Joseph Corr

MPRII, MIPI

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Some of my articles relating to spatial planning and political matters.

By joecorr, Feb 27 2014 11:57AM

Following on from our successful trip in February 2013 when we worked at building capacity in regard to public service planning staff in Lesotho, this year we followed up with our plan to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Local Government in Lesotho.


During our trip in 2013 we met with the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Mothetjoa Metsing, who is also Minister for Local Government, Chieftainship & Parliamentary Affairs. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Metsing was very interested in what we were hoping to achieve in terms of our plans to run several Continued Professional Development (CPD) seminars with local authority planners in Lesotho. On the 2013 trip the signing of a MoU was discussed by senior members of Fingal County Council and the DPM so it was exceptional progress to have the collaboration agreement finalised just over one year later.


It was agreed that Head of Corporate Affairs and IT with Fingal County Council, Mr Stephen Peppard would travel to Lesotho to sign the MoU on behalf of the council. On the Lesotho side, DPM Metsing would sign on behalf of the Lesotho government. This was an historic occasion as I am unaware of another Irish local authority that has entered into such an agreement with an African country.


The official signing of the MoU was carried out on Tuesday the 18th of February 2014 in the Irish Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital city. The Irish Ambassador to Lesotho, HE Gerry Gervin presided over the signing and welcomed the fact that such an historic event was being held in the Irish Embassy.


The event was well attended by both print and broadcast media and received very positive feedback. Also in attendance for the signing were Chairperson of Action Ireland Trust (AIT), Niall Fitzgerald and AIT CEO, Fran Whelan along with other representatives of the Fingal based overseas development charity.


Some objectives of the MoU include capacity building in the areas of crowd sourcing, mapping of land to inform policy making, mobile data capture projects, establishing data sharing policies, having third level planning courses accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute, general training in all aspects of town & country (spatial) planning and assistance in establishing a national planning institute to regulate planners in Lesotho.


The duration of the agreement will be in line with that of AIT’s project which will currently run until 2016, with an option to extend beyond that date. As part of the agreement there will also be a number of planners travelling from Lesotho to Fingal for CPDs and other training courses based on Fingal case studies.



Stephen Peppard, DPM Hon. Mothetjoa Metsing, HE Gerry Gervin, Joe Corr
Stephen Peppard, DPM Hon. Mothetjoa Metsing, HE Gerry Gervin, Joe Corr
AIT, FCC & Lesotho Government reps read news from the Fingal Independent
AIT, FCC & Lesotho Government reps read news from the Fingal Independent
Stephen Peppard & Chief Phisical Planner for Lesotho, Masetori Makhetha
Stephen Peppard & Chief Phisical Planner for Lesotho, Masetori Makhetha

By joecorr, Feb 19 2014 07:51AM

In 2013, when I first travelled to Lesotho as part of the Fingal team’s project with Action Ireland Trust, I spoke to the Chief Physical Planner for Lesotho about the quality of planning courses available to students wishing to pursue a career in town and country planning (or Spatial Planning as it is more commonly known nowadays). I was told at the time that there was a course delivered in the National University of Lesotho (NUL) but it was of a less than desirable quality for what is required by the Chief Physical Planner’s office. I know the NUL will not mind me saying this because they are aware of certain deficits existing in some of the courses they currently run and are in the midst of a review.


When we looked at the issues surrounding the courses we agreed there was a requirement to have a course for planners that would raise the standard of graduates and meet the requirements of the Ministry for Local Government. It was decided that we might contact one of the Irish based planning institutes to explore the possibility of them accrediting third level planning courses in Lesotho. It was decided that we would contact the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) as they have global recognition and would be better placed to accredit courses at an international university.


With that as the objective, I made contact with a committee member of the RTPI in Ireland who was also a member of the RTPI International Committee. I was glad that I was speaking directly to someone who would be sitting in the meetings where the RTPI would be discussing such issues. I wrote formally to him and the response I received back was outstanding. In his discussions with his colleagues, it had been expressed that “this is the sort of project we need to be involved in.” I was bowled over by the response. I relayed that information to the Chief Physical Planner (CPP) for Lesotho who then looked at the possibility of bringing the NUL on board as the preferred third level institution to run such courses.


Last Thursday both the CPP and I travelled to Roma which is just outside the capital city of Maseru. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Maseru. The CPP had arranged for me to meet with the Board responsible for programmes being run by the university. There were five members of the committee available to meet us. The chairperson started the meeting by inviting the CPP to put the purpose of the meeting into context. The CPP began by saying that certain short-fallings exist in the standard of planning graduate that is embarking on a career and that she herself had contacted NUL previously to discuss this. The CPP stated that she had looked at encouraging the NUL to hold a number of CPDs during the year to keep planners up to speed on the changes in the sector on an ongoing basis. It was acknowledged by the committee that the courses currently being run at NUL were in need of review with the intention of streamlining some and replacing older courses with new ones. So our contact with them was timely indeed.


I was then invited to address the committee and I explained how the CPP and I had discussed the matter during my 2013 trip to Lesotho and my subsequent contact with the RTPI (as mentioned above). I took quite a few questions from the committee and answered them in clear detail so none of the information could be misconstrued. We then had a discussion as to why the NUL had been approached and I explained that as part of Fingal County Council’s participation in Action Ireland Trust’s Lesotho project, we had looked at third level institutions in the country. Had the project been in another part of Africa, it would have been a third level institution in that country. Ultimately it was a case of NUL being in the right place at the right time. Certainly that’s what it seemed to be because our approach coincided with the NUL review of their courses and programmes. There was a massive positive response from the committee and we left the meeting with the NUL committee willing to commit to establishing a school of planning in their institution if the RTPI would accredit the planning courses.


