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Assessing the Regulation of Retail Development in Ireland

Info: 18199 words (73 pages) Dissertation
Published: 13th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Estate ManagementPropertyReal Estate


  • ABP – An Bord Pleanála
  • DoEHLG – Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government
  • ESDP – European Spatial Development Plan
  • NSS – National Spatial Strategy
  • RPG – Regional Planning Guidelines


Planning permission in Ireland takes place within a legal context, with the most important piece of legislation being the Planning and Development Act. The final appeal board is An Bord Pleanála (ABP), which processes appeals from throughout Ireland.

Over the years, academic research has sought to reflect on how planning came to be implicated in an overproduction of development supply, with disastrous economic, social, environmental and spatial consequences. Retail development in particular tends to spark debate surrounding issues of sustainable development, laws of competition and fair-trading, and the size and location of new developments (O’Callaghan, 2003). With regard to some developments around the country, it could be argued that there is, or at least was, a blatant abandonment of basic planning principles in Ireland. This argument will be explored within the scope of the literature review.

This thesis examines the effectiveness of the implementation of current planning policy with specific regard to the location of retail development. Implementation is the process that turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish strategic objectives and goals.

The main aims of the research undertaken was to:

  • Gain a clear understanding of the forces of influence in the planning and development processes
  • Analyse the decision making process for the planning of retail development
  • Assess whether Ireland are successfully implementing the Retail Planning Guidelines particularly in relation to retail location

A multi-method approach was adopted to include quantitative and qualitative data. 

The Retail Planning Guidelines state that only in exceptional circumstances should out-of-town sites be considered. This thesis has identified the number of out-of-town retail developments both granted and refused over the past three years. In doing this, the decisions and recommendations of Local Authorities, Planning Inspectors Reports, and An Bord Pleanála was analysed and recorded.

The concept of the city or town as the centre or focus of a region is a classical perspective that has been theoretically formulated by Christaller’s Central Place Theory. The working assumption of the theory is that all systems of urban places are arranged in space in a hierarchical manner based on population size and service function complexity.

A key outcome of this thesis will be in the form of suggestions on how government at a local level can improve the state of Ireland’s struggling town centres, whether that is through improved consistency with implementing existing policy, and/or perhaps some new, innovative directives to revitalise Ireland’s urban areas.

Chapter One – Introduction to Thesis

1.1   Introduction to Research Area

“Planners and architects are apt to think, in an orderly way, of stores as a straightforward matter of supplies and services. Commercial space. But stores in city neighbourhoods are much more complicated creatures, which have evolved a much more complicated function. Although they are mere holes in the wall, they help make an urban neighbourhood a community instead of a mere dormitory” – Jane Jacobs, “The Missing Link in City Redevelopment”, Architectural Forum June 1956

The topic of this thesis has been of great interest to the author.

Commercial vacancy rates in Ireland have increased, from 12.6% in Q4 2015 to 13.5% in Q4 2016, according to new research published by GeoDirectory and DKM Economic Consultants. In total there was 213,666 commercial address points in Ireland, 28,796 of which were vacant.

The purpose of Retail Planning Guidelines is to promote sustainable retail planning by assisting local authorities in addressing retail development, preparing local development plans and in assessing applications for retail developments. It is important that the planning system provides a clear framework for the continued development of the retail sector, and for the protection of Ireland’s towns and cities.

Planning is the ability to consciously control the future through current actions – by devising plans and implementing them. As such, it involves the design of a desired future and selecting effective ways of bringing it about. In some sense, the delivery of planning policy can be as important, if not more important, than the policies and guidelines themselves.

1.2   Aim

This thesis aims to evaluate the implementation of the Retail Planning Guidelines in relation to their stated objectives to protect and enhance the viability of town centres in Ireland.

1.3   Objectives

  • Offer a critical history of the development of retail planning policy
  • Provide an analysis of the Irish planning hierarchy
  • Identify primary decision makers in the planning process
  • Critically analyse the Retail Planning Guidelines in terms of consistency and effectiveness
  • Investigate the past three years of out-of-town retail planning decisions
  • Discuss planning decisions in two regional Irish towns; one with a thriving town centre, one with a struggling town centre
  • A number of strategic conversations with senior academics and practitioners to complement the quantitative findings of this research

1.4   Research Strategy

The research has adopted its origins from a comprehensive understanding of retail property market, location interactions as well as the property supply and demand concepts learned throughout the four year course of Property Economics in the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).

The research strategy will firstly examine the literature available from established authors about the origins of planning in Ireland Secondly the data will be gathered locally in order to explore retail property market indicators and trends as well as customer priorities and their behaviour patterns. Thirdly the data will be analysed through the application of findings on local selected real life examples in the form of a case study. 

Finally, all data will be assembled together, analysed and cross-examined in order to produce a fully comprehensive set of conclusions and recommendations. 

1.5 Thesis Structure

Chapter Two – Literature Review

2.1 Introduction

The retail sector is an essential part of the Irish economy and a strong retail sector is a key element of the vitality and competitiveness of cities, towns and villages throughout the country and indeed the country as a whole (Retail Planning Guidelines, 2012).

Despite the introduction of the Retail Planning Guidelines in 2001, throughout the ‘Celtic Tiger’ property bubble, Councils routinely “flouted the rules which require retail development to be located in town centres in the first instance” (An Taisce, 2012). Planning practice became increasingly developer-led (Kitchin, et. al. 2010), weakened and compromised by a corrupt political culture (Kitchin, et. al., 2012) and aided by a complicit laissez-faire state (Fox-Rogers et. al., 2011).

Given the excessive retail development, directed towards locations with little effective demand,in the Celtic Tiger years (up to 2007), there was a necessity to amend the existing planning framework and tighten criteria and assessment for development (Brady, 2016).

The most recent Retail Planning Guidelines (2012) clearly identify the need for “plan-led development”. A recurring theme within the guidelines is that of location, a major driver of urban form and how regional centres expand (Fairgray, 2005). The census results over the last few decades indicate a trend towards greater urbanisation in Ireland (Sirr, 2011). The guidelines encourage town centre development in all cases where possible and emphasise that “no new significant shopping centres or retail parks will be permitted in out of town locations without appropriate zoning unless a sequential test determines that there are no alternative sites within the town centre that can facilitate development” (Retail Planning Guidelines, 2012).

With a new National Planning Framework underway, the current post-recession economy has prompted a re-focus on examining the drivers for failure and success, as Ireland moves into an era of re-localised planning and ‘place-shaping’. Boosting localised planning, high-street performance and economic growth are “key contemporary priorities for government and retail activity forms a key facet of this performance” (Astbury et al., 2014).

2.2 The Emergence of an Irish Planning System

It is believed that Irish planning “came of age” following The Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963 (O’Leary, 2014), modelled closely on 1947 UK legislation. When the Act initially came into force in October 1964 there was no full time planning course in the country.

In many cases planning departments were a one person operation and lacked resources (O’Leary, 2014). The establishment of the planning appeals tribunal, An Bord Pleanála, in 1976 began to regularise planning decision making.

2.2.1 The Evolution of Irish Retail Planning

The retail planning system is part of the general planning system. In 1982, specific Retail Planning Guidelines and controls were introduced in Ireland by the Local Government (Planning and Development) General Policy Directive, 1982 (the “1982 Directive”).

However, following the 1998 Ministerial Directive, it was decided that more comprehensive guidelines would be prepared. Guidelines would aim to control the increasing retail development taking place by restricting both the location and the size of outlets. The Retail Planning Guidelines are Ministerial Guidelines under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000. Consequently, planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála were advised to have regard to the provisions of the Retail Planning Guidelines when exercising their planning functions.

2.3 The European Spatial Development Perspective

The European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) document, agreed at the Informal Council of Ministers responsible for spatial planning in Potsdam in 1999, is a legally non-binding inter-governmental framework document forming a policy framework which sets out 60 common principles and policyoptions for all tiers of administration with a planning responsibility (European Spatial Development Perspective, 1999).

