The Battle for the ‘Heart’ of Galway

As the new year begins it’s time to reflect on two major recent planning decisions in Galway that have the potential for long-term adverse impacts on the sustainable development of city and its hinterlands. Although separate schemes both are very much interconnected to a wider vision of how, and in what way, Galway should grow and develop for the betterment of people who live, work and travel into and out of the city. The first of these is located within the city centre, the other is set to traverse the city but allow the expansion of the city in an unplanned ad-hoc manner.

The €104 million Bonham Quay scheme has recently been given approval by An Bord Pleanála. The development has an adjacent separate €25 million accommodation scheme for 345 student resident units, which has also received planning permission. The Bonham Quay development was granted permission by An Bord Pleanála after the developers successfully argued that the student accommodation fulfilled the residential component of their application. In October 2018 the Cabinet approved the €600 million proposal for a bypass project in Galway city. The proposed 18km route runs from the east side of the city to a location close to the village of Barna, and will mean about 40 properties along the preferred corridor will be subject to compulsory purchase orders and demolished to accommodate the road. Advocates for this new road argue the scheme will reduce traffic congestion and improve journey times in and around Galway.

It is envisaged that the construction of the seven-story building at Bonham Quay will employ some 500 people construction workers and on completion the site will accommodate some 2,600 office workers. But how many of these will live adjacent to their workplace? And yet, it was argued that this particular development will have minimal impacts on traffic in and around the city centre. The conflicting signals given with regards to automobility in the city are stark. Part solution to Galway’s sporadic but chronic traffic congestion is to reduce or eliminate the use of the private car from the city centre. Yet, at the same time and with one single development, several thousand workers will seek to travel directly in the city centre without any alternative sustainable ways of doing so other than driving a private car. No reasonable attempt has been made to provide additional living accommodation for these workers close to their work who, based on evidence from previous CSO figures, will largely come from outside the city; and there are little or no attempts to provide and promote active or sustainable modes of transport such as cycling or public transport for these workers. But a number of enlightened solutions to tackling traffic gridlock and regenerating the city already have been fleshed out and are available in the progressive Galway City Development Plan document, which seeks to span from 2017-2023.

The need for diversity and mix-use development is incredibly important for city (re)development and regeneration. This was first suggested by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s and still retains it’s potency and relevance today. To truly understand cities we need to acknowledge and embrace the notion that combinations and mixtures of use and residential diversity are essential components to improved urban liveability and quality of life. Moreover, the contemporary trend in the US, for example, is for large employers and corporations, particularly in the tech industry, to relocate to city centres when local environments merit such moves.

The Housing Strategy seeks to ensure that a mixture of house types and sizes is provided to satisfy the requirements of various categories of households, including the special requirements of elderly persons and persons with disabilities and to counteract undue segregation in housing between persons of different social backgrounds.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 24)

This provides us with a tremendous opportunity for the proper development of the Galway dockland brownfield sites (the Ceannt Station site is the next major development to be decided upon in this particular locality). But the best and brightest talents that major companies and corporations must attract and retain are no longer interested in suburban living, with its associated long daily commute. They want to live close to their work and enjoy the vibrancy of city community living, with its rich and varied quality of life. These workers are not seeking unaffordable housing with long commutes to a job where they work in isolation. They prefer the accessibility, infrastructure and cultural vibrancy that cities provide and where innovation thrives.

New residential development in particular has contributed to the vibrancy of the city centre. The Council will continue to encourage residential development by requiring a residential content of at least 20% of new development in the city centre. Exceptions may be made on small scale redevelopment sites. On certain key sites in the city centre namely the Ceannt Station lands, Inner Harbour and the Headford Road LAP areas, a higher residential content of 30% will be required.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 36)

The aim of any city (re)development and regeneration plan should be to create attractive and balanced residential neighbourhoods; transforming the prospects of a place depends on creating environments in which people would choose to live in and which provide benefits for existing residents. What point a city in which no one want to lives? The Galway City Development Plan specifically focuses on this and – although I don’t agree with every facet of the plan -thus is a considered strategy for the future planning and development of Galway in a sustainable manner. But on their first test of credibility city planners, decision-makers and, indeed, An Bord Pleanála have all failed to satisfy conditions they themselves support for the better (re)development and regeneration of the city. Even if you were to argue that student accommodation alone is appropriate as a residential component – it isn’t – does 345 units make up the 30% as set out in the Plan? And what about transport in and out of the city centre? How does the construction of an expensive ring road around the city fit into this particular overall planning approach? On the one hand we are asking motorists to avoid coming into the city centre, and at the same time planning for approximately 3,000 workers to do just that on a daily basis.

