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Radical Planning Measures unveiled by Ministers Kelly and Coffey

Foilsithe an Máirt, 15 Noll 2015

The Government today (15 December, 2015) approved the publication of a major package of legislative and policy reforms by both  Alan Kelly TD, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Paudie Coffey TD, Minister with Special Responsibility for Housing, Planning and Coordination of the Construction 2020 Strategy in relation to Ireland’s planning process that the Government intends will address past failures but more importantly ensure that Ireland is prepared for the planning and development challenges of the future.

There are three key elements to the package approved including:

  • Publication of an Independent Planning Review Report (pdf, 3,529kb) of planning practices and procedures in six local authorities
  • Publication of a Planning and Development Bill which, amongst other matters, will provide for the establishment of an independent “Office of the Planning Regulator” to maintain a constant watch over the general systems and procedures employed by planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála and to examine and report on the content of development plans, including zoning practices of local authorities
  • Publication of arrangements for the preparation of a National Planning Framework (pdf, 1,405kb) as the overall strategic planning and development strategy for the country, including regional and local level planning and to be adopted by Dáil Éireann in line with provisions of the Planning Bill.

At the launch of the package, the Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly T.D. stated that:

“The planning process is constantly in the public eye and for good reason because good planning is critical to meet our needs in economic, environmental and social terms. However, we know that the system needs to be enhanced through both effective oversight and clearer long-term thinking, which is why the Government has today approved my proposals in relation to publication of the Planning Review Report, new planning legislation to establish an independent Planning Regulator and arrangements for the preparation of a new National Planning Framework to set a path for development for the next 20 years. We have an historic legacy of poor decision making, of questionable zonings which have resulted in some communities living in places they shouldn’t be. These reforms will ensure that public good will trump the interests of greed in all future planning decisions,”

Planning Review Report

MacCabe Durney Barnes were appointed under section 255 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 in February 2014 to undertake an independent planning review of the performance of planning functions having regard to specific planning issues raised in respect of the six planning authorities (Carlow, Cork, Galway and Meath County Councils and Cork and Dublin City Councils) and of the organisation and of the systems and procedures used by them in relation to their functions under the Act.

The report found that all the complainants raised issues of public interest and as such have served the common good in raising these matters.  It also highlighted that the planning authorities reviewed have, by and large, and over a period of time, responded positively in addressing the issues identified.   The Independent Review has made 29 recommendations across the planning system and relate to proposals for legislative changes, improved Ministerial guidelines and advice.

The independent Review Report has not found that the planning system is broken or fundamentally flawed from a legislative and policy framework perspective, but that certain systems and procedures need to be reviewed and enhanced to achieve the standards of transparency, consistency and accountability that a modern society expects and that is what the Government will focus on.  By and large these can be addressed through circulars and guidance rather than legislation, albeit there are some legislative proposals upon which the Minister will advance following consultation with the Attorney General.

Minister Kelly also today published a report outlining steps to be taken in the implementation of all 29 recommendations by legislative, regulatory and policy level changes.  Commenting on the publication of the Review Report and Departmental implementation strategy, Minister Kelly stated that:

“The Independent Planning Review Report has identified areas for further improvement of Ireland’s planning process and I would like to thank both the consultants for their in-depth probing and analysis that is evident from this comprehensive report and the persons and authorities who were involved in the Review. The Review Report is the culmination of a long process in coming to independent conclusions and recommendation that I firmly believe will lead to further improvements and enhancements in the openness, transparency, effectiveness and accountability of our planning system.”

Minister Coffey added,

“Publication of the Review Report on top of the previous Mahon Tribunal Final Report marks a new departure as we continue to focus on further reforms of our planning system and ensure that it is meeting the needs of a fast resurgent economy and in a way that learns from the past and operates in the interests of the common good and which has the full confidence of the public.”

Independent Planning Review of The Performance of Planning Functions having regard to Specific Issues raised in respect of Six Planning Authorities (pdf, 3,529kb) – Final Report by MacCabe Durney Barnes

Response of the Department of the Environment Community and Local Government to the Independent Planning Review (pdf, 710kb)

Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2015

The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide a legislative basis for the establishment and operation of the independent Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) which was the main recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal of Inquiry into certain planning matters and payments.   Under the provisions of the Bill, the OPR will be:

  • fully independent of the Department in its day to day operations
  • responsible for the independent assessment of all local authority and regional assembly forward planning, including the zoning decisions of local authority members in local area and development plans, to ensure compliance with relevant national and/or regional policy
  • empowered to review the organisations, systems and procedures used by any planning authority or An Bord Pleanala in the performance of any of their planning functions under the Planning Act, including potential systemic risks of corruption and on foot of individual complaints from members of the public; and
  • enabled to drive a national research, education and public information programme on proper planning and sustainable development, and to highlight the role and benefit of planning.