Now the next move is for me to make contact with the RTPI on my return to Ireland in order to start the ball rolling and have the criteria set and the accreditation process commenced. This is a significant progression in the Fingal – Lesotho Partnership and one we will be fully committed to delivering.

By joecorr, Feb 16 2014 08:39AM

The first day of training started on Tuesday morning with planners from various councils around the country travelling to Maseru for the introduction meeting. We had also arranged a meeting with the National Bureau of Statistics to obtain as much data as possible from them to be used in our training.


Wednesday saw us commence our training and we had a minibus provided by the Ministry of Local Government so that we could transport the Basotho planners to the subject site in order to survey the area. We had the specific objective of using our GPS units for mapping points and transferring that information to Open Street Maps (OSM). We split the group up into three teams and set off to start mapping the area of Ho Foso.


Ha Foso (pronounced Ha-Fuso) had been suggested by the Chief Physical Planner for Lesotho, Mrs Masetori Maketha as an area we could focus on. It is a suburb of Maseru and is a growing area. I first met Masetori during our 2013 trip and we have been in regular contact since then. The Fingal team has been able to make tremendous progress because of the interest in improving planning in Lesotho but most importantly we are striving for the sustainable development of Lesotho with the objective of improving the quality of life for the Basotho people.


The reason Ha Foso was presented as a project site is because it is fast growing and development of the area is happening quite rapidly (sounds familiar). The construction of primarily, residential development is fast outstripping the provision of essential infrastructure such as roads and potable water. Ha Foso will be used to enable the planners build their capacity by using technology to inform policy and help determine where development can and should take place and also where it should not. It is worth noting that unauthorised development makes up 60% of all development in Lesotho so there is a major requirement to get development under control to prevent people building on flood plains etcetera so that their houses are not washed away during heavy rain storms. Lesotho is a mountainous country and is very susceptible to the negative impact of climate change. For that reason planning for climate change is of major interest to the government.


We set the planners the challenge of trying to map as many points as possible and whichever team mapped the most points would be the winners of the day. Sounded like good fun but boy was it difficult. It is currently summer in Lesotho and it got extremely hot. Just to mention at this point that it can get up to 37 Celsius on some days. Luckily one of the ladies took pity on my poor sensitive Celtic skin and gave me her umbrella to shade under as we surveyed our way through the area. After we finished our site survey we returned to our base in Maseru where we got stuck into analysing the information.


The following day we continued our survey and mapped more of the area. The planners were divided into two groups, with one group going to Ha Foso to continue the work there and the other group staying at base to start mapping with OSM. It culminated in everyone working together in the afternoon and we even had a member of the Lesotho Fire Service join us to learn how to map hydrants and other essential infrastructure for the emergency services. On Friday afternoon we broke for the weekend and started to prepare for the week ahead. There is a really positive response from the Lesotho planners and they are eager to learn new skills and build their capacity so they have the skill set required to be effective planners in their areas. The planners we are working with at the moment will go back to their local authorities and train other members of staff so we are taking a ‘Train the Trainers’ approach in what we are aiming to achieve here. That way the knowledge can be passed on to all the planning staff in the district councils around the country.


By joecorr, Feb 11 2014 04:45PM

We set off from Dublin Airport on Saturday morning 8th of February and flew into London Heathrow, then we took a South African Airlines flight to Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo) and then almost 24 hours later we arrived at Moshoeshoe airport in Lesotho. We were greeted at the airport by our colleagues from the Fingal based charity group, Action Ireland Trust (AIT). We got a great welcome from the AIT guys and they swept us all off to our hotel where we will base ourselves for the next two weeks.


On Monday morning we joined our AIT colleagues for the first visit to the school project in Hlalele, just outside the city of Maseru. AIT has carried out building works over the last three years at the school in Hlalele and has transformed the lives of many families in the area. For more information on what AIT and Portmarnock Community School do there, just have a look at the blogs on their websites. We received a phenomenal welcome from the teachers, children and their families. Also contributing to the school project is Lusk (Fingal) based fresh produce growers and food processors, Country Crest. Commercial Manager, Tony Doyle has played an immense role in promoting local horticulture in the area and works closely with a number of organisations in Lesotho. This year is a culmination of the hard work carried out over the last short number of years and this year everyone will be benefitting from home grown pumpkins, potatoes, broccoli and spinach. Tony works with local farmers and students to build capacity and expand their knowledge of all things relating to horticulture. No better man!


On Monday afternoon we met with the Chief Physical Planner for Lesotho to whom we presented our programme. There is already an agreed theme for the programme we deliver and it is always agreed well in advance of us travelling to Lesotho. The theme was agreed in 2013 and it is centred on spatial planning and information technology. You will know from earlier blog posts that we have already focussed on the formulation of evidence based planning policy and the use of ArcGIS in planning. This year we will continue this theme by incorporating Open Street Maps and using GPS technology as part of the planners’ toolkit. There are many challenges facing Lesotho in regard to increasing development throughout the country. However on this occasion we have been tasked with focussing our efforts on an area on the outskirts of the Lesotho capital city of Maseru. The area we have been given to work with is called Ha Foso. This area is growing in population and there is already pressures occurring in regard to services such as wastewater treatment and roads.


We will spend the next week working with some of the most learned planners in Lesotho from various districts around Lesotho. Our approach this year will be to deliver a series of talks and site surveys in a CPD format. We will have around 12 planners attending our CPDs with five planners delivering the subject matter. This year the team is made up of myself, Hazel Craigie, Ciaran Staunton, Colin Broderick and Mark Whelan. Mark lives in Donabate near Swords, is part of the AIT team and is also studying planning in University College Dublin. Mark is valued member of our team and is eager to learn about what we are doing and gain some practical planning experience from his participation.


