Popular Myths

This article by the curators of this year’s British pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale seeks to challenge what they call the ‘popular myth’ that UK has a less than illustrious history of planning.  I would have thought the UK’s influence on planning in terms of concepts and practice was very well known at home as well as abroad. Maybe it’s a case of not being able to see wood from the trees. It certainly has had a profound impact on planning here. Before and after independence Ireland was visited by leading figures in Anglo-American planning with the country “an essential stopping-off point for many planning advocates, apostles and gurus” according to Kincaid. It can be seen in the garden suburb of Marino and maybe most notably in the significant influence of 1940s UK legislation on the 1963 Act.

It also got me thinking of another popular myth: that Ireland doesn’t do planning very well, just today David McWilliams is writing ‘we Irish have a bizarre psychological relationship with land and houses’.  I don’t quite buy that. Though there can be a certain antipathy towards planning and land use management in Ireland it has deep roots and has seen many innovations. The Dublin Wide Streets Commissioners was one of the earliest town planning authorities in Europe and the independent third party planning appeals system operated by An Bord Pleanála is unique in Europe. The 1934 Irish planning legislation was considered far better than its UK equivalent. The Office of the Planning Regulator falling out of the Mahon Report offers an opportunity to put in place a world class planning oversight system that learns from best practice elsewhere but vitally reflects local circumstances and aspirations.  In the past the failure to ‘localise’ legislative measures and policies from elsewhere seems to have damaged their effectiveness when applied here, with a knock on reduction in respect for planning more widely. Or is David McWilliams right?


Dublin Wide Streets Commission map showing its first undertaking, the creation of Parliament Street. Conserved by Dublin City Library and Archive.



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