Furthermore, retail planning that restricts the principle of freedom of establishment must be justified by a valid argument that it serves the pursuit of aims that are allowable according to European standards. The freedom of establishment is one of the fundamental EU freedoms laid down by the Treaty of Rome (1957). According to the European Parliament, the right of establishment includes the right to take up and pursue activities as a self-employed person and to set up and manage undertakings, for a permanent activity of a stable and continuous nature, under the same conditions as those laid down by the law of the Member State concerned regarding establishment for its own nationals.

Nearly all EU Member States identify a distinction between large and small retail outlets in their regulatory framework. Most member States require, in particular for the establishment of large retail outlets such as shopping centres or hypermarkets, the performance of an Environmental Impact Assessment, the results of which are taken into account in the procedure for one of the compulsory authorisations or permits. In addition, some Member States require an environmental permit for such retail developments.

2.4 Planning Hierarchies

2.4.1 Ireland

Irish planning system is hierarchical and centralised. Following on from the publication of the European Strategic Development Perspective (ESDP) in 1999, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DoEHLG) published the Irish National Spatial Strategy (NSS) in November 2002.

2.4.2 National Guidelines

The NSS provided an overall framework for planning in Ireland. Plans at regional and local level were to have regard to the NSS. The DoEHLG is responsible for planning legislation and policy guidance. A unique feature (within Europe) is the independent third party planning appeals system operated by An Bord Pleanála (the Planning Appeals Board) (Oxley et al., 2009). The publication of The National Spatial Strategy was developed primarily in response to unbalanced regional development in the context of increasing national prosperity.

Despite contemporary conditions, the spatial context for economic and social development in Ireland is still strongly influenced by a settlement patterns and transport networks that were initially put in place to “assist in the territorial organisation and administration of a former colony, along with a highly centralised public administrative system and electoral model that encourages a strong sense of localism” (Davoudi et al., 2009).

The NSS has suffered from a lack of political commitment (Meredith & Van Egeraat, 2013), as expressed in criticisms of a general absence of an economic analysis of key decisions (Morgenroth, 2013), and uneven funding programmes across government departments (Moylan, 2011). The expressed concerns about the availability of sufficient quality spatial data on which to develop a strategy has surfaced in the context of why certain places are identified as “gateways and hubs”, while others have not, or why a territory has been organised around certain loosely defined functional areas without any substantial evidence (Adams, 2007).

A new National Planning Framework to replace the National Spatial Strategy is currently being developed. According to the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, it will have a “focus on economic development and investment in housing, water services, transport, communications, energy, health and education infrastructure”.

2.4.3 Regional Guidelines

Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs) were first adopted in March 2004 as a key implementation mechanism of the Government’s overall framework for achieving more balanced regional development and more strategic physical and spatial planning.

2.4.4 Development Plans

The County DevelopmentPlan is central to the legal planning framework in the Republic of Ireland and most planning direction takes place at the county level. The County Development Plan sets out the aims of the Council for the proper planning and sustainable development within the county. Because planning permission is required for any development of any land or property (unless the development is specifically exempted), awareness of, and compliance with, planning rules and regulations is essential for any asset of property and/or land.

The Development Plan sets out the local authority’s policies for land use control and development. It shows the expected sole or primary use for particular areas. There is a requirement for public participation in these plans which much be renewed every six years.

2.4.5 Local Area Plans

Local Area Plans form the lowest tier of the hierarchy of spatial plans and are an option available to planning authorities, apart from the obligation placed on county councils to prepare a Local Area Plan (LAP) for census towns with a population in excess of 5,000. Introduced in 2000, this new type of plan proved to be very popular with the public (who saw a real opportunity of influencing the growth of their own area for the better) and the councillors (who came under pressure from landowners to zone large tracts of green fields on the periphery of towns and villages) (Grist, 2012).

A survey carried out by the Department of the Environment in 2010 indicated that some 350 LAPs have been made, all of which had to be reviewed at least every six years under the 2000 Act. The preparation of such plans is highly resource intensive. With the introduction of the core strategy mechanism in the 2010 Act, changes have been made to the legislative provisions dealing with LAPs to ensure that the contribution of this, the lowest tier, is properly aligned into the strategic hierarchy of spatial plans.

Figure 1: Hierarchy of Plans

2.5 Elsewhere in Europe

2.5.1 England

In England, the plans are made by much larger local planning authorities; they are less certain and not legally binding, allowing for more negotiation before planning permission is given. The flexibility and the discretionary nature of English land use planning contrasts with the certainty provided through legally binding land use plans in other countries. The degree of negotiation over planning permission in England contrasts with decisions based more strictly on compliance (or lack of compliance) with local plans elsewhere (Oxley et al., 2009).

2.5.2 The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, central government set planning policy that is to be implemented by lower tiers of government. Policy has been highly prescriptive as to where development should occur. Preventing development in rural areas has been central to spatial planning policy and the preservation of open space is assumed to be a measure of the effectiveness of the Dutch planning system. The key legal document in the land use planning process is the land use plan (bestemmingsplan) that is produced by the municipalities (Oxley et al., 2009). The Netherlands had taken a particularly hard line against what it calls ‘peripheral’ developments by establishing rules at the national level to curb the growth of out-of-town hypermarkets and shopping malls (Evers, 2002). Since the construction of the hierarchical retail system in the post-war period, the main goal of Dutch retail planning has been to preserve city centres and the complementary shopping centres (Speirings, 2006).

The first major challenge to this system came in the 1970s – a time at which large out-of-town formats were becoming commonplace in France and Germany – with a proposal to build a ‘Maxis’ hypermarket in Muiden, a small town about 15 km to the east of Amsterdam. Emergency meetings of local shopkeepers were organised with the local chamber of commerce and public officials in opposition to the development (Schat & Groenedijk 1982).

Several authors have provided good syntheses of Dutch retail planning (Borchert, 1998; Weltevreden et al., 2005) that show how restrictive planning policies have had a strong mark on Dutch retail geography in that they have long not allowed for the decentralisation of shopping towards the urban fringe in order to protect the inner cities (Evers, 2002). It makes Dutch retail geography stand out from many other countries, where shopping has most often decentralised to Greenfield locations way beyond the city centre (Garreau, 1991).

The inner cities of Dutch cities still top the retail hierarchy (Borchert, 1998). Competition from peripheral shopping locations – resulting from slightly lessened planning control for some space-extensive retail segments in response to retail dynamics (Evers, 2002) are not perceived as significant threats to Dutch city centre retailing.

Out-of-town hypermarkets or shopping malls as found in many other European countries are relatively uncommon in the Netherlands, with the exception of the clustering of stores specialised garden supplies, cars, furniture and building materials, etc. This increases the viability of the large share of sustainable transport modes as cycling or walking for shopping trips (Dieleman et al., 2002) and greater attractiveness of city centres and increased possibilities for multipurpose shopping.

2.6 Theoretical Perspectives on Planning Hierarchies

Bruton (1987) believes that the advantage of a hierarchical arrangement is that a “comprehensive but generalised overview of issues can be established at the top level and developed into more detailed policies and eventual implementation at the lower levels”. The major criticisms of this organisational approach are that it represents an over-simplified view of the nature of planning and management and ignores the implications which might arise from the ways in which individuals and different organisations interact. Whilst not rejecting the classical organisational principles, ‘behaviouralists’ believe that the formal hierarchical structure can be improved by making it less formal and less hierarchical, and by permitting more participation in decision-taking by the lower ranks.

Commenting on the hierarchy of levels of policy formation in relation to planning, Diamond (1979) amplifies the relationship between the different levels when he states that ‘each level of planning performs a strategic function for the level below and conversely is constrained by the strategic planning of the level above’. This hierarchical arrangement of choice and policy formation allows the relationships between policy options to be pursued separately at each level, but within a framework which provides an explicit means of handling the vertical relationships between them. In this way, a comprehensive, but generalised overview of issues and policies can be established at one level, and developed into more detailed policies at lower levels, so as to offer guidance to implementation agencies.