Today we did a recce of the Ha Foso area ahead of commencing our CPDs on Wednesday (12th of February). We have a good programme to deliver and we are all looking forward to getting stuck in to our mapping work.


Plenty of photos to follow.

By joecorr, Feb 5 2014 11:42AM

Following on from the successful trip we made in February 2013 (see below blog posts), the team from Fingal will embark on another mission to strengthen the partnership we have built up with the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship and Parliamentary Affairs in Lesotho. Last year we held training seminars on Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Local Area Plan formulation, Planning Enforcement action and Casual Trading among other topics. In 2012, Action Ireland Trust approached Fingal County Council (FCC) and invited them to become part of the development project in Lesotho. FCC decided that they would look at the most cost effective way to participate in the project and decided that a knowledge exchange would be the most appropriate way to become involved. That knowledge exchange would involve topics relevant to local government specifically in the planning, IT and emergency management areas. This year we will be focussing on using Open Street Maps and its use with GIS. We will also look at establishing Green Infrastructure with an emphasis on environmental planning and climate change. We will look at crowd sourcing to generate data and also storage of data.



The Fingal team meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister in 2013
The Fingal team meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister in 2013

We will arrive in Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho on Sunday the 9th of February and will spend two weeks working with a group of planners from the district councils and the local government department. You can follow our updates on Twitter and Facebook via the hashtag #lesotho14



Meeting the Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Mothetjoa Metsing in 2013
Meeting the Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Mothetjoa Metsing in 2013

There are four of us travelling from Fingal this year as part of the overall Action Ireland Trust project. Myself, Hazel Craigie, Colin “Rusty” Broderick and Ciaran Staunton. There will be approximately 80 people travelling from Portmarnock in North Dublin as part of a school project undertaken by Portmarnock Community School and Action Ireland Trust. You can follow their progress though a blog on the Portmarnock school site or the Action Ireland website. They are also on Twitter and Facebook.



Fran Whealan (CEO of AIT), King Letsie III of Lesotho & Me
Fran Whealan (CEO of AIT), King Letsie III of Lesotho & Me

I’m hoping to blog from Maseru on a regular basis while we are there so you can come back here for overall updates on the trip. Last year we developed strong friendships with the Chief Physical Planner in the Ministry of Local Government and the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) who is also Minister for Local Government. The DPM was very interested in exploring the prospect of developing Maseru as a “Green City” project so we will be looking at that topic too. Another development is in regard to accredited third level planning courses and the setting up of a regulatory body for planners in Lesotho. We will be developing that further on this trip. An important element of our trip this year will be the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Fingal County Council and the Ministry of Local Government. This will outline the activities that Fingal and Lesotho will participate in for a period of three years.





L - R Colin Broderick, Claire McIntyre, HE Gerry Gervin & Me
L - R Colin Broderick, Claire McIntyre, HE Gerry Gervin & Me


By joecorr, Sep 3 2013 08:34AM

Ancient Roman Emperor, Caligula once threatened to make his horse Incitatus a consul such was his contempt for the Roman Senate. Irish Premier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny hasn’t threatened to do anything like that but he is seeking to outright abolish the Seanad. It’s rumoured that Incitatus eventually became a priest…


Anyway, there has been plenty of broadcast media coverage and a lots of articles written about the referendum on Seanad abolition/retention over the last few weeks. The pro abolition side becoming more vocal as a new group ‘One House’ led by Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Commission has just stepped into the media spotlight. So things may be hotting up now.


The pro retention side has been more active up to now and we have seen comments from people like former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell calling the abolition of the Seanad a ‘smash and grab’ by the government. Although Michael McDowell has been a supporter of Seanad abolition in the past. In fairness to him, he has admitted he was wrong to support the abolition view and now believes it should be retained. In his pro abolition days he referred to the Seanad as a “cross between a political convalescent home and a crèche” for failed electioneers or aspiring Dáil candidates. Nevertheless, regardless of the call by pro retention advocates to have the Seanad reformed rather than abolished does seem to be a moot point as the forthcoming referendum does not facilitate reform. It simply gives the choice to abolish or retain. Kieran Mulvey has made this very clear in his statement yesterday.


Voting in the referendum to retain/abolish the Seanad will take place on the 4th of October 2013 between the hours of 7am and 10pm.


Last week I read an article by Steven Connolly (Irish Times, 27th August 2013) where he mentioned that of the 60 members of the Seanad, 25 of them had been unsuccessful candidates in the 2011 General Election when Fine Gael and Labour were the real winners, ending up as the coalition government.


So if the number of Seanad members is 60 and the number of Senators failing to obtain a Dáil seat in the 2011 General Election is 25 that means c. 41.6% of the members have failed to fulfil their ambition of being elected to the Dáil, as per Steven Carroll’s article. However, further calculations reveal much more if we exclude the Taoiseach nominees (11) and the senators elected via the university panels (6) which leaves us with 43 members of the Seanad to be considered. That being the case, the 25 members of the 43 who have failed in their election to the last Dáil causes the percentage figure to jump to 58.1% of members. I am aware that some of the Taoiseach appointments are being rumoured to run in future general elections but they haven’t as yet so I didn’t consider them.


Then if we take the number of 37 current Seanad members (as per Steven’s article) who have at some stage contested and failed in their attempt to be elected at a General Election from the 43 members, we are left with an astonishing 86% of current members of the Seanad who have had intentions at one stage or another to have themselves elected to Dáil Éireann.


