is assumed that constitutional arguments against the imposition of planning restrictions are largely redundant. The pre-eminence of the common good has been emphasised in a series of cases, culminating perhaps in In re Article 26 and Part V of the Planning and Development Bill, 1999. The analysis opens by outlining the link between urban sprawl and one-off housing and then moves to examine the broader legal and political context.


The Relationship between Urban Sprawl and One-off Housing

A four-part RTÉ series broadcast in May 2002, The Changing Face of Dublin, hinted that Ireland’s commitment to sustainable development could be measured, first and foremost, by examining its housing and land use policies. The documentary found that the footprint of Dublin is twice to three times that of some European cities with similar-sized populations. Were current trends to persist until 2010 Dublin will consume as much land as Los Angeles with only a quarter of the population (1.75m). In Paris about 23,000 people live in each square kilometre. Dublin’s urban density is estimated at 4,000 people per square km. Urban densities in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford are lower again than Dublin. The construction of one-off housing in the countryside (for people working in urban areas) is the most graphic manifestation of urban sprawl. In a country with a growing proportion of low-density accommodation the prevalence of one-off housing suggests a wholesale system failure.

The legal and political context

Land-use in Ireland is largely governed by local authority development plans. But with 88 local authorities there is little or no uniformity of policy. The matter is further complicated by the fact that an identical policy can be applied by local authorities in different ways. The formulation of Strategic Planning Guidelines (SPGs) for the Greater Dublin Area saw some attempt to introduce a joint planning framework for counties Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. Whether the SPGs were ever incorporated into law in any real sense and have anything more than an aspirational bent will be decided in a case currently before the Courts. Whatever their precise legal character, the failure of the SPGs has been highlighted by preliminary data taken from Census 2002. It indicates that growth is being experienced in precisely the places the SPGs sought to curb development.
Speaking at the Ballygowan/Young Environmentalists Awards in May 2002 the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D., stated that sustainable development was fundamental to his political vision. Two weeks before this statement Mr. Ahern appeared on RTÉ’s Leaders Debate with Mr. Michael Noonan T.D. Advocating reduced political involvement in the planning process, Mr. Noonan suggested that a High Court judge should be required to “sign off” on rezoning applications for land in counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. Rezoned land across these counties was “needed for housing” according to Mr. Noonan. This sentiment was immediately echoed by the Taoiseach (“yes, it’s needed for housing …”). Despite a commitment to sustainable development, the leaders of the main political parties envisaged the spread of Dublin further west. Both politicians therefore saw a “need” to rezone. In other words there exists a “soft policy” commitment to sustainable development and the theory of sustainable development has found its way into pre-scripted speeches. But in practice many leading politicians have yet to bring sustainability to bear on their day-to-day thinking.


The Costs of Housing Sprawl

The link between housing, transport and sustainability
A recent study has found that Irish parents spend longer in traffic than their European counterparts. The study also found that the most important factors in domestic happiness are the length of parents’ commuting time and working hours. The finding that Irish people spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel is echoed by a number of other statistics. The number of kilometres travelled by the Irish car per year is twice the EU average. The Irish figure is 30% higher than the US average and appears to be the highest in the world. In an international comparison of urban journey times (based on the delivery of a 5kg package over 5km) Dublin fared worst in Europe and was ranked second last in the world.
Sustainable development, conventionally defined, demands that a balance must be struck between the resources used by this generation and those placed in reserve for the next. In an Irish context, however, sustainable development seems to have gained a more grounded meaning. It is usually employed in support of the view that car-focused development is no longer a sound long-term model. This questioning of “car culture” comes at a time when congestion is beginning to hurt Ireland economically as well as well as socially. Congestion, by slowing down the delivery of goods and services, increases their cost.

Until the gremlin of congestion manifested itself there was little recognition of the “the human ecosystem” – the linkages in our own way of life – in Ireland. Now, it is increasingly realised that the development of areas distant from the urban core increases travel times, reduces leisure time and inter-personal contact.