2.6.1 Strategic Plans vs. Strategic Decisions

Solesbury (1981), whose case study work on the application of the strategic approach to policy formation and implementation into a number of fields indicates the practical results of strategic planning have been disappointing. On the one hand, the planning process has sometimes failed to produce recognisably strategic policies, while on the other hand, such policies, once formulated have frequently been ineffective in influencing subsequent events. Indeed, strategic policies have often been ignored by routine decision-making, despite formal commitment to them by public authorities. To meet this problem, Solesbury argues that attention needs to be diverted away from the planning of strategy towards its implementation. He comments that a strategic policy is unlikely to be implemented unless there exists a strategic authority responsible for it and committed to its implementation (1981). In effect, Solesbury is making a plea that strategic decisions and actions rather than strategic plans should be the ultimate output of the strategic planning process.

2.7 The Retail Planning Guidelines

The overall aim of the Retail Planning Guidelines in Ireland is to ensure that “the planning system continues to play a key role in supporting competitiveness in the retail sector for the benefit of the consumer in accordance with proper planning and sustainable development (Retail Planning Guidelines, 2012).

Local authorities are required to produce development plans which incorporate retail strategies and polices that are informed by a wide variety of indicators including those intended to measure diversity of uses, retailer representation, numerous environmental factors, and, since June 2007, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s Development Plan Guidelines.

2.7.1 Retail Impact Assessment

The Retail Planning Guidelines state that the preferred location for retail development is within the established town centre, should there be no town centre sites available an edge-of-centre location could be considered. It is only in the absence of the availability of town centre and edge of centre sites that an out-of-centre site could be considered.

A Retail Impact Assessment analyses the location of the proposed development within its physical and planning policy context. The analysis of the suitability any site is called the sequential test and details of this should be included in any Retail Impact Statement. 

This essentially means that the preferred location for new retail development where practicable and viable is within the town centre. Where it is not possible to provide the form and scale of retail development that is required on a site within the town centre, then consideration can be given to a site on the edge of the town centre so as to encourage the possibility of one journey serving several purposes. Only where it can be demonstrated that there are no town centre or edge of centre sites which are suitable, viable or available should alternative out-of-centre sites be considered.

2.7.2 Sequential Testing

There still remain many cases where the sequential approach will not show potential town centre sites as being available. Thus, whilst retail planning and the town centres first policy is a necessary requirement for the well-being of town centres, according to Guy (2010) it is not in itself sufficient. Many recent studies postulate whether the sequential test is capable of ensuring that retail development is focused in town centres? Or, alternatively, can retailers now simply state that the alternative sites are not suitable for the specific features of their proposed developments, including their retail identity or business model? (Darby, 2013)

2.8 Town Centres First

Investment in new road infrastructure increasingly attract national and international retailers to out-of-centre locations to take advantage of large greenfield sites, to dispense with architecture or design and instead provide ‘big box’ store formats, with acres of free surface car parking. As the economic crisis took hold from 2008, out-of-town stores resulted in job losses, vacancy and dereliction among smaller independent retailers in town centres. Despite Retail Planning Guidelines published by the Department of the Environment which are supposed to protect urban centres, both local authorities and An Bord Pleanála are continuing to make decisions expanding car based motorway orientated retail space. In the Greater Dublin Area, the Board approved major expansion of retail space at the Kildare Village and Liffey Valley Shopping centre in recent years. Edge of town shopping has also put cities such as Waterford and Limerick in jeopardy (An Taisce, 2011).

2.9 The Rise of Out-Of-Town Retail

2.9.1 Origins in the USA

The city landscape and urban environment has been significantly altered by the process of commercialisation (Wrigley & Lowe, 1996). Out-of-town retailing seems to have started in the USA. Tarver (1957) suggests that retail started to relocate to the outskirts of cities immediately after the Second World War. Retail was almost erased from many city centres and high streets in the USA during the 1960s and 1970s (Robertson, 1983).  In post-World War 2 America, it became possible for many to realise the dream of living in the suburbs, land was plentiful and ecological issues were as yet unrecognised (Porterfield et al., 1995).

In 1962, the first Walmart, Target and Kmart stores opened. While the firms’ origins varied, their common focus was on deep discounts and suburban locations. Shoppers would arrive by car, not foot, so what mattered was highway access, acres of parking and massive scale.

At the end of 2015, Wal-Mart had 4,614 stores and Supercentres in the United States, while Target operated 1,805 stores (Foster, et al., 2015).

Haltiwanger, Jarmin, and Klimek (2010) find that the displacement effect of big box store entry especially impacts businesses located in close physical proximity to the big box store. Commenting on the issue of American sprawl, Porterfield (1995) implies that growth areas have not benefited from a proactive planning approach. He continues to suggest that areas surrounding the growth centres have no clear goal of development, no vision of what they could or should become.

2.9.2 Europe

In terms of spatial organisation, the European retail sector had evolved quite slowly until the nineteenth century. City shops were quite simple and goods were bought over the counter (Karrholm et al., 2011). During the 1980’s, consumption levels grew dramatically (Slater, 1997). These changes were partly a result of the economic crises and, according to Bauman (2007), “of such a dignity that the current development in the Western world could be defined as a transition from industrial societies to consumption societies”.

During the 1990’s, the increased demand for new retail space was driven by a variety of environmental factors: a booming economy, favourable demographics and changing lifestyles. Unprecedented increases in consumer spending and retail sales reflect the effective transformation of the Irish economy in the 1990s. It grew more strongly than any other OECD country in the 1990s, and consistently recorded the highest growth rate among EU countries during this decade (Central Bank, 1999).

While many nationally established policies across Europe aim to curtail retail sprawl and limit the development of “hypermarkets” due to their anticipated negative economic, social, and ecological effects (Spilková, 2010; Spilková & Perlín, 2010), the limited possibilities in town centres to redevelop additional retail space combined with the small size of inner-city retail units impede to a larger or lesser extent innovative (large-size) retail development within town centres. Additional reasons for this centrifugal process are the costs involved with locating in a central area, such as high rents for retailers and for consumers, higher parking costs (Lang, 2003).

A combination of factors including higher levels of car ownership, along with attractive regional shopping centres, entice consumers to travel beyond their local markets (Powe and Shaw, 2004). However, not everyone is able to travel further away for their daily necessities. Traditionally, towns act as a concentration point of facilities, both for households living in town and for households living in more rural surrounding locations (Courtney et al., 2007). Research has shown that the establishment of out-of-town shopping agglomerations does have harmful effects on retailing at traditional locations (Astbury et al. 2014). 

2.9.3 Social Implications

Morgenroth (2013), notes…that strategic spatial planning has an important role to play in promoting and combining social and economic development with sustainability and consideration for the environment. Meredith and van Egeraat (2013) state …how it has become increasingly central to social and economic development in many European countries. (ibid).

International experience points to the negative social effects that out-of-centre retail development can have on existing commercial centres and downtown areas. The effects of this relocation of retail spending for existing centres includes losses of small business and jobs, increases in crime and vandalism, and losses in property values, in short, urban blight or loss of amenity. In modern times, technology has made the compact community unnecessary in the purely physical sense. Sub division layout for community design has been replaced by shopping centre trips for social interaction. George Tobey, in his book A History of Landscape Architecture: The Relationship of People to the Environment, says that we need to establish goals that guide our planning efforts. He suggests that the values, habits and objectives of the community’s citizens must be addressed if community is to be achieved. From the physical standpoint, he suggests that good communities should adequately provide the means for moving goods, people, and information, and allow for the maximum freedom of choice in interaction among residents while providing for their health safety and comfort.

When properly conceived, communities provide for all the needs of its inhabitants within a geographically identifiable area and instils in them a sense of identity and belonging (Porterfield et al., 1995). Much literature has been written on the ways in which planning policy can impact on communities. In ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’, Jacobs (1961) argues that cities and towns are the natural homes of supermarkets.

“Cities are the natural homes of supermarkets and standard movie houses plus delicatessens, Viennese bakeries, foreign groceries, art movies, and so on, all of which can be found co-existing, the standard with the strange, the large with the small. Like the small manufacturers, these small enterprises would not exist somewhere else, in the absence of cities”. (p.147)

Jacobs insists that cities need countryside nearby so that “human beings can be in a position to appreciate the rest of the natural world”.