The objective of the strategy is to help address the transportation issues experienced in the city and the environs. It recognises the need to do so in an integrated, sustainable manner that aligns transport investment with settlement patterns, travel movements and also supports a sustainable use of land as promoted in the Core Strategy. This implies an approach that supports opportunities that will reduce congestion and car dependency through increased capacity of reliable public transport and the promotion and facilitation of cycling and walking, which in turn promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 15)

The City Development Plan clearly outlines the strategy objectives with regards to reducing car dependency in the urban environment but, in the case of the Bonham Quay development and proposed ring road, does not have any plan or approach to dealing with the potential significant increase in commuting into and out of the city centre. Why make progressive and forward-thinking plans if we don’t even attempt to stick with them? I don’t feel obliged to be a cheerleader for economic development over and above the other pillars of sustainability – the social and environmental – (many of our politicians and decision-makers do that often enough) so I can be forgiven for not joining in with the chorus of approval for the new Bonham Quay development or the proposed ring road as its currently envisaged. Of course it’s crucial for such large brownfield site in the city to be redeveloped – I grew up, raised a family, and continue to live in the city centre; who doesn’t want a future for their children close to their family home – but such schemes must be accomplished in a holistic and sustainable manner. Galway City Council commissioned a way forward in this respect with the City Development Plan so why then, at this first opportunity, is this progressive strategy for the (re)development and regeneration of the city cast aside in favour of developer-led planning? And why do we continue to send out conflicting and confusing signals to motorists that we want them to avoid coming into the city centre but would like them to work, but certainly not live, there?

Visit the (Café) Temple to Lift the Soul!

I’ve been trying to get better. While I’m convinced and committed to the concept of, and need for, local sustainability – economically, socially and environmentally – my actions have not always mirrored these firmly held views and beliefs. The value-action-gap is the space that occurs when the personal and cultural values or attitudes of an individual do not correlate to their actions. More generally, it is the difference between what people say and what people do. I’ve been trying to narrow this gap in the recent past, and I’m slowly getting better. So to make amends for my failings I’m seeking to promote some innovative and inspiring local enterprises that are focussed on sustainability and social good.

I like my coffee. In fact, I often find it difficult to function properly in the morning before I’ve had one or two cups of ‘Joe’. In pursuit of my fix outside the confines of my home and workspace I seek out coffee shops that offer a somewhat different experience; where the coffee is good, the staff are pleasant and long-term (reflecting a good relationship with the business), and where the food is sourced locally and  prepared onsite. One such enterprise that I’m a recent fan of and is well worth checking out is Café Temple in the Cornstore on Middle Street, with another entrance directly from Augustine Street.

Café Temple prides itself on being a social business inspired by the work of Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The business model is founded on the idea of donating all profits to local charities and in this sense they work with organisations such as COPE, SERVE, and other such local charitable organisations. Their ethos is also to focus on local, organic, ecologically sound and homemade produced foods, as far as reasonably possible, and they work with local artisan producers in this respect. This ethos is reflected on their menu where they state:

We want our customers to see the value of food, to see how what we eat affects how we feel, while also eating and drinking good food made with care and passion. Both Seb and Steve truly believe that the only way to see change in the world is to be the change that you want to see, oh and as Mammy always said ‘eat your vegetables’

They also promote the notion of a ‘suspended coffee’. Patrons are asked to consider, if they have some surplus monies to spend, purchasing an additional coffee, taking a slip, signing it with a message, and placing it on the ‘Karma Coffee’ board. These can be then be claimed by anyone who is in need of a cuppa and for whatever reason doesn’t have the money to pay for it at that given time. This is done in a non-judgemental manner and can bring a small element of happiness to someone at a particular moment of time. Great idea; giving far outweighs receiving, in my opinion. So give Café Temple a try if you’re looking for something a little different and, as they state on their menus; ‘Feed your mind, Fuel your Body, and Free your Soul!’

Submission to the Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway

Transport Management’s Key Objectives

Ireland’s transportation system has been acknowledged at Governmental level as unsustainable for nearly a decade now . The ‘predict and provide’ policy paradigm has become wholly outdated and is having significant and on-going negative impacts on the environment, entire communities and neighbourhoods, and people’s overall health and well-being. While new thinking on transport and mobility is required, this should draw upon existing European and international best practice, while appreciating the unique cultural features and aspects to our city and environs, to create a new and sustainable transport model for Galway. Moreover, escalating traffic congestion should not be seen merely as a by-product or an unavoidable symptom of economic success. Instead, traffic congestion is typically a sign of significant economic, social and environmental losses. It indicates a transportation system that is not economically efficient. As a result, reducing private car usage in favour of sustainable modes of transport will result in substantial economic gains for the city of Galway and its surrounds and should be the principal focus for any new transport management programme or measures.

