Wednesday 29 November 2006

Dublin's relentless sprawl leaves planning in tatters

Useful article on sprawl by Frank McDonald:

Even Cavan is now in the capital's commuter belt, writes Frank McDonald , Environment Editor.

Every set of figures tells a story, and the preliminary report on last April's census is no exception. Indeed, its population statistics starkly illuminate the Government's laissez-faire approach to regional planning and its abject failure to ensure that growth happens in an orderly way in the right places.

This is dramatically true in the case of Dublin. Under the 1999 Strategic Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), a policy of consolidating the metropolitan area was laid down, with only limited growth envisaged for the major towns of its hinterland. But even by census 2002 this was already in tatters.

Census 2006 has confirmed the sprawl of Dublin into Leinster, and even into parts of Ulster. As the Central Statistics Office (CSO) noted in its own commentary, Cavan had the highest growth rate of the State's three Ulster counties, with "the main stimulus coming from the south of the county, which is within commuting distance of Dublin".

Virginia is now a Dublin suburb. Its population rose by 34.5 per cent to 3,188 over the past four years. The outskirts of Gorey, Co Wexford - 100km from the capital - recorded an even more dramatic population increase of 53.2 per cent, while Enniscorthy's fell by 14.1 per cent; it has not been drawn into the Dublin commuter belt - yet.

Leinster's share of the State's overall population has continued to increase, largely fuelled by the sprawl of Dublin; it now accounts for just over 54 per cent of the total. All of the counties in Leinster increased their populations between 2002 and 2006, in most cases by more than the national average rate of 8.1 per cent.

Over the past 10 years, as the CSO noted, three Leinster counties - Fingal, Meath and Kildare - accounted for nearly 30 per cent of the 609,000 growth in the State's population. Fingal grew by an astonishing 22.1 per cent over the past four years, with the largest increase (32.3 per cent) being in the Blakestown area of Blanchardstown.

Between them, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow registered an increase of 15.1 per cent in the same period. The Midland Region, with an 11.5 per cent rise, also comfortably exceeded the national average rate of increase. As the CSO noted, its counties - Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath - also form part of the wider Dublin commuter belt.

By contrast, Dublin's own population grew by just 5.6 per cent, with the large increase in Fingal being offset by smaller increases in Dublin city (2 per cent), Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown (1 per cent) and South Dublin (3.4 per cent). The main reasons were attributed by the CSO to "the relatively low level of new housing and an ageing population".

As Hubert Fitzpatrick, director of the Irish Home Builders' Association, said: "What is happening is that the failure to provide sufficient zoned and serviced lands in Dublin . . . is creating a doughnut effect, whereby increasing numbers of Dublin-based workers are being forced to move further and further from the city".

And as outer suburban areas experienced spectacular growth - 54.6 per cent in Ratoath, Co Meath, for example - established suburbs saw their populations decline. The Ludford area of Ballinteer and Williamstown in Blackrock - both in south Co Dublin - each fell by 10.2 per cent, while the centre of Dún Laoghaire dropped by 13.1 per cent.

Declines ranging from 8.1 to 9.2 per cent were registered for other Dublin suburbs experiencing the effects of the "empty nest" syndrome, such as Beaumont, Cabra, Harmonstown and Rathmines. This was true even in parts of Tallaght, where the population fell by 11.5 per cent in Killinarden and by 16.6 per cent in Glenview, while Jobstown went up by 27.9 per cent.

The flight of younger people to outer suburban areas was mirrored in Cork, Limerick and Waterford. The populations of Cork city and Limerick city fell by 3.2 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively, even though Co Cork (up 11.4 per cent) was the fastest growing county in Munster, followed by Co Waterford (up 9.2 per cent) and Co Limerick (up 8.3 per cent).

Co Galway experienced an 11 per cent increase, while the rapid growth in the population of Galway city experienced since the 1991 census moderated to 9.3 per cent between 2002 and 2006. One of the reasons given was that many infill developments in city areas consisted of apartments catering for only one or two persons.

One encouraging trend is the re-population of Dublin's inner city. The biggest increase (56 per cent) was recorded in Arran Quay C, largely as a result of the redevelopment of Smithfield. Other major growth areas include Kilmainham (up 45.2 per cent) and Merchants Quay E (up 42 per cent).

Residential developments in Docklands are also reflected in the census results, with North Dock C up by 15.6 per cent and South Dock by 36.1 per cent, while frenetic building activity on the city's northern fringe has boosted Grange by 34.3 per cent and Kilmore A by 20 per cent.

But Hubert Fitzpatrick is right in saying that the planning system "seriously miscalculated population trends", especially in the GDA. Regional planning guidelines based their zoning recommendations on a projected population of 1.8 million by 2020. However, with this already at 1.67 million, the real figure in 2020 is more likely to be 2.2 million.

"This has huge implications for the amount of land zoned for all types of development and for the resources put aside to service these lands," he said.

More generally, the rising population will place added pressures on an already burdened public infrastructure - even as many existing facilities are under-utilised as a result of the crazy pattern of Ireland's growth.

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