So if 86% of members of the Upper House see it as the waiting room for the Dáil chamber or a consolation prize following unsuccessful General Election campaigns, unfortunately for supporters of Seanad retention, with these figures it is not a case of “Lies, damn lies and statistics” but more so a justification for abolition. Although that is only if people do not wish to support the Seanad as a waiting room for future Dáil candidates or as Michael McDowell has put it in the past, “a cross between a political convalescent home and a crèche.” Perhaps people are indifferent to that description of the Seanad. If they are, they may also be indifferent to the abolition of it.


If the electorate chooses to support the government and vote for the abolition of the Seanad, they need to be aware there is no other show in town because reform of the upper house is not an option (see One House article). Personally, I believe people are very much aware of that fact as that information is very much a part of the pro abolition campaign, even the pro retention side is seeking reform not abolition so it also raises the topic.


When I look at the data and see that 86% of current senators are in the Seanad following unsuccessful campaigns to have themselves elected to the Dáil, I think I could be forgiven for thinking that maybe it really is viewed by the political class as a retirement home for failed Dáil candidates or a waiting room for future Dáil candidates. Additionally, aside from the university panels, we as members of the general electorate do not have a say in how the senators are voted into the Seanad. Although perhaps vicariously we are voting for Seanad elections as councillors who we voted into office are mandated to vote on such issues, on our behalf. Councillors vote to elect senators after general elections but again that is mainly party political and during my time as a councillor I don’t recall receiving any correspondence from any member of the public in regard to which way I would vote in the 2007 Seanad election. Actually, I was directed which way to vote because it was part of a ‘deal’ that had been agreed.


So will apathy of the electorate mean the Seanad will be abolished when not enough people vote to save it? Alternatively, will we see a surge of support for Seanad retention?


Voting for the retention of the Seanad may be seen as a way of giving the government a ‘bloody nose’ for all of the budget woes suffered by the electorate since 2011 (and pre ’11 for that matter). It’s also worth mentioning that most recently the Seanad was recalled by Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly to discuss organ donation but was seen as a ‘Fianna Fáil publicity stunt’ according to an article by Daniel McConnell (Sunday Independent, 1st of September 2013) where he also stated that “it seems the more the public see of the Seanad, the less they like.” Strong words indeed.


It doesn't just come down to cost either. I'm reminded of the Oscar Wilde quote: "The definition of a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing." The big question is, what value does the Seanad offer to the people? It would seem even the pro retention side sees the Seanad as having little value, otherwise they would not be seeking reform of the current structure.


Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the people will have spoken. If the Seanad is retained, complaints regarding the lack of political reform will be pointless because it is being retained in its current format and people voting will be aware of that fact. Similarly if it is abolished, there will be no point in crying over spilt milk afterwards.


Here are links to articles I have referred to:


Figures show failed Dáil hopefuls recycled by parties for Seanad


Poll shows increase in support for abolishing Seanad


LRC Chief defends move to chair an anti Seanad group


By joecorr, May 13 2013 10:58AM

The collapse of a commercial building in Bangladesh in April 2013 is being reported as Bangladesh’s deadliest industrial disaster. Some 2,500 people have been rescued alive whilst (at time of writing) the death toll has risen above 1,000, according to the Bangladeshi Army.


This nine storey building housed nine garment factories and was located in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka. It is expected that there will be more bodies found as the continuing cleanup of the site is undertaken. The army operation has been ongoing for the last 19 days and they have used heavy machinery to move the rubble and recover nearly 100 bodies every day. There are harrowing images of the site coming from Bangladesh demonstrating the level of disaster being experienced by the people of Savar. The army is due to end its operation this week and hand the cleanup over to local authorities and missionaries who will finish off the cleanup of debris.


This collapse in Bangladesh reminds me that our own past was not much different. I am particularly reminded of the collapse of numbers 66 and 67 Church St in Dublin, which is more commonly known as the “Church Street Tenement Collapse.”


This disaster occurred on the 2nd of September 1913. In fact, this year is the centenary of the Church Street disaster where seven people lost their lives, three of whom were children, with almost 100 people losing their homes. What the disaster highlighted was the deplorable living conditions of working class people in Dublin. It had been reported that the Dangerous Buildings Inspector visited the building at the start of August, one month before the collapse occurred. His recommendation was that renovation work should be carried out immediately. In a follow up visit on the 15th of August, the visiting inspector passed the building as safe.


Following the Church Street disaster, a Committee of Inquiry was set up by Government that would review housing in Dublin City. The committee submitted its report in 1914 and the content was quite disturbing. The population of Dublin was approximately 400,000 with just under 88,000 people living in tenements in the city centre.


The Committee reporting on its findings said, “There are many tenement houses with seven or eight rooms that house a family in each room and contain a population of between forty and fifty souls. We have visited one house that we found to be occupied by 98 persons, another by 74 and a third by 73.”


Clearly overcrowding of the accommodation was causing major problems in terms of the impact on health and specifically the spread of disease, predominately TB or ‘consumption’ as it was more commonly known. Other highly contagious diseases such as measles and whooping cough were dangerous to undernourished children.


“Having visited a large number of these houses in all parts of the city, we have no hesitation in saying that it is not (an) uncommon thing to find halls and landings, yards and closets of the houses in a filthy condition, and in nearly every case human excreta is to be found scattered about the yards and in the floors of the closets and in some cases even in the passages of the house itself...”