The Key objective of any new traffic management system for the city and urban areas of Galway should be, first and foremost, to significantly reduce the use of the private car in favour of more sustainable modes of travel including walking, cycling, public transport and carpooling. Car dependency is economically and ecologically destructive and exacerbates social exclusion for those who do not have access to (or who wish to forego) a private car. There is a critical need to prioritise the most vulnerable (and yet more socially and environmental sustainable) road-users in the first instance to create a healthy, vibrant, liveable city for all inhabitants and visitors to appreciate. With this in mind, a hierarchy (prioritising) of mobility options should be put in place which seeks to strongly promote more sustainable modes of transportation, such as follows:

1.  Pedestrians/Walkers
2. Cyclists
3. Public Transport Users
4. Carpoolers/Dynamic Ridesharing
5. Taxis
6. The Private Automobile Users.

I am opposed to the construction of a new bypass for Galway on a number of grounds. Firstly, such a large-scale project favours the continued (and indeed increased) use of the private car over all other modes of transport. Such a substantial construction project broadly focused on expanding car use in and around the urban areas of Galway will greatly negate any attempts to promote more sustainable and health mobility options. Simply put; more road space means more private cars! Furthermore, any such road will have a detrimental impact and damaging consequences for the communities and local environment in which this road will traverse. No real meaningful cost-benefit analysis, which takes cognisance of its many social and environmental effects, has been undertaken to my knowledge. In any instance, given that there is little evidence that people want to bypass Galway, the case for any new road remains largely unproven and will not result in any reduction in traffic congestion, and air and noise pollution in the metropolitan area of Galway.

Pedestrians/Walkers

Walking remains one of the most healthy and sustainable modes of travel for many individuals. Walkability refers to how safe, friendly and accessible walking is in a given neighbourhood or community and many factors influence walkability. Common elements of the built environment include continuous, level pedestrian walkways and pathways; safe, accessible crossings; pedestrian-friendly lighting; suitable motorised vehicle speed; limited number of lanes, and sufficient street width. Other factors that positively influence walking and walkability include real and perceived safety from crime, unsocial behaviour and aggressive dogs, graffiti and rubbish/waste, maintenance of trees and green areas, safe and easy access to desired locations/destinations (such as parks, schools, shops, libraries, the post office, etc.), public amenities like benches, drinking fountains, public art, toilets, and rubbish bins, among many others. Walking connects people to places. In the case of Galway, walkability is not prioritised, many pedestrian walkways are in poor condition, pedestrian crossings are inadequate and badly located, and traffic speed in the city is not conducive to the notion of walkability. Furthermore, the needs of local communities are seldom considered when designing walkways and crossing and it is crucial that local consultation take place with such communities in order to understand their needs, desire, fears and apprehensions so as to allow walking become a legitimate mode of transport in Galway; a healthy option with minimal social and environmental disadvantages and available to all citizens to enjoy.

Cyclists

Cycling is recognised as a sustainable, health mobility option that has little negative effects or consequences for the environment. It is an effective way of moving large numbers of people through an urban environment as evident from some major European cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin and Portland in the US. At present (and as a regular cyclist) the cycling infrastructure in Galway is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of such a vibrant, young city. The limited cycle pathways that exist are patchy in many places and not well maintained, with tarmac surfaces that are particularly prone to weather damage. Road and commercial signage is frequently sited on many of these cycle lanes creating dangerous obstructions and a hazardous cycling environment. In addition, the cycle stop-ways at traffic junctions are frequently ignored by motorists creating unsafe conditions for cyclists. Traffic speed is also not conducive to safe cycling in Galway. In order for cycling to become an integral part of the transport system the construction of an interconnected cycling pathway that connects all parts of the city should be constructed. The location of these pathways should not be an attempt to ‘hide’ cyclists from public view, rather they should traverse all available local amenities and facilitates and impress a strong level of legitimacy on cycling that has, heretofore, been severely lacking in Galway. These cycle lanes should be constructed to the highest international standard, be well lit, and accessible to cyclists of all ages and abilities. To further enhance cycling in the city, careful consideration should be given to bylaws that prevent motorists intimidating cyclists in their daily pursuit, such as preventing the overtaking of cyclists within a two mile radius of schools and greatly reduced vehicle speeds in built-up areas.

