Strategic Development Zones (SDZs)
The public sector’s role in unlocking regeneration opportunities
Of all the challenges facing Western Europe in 2013 and beyond, kick-starting economic growth, and the job creation that goes with it is top of the list. Addressing this challenge requires a multi-faceted approach, and the designation and development of SDZ’s represents a powerful government led policy response. Transport is one of the critical success factors in the realisation of the goals of SDZ’s; and failing to consider transport, or leaving transport considerations until late in the planning phase, has the potential to limit ultimate success and sustainability of the SDZ.
The North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock draft planning scheme was recently placed on public display by Dublin City Council as part of the government’s designation of this core part of Dublin Docklands as an SDZ. So let’s consider the role of transport planning, and the public sector in supporting social and economic regeneration within strategic development sites throughout Ireland.
The designation of a site as an SDZ is a government decision, following a proposal by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Examples of SDZ’s designated to date in Ireland include Grangegorman, Adamstown, Clonburris, Dublin Docklands, Monard (Co. Cork), Hansfield, Clonmagaddan and Cherrywood.
An SDZ is a strategic area of land that has the potential for development of national economic and/or social significance. Compared to the more conventional master planning processes for major landbanks, SDZs offer the benefit of fast-tracking delivery of development. Such a designation is the first step in the planning process, followed by the preparation of a draft planning scheme by the relevant local authority. The planning scheme guides future development of an area of land, and should include proposals for transportation, including provision for pedestrians and cyclists, public transport, road layout, traffic management and parking standards.
SDZ is a concept that aims to support job creation and create sustainable communities. When considering how best to address the key transport related SDZ challenges in support of these goals, the watchwords for the transport planner are connectivity and sustainability.
To date, the planning focus has generally been on those elements which present risks to scheme planning approval, without fully considering the range of economic and social outcomes arising from the SDZ, and transport’s role in their achievement. For example, transport plays a role in enhancing labour market and business to business connectivity. As highlighted in research commissioned by the UK Department for Transport, the nature and quality of transport provision is an important business location consideration, and will influence for example a multi-national firm considering where to locate a new European IT or financial services base. Some of the identified challenges may require intervention that is beyond the control of authorities championing the scheme, however their early identification provides an opportunity to reflect upon the goals of the SDZ, or alternatively, to work with other stakeholders to address key constraints.
Once the transport priorities have been identified, a wide range of transport related options to address them need to be considered and appraised. The emphasis on the identification of SDZ’s and, critical to securing their planning approval, is on sustainability. As such walking, cycling and public transport play a central role.
Using innovative evidence-based approaches it is possible to develop a sustainable, affordable and deliverable transport strategy for the development area. This may include a combination of transport infrastructure, public transport services, sustainable street network design, and “smarter choices” interventions to reduce car use; alongside an appropriate phased development plan.
Now here’s the dilemma for the developers – they want to minimise risk and they also want to be seen as acting sustainably. The development of transport infrastructure and services generally enhances land values and is, therefore, key to unlocking the development potential of many sites. But the size of the risk, and the developers’ appetite for it, will depend on the nature of the transport plan for a SDZ: – a car-oriented plan may be perceived to carry a small risk, whereas a more innovative approach balancing “smarter choices”, public transport and road transport is often perceived as more risky.
So without public sector leadership in scheme planning and delivery, including upfront public sector infrastructure investment, transport may represent an insurmountable commercial development risk. Thankfully options are available to both minimise this risk and reduce the ultimate cost to the public purse, through for example, ‘Section 49 Supplementary Development Contributions Schemes’. These schemes do, however, need to be carefully designed so as to not act as barrier to development itself, through for example, inappropriate development levies.
Success is by no means guaranteed, and the public sector needs to play a leading role in the transport planning process, through identifying a scheme’s transport requirements, and in their timely delivery.