This conjures up quite a harrowing vision of how poverty draws people into an environment that will ensure they are trapped in a vicious circle of deprivation. It means families are subjected to living in appalling conditions and working in menial jobs as unskilled labour, if they are even capable of working due to undernourishment. That being the case, there were no adequate funds available to families for basics such as food, shelter or healthcare.


This brings us back from the Church Street tenement collapse in September, 1913 to the collapse of the building in Bangladesh in April, 2013 where the people killed in that awful disaster were there to ensure they could provide food and shelter for their families. Now that many of those families are without their breadwinners they are faced with the prospect of further deprivation and poverty for many years to come.


You can view photographs from Dublin City Public Libraries "Derelict Dublin" on the Dublin City Council website.


By joecorr, Feb 19 2013 09:47AM

Following on from our meetings with the Deputy Prime Minister and his staff as well as the Director of Physical Planning in Maseru City Council, we agreed a programme to be delivered in week two.


We had prepared the Lab and installed the required software to support the GIS training. We needed a second Lab to carry out our planning training and the College of Education obliged by giving us a room in a new building on campus. This was very helpful because we had split the group of 25 participants into two groups, one for GIS training and one for the Local Area Plan workshop.


Monday saw the training kick off with Michael McGlynn of Action Ireland Trust officially welcoming the participants to the training workshops. I had to dash off after the official launch because I had been invited to join other members of the Action Ireland team on a visit to the Royal Residence of King Letsie III of Lesotho. Some of you may recall King Letsie visited Ireland in early 2012 and visited Portmarnock Community School in Fingal and then went on to visit Country Crest in Lusk. This visit was primarily due to the involvement of Action Ireland Trust and Country Crest in Lesotho.


We travelled to the King’s country residence and I was pleasantly surprised at how chilled out the King was. He and the Queen received us in the gardens of their residence so I can now say that I was at a Royal Garden Party. We were all asked to speak about the respective strands we were delivering on. The King was very down to Earth...I would say by Royal standards but then I don’t know too many Kings. He then invited us to take some light refreshments and even poured the tea for some of the visitors. The Queen was equally accommodating. A lovely couple who made us feel very comfortable during our visit. After the visit finished it was back to the college to continue with the workshop training.


We had been designated an area of Maseru to carry out an LAP on. It was an interesting choice by the MCC as it was somewhat rural and quite close to the border with South Africa. Nevertheless, we took all of the participants on a trip to the location so they could carry out a site survey of the subject lands. In an interesting departure from the approach we normally use in Ireland, we were required to get the permission of the local Chieftain to go on to the land. It isn’t the case that the Chieftain owns the land, more so he is responsible for the administration of the land. We brought one of the Senior Planners from MCC with us and he spoke to representatives of the Chieftain to inform them that we were going to be on site. It’s not quite clear to me why we needed to do that but whilst we were on site, there were some guys keeping an eye on us from the surrounding fields. I think they were just curious as to what we were up to.


The day we visited the site it was exceptionally hot. So much so that some of the locals were using umbrellas to shade themselves from the Sun. If you see the locals doing this, it’s time to get into the shade! It’s worth noting that it was only around 10am at that stage. Nevertheless, we surveyed the site and gathered a lot of data. There were already some housing units partially constructed on the site so we needed to take that into consideration as well. Following the site visit, we returned to the labs to compile all of the information gathered.


Claire got stuck into the GIS training and Colin took the planning group who were going to carry out the LAP. It wasn't the case that the groups were seperate and never interacted. The reality was that the planning group would use the data accumulated by the GIS team and pull all of the information together. It was tough going because in week two we only had two days training (Mon & Tues) because we were scheduled to travel to South Africa with Action Ireland so the workshops and training was very intense. When we were finishing on Tuesday, we asked the participants to carry on working on the project and set them objectives to achieve while we were away.


Before our trip to South Africa, we are invited to the Irish Ambassador's Residence for drinks. Ireland is one of the few countries to have an Embassy in Lesotho. The Irish Ambassador to Lesotho is Gerry Gervin. Both Gerry and his wife Anna made us very welcome and thanked us for our contribution to the development work being carried out in Lesotho. All who attended were treated to singing and dancing from the Portmarnock Community School students, ably led by AIT musical director, Brian O'Shaughnessy. We were also 'treated' to some songs from the Dublin Fire Brigade lads who travelled to Lesotho with us. It was mighty craic indeed. Claire even contemplated a change of career and tried on a Dublin Fire Brigade hat to see if it suited but thankfully she has opted to stay working in GIS.


We left Maseru on Wednesday morning and embarked on a 10 hour drive to South Africa. While there we had the opportunity to go on a safari tour in Pilanesberg National Park. It was a great experience. We saw lots of African animals that you would normally only see in Dublin Zoo! We had to go on the tour at 5.30am and then at 4.30pm to have the best opportunity to see the animals. It was a great experience and I don’t know if we will have the opportunity to do it ever again so we didn't pass it up. Here is a link to footage I filmed on my iPhone of lions chasing some antelope.


Following our overnight stay in RSA, the Action Ireland team flew back to Dublin from Johannesburg via Heathrow, while we returned to Maseru for an extra week.

The entrance to the country residence of King Letsie III
The entrance to the country residence of King Letsie III
King Letsie III is presented with a scroll by Portmarnock Community School
King Letsie III is presented with a scroll by Portmarnock Community School
CEO of Action Ireland, Fran Whelan, King Letsie IIII and myself
CEO of Action Ireland, Fran Whelan, King Letsie IIII and myself
The crew arrive for the site survey
The crew arrive for the site survey
Try as he might, Rusty still couldn't see his house from there
Try as he might, Rusty still couldn't see his house from there
Some of the existing development on our site
Some of the existing development on our site
Organising ourselves for the site survey
Organising ourselves for the site survey
At the Ambassador's residence in Maseru, we brought Ferrero Rocher!!!
At the Ambassador's residence in Maseru, we brought Ferrero Rocher!!!
Claire gets stuck into her GIS programme
Claire gets stuck into her GIS programme

By joecorr, Feb 19 2013 08:32AM

*Due to intermittent internet access and restrictions on logging into my website, I am only posting now.