The Galway Bike Share Scheme needs to be extended to additional locations right across the city that would help increase the number of individuals using this service. Presently, the location of the bike stations (all located in the city centre) is hindering the development of the scheme. New stations should be located in areas that will afford an opportunity for commuters, students, visitors and others to avail of this service. These stations should be located initially in Salthill, the Westside and around the Dangan area in the west of the city; and in Renmore, Mervue, the GMIT campus on the Dublin Road, Ballybane and Ballybrit in the east of the city. Consideration should also be given to the large communities to the north of the city centre in Ballinfoyle and Menlo. A strong focus and attention to intermodal connectivity, especially for commuters, should be prioritised. Such a focus has proved very successfully for the Dublin Bike Scheme in the past.

Public Transport Users

The promotion of Public Transport should be a key consideration for any new Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway. At present, the city and environs are not well served by Public Transport and city officials should become much more engaged with public and private transport providers to deliver a better integrated service that will help remove many private cars from the city and urban areas. One of the more obvious examples of this is the mono-centric nature of Bus Éireanns route selection which forces all buses to enter the city centre at some stage of their route. That no Public Transport bus crosses the Quincentennial Bridge, given that the majority of residential areas are located to the west and the majority of industry located to the east, is a stark indication of the lack of thought and unified thinking with regards to the provision of Public Transport in Galway. In addition, the bus lane network should be greatly augmented to prioritise the use of Public Transport over solo-occupancy car dependency. Better consultation between public and private transport providers and their customers, city officials, researchers and sustainable transport advocates, is required in order to increase the modal share in favour of Public Transport users and reduce the necessity for incessant private car usage in and around the city of Galway.

I am strongly in favour of the provision of a light rail service for Galway city and its environs. The thoughtful Gluas/SUIG proposals should be re-considered and a light rail solution more robustly supported in opposition to any new costly road construction project that will have a limited effect on traffic congestion in and around the city. Any new Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway should not be short-term in nature and instead envision the city as we would like to live in some twenty or thirty years’ into the future. My vision is one of a real integrated and interconnected transportation system that principally relies on walking, cycling and public transport (of which a light rails system is an integral part) rather than a private car dependant congested urban area that is unliveable for its inhabitants and unvisitable for many tourists and other visitors.

Carpooling/Dynamic Ridesharing/Taxis

A more practical and economical use of the automobile is required to provide an additional ‘public service’ role for transportation in Galway. In pursuance of limiting solo-occupancy car travel, a programme of incentivising carpooling and car sharing should be undertaken in Galway. In conjunction with business and industry, this can take the shape of preferred car-parking for commuters who carpool, i.e. reserved parking spaces close to work entrances, the provision of on-site notice boards, intranet use, and other facilitates to organise such ride sharing, and a programme of incentivising such behaviour amongst workers and management. In addition, the provision of adequate taxi rank spaces should receive attention, as well as seeking agreement with all taxi firms on a standard and regularised set of charges for each destination across the city. This will help promote stronger localised intermodal connectivity and transparency with regards to cost within the industry and allow individuals and groups plan their evenings out in the city, in terms of transport choice, needs and price.

Private Automobile Users

In any urban area there will still be a need for some level of private car usage and it is not my intention in this submission to in any way ‘demonise’ individuals who are habitually forced to use their car to travel the city. Indeed, I myself have and drive a car and understand the need for an automobile at specific times. My resolve is to strongly promote more sustainable modes of transport for the betterment of all the citizens of the city and environs and not just car drivers. Such a course of action, I believe, is respectful of the social fabric of Galway and is cognisant of the environmental burden imposed by disproportionate car-dependency. In any case, the views of car drivers are frequently over represented in national and local transport policy discussion & design.

The municipal space given over to private parking in Galway is excessive and should be reduced, in particular on-street parking. Whilst I appreciate that some level of local residential parking is required, there is a need to reduce the amount of public space that private cars currently occupy. There is sufficient capacity for private cars provided by off-street parking and this should be utilised in the first instance. The public space that car parking presently occupies should be transformed to enhance the liveability of these areas for the betterment of the residents and citizens of the city. In addition, providing seasonal ‘free on-street parking’ sends a mixed, confused message to commuters and visitors to the city and helps to increase congestion, noise and air pollution, and places additional burdens on the transport infrastructure, and as such should be discontinued.