“In establishing the OPR, the primary aim of the Government is to ensure proper oversight over the systems and procedures used by planning authorities in the performance of their planning functions and one that will ensure public confidence in the delivery of quality evidence based outcomes”, stated Minister Kelly.

“In particular, the OPR will be mandated to ensure that appropriate independent controls are applied in the drawing up of local authority development plans with the overarching objective of contributing to and overseeing proper planning and sustainable development, the optimal functioning of a robust and transparent planning system, and so that the failings of the past in the planning system are not repeated in the future”, continued the Minister.

Minister Coffey added “This is the most important point that needs to be made. We have all seen the legacy issues associated with the adoption of poor and insufficiently robust development plans in previous decades, including the excessive over-zoning of land for housing in certain areas with significant negative consequences and impacts. We are now firmly addressing these issues having regard to the recommendation of the Mahon Report and with a view to putting in place a planning system that is fit for purpose and appropriately positioned to meet the challenges of a modern and recovering economy”.

National Planning Framework

The Government believes that as the recovery takes hold, the time is now right to start planning for a better future and to put in place a workable National Plan to ensure that Ireland becomes an even more attractive place in which to live, work, visit or do business.

Minister Coffey highlighted that:

“Developing a new National Planning Framework in 2016, a century on from the Rising that led to the building of our nation will be a fitting demonstration of Ireland’s capacity to plan ambitiously but realistically for our future”.

The National Planning Framework will replace the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) which dates from 2002.  The new framework will address both the challenges and opportunities required to create more dynamic cities, towns and rural communities to ensure that through good planning:

  • quality of life is assured across the regions for all of our citizens
  • national and international competitiveness strengthens our economic growth
  • investment is strategically guided in developing world class infrastructure
  • we face up to climate change in areas such as energy supply and flood risk and
  • we protect and enhance our unique landscape and cultural assets.

As the highest level planning policy document for the country, the new Framework will provide a long term vision to guide future development and investment decisions and will also co-ordinate new regional assembly strategies and local authority county development plans.

Anticipating the preparation of the new framework, Minister Kelly stated that:

“We all know that successful places are usually well planned places, therefore as we have recovered from the brink of collapse and are now enjoying the fruits of sustained efforts to recover, we need to put in place a workable, high-level National Plan building on our own planning successes, including regeneration of many parts of our bigger cities and the vibrancy of towns that have become tourism, heritage and investment hotspots”.


Appendix/ Note for Editors

Independent Planning Review Report

The Independent Planning Review (2015) has its origins in the review[1] announced in June 2010 by the former Minister John Gormley following complaints received from third parties relating to seven planning authorities.  The planning authorities included all of those which are the subject of the current Review including Donegal County Council.  While it was originally contemplated the review might be undertaken by consultants, it was subsequently decided that the review should be prepared internally by the Department in light of increasingly constrained Exchequer resources. The Planning Review Report (2012) prepared by the Department was published in June 2012.  An Independent Evaluation of the Planning Review Report (2013) was then prepared by Hendrik W van der Kamp and published in March 2013.

In June 2013, plans were announced to appoint independent planning consultants under Section 255 of the Planning and Development Acts to conduct an independent review of the planning procedures and practices in the other six planning authorities which has resulted in the Independent Planning Review (2015)[2], in light of the quashing by the High Court (in June 2013) of the Donegal part of his Department’s Planning Review Report (2012).  The Department sought the advice of the Attorney General on how best to proceed in the case of issues raised relating to planning matters in Donegal.  In September 2015, Minister Kelly appointed Mr. Rory Mulcahy, Senior Counsel, to prepare a review report in relation to certain planning matters in respect of Donegal County Council and this review is underway.

Summary of the main functions of the Office of the Planning Regulator

  • Evaluating and assessing development plans, variations of development plans, local area plans and regional spatial and economic strategies when they are being prepared and finalised
  • Providing independent statutory observations to planning authorities and regional assemblies as appropriate on these plans and strategies
  • Making recommendations to the Minister on the content of such plans and strategies
  • Informing the Minister where a plan or strategy is not consistent with national or regional policies
  • Carrying out research on proper planning and sustainable development
  • Arranging and conducting training for the members of planning authorities and regional assemblies in relation to their role and any guidance issued by my Department
  • Overseeing the delivery of planning services to the public by planning authorities
  • Reviewing, at its own discretion, a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála in respect the performance of their functions under the Planning and Development Acts
  • Examining complaints in respect of the organisation of a planning authority and of the performance of its functions.