A review of the debate on one-off housing in Ireland

Separated from villages and towns, one-off housing has come to describe development which is unconnected to any existing urban centre or scheme of development. Just under 40% of new housing in Ireland is one-off. However, opposition to one-off housing is focused on urban-generated dwellings, i.e. people who build in the countryside and commute to towns and cities. Michael Smith, Chairman of An Taisce, and Ian Lumley, An Taisce’s Heritage Officer, have been the most vocal opponents of such development. In an article in The Irish Times Michael Smith summarised the reasons for An Taisce’s stance on one-off housing. An Taisce’s opposition is premised on the social, economic and environmental consequences of one-off housing, not “concerns of taste”. Smith grouped four points under the heading “social”. Pointing to the fact that one-off dwellings are not easily served by public transport, it was argued that increased traffic from dispersed housing was “inevitable”. Second, reference was made to US literature which suggests that every extra ten minutes spent commuting carries with it a ten per cent reduction in social interaction. The knock-on effect, he argued, was less time spent with children and friends. Third, one-off housing created a “demographic time bomb”. Smith urged the reader to look 30 years ahead: “as people grow old, and sometimes too infirm to use cars, it is crucial that they should not be far from local services.” Fourth, Smith argued that one-off housing offered no solution to the housing crisis because it is an option confined to those “lucky enough to own sites”.

Under the heading “economic” Smith focused on the economies of scale which accompany consolidated residential development: “one-off houses are more expensive to serve with postal services, roads etc.” However, it was acknowledged that these higher costs are borne not by the developer, or the house purchaser, but by Irish society as a whole. In fact, due to the high cost of land in villages, the initial cost (i.e. combined site purchase and construction) of a one-off house is usually cheaper. An Taisce would counteract the high cost of land in villages “through provision of incentives (and compulsory purchase orders) for development in villages”. It was further argued that one-off housing is economically damaging because “housing insensitive to landscapes is beginning to undermine our tourist industry”. With regard to the environment, An Taisce noted one expert who found septic tanks to be “one of the main sources of bacteriological pollution of private wells”.

An Taisce’s analysis is broadly echoed by the EPA’s 2002 report:

Inappropriate single house dwellings in the rural countryside results in greater car usage, increased energy needs and greater use of small wastewater treatment plants such as septic tanks which have the potential to pollute groundwater.

The most vocal proponents of one-off housing have been Mr. Eamon O’Cuiv T.D., Minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs, Dr. Seamus Caulfield of the Belderrig Research Centre and Jim Connolly, Chairman of Rural Resettlement Ireland.
Minister O’Cuiv articulated his stance on one-off housing in a debate with Michael Smith on the Late Late Show on 9 November 2001. The Minister’s primary argument can be described as “the house at the end of the valley point”. It posits the following: where utility lines, pipelines and post are already delivered to a house at the end of a valley, then there can be no argument against ribbon development on the road leading to that house. It must be said that this argument has an initial attractiveness to it. To some extent, however, it overlooks the fact that the “house at the end of the valley” is usually served at shoestring capacity. In other words a whole new infrastructure would be required to accommodate the addition of three or four houses on the road going into the valley.

Even where the services leading to the house at the end of the valley have untapped capacity, the previously expressed criticisms of urban-focused one-off housing are not displaced. The postal company still has to serve an additional three or four houses using a van or car. Household wastes are more expensive to collect or treat, and so on. Finally, the house at the end of the road into the valley is likely to be connected with a farming or forestry concern. It generates comparatively few traffic movements as compared with commuter-focused housing.

Dr. Seamus Caulfield takes inspiration from the Gaelic monikers for different forms of settlement. According to Dr. Caulfield, there is a direct Irish translation for street village (sráidbhaile), nucleated village (clachan) and dispersed village (baile fearann). Dr. Caulfield feels that the dispersed village offers a sound blueprint for future habitation patterns.

One linguistic difficulty with Dr. Caulfield’s analysis is that he fails to acknowledge that the Irish for townland is also “baile”. Hence, baile fearann could just as well refer to dispersed houses in a townland, or houses sprawled across a townland. Indeed sprawl is typically defined in terms of dispersed habitation patterns.