Summary

Finally, to summarise and attempt to be more specific on the detail of my submission I wish to emphasis the following key points:

Bring to an end any proposal to construct an economic, social, and environmentally damaging bypass for Galway

  1. Take steps to limit private car usage and promote sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport
  2. Create a hierarchy of mobility/travel options in urban areas prioritising the most vulnerable (and alos most sustainable) modes of transportation
  3. Increase the walkability of Galway by providing adequate, safe, and public pedestrian walkways, and prioritise pedestrian crossings at all intersections (and shared public space) with other road users in the city
  4. Construct a network of safe cycling lanes connecting all areas of the city and its surrounds, adhering to international best practice in this regards
  5. Provide new docking stations for the Bike Share Scheme for many outlying areas and communities
  6. Provide a public forum for consultation with public and private bus operators to better serve the city and environs with Public Transport
  7. Provide a bus lane on the Quincentennial Bridge for Public Transport and private bus operators
  8. Increase the numbers and length of bus lanes in the city to support Public Transport usage
  9. Support the construction of a light rail system for Galway
  10. In conjunction with local business and industry, incentivise the practice of carpooling and dynamic ridesharing
  11. Standardise and publicise typical taxi journeys in and around the city and provide adequate safe taxi rank facilities
  12. Reduce unnecessary on-street car parking and abolish seasonally offers of ‘free parking’ which merely increases private car usage at the expense of sustainable modes of transport.

My ‘tuppence worth’ on Galway’s mobility management problem

While many progressive cities and towns across the globe now recognise the damage to the fabric of their communities, societies and the environment that car-centric thinking brings, in contrast Galway has embraced a ‘build a road at any cost’ approach to solving on-going mobility management problems. The dogma of ‘predict and provide’ – where road use demand is anticipated and we build to fulfil these frequently grand expectations – remains dominant in decision-making circles and pushes sustainable transport considerations to the peripheral. That towns and cities are designed for motor vehicles is so endemic and so engrained from decades of the automobile coming first, that people don’t actually see it anymore. But simply put; more roads and parking spaces means more cars! What is the natural end-game of continuous road building in a medieval city like Galway and what do such decisions tell us about the regard that people who chose to live and raise a family in the city are held in? Indeed, what evidence is there that people will use this particular bypass for the purpose its promoted (the number of trips made by people travelling from outside through the city to an external destination is less than five per cent of Galway’s traffic, it is argued), and what provisions are envisioned for people who choose healthier and more ecologically friendly mobility options like cycling and walking? Moreover, does anybody really believe that a new road will lessen or eliminate congestion around the heart of Galway?

When we talk of Galway’s traffic management problems it is just that; a task of ‘management’. The road network throughout the city is congested at some of the main arteries for at most 10% of the day and traffic flows freely and unhindered for the remainder. In this regards, even the most basic business mind would question the need for such exceptionally costly infrastructure given that the transport system is only busy for perhaps three or four hours out of every twenty four. We need to manage the road network we already have and only then should we consider turning over even more scarce public shared space and monies to the private car. With regards to cost, light rail for Galway was estimated at €600 million by Arup Consulting Engineers, who are leading the N6 Project, and they deemed a revival of the GLUAS project not to be cost-effective. While I recognise that GLUAS alone would not solve all traffic problems in the region, and there are genuine concerns about residential density, considering novel alternatives such as light rail and improved public transport will greatly benefit debates on regional mobility.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the car became an indispensable mobility tool that facilitates both traditional and novel forms of social and economic activity. In many developed countries people’s everyday mobility, such as their commute to work or for leisure activities, frequently depend on access to a private car, but in the case of Ireland we have become wholly car dependent. I drive a car myself and understand its need from time-to-time, particularly given the lack of alternatives. But ownership of a car does not afford the right of unhindered travel through a city or town at the expense of the people that choose to work, visit, live and raise a family there. Indeed, I should be forced to slow and sometime stop (smell the coffee and roses) and fully appreciate and respect that I’m travelling through people’s neighbourhoods and communities. My principal concern, therefore, is that car-centric thinking trumps everything and everyone. While it’s important that people travelling into and out of the city, whether they are workers or visitors, should be facilitated as efficiently as possible, this should not be done at the expense of people who have chosen Galway as their home, and the city’s urban design, social cohesion and genuine environment and sustainability considerations.