How the OPR will operate in relation to the making of observations and recommendations on local authority local area and development plans:

  • In cases where the OPR finds that a local authority’s plans are not consistent with relevant national or regional policies, then the OPR will recommend the use of Ministerial powers of direction under section 31 of the Act to change their plans, which recommendations must be published
  • Furthermore, if the Minister does not agree with the recommendation of the OPR to issue a direction to the local authority or regional assembly as proposed, he must publish his reasons to justify the course of action selected and lay them before the Oireachtas
  • This approach was chosen after careful consideration to ensure that there is full public scrutiny and democratic accountability over the significant power to overturn the decisions of local Councils as regards the forward planning and zoning of their areas
  • The OPR will not be empowered to issue draft directions or final directions in relation to local plans or strategies directly to planning authorities or regional assemblies without recourse to the Minister. Conversely, the Minister will no longer be able to issue Ministerial directions on the content of local plans to planning authorities at his/ her own volition in the absence of a recommendation from the OPR
  • These procedures in relation to the independent evaluation of plans and strategies by the OPR and the issuing of directions where deemed necessary to planning authorities or regional assemblies are intended to ensure that plans adopted at local and regional level are in accordance with national and regional policy and objectives, comply with all relevant legislative requirements and are in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned.

Among the other revisions to the Planning and Development Act incorporated in the Bill are provisions for:

  • a legislatively defined approach to the development of a successor strategy to the National Spatial Strategy (Mahon recommendation Number 1)
  • enhanced transparency in the planning process with submissions and observations received in respect of development plans and local area plans having to be published on planning authorities’ websites (Mahon recommendation Number 5)
  • the Chief Executive’s report on such submissions also to be published on the website of the relevant planning authority (Mahon recommendation Number 5)
  • the forwarding of any proposed grants of planning permission in material contravention of a local area plan or development plan to the relevant regional assembly for observations (Mahon recommendation Number 6)
  • the amendment of section 255 of the Planning Act to provide that the Minister will have regard to recommendations of the OPR in relation to the appointment of a Commissioner to assume the functions of a planning authority in specific circumstances
  • the making of regulations by the Minister to
  • facilitate the introduction of e-planning (online submission of planning applications and appeals) and setting out the requirements in that regard, including the electronic payment of associated fees
  • require planning authorities to provide data and/ or information for databases or national planning systems as may be specified by the Minister (i.e. My-plan.ie which is the Department public information website on development plans and local area plans etc.), and
  • provide for elected members paying a reduced fee or no fee for making a submission on a planning application (Mahon recommendation Number 8).

National Planning Framework (NPF)

The NPF will succeed the 2002 National Spatial Strategy (NSS), which was Ireland’s first national strategic spatial planning framework and outlined policies and objectives to secure a better balance of social, economic and physical development and population growth between regions.  The NSS remains in place, but having regard to the significant elapse of time since 2002, a new framework is required to set a strategic path for territorial development.

As successor to the NSS, the National Planning Framework (NPF) will be both a strategic and concise document, informed by effective public participation and cross-departmental/agency structures to ensure maximum buy-in with regard to its implementation.  The NPF must both take account of and inform the Governments wider efforts to maximise Ireland’s economic recovery and future growth at national, regional and local level.

The Roadmap document sets out the role of the NPF as the overarching 20 year framework for spatial planning and regional development for regional and local authorities and An Bord Pleanála in their statutory planning functions.  The NPF will also inform longer term investment in both physical infrastructure such as transport, housing, water services, energy, communications and social infrastructure relating to education and health.

The NPF will have a high-level national focus.  Concurrent within the NPF drafting process, new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) will be prepared by the three new Regional Assemblies to replace the current set of seven Regional Planning Guideline documents which expire in 2016.  These new RSES’s will have a 12 year lifespan to 2028.  The combined purpose of the NPF and RSESs is to set long-term national and regional development frameworks to ensure proper planning and sustainable development in an optimal manner.

The Roadmap document sets out arrangements for the preparation of the NPF.  These include establishment of a dedicated work team in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government whose work will be overseen by a high-level cross-departmental steering group supported by public consultation and stakeholder engagement arrangements. The NPF will also require the preparation of reports in accordance with relevant EU environmental directives such as Strategic Environmental Assessment and Appropriate Assessment.

The document also sets out the various stages in the preparation of the NPF which will lead into the publication of a draft framework by the third quarter of 2016, after which, in line with new legislative arrangements being progressed under the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2015, it will be submitted to Dáil Éireann for consideration and approval.

The purpose of that review was to assess the application of planning legislation, policy and guidance within the development plan and development management systems with the aim of identifying measures to ensure consistency of approach and improve delivery having regard to the complaints received.

That report involved a review of documents, materials and recommendations in the Department’s Review and evaluated these against identified themes.