2.9.4 Economic Implications

Having an understanding of the nature of the commercial activity in our provinces, counties and towns is fundamental for planning and for the future development of the economy (GeoDirectory, 2016). Research shows that 1.4 jobs are lost in town centres for every new job created in out-of-town ‘megastores’. Because of their failure to engage with local suppliers and re-circulate money back into local economies, each new out-of-town ‘megastore’ results in a net jobs loss of 270 full-time positions, according to US research (Neumark et. al., 2007). US experience also shows that locally based shops return twice as much money to the local economy as out-of-town retailers.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) have asked consumers to consider the economic value of their purchases and the effect that local shopping can have on local job creation by keeping money circulating in their community.

According to their research, every €10 spent locally on Irish products generates €24 of benefit to the local community while 45 cents of every euro spent is reinvested locally in comparison to only 15 cents for the foreign multiples.

Through planning resources of the country can be allocated in such a manner that it provides balance to the economy.

Does Planning Policy Hamper Competitiveness or Protect Town Centres?

Planning rules, have the potential to create barriers to entry or expansion and therefore in constraining competition, i.e. by impeding the emergence of competitors – especially large ones – able to challenge existing retailers (ECB, 2011).

A government report published in December 2000 entitled ‘The Impact of the Draft Retail Planning Guidelines on the Retail Sector’ noted that the Guidelines, although not in conflict with domestic or EU competition legislation, have the potential to raise retailing costs and consumer prices and reduce competition. They may also limit choice and hinder innovation.

The planning system has influenced the type of retailers that trade in Ireland, where they locate, what they offer consumers and the prices that consumers pay.

The Competition Authority has found that, despite the growth in the number and size of grocery retail outlets in Ireland since 2001, the planning system acts as a barrier to competition in grocery retailing in three ways:

  1. Restrictions on the size of a grocery retail outlet.
  2. Restrictions on where a grocery retail outlet can locate.
  3. The uncertainty regarding planning permission can raise the cost and delay the arrival of a new retail outlet.

These factors limit competition between grocery retailers and also limit competition between different grocery brands. They combine to limit consumer choice and value for money (Grocery Monitor: Report No. 3, 2008).

With a specific focus on analysing whether the present Irish Retail Planning Guidelines are effective in delivering “equitable, efficient and sustainable retail development for Ireland” the National Consumer Agency (NCA) reviewed the Retail Planning Guidelines and were of the opinion that the current RPGs are written in a manner that does not adequately facilitate inclusion of consumer and competition objectives in the planning and delivery of new retail development. The NCA claim that evidence exists in both the UK and in Ireland suggesting that overly rigid retail planning policy can lead to retailers either constraining their business model to the detriment of the consumer, merely to comply with the requirements attaching to a presence in a town or city centre location. Other retailers may make a decision not to trade in an area at all, if their preferred retail format is deemed incompatible on the basis of absolutist adherence to the sequential approach. For consumers, this has the potential downside of resulting in lower levels of competition and choice.

The European Central Bank (2011) underlined that “although some regulation is required to ensure the smooth functioning of markets, too much of it can generate numerous obstacles that hinder competition and overly favour incumbents. (…) Planning rules, in particular, are often found to play an important role in creating barriers to entry or expansion and therefore constraining competition (…)”.

Much literature exists on the concept of removing barriers to entry. Griffith and Harmgat (2008) believe that removing barriers to enter the market would “decrease the probability that the market equilibrium is a monopoly and increase the probability that the equilibrium will have more than one big store”. Klapper et al. (2006) highlight a negative relationship between entrepreneurial endeavours and barriers to entry, highlighting the obstruction of competitive effects. Davies & Whitehead (1995) postulate that in the absence of restrictive planning legislation, retailers achieve economies of scope by building larger outlets. They argue that planning in support of the independent retail sector acts to restrict competition in the retail sector.

Consumers can benefit from increased competition because it leads to lower prices and permits access to a greater variety of products. Consumer welfare is negatively impacted by higher prices found in non-competitive markets: as Basker and Noel (2012) write, “higher market power can ultimately increase the price that consumers pay”. Schivardi and Viviano (2011) also identify such negative relationship between consumer welfare and entry barriers, noting that “regulation has a substantial social cost” and notably that “liberalisations are beneficial for low-income people”. Those gains in consumer welfare are also noted by Hausman and Leibtag (2005), who find that households substantially benefit from the presence of supercentres “both in terms of food expenditure and in terms of overall consumer expenditure”, arguing that “low income households benefit the most”.

Retail Planning Implementation in Ireland

The Decision Makers

Commenting on the Irish Planning System, Blackwell et al. (1983), states that politicians make the decisions normally entrusted to officials:

“Inevitably councillors become subject to various pressures which they may find difficult to resist. The Irish electoral and political system makes councillors particularly vulnerable to local demands” (Blackwell et al., 1983).

The 1963 Local Government, Planning and Development Act was designed to fulfil a number of important objectives. One of them was the mandatory creation of Development Plans for all local authorities. Future developments would then be judged within the context of existing planning policy.

Dáil debates at the time illustrate the assumption that policy should be decided by those accountable to the people through elections. Fearing that local officials might be given too much power, Deputy James Tully argued that “when the local authority is empowered to do something that should mean the elected representatives” (Dáil Debates, 1963). Only local councillors had the right to determine policy for the community; professionals and officials were there to advise and then administer.

While the Irish neoliberal model takes elements of American neoliberalism (minimal state, privatisation of public services, public – private partnerships, developer/speculator led planning, low corporate and individual taxation, light to no regulation, clientelism) and blends them with aspects of European social welfarism (developmental state, social partnership, welfare safetynet, high indirect tax, EU directives and obligations) (Kitchin and Bartley, 2007), the claim that the Irish model sits politically somewhere between ‘Boston and Berlin’ is suggestive of the ways in which new policies and programmes were “folded into the entrenched apparatus of a short-termist political culture shadowed by low-level clientelism, cronyism, and localism which works to the detriment of long-term, statewide planning” (O’Toole, 2009).

The Mahon Tribunal

The Mahon Report refers to the pressure exerted by politicians on officials through confidential conversations which subsequently influence the decision-makers. Where a permission is granted or refused at local level in response to political influence, and in the knowledge that the decision is likely to be appealed to An Bord Pleanála, which will probably reverse it, this is a form of soft corruption. The proposal to clarify by departmental circular that contact from elected representatives of transparency which are central to the elimination of corruption in the planning process. A circular is merely advisory; this recommendation needs to be embodied in a statutory requirement to ensure total compliance according to Grist (2012).


Planning guidelines shape the towns and cities of a country and so they impact the lives of citizens greatly. The values and images of what a society wants to achieve are defined in the planning process. The opportunities for implementing these images are not equal. Some individuals and groups have more resources and more power, which allow them to pursue their images. To give power to the range of images in a planning process requires the capacity to listen, not just for an expression of material interest, but for what people care about. The core is a democratic struggle for inclusiveness in democratic procedures, for transparency in government transactions, for accountability of the state and planners to the citizens for they work, for the right of citizens to be heard and to have a creative input in matters affecting their interests and concerns at different scale levels and for reducing or eliminating unequal power structures between social groups and classes (Friedmann and Douglas, 1998). Forester (1989) stresses that planners must use the power available to them to anticipate and to counter the efforts of interests that threaten to make a mockery of a democratic planning process by misusing their power.

Central to this is ensuring any land use planning decisions are founded on a robust economic evidence base; in particular a solid understanding of how the market operates, affects and is affected by the planning policies. This occurs in line with the rise of the spatial planning paradigm where economic effects and their interaction with other components are incorporated into the planning values framework. It is critical that planning policies and the market function together to deliver economically and socially optimal outcomes (Fairgray, 2015). Integration of people and ideas at all stages and all levels is a key factor in determining the long-term success or failure of the built and human environment (Ratcliffe & Sirr, 2003). As well as enabling the operation of the land market, planning can also provide certainty for retailers and other land users.