The limited available space of Galway and its surrounds has become a battleground with the car, once again, triumphing over family homes, communities, and environmental concerns. We need to rethink our urban space and environment and view it as a shared space for all to enjoy. Car-centric thinking and rhetoric has led to increased speeding on the new traffic system operating on Lough Atalia Road, Forster Street and College Road, leads to discourteous and illegal parking, and planning that promotes the use of the private car over the concerns of people living and bringing up families in the city and surrounds (just try this experiment; attempt to walk from Eyre Square to the hospital crossing the road only at designated pedestrian crossings and traffic lights and see how far you get). And therein rests the fundamental problem; we must reframe our conversations on mobility management not just with respect to private car use but what’s proper for every member of the community and society at large including people who live in these affected areas, people who choose to cycle and walk the city, and people who wish to use public transport. Many of these individuals and groups have been forgotten in our conversations on transport and mobility in Galway and abstracted discussions on ‘where should we build a road’. In this respect we are going in the opposite direction to recognised wisdom in developing a city (even our capital city Dublin is now discussing a radical plan to remove cars from the city centre). Any transport management system for Galway should focus on the city as a healthy place to live, where we enjoy living, where our children grow up in a safe healthy environment, we’re proud to welcome visitors, and not just a place that’s subservient to cars.

Have we fashioned another unique Irish bubble?

As a country Ireland has suffered more than most from the international financial crash of 2008 chiefly due to an over-reliance on the construction sector. But I fear that another unsustainable economic bubble has now been shaped. (Re)building an economy focused on one industry and model is a high risk strategy, a case of all eggs in one basket. For Ireland, over the past number of years our government has promoted the country as the main European headquarters and destination for largely US-based ICT corporations and industries. But alas, these firms may not be here for the indigenous educated flexible workforce and ideal working environment but rather the very generous corporate tax rate on offer.

My concern is that many of these companies are in Ireland because we facilitate tax avoidance. At present, Ireland has a corporate tax rate of just 12½% but it has been reported that some major organisations pay much less than this [1], although the department of Finance disputes these figures. Nevertheless, even the government’s own recently commissioned report maintains that Ireland’s corporation tax averages out “at just under 11%” [2] (corporate tax rates across the EU ranged from 10% to 35% [3]). These powerful corporations have found our leaders readily available to meet and listen to their needs [4] resulting in the country being at the centre of a controversial storm over multinational tax avoidance due to aggressive tax strategies deployed here by the likes of Apple and Google. Last year US senators John McCain and Carl Levin publicly stated Ireland was a tax haven after it emerged Apple paid taxes of just 2% on its foreign earnings in 2012 [5]. The ‘double Irish’ is a tax avoidance strategy that multinational corporations use to lower their corporate tax liability. The strategy uses payments between related entities in a corporate structure to shift income from a higher-tax country to a lower-tax country [6].

Moreover, Google continues to be our biggest exporter [7] but I pose the question; what does Google make and how can it be appropriately quantified? While I acknowledge they build/create software such entities are very difficult to define in terms of where they are built or assembled. Code can be downloaded and uploaded from any destination in a matter of seconds/minutes so who can really tell what components have emanated from where? And exporting these products takes place virtually not in trucks and ships leaving Dublin port. Furthermore, in which jurisdiction are profits created and is it right that such profits that do not emanate from here are washed through Ireland? Seamus Coffey, a lecturer in economics at UCC, maintains; “Google does not generate its massive profits from 2,000 or so sales staff based in Dublin. These are replaceable and moveable without any significant cost or loss to Google” [8]. This suggests a very flexible and highly mobile workforce with limited ties to Ireland. Should conditions change or opportunities to move to another European city be provided how many of these workers will dig in their heels to stay?

But surely we have a well-educated workforce to sustain this sector if others leave? On closer inspection this may not be the case. Our universities have begun to fall behind our European neighbours in term of OS rankings [9]. In its ICT Skills Audit, the non-profit training promotion agency Fastrack to IT (FIT) estimates that there are 4,500 vacancies in Ireland’s ICT sector [10]. These are not being filled, because of “the severely limited supply of suitably skilled applicants”. Furthermore, Irish students fall far below their EU counterparts when it comes to learning and speaking other languages. The end result is that multinational ICT companies, attracted here by our corporation tax rate, are forced to recruit staff from overseas to fill their Irish offices [11] and many of the multinational ICT companies have expressed concern at this skills shortage even as they establish new operations here [12].

That said, the importance of the digital economy to Ireland at present is significant. The ICT sector in Ireland attracts global investment with nine of the top ten US ICT companies operating here. There are over 200 IDA supported ICT companies, directly employing approximately 36,000 people, which represents 22% of total exports, estimated at €35 billion [13]. At present, these employees live and pay tax in this country but broad questions must be asked about this sector and how sustainable it is in the long-term. The continued success, or otherwise, of this sector, moreover, may not lie in our hands. Pressure for tax reform is now coming from our European partners [14] the OECD [15] and the US [16]. Many of these proposals aim to ensure that corporate profits are taxed where economic activities generating the profits are performed and where value is created.