The root of Dr. Caulfield’s analysis is the view that Ireland should maintain relatively high levels of population in isolated rural areas. Dr. Caulfield has compared present-day census figures with famine-time statistics to show population decline in rural areas. Yet to regard the population spread of 1830’s Ireland as a sound blueprint for today may overlook many differences in lifestyle. Modern houses cannot be compared to the typical 19th century dwelling. Because of the strength and depth of modern foundations, land used for new housing can never be returned to agriculture. Running water was not a feature of the pre-famine house. With the advent of dishwashers and more demanding wash-cycle requirements for clothing, the “solution” advanced for waste water from one-off houses – the septic tank – has been found wanting.

For most people, whether in urban or rural Ireland, a trip to the cinema, take-away, dry cleaners, video shop, or sports-hall is a regular occurrence. There is simply no parallel with pre-famine Ireland. Do the proponents of one-off housing propose to suppress demand for delivered pizzas, high street shopping, festive events and third-level education? Is it defensible to advocate a vision of housing that leaves people isolated from the leisure and health/exercise facilities that are wound into the fabric of modern life?

When questioned on the issue of one-off housing in May 2002 Eamon O’Cuiv no longer grappled with the substance of the argument. Instead, he noted that farmers had become “used to selling sites”. Arguably, this represents a significant shift in position. The opponents of one-off housing no longer have to tackle an opposing argument, but rather the need for innovation in agricultural and the lack of viable exit strategies from farming. The analysis below – “the cost of failing to distinguish agricultural land from development land” – impacts on the re-invigoration of agricultural policy.

As awareness of the inadvisability of one-off housing increases, Rural Resettlement Ireland, chaired by Jim Connolly, has found its raison d’etre under threat. Planning applications by a number of its members have recently been turned down.

Support for rural resettlement was at its height at a time when the measurement of environmental indicators was in its infancy. Key linkages between planning and development policy had yet to be made. Of the new links traced in the 1998-2002 period, this writer would emphasise the following three. It was realised, first, that dynamic urban centres are needed in the west of Ireland to unlock its potential; second, that one-off housing across the west diffuses civic energy; and third, that dispersed housing patterns lock householders into a high-cost living cycle.

Knowing that resettlement in remote areas exacerbates regional problems rather than contributing to the solution, central government seems to have left the movement in limbo. Indeed, the way in which the rural resettlement movement has been treated by government is difficult to excuse. The Department of the Environment, having recognised the problem of one-off housing, produced no bill to re-direct growth to urban centres.

The lacunae left by the inaction of central government has seen the insertion or strengthening of “locals only” provisions in many county development plans. Essentially, councillors opt to ban one-off housing but exempt their own electorate from that ban. Rural Resettlement Ireland has a right to feel aggrieved by development plan provisions that foreclose the grant of planning permission to “non-locals”. Indeed, the favour shown to “locals” closely mirrors the type of discrimination roundly condemned by the Supreme Court in the Blasket Island case. Such provisions also have a somewhat ambiguous relationship with EU provisions designed to combat discrimination on the freedom to move and establish oneself in another member state. A more comprehensive solution – consistent across local authorities – is long overdue.

The Cost of Failing to Distinguish Development Land from Agricultural Land

Those opposed to one-off housing tend to focus on its economic implications for its occupants and the long-term burden on the exchequer. But, placed in a national context, there are undoubtedly broader economic issues at stake. What, for example, is the impact of sustained site sales on Irish agricultural production? Below, seven advertisements intended to cultivate interest in agricultural land are extracted:

Ballybrophy, Co. Laois
48 Acre Non-Residential Farm situated in the heart of the midlands … located within easy reach of the proposed M7 by-pass.
Ballycarney, Ferns, Co. Wexford
Sale of outstanding c.93 Acre Residential Holding with extensive Road Frontage onto a number of different roads.

Ballycumber, Co. Offaly
C. 32 Acres … just outside the 30 mile speed and is in one division and has building potential.

Clooneyquinn, Co. Roscommon
C. 7 acres – adjoins the main Elphin/Tulsk road near Clooneyquinn … also adjoins a bye road … good site potential.

Mountrath, Co. Laois
42.5 acres - Situated on the main Dublin/Limerick road, 5 miles from Mountrath, 13 miles from Portloaise and 10 miles from Roscrea.

Killare, Co. Westmeath
C. 109 acres – 13 miles from Mullingar on the main Athlone Road, 1 mile [from] Killare, good road frontage.

