If, as seems likely, domestic water charges will be abolished, what remains is the question of who is wasting water. The Oireachtas committee reviewing the expert commission’s report is stalled, and water waste is a central issue.
That’s because Fine Gael want to introduce some kind of charge for those who waste water, although they prefer not to identify who those people might be. Fianna Fáil are sort of against charges.
With this in mind, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett asked Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney a pointed question on 23 February.
The deputy wanted to know “if [the minister] has requested local authorities to ascertain the number of swimming pools that are in private residences across the country in view of his support for an excessive use water charge”.
In his written answer, the minister reported that, among other things, “no information in relation to swimming pools in private residences is available in my Department and I have not requested that such information be collated”.
The minister is not wrong: his department does not collate that information. But local authorities do when people apply for planning permission for their back-garden swimming pools.
Here at UCD, we have collected this information. We searched for the phrase “swimming pool” in each council’s planning database, eliminated duplicate records, institutional and health club applications and then discarded the compliance records for pre-existing applications.
Working with these applications from both Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, we have mapped 106 locations that we believe have residential swimming pools.
Our map does not mean your neighbour has a pool, it merely means they have applied for permission for one. Some might not have been built, even if planning was granted.
Using freely available software, we mapped all 106 records to their approximate location (the applications have house numbers). What else are geographers to do?
Using a point-in-polygon analysis – the pools are points, the polygons the electoral districts –we identified several neighbourhoods across Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown where there have been many swimming pool applications.
The pattern is clear and perhaps, not surprising. Most of the city’s swimming pools are located on the eastern side of the city, with concentrations in Clontarf on the northside and in Ballsbridge and Dartry south of the river.
In the south of the suburban area, we see larger concentrations of applications (and probably pools) in Kilternan and Stepaside and then further east again around Shankill. Killiney has seen ten applications for swimming pools in recent years.
The data we have collected tells us nothing about how big these pools are. But as the map illustrates, there is a geography of residential swimming pools and it broadly matches the areas in Dublin where there is more relative affluence.
There are several other swimming pools in the city, of course, most of which are in public ownership or have public access. But why not levy a charge on those who own the private pools, as one step towards addressing water wastage?
After all, one way to think about water wastage is in terms of a subsidy from those households where everyone has a bath in the sink, to those households with very large heated bathtubs in their garden.
Map by Emma Curran, Alex Murray, and Eoin O’Mahony