As a country we have form and panache when it comes to creating unsustainable economic bubbles. Those who lived through the recession of the 1980s remember the closure of the massive FDI factories (largely built with the aid of huge tax concessions) across the country leaving many communities decimated. Our most recent bubble, fuelled by the construction sector and cheap credit, is still vivid and the hurt continues right across our society. Once again, as with previous ‘miracles’, we have no champions that question a strategy that places our recovery in the hands of large globalised corporations. I suggest that relying on the goodwill of such organisations to stay on the peripheral of Europe once fairness has been restored to the European tax system is foolhardy. I hope I’m wrong, but my gut feeling says otherwise.

References
[1] RTÉ. (2012). Effective corporation tax rate may be only 6.5%. Wednesday 24th October 2012. [Available from www.rte.ie/news/2012/1024/343020-corporation-tax-rate/]
[2] The Department of Finance. (2014). Effective Rates of Corporation Tax in Ireland. Technical Paper, April 2014. [Available from www.finance.gov.ie/sites/default/files/140407%20FINAL%20Technical%20Paper%20on%20Effective%20Rates%20of%20Corporation%20Tax%20in%20Ireland.pdf].
[3] European Movement Ireland. (2014). Just the Facts – Irish Corporate Tax. [Available from www.europeanmovement.ie/just-the-facts-irish-corporate-tax/].
[4] Ross, S. & Webb, N. (2012). The Untouchables: The people who helped wreck Ireland, and are still running the show. Dublin: Penguin Ireland.
[5] Carswell, S. & Keena, C. (2013). Questions remain for US senators over tax law. The Irish Times, 17th October 2013. [Available from www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/ireland/questions-remain-for-us-senators-over-tax-law-1.1563332].
[6] Darby, J.B. (2007). International “Tax Planning: Double Irish More than Doubles the Tax Saving”, Practical US/International Tax Strategies 11(9), 15 May 2007.
[7] Irish Exporter Association. (2014). Information and Communications Technology (ICT) continues to dominate Ireland’s exports. [Available from www.irishexporters.ie/section/IEATop250ExportersPublicationNamesGoogleIrelandasLargestExporterinIreland].
[8] Coffey, S. (2014). The great corporation tax debate. The Irish Independent, 22nd April 2014. [Available from www.independent.ie/business/irish/the-great-corporation-tax-debate-30205317.html#sthash.mazzfuS8.dpuf].
[9] The Guardian. (2014). QS world university rankings 2014: top 200. [Available from www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/ng-interactive/2014/sep/16/-sp-qs-world-university-rankings-2014].
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From Public & Private Space to Social Space: An appeal for slowing down

I’ve recently read an interesting post on the World Streets: A New Mobilities Agenda blog where Eric Britton writes that we need to ‘move toward a new paradigm for transport in cities, and it all starts with… slowing down’. He expanded on an emerging paradigm for the development of our cities, a redefining of the view of space as public or private to the concept of social space. Eric, in his post, presented slides from Carlos Felipe Pardo’s talk at the Stuttgart Conference of Cities for Mobility which clearly demonstrated the reduced field of vision of a driver as he/she drives through streets at various increasing speeds. It culminated in a situation where the paths/sidewalks were not there for a driver at 50 KPH, clearly a recipe for tragedy and possible disaster.

This salient message to reduce speed got me thinking about the recent proposal for the redevelopment of the rather large roundabouts in Galway into more pedestrian and cycle friendly traffic light systems, a proposal that has met with some strong opposition from certain quarters. The main objection appears to be that it is unwise to stop or slow down traffic in the city, even when these roundabouts are in built-up residential areas and have no safe crossing systems for walkers, joggers, or cyclists. I drive through these roundabouts from time-to-time and can testify that many drivers increase their speed whilst traversing these junctions in order to get the most beneficial exit lane and position. This has led to a situation where people literally ‘take their lives in their hands’ attempting to cross these horrendously dangerous intersections.

