A fortnight ago, as part of the second stage of drafting the Dublin City Development Plan (2017-2022), the Workers’ Party tabled a motion at Dublin City Council which would have seen large businesses forced to disclose wage structure information as part of economic impact assessment.
The exact motion proposed to insert the following wording into the Development Plan’s section on Employment, Enterprise and Economic Development Sectors:
“That Dublin City Council recognises the role which planning plays in encouraging and discouraging particular business activities in the city, the dependence of the city centre on retail and hospitality jobs, and the low pay associated with these sectors. In order to encourage a higher proportion of decent wage employment in Dublin, all large corporations (employing above 250 people) submitting commercial planning applications will be required to submit a review of company wage structures and trade union recognition, along with environmental and other reviews, as part of their planning application.”
In effect, then, it called for “Economic Impact Assessments” to form a far greater part of the Dublin City planning process than they currently do.
Not a new concept for the state
Economic Impact Assessments, as part of broader Environmental Impact Assessments, are not entirely new terrain in Ireland. A number of reports from government agenices have argued that gathering information on the economic impact of large planning applications is a crucial part of ensuring community “buy in.” Indeed, they go as far as to criticise the absence of any government guidelines on how an Economic Impact Assessment might be conducted by those applying for planning permission.
For example, a June 2012 report relating to planning permission for wind energy developments commissed by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) stated that, “there is currently very little guidance as to the scope and methodology of Socio-Economic Impact Assessments (SIAs) and some lack of clarity as to its role in the planning decision.” Compared with more traditional impact assessments – the natural environment, for example. The SEAI called for, in relation to economic assessments of windfarms “The development of official guidance to provide a standardised approach to assessing potential socioeconomic impacts.”
So why the hesitation?
The Workers’ Party motion was dismissed both by council management and by councillors.
Council planners argued that the motion went “beyond the scope of the Development Plan” and that the National Minimum Wage Act adequately covered intent of the motion – to ensure large developments do not drive down wages in a locality. Councillors argued the motion would have a detrimental effect on trading in the city.
There is clear contrast between this interpretation, and the SEAI’s calls for greater state guidance on how to carry out an Economic Impact Assessment. And the current official guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is explicitly to exclude the economic impacts of planning decisions from Environmental Impact Assessments.
Planning to protect decent jobs in the north inner city
Take the example of the north inner city. Because of the continued dereliction and vacancy in the O’Connell Street area, the city council is in a constant process of engaging with prospective developers for the area, assessing their concerns, and how these might be addressed by the city in order to persuade them to invest. Hoteliers have been amongst those expressing high levels of interest.
Average weekly earnings in the hotel sector are only a little above €300 per week. Meanwhile, of just thirteen unionised hotels in Dublin, three are located in the O’Connell Street area. An explosion of multinational hotels in that area would inevitably drive down the wages of those unionised hotels. It is illogical, in this context, to contend that they types of planning strategies and decisions we pursue are not intimately linked to the quality of work available to Dublin’s residents.
Humans versus Badgers
Economist Richard Douthwaite critiqued the EPA’s exclusion of economic impacts from its guidelines, commenting that “while an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will, quite properly, concern itself with the changes that a new road will make to, say, the movement of badgers from where they sleep to where they find their food, the same analysis cannot be carried out for humans.”
There is no moral or logical explanation for our government to regard impact on the natural environment to be a crucial consideration in planning decisions, but not the impact on the wages, livelihoods and rights of workers. The distinction is quite transparently driven by the wishes of business to maximise their profits – something which planners have, I believe, a responsibility to bring into the open, and challenge.
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