Killorglin, Co. Kerry
C. 100 acres plus commonage. The property contains a cottage and outoffices and has extensive road frontage.

This is a sample, not a comprehensive survey, of the way modern agricultural land is sold. Yet, even with a small sample, it is obvious that access to the primary road network and road frontage are primary concerns of vendors of agricultural land. But these characteristics are not relevant to farming. Dairies send milk transporters to collect produce from suppliers. Tillage crops are delivered once or twice a year. In livestock farming the long-distance transport of animals takes place infrequently. Weighted against soil quality or field attributes proximity to a national road is a miniscule factor. Road frontage is even less relevant to agri-business. It goes exclusively to “site potential”.

Because non-agricultural selling points have acquired an undue prominence, farmers are bidding against those willing to pay a considerable amount of “hope value” for development. This high level of hope value is directly attributable to Ireland’s malleable planning regime. As the planning regime continues to place a financial penalty on farmers who acquire land, Irish agricultural commodities will increasingly reflect the inflated cost of land. The transfer of agricultural property on the premise that virtually everywhere has “development potential” is a recipe for the frustration and stagnation of Irish agriculture. But how fair is it to attribute the upward pressure on the price of land to the surburbanistion of rural Ireland? Could land prices be increasing for other reasons?

Between 1997 and 2002 the price of Irish agricultural land rose by 142%. Can the increase in the price of land be justified by a drop in input costs? In a word, no. This author was unable to find any input cost which showed a reduction in the 1997-2002 period. The price of agricultural commodities on the other hand has typically remained static once inflation is factored into the equation. For those commodities that do show an increase the level is too slight to make a difference beyond the margins.

If the outlook for young farmers is depressing, the negative impact on the national finances must also be considered. As the increased cost of land feeds into agricultural commodities the contribution of agriculture to GNP will come under strain. Agricultural remains the third largest unsegregated employment category in GNP terms, behind pharmaceuticals and computers respectively.
The sale of sites is sometimes presented as having benign effects on farming. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth: site sales will shackle Irish agriculture over the medium and long term. Allied to this failure to consider agri-economics is a somewhat cavalier relationship between taxation and sustainable housing patterns.


Taxation Measures that Act to Encourage One-off Housing

Disposal of a site to a child – section 603A of the 1997 Act
Section 93 of the Finance Act, 2001 introduced a new relief for capital gains tax with the insertion of section 603A into the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997. Section 603A exempts a parent from capital gains where s/he transfers a site to a child which is valued at not more that €254,000. If the child subsequently disposes of the land – other than to his/her spouse – and the land does not contain a dwelling house which has been occupied by the child for a period of 3 years, then the taxable gain which would have arisen to the parent arises to the child. Where a child falls under this claw-back provision – and pays the relevant capital gains tax – then a second transfer of a site can be made under section 603A.

It was arguably the intention of the drafters that a section 603A transfer could be made on just one occasion (by either or both parents) save where a claw-back occurs. If this is the case then it is a lacuna that allows both parents to transfer sites simultaneously to one child, i.e. a child can receive €508,000 worth of property without his/her parents incurring capital gains tax. The loophole has been noted by Appleby and Carr: “the wording of section 603A does not appear to prevent relief applying where there is a simultaneous disposal by two parents to a child.”
Section 603A is problematic in other respects. “Site” is not defined so there is no ground area restriction to limit how much land may be transferred. Given the tax-efficiency of section 603A, parents may increase the amount of land transferred to the (unrealised) limit of €508,000. In this way, section 603A allows sons and daughters to sell on further sites (albeit incurring capital gains tax in the normal way) and proliferate one-off housing on a scale that the drafters of section 603A could not have anticipated.

Usually tax legislation has a principled focus. For example, the provisions which facilitate the transfer of a private company or farm to a “favoured niece or nephew” serve to maintain and reward existing employees. But section 603A has no such focus. It seems posited on the view that just because a parent happens to have land they should be able to transfer some or all of that property to their children free from tax. This is hardly a sound basis for granting tax relief.

Instead of minimising the financial burden on the individual and the exchequer, section 603A gives a financial incentive to a person to increase their living costs. In practice these costs are borne by all of society through the payment of utility bills, taxes, service charges and so on. The continued existence of the provision suggests that, in spite of all the policy pledges, the State has yet to find an inter-departmental understanding of sustainability.