 “We do not live only as consumers; we are part of communities too. There is a balance to be struck here, and the current guidelines strike that balance reasonably well. Rigorous competition already exists, not only on price grounds, but also on the ethical choice there is between shopping in locally-owned stores and leaving more money in the community – or, going to out-of-town mega-retailers and sending more money abroad. Weakening the current guidelines would result in mega-retailers gaining more monopoly power, a loss of community and more money leaving the country” (An Taisce, 2015).

Chapter Three: Research Methodology

3.1 Introduction

The term ‘methodology’ refers to a way to seek answers and deal with problems. Methodology represents the underlying theory and analysis of how research does or should proceed and traditionally is influenced by the research discipline. Assumptions, interests and purposes shape the choice of methodology adopted (Blaxter, 1997).

The aim of this chapter is to outline and discuss the manner in which the research for this thesis was conducted. It outlines the engaged research strategy, research methods and the choice of research instruments selected for the analysis.

When choosing a research topic for this thesis, the author identified an area of personal interest. Additionally, in light of the new National Planning Framework currently being drafted, it seemed of relevance to assess current planning implementation.

The appropriate selection of research methods was a fundamental element during the analysis process. Bell (1999) accentuates that the successful researcher must have a clear methodology to address the subject in order to scientifically explain the results. Therefore the decision was made to use a variety of complimentary research methods which were both qualitative and quantitative, including strategic qualitative conversations with industry professionals, as well as the examination of out-of-town retail planning decisions made over the past three years.

Furthermore, the author felt that subject matter was within their capability and that the necessary material and research facilities were available, as well as suitable data and the support of industry professionals.

Any research approach is underpinned firstly by what the researcher wants to investigate. The topic focus facilitates the identification of the research question and the rationale for the research sets out why the researcher wants to conduct research on the chosen topic. This is followed by the means identified as the most effective manner by which to collect the data and, importantly, whether the data can be collected. Expected outcomes are also identified at the early stages of the research

3.2 Research Question

The purpose of this research is to analyse the effects out-of-town retail has on towns and cities from an economic and social perspective within the literature review, and furthermore examines the effectiveness of the implementation of current planning policy with specific regard to the location of retail. This led to the formulation of key research objectives, which were later employed in the strategic qualitative conversations.

Secondary research, performed by the author was also crucial in order to generate unbiased information on the selected research area. However, the interviews and surveys were considered to be the most relevant in order to ascertain the impact of out-of-town shopping centre on the high street retail sector.

3.2 Research Process

According to Dawson (2002), the research can be described as structured enquiry, which utilises scientific methodology especially created to solve the problem or answer the question 32 which produces new knowledge that is generally applicable in the future. Naoum (2007) summarises it in short as the need to expand the knowledge base. Research methods are classified in a number of ways. For any thesis, the most commonly used methods are qualitative and quantitative research. Strauss and Corbin (1998) point out that quantitative research focuses on statistical analysis, whereas qualitative methods are based on the literature review, grounded theory, comparative analysis, observational research and interpretation of gathered opinion. A key difference between the two above methods is flexibility, as quantitative approach is considered to be very limited and inflexible (ibid). Bell (1999) suggests that there are five different styles of qualitative empirical research: case study, survey or sampling, focus groups, text analysis or discourse, and ethnography. Yin (2003) accentuates that based on these five styles the decision to pursue a single method should be based on the topic of study and the type of operational information available to the researcher. Having considered the characteristics of each method, the author decided to employ case studies and interviews supplemented by observation and survey questionnaires, in order to achieve the main aim of the research.

One of the aims of this thesis is to assess whether the introduction of the core strategy mechanisms in the 2010 Planning and Development Act Amendment has succeeded in improving planning policy implementation with regard to out-of-town retail development.

3.3 Secondary Data

According to Veal (1992) “a fundamental part of research is to scour the existing published and unpublished sources of information”. Secondary data analysis is ‘an empirical exercise carried out on data that has already been gathered or complied in some way’ (Dale et al., 1988). In other words, it is an approach where the researcher analyses data which has already been collected, usually by someone else.

Secondary research involves collection of data and information from existing sources, such as journals, text books, company and government reports, websites and publications (Creswell, 2007). For the purpose of this particular thesis, data was gathered from academic journal articles, books and other available literature directly related to the thesis topic. An investigation into previously written texts related to the chosen subject was conducted for Chapter Two.

At the end of this thesis, a bibliography is provided showing all the material that the author has read and quoted from throughout.

3.4.1 Literature Review

Secondary research was also an essential part in completing the literature review chapter, which then guided the author towards further information sources in order to complete the analysis required for this thesis.

The literature review is a method of learning from the literature which has been read and examined. Murray (2002) outlines it as a critical evaluation method of the chosen topic, allowing the author to compare and contrast different pieces of literature while also identifying gaps that would require further research.

The literature review outlines the theory, purpose and rationale that underpin the methods adopted to achieve the aims and objectives of the research. As discussed in previous chapters, Ireland is faced with a number of socio-economic and political challenges associated with economic growth during the Celtic Tiger era. Current planning policy and strategy in Ireland is underpinned by the need to find ways to accommodate growth in a manner that is economically viable and socially and environmentally responsible.

The literature review provided a thorough insight into the research field and a structure to which this thesis is based on.

3.5 Primary Research

Parkhe (1993) states that primary research methods involve gathering information which does not exist yet. For the purpose of this thesis, the following primary research methods were conducted:

  • Exploratory Case Comparison Study
  • Planning Appeals Search on the An Bord Pleanála Website
  • Strategic Qualitative Conversations

3.5.1 Case Study

This type of case study was selected because of the thesis aim, which sought to explain the presumed casual links in real life examples and explore the situation in which the intervention being evaluated has no clear, single set of outcomes (Yin, 2003). 

The main objective of the exploratory research is the increased understanding of the research topic, as it can help the investigator to gain required knowledge of the similarities or interactions between two research objects (Baxter and Jack, 2008). Such studies are necessary for market researchers in order to find a potential cause to the signs or symptoms affecting the research object. 

Exploratory case studies often relies on secondary data sources, such as historic literature, available quantitative data, maps and plans, and other related case studies.

3.5.2 Planning Search

The Retail Planning Guidelines state that “only in exceptional circumstances should out-of-town sites be considered” for retail development. In order to assess whether this guideline is being implemented at a local level, it was decided to search through planning applications appealed to An Bord Pleanála for all proposed “out-of-town” retail development from 2014 to 2017. The guidelines state that “edge-of-town” development constitutes as anything within 300-400 metres from a designated town centre. While every local area may vary, for the purposes of this thesis, as it focuses on whether decision making is compliant with the Retail Planning Guidelines, planning applications for retail development over 600 metres within any given town centre was considered “out-of-town” development. Furthermore, proposed retail development of 1,500 sq.m. was considered as it is unlikely that anything under such a size would affect a town centre, however the author did not want to exclude the likes of Lidl or Aldi from the study.

In doing this, the decisions of the local authority, the inspector, and finally An Bord Pleanála were all compared and contrasted.

3.5.3 Strategic Qualitative Conversations

Experts were invited through emails or by means of a phone call to take part in the conversations. They were given a letter explaining what strategic conversation is, together with the list of issues to discuss. This allowed interviewees to decide to participate or not, and to prepare for through emails discussion.

The author chose to conduct strategic conversations as it is believed that less structured interview allows the participant to describe what is meaningful or important to him or her using his or her own words rather than being restricted to predetermined categories; thus participants may feel more relaxed and candid (Kvale, 1996).

The results of all strategic conversations were analysed and used in the investigated case study discussed in Chapter 5. The merits of strategic conversations must be viewed within the potentially subjective nature of this qualitative method of inquiry. This subjectivity, it is argued, arises from selective perceptions and biased interpretations. In recognition of this, Kvale (1996) proposes that the researcher’s perspectives should be clearly stated in the research report. Prerequisites of conducting successful interviews include: being non-judgemental; listening actively and attentively; allowing the respondent to talk; being sensitive; and probing – following up on topics that have been raised by asking specific questions. A strictly formal structured interview would certainly have ensured that all areas were covered, however, Miller (1983) described it well when he stated: “Pre-specified questions ensure that desired topics are covered, but at the cost of preventing a natural evolution of conversation”.