Week 1


I am currently in Maseru, Lesotho in southern Africa where I am part of a two man, one woman team of spatial planners from Ireland, more specifically from Fingal in north county Dublin. This is part of a bigger project being run by Action Ireland Trust (AIT), an Irish based Non Government Organisation. AIT has been carrying out development work in Africa for a number of years and has for the last three years worked on construction projects in the ‘Mountain Kingdom’ of Lesotho. This is the first occasion I have had the pleasure of working with an overseas development project and I’ve got to say, these guys are totally on top of their game.


There is a team of approximately 82 people who have travelled from Portmarnock in Fingal as part of the programme. The project is led by AIT in partnership with Portmarnock Community School and there are around 32 Transition Year students travelling this year (with some Mums and Dads in tow). The project initially started out with organising school building projects and has progressed into providing medical support to people in the more marginalised areas of Lesotho. So not only are builders from all disciplines part of the programme, so are dentists, nurses and doctors. In particular I am very impressed to learn that four of the most promising students currently studying with the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, are part of the medical delegation. Travelling with me are Claire McIntyre who is the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Officer with Fingal County Council and Colin (Rusty) Broderick who works with Eirgrid. Both are exceptional practitioners in their field.


The AIT team will stay for two weeks but we will stay for an extra week because we are carrying out capacity building in several areas of spatial planning. Claire will specifically look after the GIS element of training while Colin and I will look after updating the Maseru City Development Plan and also work on a Local Area Plan with planners from Maseru City Council, Urban District Councils and the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship.


Our journey to Africa commenced on the 1st of February last when we flew from Dublin Airport, on to Heathrow Airport and on further to Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa where we collected our ‘Bakkie’ and made the six hour drive on to Maseru in Lesotho where we are currently based. After travelling for nearly 15 hours, the drive to Maseru was a challenge to say the least. Thankfully Colin was riding shotgun and shared the driving duties with me. We also had travelling companions in the shape of two RCSI students, Ankit and Yasin. The drive was tough but the banter was mighty! Claire travelled in another Bakkie with Brian, Andy and Andrea and reported a similar level of ‘Craic’ being the order of the day in her vehicle.


What a drive!! There was some spectacular scenery on the journey as we made our way from Johannesburg to Maseru. I even saw an Ostrich in a field along the way (others saw it too so I wasn’t hallucinating due to exhaustion!). I never realised how big those things were until I saw one in the flesh. It was huge!


We drove in convoy to Maseru and I must say when we were on the open road, it looked spectacular. All the vehicles together looked like a giant white snake on the road. We stopped along the way to refuel both ourselves and the Bakkies. That was when Colin took over the driving. I have to say, I was relieved because I was feeling the tiredness of the long flight. A bit further on I started to get a bit of a rumble in my tummy and wondered if it was the salad I had when we stopped for a break. The rumble turned into a cramp and pretty soon I was warning my travel companions of my...eh...difficulties. It was handy to be in the company of two of the RCSI’s top students at that point because they were adept at finding a location on the roadside where I could ‘deal’ with my cramped tummy. Now I’m not a shy individual under normal circumstances but when you have a convoy of people pulling in on the side of the road to see what the reason is behind one of the vehicles coming to a halt, I think anyone can be forgiven for being a touch embarrassed by the whole situation. I just want to take this opportunity to thank Claire, Rusty and the others for shouting some encouragement whilst I squatted behind a tree on the South African roadside, petrified that some grass snake or Cobra would come along to check out what all the fuss was about. Thanks guys, I’d do the same for you!!! Anyway, I survived and it seemed the tummy upset wasn’t anything serious, merely the tiredness catching up with me. Moving on swiftly...


We arrived in Maseru in the evening after coming through an uneventful border crossing from RSA into Lesotho. It was a fantastic welcome. We got an escort from the border to our hotel from the Fire Brigade and the Police. There were people on the streets cheering and waving us through. I’m not even sure they knew what was going on but they were joining in the excitement generated by the emergency service sirens and the horns beeping. That was on Saturday, 2nd of February.


On Sunday morning we were heading to the local shopping centre to get some supplies to bring back to the hotel, water and fruit etc. However, our shopping trip was put on hold when a civil servant arrived at our hotel. The woman was the Senior Physical Planner from the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship and she wanted to speak to us about our visit. She was a very nice lady and we spoke to her about our draft programme. When we finished discussing our plans, she informed us that the Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho, the Honourable Mothetjoa Metsing who is also the Minister for Local Government, Chieftainship and Parliamentary Affairs wanted to see us at his Government office the following morning. We were glad of the opportunity to meet him and also happy with the fact that the senior minister responsible for planning in Lesotho was giving us an audience.