Disposal of farm lands on retirement – section 598 of the 1997 Act
Under section 598 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, as amended, “where an individual who has attained the age of 55 years disposes of the whole or part of his or her [farm]” and

the amount or value of the consideration for the disposal does not exceed €426,250, relief shall be given in respect of the full amount of capital gains tax chargeable on any gain accruing on the disposal.

The above provision only applies where the land has been farmed for the previous 10 years by the disposing party. Beyond this restriction however, section 598 is poorly attuned to the ambition of maintaining agricultural land within the agricultural land market. First, there is little justification for farmers paying no tax whatsoever on transfers of almost half a million euro. It is only reasonable, given low agricultural incomes, that the income tax take across the sector is moderate. But the same logic does not apply to the sale of core assets to non-industry buyers. That retiring farmers pay no tax on land sales of up to €475,250 comes as a surprise to many farmers.
Because the distinction between development land and agricultural land does not actually work in Ireland, there is little merit in trying to incorporate the concept into a revamped section 598. Instead, the use of covenants might be examined. Here, the vendor’s tax bill would be calculated on the basis of the length of the covenant he or she has secured to maintain the land under agricultural use. To leave the current regime unchanged is to allow the unfocused nature of section 598 to negate a plethora of policy pledges to release agricultural land to young farmers.
By going out into the countryside to build new homes and business parks, developers are taking what is for them the easiest option. But if Ireland is to seek to preserve some distinction between urban and rural then development within existing urban footprints must be stimulated and facilitated. To date the only means to foster urban regeneration has been the use of an Integrated Area Plan (IAP). While welcome, the IAP can never have more than a localised impact: it fails to provide a broad based vehicle to buttress redevelopment in urban centres.
Measures to Release Locked Land in Existing Urban Centres

The choice between taxing breaks and zoning

Perhaps the simplest way to foster urban consolidation would be to alter capital taxes to favour land in (and directly adjacent to) cities and towns. However, a number of difficulties would arise. First, if the measure was successful then the net result would reduce exchequer returns. In the current fiscal climate this scheme may not lend itself to acceptance. Second, the issue of having a number of different tax tiers would arise. Arguably, a strong case could be made for having a lower capital tax rate in an urban centre with a third-level institution. However, attaching different tax bands to urban centres (largely on the basis of population size) might prove controversial.

The alternative is to zone all rural areas free from one-off housing. This places the emphasis back on urban areas – i.e. how far should they extend? A radius of development would need to be drawn for every large urban centre. For villages a standard cut-off point might apply – 500m from the defined village centre for example. An Taisce argue for the development of villages “even where population falls below the 1,500 threshold envisaged in the Planning and Development Act, 2000”. It is not difficult to concur that a 1,500 population threshold is too demanding a requirement. And yet, for the same reasons against one-off housing, the definition of a village must contemplate some critical mass. Arguably, a primary school should be a mandatory requirement, complemented perhaps by four facilities from a list of eight: a shop, resident GP, place of worship, pub, civic centre, sports centre, long-established sports club.

Any introduction of a definition for “village” together with the limitation on one-off housing would need to be tempered by making exception for houses in the countryside used to exploit rural resources. However, it makes sense to tie this exemption to expected earnings. Otherwise, the spirit of the exemption may be contravened by attempts to build one-off houses on “hobby farms”. The introduction of a “variable rates regime” may help prevent injustice while balancing the needs of part-time and full-time farming. The “variable rates regime” would require an applicant for a one-off house to present a business plan to the planning authority showing expected earnings from land-based activity. Where the amount from land-based activity exceeds 40% of the average industrial wage (for a single person) then no rates are payable. If projected land-based income falls between 40 and 20% then the applicant would be liable for half rates. Where income from land-based activity falls between 20 and 10%, the maximum rate would apply. Below 10% the development would not qualify as land-based activity, and consequently, the applicant would be refused planning permission.
The above analysis suggests that the best approach involves a combination of zoning, rate-charging and tax reform. Such an approach might be complemented by a number of new policy initiatives, outlined below.