Galway is a beautiful city to live and visit and we should be rightly proud of what we have to offer. Visitors do not expect to drive unhindered through the heart of any urban area and it is in the interest of business and commerce that individuals slow down and stop occasionally to view their new surroundings and environment. God forbid, they might notice that ordinary people walk and cycle in our city, stop for a while and enjoy the beautiful walkways and ambiance we have to offer and, maybe even purchase something. For those of us who live in the city it is also important that we realise that our built environment is not solely the domain of the private motor vehicle, and that other ‘strange’ people actually enjoy walking or cycling from place-to-place. We may even be tempted to walk or cycle a bit more ourselves, secure in the knowledge that we have a safe environment for such activity and, more importantly, we’re not alone. Indeed, the large tracts of urban space given over to the automobile may need to be reclaimed by everyone regardless of their mobility choice and become, once again, social space for all.

Our cities are full of cars when they should be full of people

Travel and mobility must be a fundamental consideration in the promotion of sustainable development, production and consumption in Ireland. Governmental policy over the past number of decades has focussed almost exclusively on roads building and the infrastructure required to accommodate the automobile and other road-based travel (see Transport 21), often neglecting the social and spatial consequences of these decisions. This has exacerbated issues of congestion, pollution, and social exclusion in our towns and cities, and indeed rural areas. Furthermore, private cars currently use vast amounts of fossil fuel for propulsion and recent green initiatives simply seeks to change this to viable alternative such as electricity or bio fuels options. I would argue that without some essential reconsideration of car usage itself what we’re effectively doing is changing one source of energy consumption (one that is causing serious environmental damage such as greenhouse gas emissions and pollution) to a possibly cleaner alternative but we’re still consuming energy at an unacceptable and unsustainable level and turning over our cities and town to traffic. Rather than merely changing the energy source what we should be doing is encouraging people to use the car less and adopt healthier and sustainable modes of transportation such as walking or cycling, where this is possible, and utilising public transport more often. This will help strengthen our communities and bring life and vigour back to our streets rather than traffic, congestion, pollution and danger.

There is no doubt that this view will meet some hostility and such a transformation will not happen overnight. Much of our current urban design philosophy is car-centric and this is reinforced by political decision-making that favour automobile transport. What do I mean by this? Well, try taking Public Transport to any out of town shopping centre or Retail Park. Try cycling to any of these facilities and if you do make it there see if you can find a sheltered safe bike shed. In my experience you are not encouraged to take Public Transport, cycle, or indeed walk to these centres and the additional rationale of free car parking appears to strengthen this observation. While car travel can be very rewarding in terms of mobility freedom, car-dependency is often the opposite of such independence. It can be temporally and economically negative in terms of the personal time and money wasted. It can also be damaging in terms of personal health, in addition to its environmental impacts and consequences. So before you drive your car through the computer screen in rage, let me make this final point. I’m not anti-car. I own and drive one myself and would be lost at times without such mobility freedom. What does worry me, however, is how the automobile shapes so much of our lives, both seen and unseen. We build roads through Historic sites to facilitate cars (the M3 through the ancient Hall of Tara), we demonise Public Transport for the money it receives but seldom question how much we spend on road construction and maintenance, and we exclude people from activities who don’t have access to a private car. I’m simply trying to broaden the debate, a debate that should not be exclusively determined by the (over)use of the private automobile.

David Engwicht in Galway

David Engwicht is an Australian social innovator and a significant international leader of efforts to reduce the negative impacts of the private car on our cities and towns. He is considered the fathers of traffic calming and is the inventor of the walking bus, Street reclamation, and the Universal Anchoring Device. He is the author of several books including three broadly available ones; Reclaiming our Cities and Towns: better living through less traffic (1993), Street Reclaiming: creating liveable streets and vibrant communities (1999), and Mental Speed Bumps: the smarter way to tame traffic (2005).

On Monday 24th May 2010, on a gloriously sunny day in Galway, David gave a very interesting and though-provoking presentation at the City museum, as a guest of the Galway Transportation Unit and as part of the county’s Smarter Travel Area bid. He challenged the audience to question their own personal travel behaviours and to view our traffic problems not merely as issues for engineers to fix but as a general social concern of design and how we envision our shared futures. Designing for the car does not have to be the centre of our mobilities universe and if we visualise urban movement without the automobile what would this be like? Walking and cycling may be slower but also more rewarding in terms of stimulation and social interactions. So, what do we want our cities to be, he inquired, a space for cars to get from A to B travelling at speed or a centre for fulfilling our shared human experience? The uncomfortable answer may very well be in our urban design and development and our current preoccupation with building more roads in, around, and through cities may not bode well for the future of alternatives to car travel.

A podcast of his talk is available by clicking HERE thanks to the freesource website Internet Archive, an non-profit organisation set up to build an Internet library.

Barbara Heisserer, David Engwicht and Mike