Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Question 82: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he will take to prevent urban sprawl in Dublin as borne out by Census 2006 which shows the population of Dublin city rose by only 2% between 2002 and 2006 but that there was huge population growth in neighbouring Louth, Fingal, Meath and Kildare (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7677/07]
The regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, which implement national spatial strategy principles and policies at regional level, comprise the principal framework for the sustainable development of the greater Dublin area. Their objective is to consolidate the physical and population growth of Dublin within the metropolitan area, and to provide for concentrated development elsewhere in the greater Dublin area at key strategic towns, particularly those along public transport corridors. Significant investment under Transport 21 in improving public transport services and links, together with other targeted national development plan investment, is now being made in support of these recommended guideline objectives to create more sustainable growth patterns in the greater Dublin area.
My Department's housing completion statistics for 2006 show that some consolidation is now occurring, with housing output rising by over 10% last year on 2005 in Dublin city and significant increases also recorded in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Moreover, my Department's review of the 1999 residential density guidelines, in light of the experiences to date, will further assist planning authorities to deliver higher density and more sustainable communities.
Since the publication of the national spatial strategy I and my predecessors have guided local authorities to ensure that their development plan policies are consistent with the strategy. This has taken the form of formal directions in the case of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Laois, and advisory letters in the case of a number of other counties including Meath and Monaghan. In this regard, there is an onus on all political parties at both national and local level to work towards these objectives. Similarly, in recognising the need to increase residential densities in the existing Dublin metropolitan area I expect general support for the objective. There is little point in political parties advocating an end to urban sprawl at national level if, at the same time, they oppose increased height and density within the built up areas or, as has happened in the counties I have mentioned, they seek to rezone massive areas for speculative development.
Is the footprint of Dublin city not equal to that of Los Angeles yet it has only one third of the population? Have the Minister's policies failed dismally? While the population of Dublin city has fallen by 2% in 2002-06, the population in Fingal has increased by 22%, in Meath by 21% and in Kildare by 14%. The price of housing is driving people out of the city. A commuter from these counties spends 12 to 14 hours a day between work and getting to and from the office. The Minister is not doing enough to ensure brownfield sites are developed for adequate high density apartment blocks, large enough to be suitable for families and with high amenity value.
The last point is a good one and should be included in the debate. I am anxious that apartment blocks should be more family appropriate. I welcome support from Deputy O'Dowd and his party for greater densities because that is the way to go. He is right to say it is the way to go. If we do not go up we will go out. That has been a problem. We must have some sort of regulation when local authorities make extraordinary attempts to rezone massive areas of land and encourage speculative development of, for example, small villages to a state that could not be supported. There must be more regulation in this area. Deputy O'Dowd is right to say that Dublin's footprint is extraordinarily large. There are relatively low densities and the way to go forward is to look for better density and better quality.
A comparison of housing completions in 2006 and 2005 indicates a welcome change. In Dublin city, for example, the building was up 10%, largely because brownfield development sites were brought on stream. There has been an extraordinary renaissance in that type of development. Building in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is up34%. There may be different reasons for that.
I will note that because one of the complaints in the area is about houses going up. Building in south Dublin is down 1.9%. Interestingly, it is down in Wicklow and Meath but up in Kildare. A pattern of sorts is emerging. I support the Deputy's point that brownfield sites should be brought on stream and I agree that in areas such as the Dublin docklands greater densities would be appropriate and suitable housing units should be built.
Urban sprawl is endemic. The population of Cork city has fallen by 3.2% while that of Cork county has increased by more than 11%. In Limerick there was a 2.7% fall in the population of the city and an 8% increase in the county. People are moving out because the Minister is not providing affordable and social housing.
I wish to correct the Minister on one point. I said I am in favour of high density, high quality build and high value amenities for our society. We do not want seven storey blocks with no amenities, no recreational facilities and no jobs. The Minister's policy must change to become a proactive planning policy that mixes housing with work and recreation in one area, if possible, to encourage people to cycle and walk to work rather than use their cars. The statistics prove that the Minister's policies are an abject and total failure.
The question was about preventing urban sprawl in Dublin. I do not disagree with the Deputy that the way forward is to have better quality, higher density, full amenity developments.
The recent development in the Dublin docklands area, one of the most successful projects of its kind, shows the way ahead. I agree that is the appropriate way to bring forward some of the brownfield sites in particular. That is how we will deal with urban sprawl.