New Policy Initiatives

Greenfield loading

Under section 48 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, a planning authority is empowered to demand a financial contribution from a planning applicant to improve infrastructure. In order to focus developers’ interest on the existing urban footprint, local authorities could increase the level of contributions for greenfield sites significantly above the actual cost of servicing the development. The infrastructural levy would be reduced for re-development projects (e.g. the replacement of one-storey houses with five-storey townhouses). This policy position would remain intact even where the authority was faced with high infrastructural costs for a re-developed site. In other words the contribution is no longer linked to the real cost of new infrastructure. Such a policy is dictated by the knowledge that high quality development proximate to the urban centre will reduce the local authority’s total costs over the long term. To be effective “greenfield loading” would have to be evenly applied by all planning authorities.

Laying out new streets

At present towns are developing outwards along arterial routes (on each side of the Tulla, Kilrush, and Galway roads taking Ennis as an example). As development stretches further and further away from the urban centre car dependence increases. The alternative is to fill out a grid road pattern from the centre of the town outwards. This strategy can unlock lands close to town centres (within walking distance of the train station in the example of Ennis). Importantly, the creation of new streetscapes has the potential to be self-financing. Each project will require one or more working sites (for the storage of equipment, dumping of aggregates, etc.). Because these working sites will be adjacent to a new street this land can later be sold and the proceeds used to finance the cost of the new streetscape. Grid-shaped formation is advised as it has been shown to be the most efficient road layout.

Rail-served towns
The above argument works best in towns with railway infrastructure. Residents living close to a station are more likely to take the train for inter-regional journeys. A caveat, however, must be entered with regard to rail-served towns: in creating new streetscapes the road building authority should act in reliance on projected new employment within the town itself. Long-distance daily rail commuting (e.g. Templemore to Dublin, Gorey to Dublin, etc.) may need to be analysed afresh. The effective provision of long distance commuter services (sometimes by default) occurred at a time when the concept of satellite towns remained current. However, in other countries, the promotion of satellite towns has been quietly shelved in favour of the “network city” – an area where work, accommodation and recreation are sometimes interspersed, but always linked, with each other.
This analysis suggests that “outer Dublin” should receive no support from public transport authorities or central government. Instead, the consolidation of existing “edge cities” is the optimum choice from a public transport perspective. Edge cities complemented by clusters of higher density developments will become stronger endpoints for present day bus services. (Edge cities include Swords, Blanchardstown, Clondalkin, Tallaght/Citywest, Sandyford, Bray/Greystones in Dublin; Rochestown and Mahon in Cork; Dooradoyle/Raheen and UL in Limerick.) Without a strong endpoint the extension or expansion of rail services in the future cannot be justified.

Road serving rail

The current major road-building initiative in Ireland aims to build a five-branch radial motorway network converging on an already bottlenecked M50. The project is currently on hold for financial reasons. It is difficult to reconcile the ambition to have fewer cars driving into Dublin with the ambition to build five motorways converging on Dublin. Research suggests that passengers who use rail between urban centres are more likely to use public transport at the point of arrival (e.g. Dundalk to Connolly Station followed by Connolly Station to Grand Canal Dock). The other side of this coin is that increased car use between cities inevitably leads to greater car use in cities.

It is also somewhat difficult to reconcile an ambition to have five motorways connected by the M50 with the ambition to site new industry in areas other than the M50 belt. Arguably, road design expertise might be better devoted to releasing locked land in urban centres. As noted above this strategy has financial as well as environmental attractions.


Conclusion

Housing and the servicing of housing is sometimes presented as a chicken and egg situation. It is not. The cycle of poorly served housing can only be broken by the more intensive use of land within urban centres. An attachment to famine-based housing patterns is understandable. However, after one hundred and fifty years of changing lifestyle patterns, famine-oriented housing patterns are now a recipe for poor air quality, time poverty, and high living costs. More generally, it is vital to move away from policies of rural development that have the net effect of compromising the price-competitiveness of Irish agriculture. Beyond agriculture policy, elements of tax legislation are badly in need of reform. A more purposive nationally-based planning regime offers a good primary structure to attract development to urban centres. Finally, it is necessary to align infrastructural spending with a long-term vision of land use and transport. There is little point in employing the language of sustainability if the net result of governmental action is to clog roads with urban-focused development that is ever more distant from its target centre.

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