We were collected the following morning by the Town Clerk who was going to bring us to the Ministerial building first and then on to see our counterparts in the Maseru City Council building. I should say at this point that the Town Clerk in Maseru is more like the CEO of the council and is a woman who deals with all the important matters associated with running a busy city like Maseru. We went to the government buildings and headed to the office of the Minister. There was also a delegation from the Malawi Government visiting at the same time so we had to wait a short while to get in to see the Minister. When we got into the Minister’s office there was a film crew from the local news channel waiting to cover our visit, which was unexpected but very positive nonetheless. The minister was a very welcoming man and made us feel right at home. We started off with a light-hearted joke about one of our colleague’s sunglasses, which broke the ice. He apologised that he could not spend much time with us as he had been informed at short notice that he was required to travel to the Republic of South Africa. However, he instructed his staff to look after us and ensure that we got any support we required to carry out our work in Maseru. He also mentioned that he would arrange for us to have dinner with him next week. I thought that was a nice gesture. We left and headed to the Maseru City Council office. We met with the Director of Planning, an extremely helpful woman who introduced us to her staff, some of whom will be attending out training workshops.


We then travelled to the College of Education where we met with the Assistant Rector of Administration who happens to be from Cork!!! Anne has been an invaluable connection for us. She has helped us with obtaining training facilities on the college campus and arranged for us to feed the participants in the college canteen, not to mention saving our skin with DHL who wanted 2,500 Maloti (local currency) for the training manuals we sent down. Thankfully as the manuals were training/educational materials, we got an exemption from the import duty. Anne did all of the form filling and submission to the local customs office for us, which was a great help.


The College of Education is a teacher training college and Anne is trying to bring forward initiatives that the student teachers will hopefully implement in their schools when they receive placement following graduation. One of those initiatives is based on the An Taisce Green Schools programme. I had brought some manuals with me for Anne to use when putting the committee together. Claire, Colin and I were invited to the college to meet with representatives from the EU who will hopefully fund a ‘Green Week’ in the college during March. It will be kicked off on St Patrick’s Day, which I think is a very appropriate date to start the programme! There will be drama, poetry and all participants will be required to wear a green item of clothing on the day. The themes of the week will be on recycling and energy conservation. Best of luck with it guys.


We spent most of the week setting up the computers in the lab on the college campus. The college could do with upgrading the computers and software but money is so tight that it may be a long time before they get any upgrade at all. Nevertheless, we are very thankful that the college is allowing us to carry out our workshops there. Also it was very helpful that Esri Ireland supported us in setting up the labs for the GIS training by sending us the required licences we needed for the training. In fairness, we couldn’t have carried out any training workshops without Esri’s input so a huge thanks to all involved there.


Yesterday we took time out to visit a school building project in Hlalle just outside Maseru in the mountains. It was scorching hot and I have to say, the guys working on that site are heroes. There were chippies and block layers working away and not a bother on them. Meanwhile a group of women from AIT were painting some of the classrooms that had been finished. Wow folks, these people are just phenomenal, that’s all I can say. The hard work they put in is exceptional and we were very impressed with what they were doing. There were a few sensitive necks and shoulders later that evening I’d say, judging by the amount of pink Irish skin on some of the folks there. The heat from the Sun was intense and I just don’t know how they were still ploughing ahead full throttle on the building works. We take our hats off to you folks.


Finally, we had a draft programme initially but didn’t want to set anything in stone until we met with our planning counter parts in Maseru. Following a meeting with the representatives from the ministry and the council on Thursday last, we have it pretty much finalised and agreed now. We are now working to prepare all of the training material we need for the coming week. We’ve spent most of the week setting up our programme and putting the necessary teaching material in place. As I write this Claire is pulling together her presentation for her classes which start tomorrow, Monday 11th of February. Colin has his ‘Guide to making Local Area Plans’ ready (so he gets to see the Rugby in a local hotel!) and I am continuing with my ‘Planning Enforcement’ and ‘Public Consultation Process’ presentations. I have another three to finalise in the coming week which shouldn’t be a problem. Next week should be interesting to say the least!!!

Maseru Border Crossing got a little bit busier than normal when we arrived
Maseru Border Crossing got a little bit busier than normal when we arrived
The Fingal Team meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho
The Fingal Team meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho
Claire 'The Bear' McIntyre preparing for her GIS training workshops
Claire 'The Bear' McIntyre preparing for her GIS training workshops
Myself and Colin 'Rusty' Broderick ponder the Maseru City Development Plan
Myself and Colin 'Rusty' Broderick ponder the Maseru City Development Plan
Maseru City Council Offices...pretty obvious really...
Maseru City Council Offices...pretty obvious really...
Roisin, Brian, Damo, Anne, Andy & Karen from Action Ireland taking a break
Roisin, Brian, Damo, Anne, Andy & Karen from Action Ireland taking a break
Action Ireland crew working on the school in intense heat - Heroes all!
Action Ireland crew working on the school in intense heat - Heroes all!
Not a bad working environment ;0)
Not a bad working environment ;0)

By joecorr, Nov 21 2012 10:58PM

It has been two weeks since Minister for Health; James Reilly TD announced that Saint James’s Hospital in Dublin 8 will be the site for the new National Children’s Hospital. This was a significant announcement following the controversy that surrounded the Mater site proposal. This was a proposal that could not previously get through the normal planning process. Saint James’s is a long established hospital; many will remember its former name was Saint Kevin’s Hospital. It previously had a maternity unit and was the hospital where I was born. In fact some years ago when I needed to get a copy of my birth certificate in Lombard Street and told them I had been born in Saint James’s Hospital, you can imagine my reaction when they told me they could not find a record of my birth. It was only when another member of staff intervened and suggested I had been born there when it was called Saint Kevin’s that we resolved the matter.


Unfortunately that may not be the end of my confusion regarding Saint James’s Hospital as I am baffled at how they came to a decision to site the National Children’s Hospital at that location. It is being put forward that there is an opportunity for tri-location due to the proximity of The Coombe Maternity Hospital. This is being perceived as a red herring by some experts as there is no physical link between Saint James’s and The Coombe.