Core topics were asked in all of the interviews. The questions ensured that all important and key issues in relation to the research were covered.

The researcher has an important role of creating a convivial atmosphere that enables the respondent to talk freely and in a relaxed manner. The fundamental objective was to gather attitudes of respondents in relation to the driving issues, and trends that influence the planning and development process in Ireland. The objectives of the strategic conversations were to determine the interviewees’ opinions, attitudes, understanding and aspirations within the context of the goal of more sustainable urban development in Ireland. The qualitative strategic conversations were recorded using a standard tape recording device and conducted following best practice guidance (Kvale, 1996). This consisted of a briefing, the interview proper and debriefing. Each participant was thanked for their time and contribution to the collection of data for the research project. The context for strategic conversations and the profiles of the interviewees who participated in data collection for this research are discussed in greater detail below. A copy of the questions asked is available in Appendix 4.

3.5.4        The Sample Chosen

The sample chosen for the interviews was drawn from a wide array of experts from different aspects of the property industry. It enabled opinions to be gained on all aspects and issues regarding planning policy and its implementation.

3.6 Mixed Methods

Research may be characterised as quantitative or qualitative in nature. Qualitative research is in complete contrast to quantitative research, which focuses on hard science such as engineering (Denzin, 1998). A quantitative research strategy emphasises quantification in the collection and analysis of data and entails a deductive approach to the relationship between theory and research, in which the accent is placed on the testing of theories. A qualitative research strategy in contrast usually emphasises words rather than quantification in the collection and analysis of data and predominantly emphasises an inductive approach to the relationship between theory and research, in which the emphasis is placed on the generation of theories (Bryman, 2001; Bryman, 2008). The use of complementary methods also reveals discrepancies that a single technique might not (Kane and De Brún, 2001). The use of both quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques, known as ‘methodological triangulation’ (Kane, 2001; Robson, 2005), adds greater depth and scope for achieving the aims and objectives of the research in a more positive and meaningful way. In addition, methodological triangulation represents a means to validate the research findings (Richardson, 2000). Nonetheless, the idea of combining quantitative and qualitative data collection methods in a multi-method approach for a single research project has generated much debate. The arguments against multi-method research tend to be based on either, and sometimes both, of two kinds of argument: the idea that research methods carry epistemological commitments and the idea that quantitative and qualitative research are separate research paradigms (Bryman, 2001 and Bryman, 2008).

There are strengths and weaknesses for both qualitative and quantitative research and Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004) explain that qualitative research allows for an in-depth understanding to be gained from smaller numbers of people and can allow for comparisons amongst a group of people. Descriptions of peoples situations can be in rich detail as they understand their situation in the local setting and this data can be used to produce “an explanatory theory about a phenomenon”(p.20). However, using purely a qualitative method means that it is challenging to make numerical projections and the information may not be able to be transferred to other settings. Results, too, may include more of a bias from the researcher. Quantitative research on the other hand can provide, in a relatively short amount of time, quite detailed numerical information, which can be used in a more generalised research setting and can also possibly have more influence on people in positions of power such as Government and funding agencies. However, quantitative research may not actually convey the local peoples’ view on the matter under research and the data produced may be too general to be used in local situations. Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004) state that an aim of mixed methods research is to gather from the strengths of both the qualitative and the quantitative research methods and to minimise the weaknesses of both throughout the research study.

Strengths of mixed methods research are noted as giving greater meaning to the numbers through the use of narratives and pictures and numbers can add “precision” (p. 21) to the narratives; the researcher can use a more extensive range of research questions and techniques, using the strengths of one method to mitigate the weaknesses in another and a stronger conclusion can be drawn by bringing together the evidence and findings from both methods. Some of the weaknesses of mixed methods are noted as being a time consuming approach which can be challenging for one person to carry out both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the research. The researcher also will need to learn about a number of research methods and how to use these and bring them together correctly. As part of my mixed methods approach, I will be

3.6.1 Triangulation

Bryman (2008) describes the triangulation as a research model which uses more than one approach when investigating a research question in order to enhance confidence in the ensuing findings. Many undergraduate researchers are using only a single method of primary research for their thesis and therefore it may suffer from limitations associated with the specific application of it, whereby the triangulation offers the enhanced confidence (ibid).

Deliberately combining different types of methods within the same investigation provides a strategy for overcoming each method’s weaknesses and limitations (Brewer and Hunter, 1989; Bryman, 2008).

3.7 Research Limitations

It is important to acknowledge some of the limitations that were encountered during the course of writing this thesis. In order to assess the implementation of the Retail Planning Guidelines, only one aspect of the Guidelines were assessed; that being whether the local authorities are trying to limit out-of-town retail by refusing permission, or granting permission on the basis that no other sites were identified under the performance of a sequential test.

Time constraints were also a limiting factor as reading through the various planning applications, inspectors reports, and final board decisions was a very time consuming process.

Chapter Four – Case Study: Policy Implementation in Thriving vs. Struggling Town Centre

4.1 Introduction

An analysis of commercial vacancy rates across Ireland, published by Irish buildings database GeoDirectory and DKM Economic Consultants found that the average commercial vacancy rate in Leinster (excluding Dublin) was 12% in Q2 2016.

This case study is a comparison of an out-of-town retail planning decision in what could be considered to be a struggling town centre such as Edenderry, Co. Offaly, which has the highest commercial vacancy at rate at 31%., versus a thriving town centre such as Greystones, Co. Wicklow, which has the lowest commercial vacancy rate at 4.5%.

This chapter aims to briefly analyse a planning decision in each local authority in relation to retail location, which feeds back into the overall research question of whether Irish retail planning policy is effectively implemented. Without insinuating that the planning decisions discussed are the sole reason for the level of town vacancy, the author has provided some insight into what decision making process was behind the retail developments in question.

4.2 Edenderry, Co. Offaly

4.2.1 Planning Application Overview

A development company, Clonmullen Partnership, bought a parcel of land located off the Dublin Road from Offaly County Council in February 1999, initially seeking permission to build a hotel and retail units on the site (Merrick, 2013). Subsequently, this permission was granted.

In 2005, however, a new planning permission was sought; for a new, out-of-town-centre, Tesco supermarket.

4.2.2 Local Authority Decision

In a request for further information, Offaly County Council asked Clonmullen Partnership to demonstrate that the proposal complied with the County Development Plan Retail Strategy and the Retail Planning Guidelines for Planning Authorities, and to submit a Retail Impact Assessment, as ‘the Planning Authority had a number of serious issues about the proposed development and the impact on the vitality and viability of Edenderry town.’

Despite accepting the Retail Impact Assessment, the Local Authority refused permission for the out-of-town-centre Tesco, on the grounds that the location of the proposed development at an out of town centre location on the periphery of Edenderry would be contrary to the provisions relating to retail warehousing as set out in the Retail Planning Guidelines and would also be contrary to Offaly County Council’s Retail Planning Strategy. The proposed development would therefore set an undesirable precedent for other such developments in the area.

The decision of Offaly County Council to issue notification to refuse planning permission was appealed by Kenny & Associates on behalf of the applicants.

4.2.3 Retail Impact Assessment

Clonmullen Partnership commissioned a private company, the Development Planning Partnership, to write this Retail Impact Assessment. The key argument of the report was that as the new Tesco store was simply replacing an old, outdated one, there would be no negative impact on retail in the town. In fact the move would encourage ‘commercial synergy’ (Merrick, 2013). ‘The proposed foodstore […] would complement, not compete with the town centre offer which is diverse, and subject to further investment, will become a stronger district facility’.

The town had many successful businesses and hence the argument was that it would not suffer if the main retail centre moved from the centre. The report contended that the existing Tesco site would create a ‘viable commercial opportunity […] that would be redeveloped as a three storey structure in line with the best features of the town centre’ and asserted that ‘in the event of planning permission being granted on the Clonmullen site, a planning application for an appropriate redevelopment of the Tesco site would be submitted within six months.’

It was concluded that the scale of the proposal was modest and would not have any detrimental impact on the town centre. It was also stated that the proposal is not contrary to the County Retail Strategy and will result in a positive addition to the retail profile of Edenderry.

4.2.4 Planning Inspector Recommendation

Having regard to the zoning provisions contained in the current Edenderry Local Plan, together with the policies set out in relation to retail parks and retail warehouses contained in the Retail Planning Guidelines for Planning Authorities, January 2005, it was considered by the Planning Inspector that the proposed development would not seriously injure the amenities of the area or of property in the vicinity and would generally be acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience. The proposed development would, therefore, be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

4.2.5 An Bord Pleanála Decision

The Board decided to grant permission “generally in accordance with the Inspector’s recommendation”.

4.3 Greystones, Co. Wicklow

4.3.1 Planning Application Overview

A planning application was sought by Zapi Properties in January 2009 for a district shopping centre, retail warehouses, enterprise units, industrial units, car showrooms, offices, petrol filling station, 260 residential units, car parking, crèche, sites for a primary school, Garda station, recycling centre and associated site development works. The northern boundary of the site is located approximately 2.5km from Greystones town centre and the DART station.

4.3.2 Local Authority Decision

The report of the Planning Officer recommended that planning permission be refused for reasons related to:

  • Shopping centre located in an out of centre, Greenfield site at a significant distance from Greystones town centre.
  • Unsatisfactory sequential test.
  • Conflict with national policy and adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Greystones.

While the Director of Services disagreed with the Planning Officer’s recommendation, it was suggested that the retail provision be phased which would give immediate retail facilities to the town on predominantly employment zoned lands while allowing for the possibility of town centre retail expansion.

The Planning Authority subsequently decided to grant a ten year planning permission for the proposed development on a conditional basis.

4.3.3 Retail Impact Assessment

The applicant’s Retail Impact Assessment carried out a Sequential Test of the several zoned sites. While the Retail Impact Statement identified six potential large retail scale sites in and around the outskirts of Greystones, most of the sites were discounted mainly because of their restricted size. The analysis concentrated on the South Beach/Mill Road site and the appeal site at Charlesland. The test concluded that the South Beach/Mill Road site was unsuitable because it was too small to accommodate a retail development of the scale and layout proposed, the lack of spare capacity in the local road network, its proximity to a Residential Conservation Area and its unavailability. The test concluded that the appeal site at Charlesland was the most viable option available.

4.3.4 Planning Inspector’s Recommendation

Arising from the Planning Inspector’s assessment of the appeal case, a split decision was recommended to be issued. It was recommended that planning permission should be granted for the proposed development with the exception of the district shopping centre and the retail warehouses.

4.3.5 An Bord Pleanála Decision

Having regard to the Retail Planning Guidelines, the Board decided to grant permission for the proposed development with the exception of the district shopping centre and the retail warehouses, generally in accordance with the Inspector’s recommendation, saying it would conflict with national policy which ‘favours the siting of new retail development in town centres or edge of centre locations’.

They also said that Greystones is a Level 3 Town Centre designed to serve mainly local needs. ‘The proposed development would undermine the retail hierarchy and the designated role of Bray and Wicklow as Level 2 town centres’.

Furthermore, it was felt that the applicant, Zapi Properties had not ‘satisfactorily demonstrated that alternative sites closer to the existing retail core are not suitable for development or that the proposed development would not prejudice the orderly sustainable expansion of the existing retail core of the town’.

4.4 Conclusion

In the case of Edenderry, the building that Tesco vacated in the town to move the out-of-centre site remained vacant and fell into disrepair. A charity shop opened in the premises in late 2012. It could be argued that Tesco, like Quinnsworth and O’Brien’s before it, had been the ‘anchor tenant’ within Edenderry town centre (Merrick, 2013). Following its relocation many established businesses left the street, others closed down, unable to survive the recession.

As discussed in Chapter Two, planning applicants must assess the size, availability, accessibility, and feasibility of developing firstly town centre and secondly edge of town centre sites. Consideration may be given to out of centre sites, but only where there are no suitable alternatives. In both planning application processes outlined above, the sequential test undertaken was claimed to be inadequate or unsatisfactory somewhere along the line of planning decisions.

Chapter 5 – Analysis and Findings

5.1 Introduction

Mason (2002) highlights an important, but sometimes neglected, point in planning research – that early decisions about research design and methods involve, to a degree, ‘anticipating the process of data collection’. Data analysis, then, should not be a process that is only thought about and carried out after data collection has occurred. Instead, the analysis of data is central to the research process with a main focus being collecting data that can be meaningfully analysed to build descriptions and explanations that answer the research questions.

The aim of this thesis is to establish whether the Retail Planning Guidelines are consistently implemented in Ireland. This results chapter contains the key findings and themes gathered from case studies in Chapter Four, the data collected from the An Bord Pleanála (ABP) website, as well as the information obtained through the strategic qualitative conversations (SQC).

The material gained from the case studies aimed to portray an in-depth look at two out-of-town retail planning decisions in two very different town scenarios. This should give the reader a better understanding as to how planning policy was implemented in Ireland prior to the 2010 Planning and Development Act Amendment. As is well documented, in the Planning and Development Amendment Act (2010), an amendment was made such that local authorities are obliged to prove that their decisions comply with the planning guidelines as opposed to just “have regard” to them. The author felt that in assessing the implementation of planning policy, it was important to become familiarised and gain an understanding into what key factors were taken into account in the decision making process.

The planning search aimed to look at more recent planning decisions in order to assess whether planning policy in relation to retail location is in line with the Retail Planning Guidelines. The planning search analyses whether local authorities, and indeed An Bord Pleanála, are committed to restricting retail development to town centres, or as close as possible to the town, when at all possible.

The strategic qualitative conversations were conducted to gain an insight into industry opinion of the guidelines in their policies and implementation. Additionally, the SQC’s were important in helping the author make an informed conclusion and offer some recommendations for Chapter 6. It was believed that strategic qualitative conversations were the best method of interviewing as it allowed a natural conversation to flow between the interviewer and interviewee. Furthermore, it was all their own points of view and opinions on the planning system that was required. A number of key topics were covered in each conversation in order to formulate and organise relevant results.

5.2 Case Study

The material gained throughout the case study investigation highlights the importance of planning policy implementation at all levels. The case study carried out in Chapter Four analysed a strategic planning decision in relation to out-of- town retail development in Edenderry, County Offaly and Greystones, County Wicklow. These two towns were chosen on the basis of highest and lowest Leinster commercial vacancy rates, in order to represent a town with a struggling town centre versus a town with a thriving town centre.

5.3.1 Findings

It would appear that there was an absence of effective co-ordination amongst principal stakeholders within the planning process of both case studies. The public sector is concerned to achieve a range of objectives relating to socio-economic change, often simultaneously through the activities of a number of agencies. By contrast, the principal aim of the private sector is profit maximisation.

5.4  Strategic Qualitative Conversations

A series of strategic qualitative conversations (SQC) were conducted with some of the leading practitioners and academics in this field. This method of qualitative analysis was inspired by Brian Hughes

5.4.1 Participants

Claire Solan, President of the Society of Chartered Surveyors

Seamus Butler, Head of County Longford Chamber of Commerce

Edmund O’Callaghan, Head of Retail Management Studies DIT

Hendrick van der Kamp, Head of Spatial Planning DIT

Alison Hegharty, The Heritage Council

5.4.2 Nature of Topics Adduced

The SQC approach is to obtain the considered views of the experts in order to determine the commonality of answer or alternatively, to discern any significant divergence resulting from these one-to-one conversations with this student. These queries were formulated on the basis that the learned SQC respondents would be familiar and up to date with this subject area. A principal objective was to preserve the anonymity of the individual contributors. Seven specific (underlined) theme areas were addressed:

  1. Out-Of-Town Retail – Opinions on how out-of-town retail can affect town centres.
  2. Guidelines – Have the Retail Planning Guidelines adopted strategic policies?
  3. Implementation – Has retail planning policy been successfully implemented in latter years?
  4. Transparency – Is more transparency needed?
  5. Retail Impact Assessment (RIA) – Is current method of Retail Impact Assessment effective in its aim? Or are retailers now simply stating that the alternative sites are not suitable for the specific features of their proposed developments, including their retail identity or business model?
  6. Town Centre – What needs to be done to improve the state of struggling town centres in Ireland? More consistent implementation of existing planning policy? New directives to promote the growth of healthy urban centres?