It has been made clear that there is no specific requirement for public transport links to the new National Children’s Hospital because the vast majority of trips to the hospital will be undertaken by private transport, whether it is by taxi or private car. We know this from when the Mater site was being considered because some people thought having Metro North passing the door would be a boon to the decision. Not the case.


Subsequent to the Mater proposal being refused, when I saw there were other hospitals being considered, I was glad to see Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown was on the shortlist. My immediate reaction was a positive one because I am familiar with the area and have myself carried out planning research in the Dublin 15 area of Fingal. I carried out a brief desktop survey of the site and was pleasantly surprised to see Connolly as a very feasible location for the new National Children’s Hospital. I then delved a bit deeper into research to see what other positive elements would lend themselves to the proposal. I discovered through census and other open data sources available that the largest concentration of population under the age of 18 was in the Blanchardstown, Clondalkin, Lucan and Tallaght area of Dublin. The second largest concentration of that age group is in Navan and Drogheda. It struck me that in terms of catchment Blanchardstown was an extremely attractive location for the Children’s Hospital so I was surprised to learn that the Expert Group stated that Saint James’s had the highest concentration of children within a 10km radius than any other site. I was surprised at this because the 10km radius overlaps and encroaches on the same catchment area as the Connolly Hospital site. Just to remind you, Connolly Hospital is more accessible to the previously mentioned, Navan and Drogheda as well so lends itself to being a more accessible site to those living outside the Dublin boundary.


Considering that enhanced public transport linkages are not a prerequisite for the location of the hospital, I looked at the other transport infrastructure available to Connolly. Conveniently Connolly hospital is located on the N3 which is just off the Castleknock interchange of the M50. The M50 motorway being the main orbital link for the GDA (Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow).


Let us even park (pardon the pun) the enhanced road links and how much better they are for Connolly Hospital in comparison to the Saint James’s Hospital site. There is also the issue of future expansion of the National Children’s Hospital site. I would like to have a clearer picture of what the plans for expansion are on the Dublin 8 site in comparison to the Dublin 15 site. The Connolly site is bounded by the Sports Campus lands where there is ample room for expansion. I am not talking about expansion in the next decade; I am looking at the potential of expansion in the next 50 years. Does St James’s have that scope? I do not believe it does, at least not without significant regeneration of the surrounding area. The Connolly site has the scope to take land from the Sports Campus with little or no impediment so the land adjacent to Connolly Hospital could be acquired by the governing body of the hospital in a prompt fashion with minimal cost to the exchequer. With a significant amount of residential and commercial land surrounding the Saint James’s site in private ownership; I am dubious that land could be acquired in such a convenient manner. Perhaps we will be told that there is no future requirement for additional land once the Children’s Hospital is established. And again we may observe a Government Department preparing to fail for a second time, on the same issue.


There was also a political element to this process. If reports are accurate about comments regarding the criticism of Ministers Joan Burton and Leo Varadkar by other Cabinet members who dismissed the Ministers support of the Connolly site as parish pump politicking are to believed, I wonder about the motivation to rule out Connolly hospital for any reason other than it was in Burton and Varadkar’s bailiwick. If that is the case I fear for the bona fides of the decision. Are we to expect any area that has a sitting minister as a TD, too politically sensitive to locate vital social infrastructure for fear that accusations of ‘stroke politics’ will be levelled at them?


Returning to the announcement of the National Children’s Hospital to be located at the Saint James’s Hospital site. There were people understandably disappointed that they have no chance of having the hospital located at their preferred site. That is to be expected but what struck me was the level of ignorance toward the planning process this project is about to embark upon. It would seem that because a site has been selected the belief is that planning permission will follow automatically. This might cause some concern because we have been here before. Cast your mind back to the Mater site planning decision. Did we not all believe that to be a done deal just for it to fall at the final hurdle of planning permission? The comments from disappointed champions of the Mater site that followed the rejection by An Bord Pleanála were interesting to say the least. Even the Minister for Health himself commented that they would reduce the hospital in size to fit it on the Mater site. What would be the point in doing that? Had they ‘over egged the pudding’ in the first instance? The answer is no and that’s why it was ludicrous for a Minister to even make that comment. If this is the approach we are relying on to deliver the National Children’s Hospital, we are in for a long drawn out process.


As for the planning authority that will be reviewing any application. An Bord Pleanála is an independent planning body that cannot and will not be dictated to or strong armed into delivering a decision that will not be in the interest of sustainable development for the area. An Bord Pleanála will assess the environmental, economical and social consequences of the planning proposal before the permission can be granted. And yet we had people making comments calling on An Bord Pleanála to be mindful that there are sick children waiting for this facility to be delivered (I’m looking at you Harry Crosbie). It is true to say that An Bord Pleanála will consider that element but I believe they will not base their decision on a “will somebody please think of the children” cry from those who obviously have no understanding or experience of the proper planning process or the legislation and procedures involved.


It is disappointing to say but I do not believe we have heard the last of controversy surrounding the location of the National Children’s Hospital. My chief concern is that whilst argument and counter argument is set out by the various hospital groups and political factions, the understanding of what this process really entails is being lost and may hinder the delivery further. I hope not.

Artist's impression of the National Children's Hospital on the Mater site.
Artist's impression of the National Children's Hospital on the Mater site.
The Connolly Hospital isite in Blanchardstown, D15.
The Connolly Hospital isite in Blanchardstown, D15.
The recently selected St James's Hospital site.
The recently selected St James's Hospital site.
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