5.4.3 Findings

  • Out-Of-Town Retail

All interviewees were unanimous in the belief that out-of-town retail has a negative impact on town centres. As stated in the guidelines, the range of goods permitted to be sold in out-of-town retail developments should be restricted to the sale of bulky household goods. The permitted uses exclude the sale of goods which are not bulky such as food, clothing and footwear items.

  • Strength of Current Guidelines

While one interviewee believed that the guidelines are somewhat subjective in some of its terminology, particularly with regard to the

  • Implementation

The overall consensus is that the guidelines are not implemented well in general when Ireland is viewed as a whole.

  • Transparency

Mixed opinions on the subject of increasing transparency within the planning system. One candidate was of the opinion than an independent Planning Regulator would be a good idea however others see this as adding another layer into the process which will not only slow the process down but may lead to further corruption. An Bord Pleanála are supposed to be the appropriate independent planning regulator in the Irish planning system.

  • Retail Impact Assessment (RIA)

All interviewees believe that more evidence based sequential testing is necessary with one candidate even stating that further training and guidance may be necessary for officials.

  • Town Centre

More consistent planning policy implementation and tax incentives to encourage town centre development seemed to be the overall consensus. There is a necessity to conduct an annual audit of town centre performance. The audit could include a mystery shopping exercise, street interviews and a town centre assessment. The annual results would be published and support could be put in place for the weaker performing towns – an intensive care process could be implemented to assist the weaker towns and streets. Furthermore the Town Team should implement quarterly exit interviews where shoppers and other town and city users are interviewed at the end of their town visit to insight what is working and what can be improved.

In conclusion, these significant qualitative insights are complemented by the quantitative analysis and outcome.

5.5 Planning Search

A thorough search of the planning applications appealed to An Bord Pleanála in relation to proposed out-of-town retail development actively aimed to identify whether out-of-town retail is being limited to exceptional cases, as stated in the guidelines. Furthermore, in each case it was identified whether a sequential test was performed as part of the retail impact assessment. In doing this search, a criteria was applied and a number of outcomes were recorded. The criteria being;

  • Retail development accounted for must be 600 metres or more outside the town centre. According to the Retail Planning Guidelines, edge-of-centre development is development that occurs 300-400 metres away from the town centre.
  • Any retail development 1500 sq. ft. and over, as the author felt it was necessary to account for the Lidl and Aldi type retailers.

5.5.1 Local Authority Decision

Source: Author

5.5.2 Planning Inspector Recommendation

Source: Author

5.5.3 An Bord Pleanála Decision

Source: Author

The above graph demonstrates that of all the planning applications for out-of-town retail development that were appealed to An Bord Pleanála, only 33% of the application were granted permission. The other 67% of applications were refused permission on the basis that they were a material contravention of the Retail Planning Guidelines, and would in fact, negatively impact the town centre.

5.5.4 Sequential Tests

Where the author states that sequential testing was “not necessary”, this was in the case of an expansion to an out-of-town retail development, or if the proposed development was considered to be locating on the most suitable site by the local authority themselves.

5.6 Chapter Conclusion

It was discovered that in 100% of the cases where the Board overturned a local authorities decision to grant an out-of-town retail development, it was due to the reason that the Board felt that granting such a development would be a material alteration of the Retail Planning Guidelines as it would have a negative impact on the viability of the town centre.

The spatial form of both past and present development experienced often does not conform to the plans outlined in the guidelines. This is due to an absence of effective co-ordination amongst principal stakeholders, and the lack of organisational capacity with statutory powers to implement necessary strategies at the regional level.

Perhaps competition for resources and revenue amongst the individually affected local authorities who remain the statutory planning authorities for the region is another factor contributing to a lack of consistent policy implementation.

Chapter Six – Conclusion and Recommendations

6.1 Aims and Objectives Revisited

Before moving on to the conclusions and recommendations, it is necessary to revisit the original aims and objectives. The overall aim of this thesis was to provide an in-depth look at planning policy implementation in relation to retail location. The reasons for choosing this topic were in light of growing vacancy rates in regional towns across Ireland along with the current drafting of the National Planning Framework. To summarise the original aims and objectives:

  • Discuss the development of retail planning policy in Ireland
  • Critically analyse the Retail Planning Guidelines in terms of consistency and effectiveness
  • Discuss a strategic planning decision in two regional Irish towns; one with a thriving town centre, one with a struggling town centre
  • Interview property professionals and academics in the area of planning to get a well-rounded opinion of the Irish planning system and how they interact with the system.
  • Qualitative analysis in the form of identifying retail developments that were granted or refused on the basis that they did/did not comply with the Retail Planning Guidelines.
  • Offer views on suitable future path of the retail planning system, and the role and content of national level guidance to local authorities.

6.2 Conclusion

The local government system is inhibited by a lack of resources and an over-dependence on central government decisions made annually as part of the budgetary process, and by a lack of coherence and co-ordination in the delivery of services.

During the Celtic Tiger, a lot of unregulated development occurred throughout Ireland (see Chapter Four: Edenderry Case Study). This thesis aimed to analyse more recent planning permissions under specific stated criteria with the objective of understanding whether the permissions granted were in line with the Retail Planning Guidelines from a locational perspective. While it is true that certain out-of-town retail development may have been in line with local development plans, this thesis aimed to identify whether development was in line with the national retail planning guidelines. It is fair to say that there hasn’t been significant retail development since the boom times, but from the analysis carried out within the scope of this dissertation, it would appear that planning policy implementation is not enforced enough in terms of retail development location.

Enforcement of any regulatory code is crucial to the integrity of the system. However, enforcement continues to be the weakest link in Ireland’s weak planning system. The trend for off-centre retail developments is continuing, despite a period of recession and a longer-lasting set of policy designed to discourage it. We appear to be in a dichotomy of a renewed government focus on town-centre and high-street health whilst planning continues to be granted for large off-centre retail, which is tacitly recognised as potentially damaging to the very same places (Astbury et al., 2014).

6.3 Recommendations

The undertaking of strategic qualitative conversations led to interesting insights and a number of recommendations. An issue that needs to be considered is the lack of sufficient sequential testing undertaken as part of the Retail Impact Assessment. Currently, sequential testing is not detailed and informative enough in the reasoning as to why retailers choose to not locate on a site (if available) closer to the town. While it has been pointed out that stricter sequential testing may lead to certain retailers deciding to not locate in the town at all, furthermore leading to the loss of potential employment opportunities – as one interviewee put it, the strength and viability of a town would benefit the economy much more in the long run.

6.4 Limitations of Thesis

It is believed that all the objectives and the aim of this thesis were thoroughly researched and analysed in-depth, both through primary and secondary research, using qualitative and quantitative data, which ultimately resulted in a set of comprehensive conclusions and recommendations for the future.

However, a number of limitations were encountered. The limitations of this thesis include:

  • This dissertation only checked proposed retail development against the national Retail Planning Guidelines as opposed to each individual local area plan. However, despite this, in the cases where the Board refused planning permission that had been granted by local authorities, 100% of such decisions were decided on a basis that it was believed that the proposed out-of-town retail development in question would negatively impact the town.
  • The only factors that were analysed were location of retail and application of sequential testing (for more suitable sites closer to the town). Therefore it would be incorrect to insinuate that all planning policy is poorly implemented as this thesis only looked at planning policy in relation to location of retail development.

6.5 Further Research Opportunities

Further research opportunities are certainly available in the field of retail planning. Perhaps an analysis of the local area plans in terms of their compliance with the Retail Planning Guidelines would be an interesting study.


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