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Minister English's Speech at the RTPI Annual Dinner – Celebrating Ireland’s Best Places 2018

Published on Friday, 16 Nov 2018
Aire Stáit Damien English TD

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I’m delighted to be here tonight to recognise and showcase Ireland’s best places and, indeed, our shining star of the night and of 2018, Lough Boora Parklands, Co. Offaly.

I wish to extend a huge congratulations to all those involved in the Lough Boora Parklands, whether it be through planning of community involvement or anyone who made a contribution to making this place what it is today – you should all be proud of yourselves.  I’d like to give a special mention to Offaly County Council, Bord na Mona and the Irish Wildlife Trust who worked collaboratively to deliver an excellent transformation of these beautiful lands.

The Parklands area was once a peat bog and has now been transformed to include a nature reserve, as well as extensive trails giving cyclists and walkers alike access to a beautiful area of nature, and with over 100,000 visitors each year, it is evident that the area is truly valued.

I would also like to congratulate the other finalists, who did well to reach the top 10 in a country with such a wide selection of fine places to choose from! I want to thank, Marion Chalmers, Craig McLaren and all the team at the RTPI for organising and supporting this competition, which presents us with an excellent opportunity to showcase good planning, place-making and community spirit throughout the country. Tonight is also a great opportunity to reward and celebrate excellence in the Irish planning industry.

Awards systems like this are crucial in highlighting excellence and innovation in planning approaches and outcomes and encourage us to look a little deeper at what good planning can achieve. I wish thank the RTPI for setting up these Awards as they are the only of their kind in Ireland. Passions often flare around planning. That is to be expected, embraced because we all are keenly interested in our places, whether they are the community we live in, the wider county or city and the country as a whole. Strongly held and often opposing views in the area of planning can lead to challenges and difficulties in the planning area, but I think we would all agree that our planning process must look forward to meet the needs of our people, our economy and our environment.

It is within this context that ‘Ireland’s Best Places’ Awards are a practical way to encourage, reinforce and deliver quality and excellence in planning, showing how debate is good and can be channelled to drive change. As is always the case with successful planning, the real winners are the communities who will ultimately benefit from the planner’s professional ability to bring about real change and effectively improve the places we live and work and the day-to-day lives of all concerned. Good planning is about creating the right conditions for living, sustainable communities to emerge and achieve their full potential over time. 

The challenge for yourselves as planning professionals is in designing and delivering the sustainable framework within which these communities will emerge. The challenge for Government and Ministers is to continuously nourish and develop the policy and legislative framework to enable you, as planners, to deliver this ultimate goal of plan-led sustainable development. Tonight is not the occasion for long speeches about what the Government is doing to enhance and develop our planning process to deliver the outcomes that people want. Suffice to say that, as my officials in the Department will confirm, we are in a phase of unprecedented policy and legislative development and investment in the planning area. Indeed, proper planning backed up by real investment is at the heart of public policy and you are squarely in the eye of the political and policy making processes.

To name just a few of the main policy and legislative developments in the pipeline over the coming year or so:

The National Planning Framework, published in tandem with the National Development Plan under Project Ireland 2040 earlier this year. As a strategic document, the NPF is currently being given further and more detailed expression at the regional level through preparation, by the Regional Assemblies, of statutory Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSESs) for the three Regional Assembly areas.

The RSES process formally commenced earlier this year and the draft Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly RSES was approved by the Regional Assembly on 26 October.  It sets out a strategy for the period to 2031.  It was published for public consultation on 5 November and is on public display until 23 January 2019. The two other draft RSESs (for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and Southern Regional Assembly areas), subject to Regional Assembly approval, are expected to be put on public display in the coming weeks. The finalisation of all three regional strategies in the first half of 2019 will in turn prompt reviews and updates of individual county and city development plans to ensure strategic co-ordination and consistency between national, regional and local levels.   

The establishment, under the NPF, of a new public development and renewal agency, titled the Land Development Agency.

My department recently published draft guidelines for planning authorities on how best to encourage increased building height in urban areas for public consultation. These guidelines are intended to set out national planning policy guidelines on building heights in relation to urban areas building from the strategic policy framework set out in Project Ireland 2040 and the NPF. t is intended for the Department to publish the guidelines in final format under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act (2000) in the coming weeks, taking into consideration all submissions received during the public consultation phase.

The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, which gives legislative effect to the planning-related recommendations of the Tribunal Report, providing for:

  • the establishment of a new independent Office of the Planning Regulator;
  • the statutory underpinning of the National Planning Framework; and
  • various other updates to the Planning and Development Act 2000 as necessary to deliver greater transparency, efficiency and integrity in the planning system

I also want to assure the sector that its critical role is fully understood and supported by Government. To support the industry a range of measures have already been introduced including:

  • Streamlined fast-track planning,
  • Funding for infrastructure; and,
  • Revised apartment guidelines.

The new Urban Regeneration and Development Fund, as well as the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, launched under Project Ireland 2040 over the summer months.  These funds are designed to improve our urban and rural spaces. The URDF is designed to leverage a greater proportion of residential and commercial development, supported by infrastructure, services and amenities, within the existing built-up areas of our larger urban settlements. The Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development, will support rural economic development and help build strong rural communities. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise rural Ireland and all the eclectic places that come with it. Applications received under the URDF and the RRDF are currently being assessed by my Department and DRCD respectively.  It is envisaged that the first round of funding allocations under each Fund will be announced in the coming weeks.

Thanks again for the invite here tonight. You are doing incredibly important work both in terms of making our places more liveable for all, leading proper planning at the national, regional and local levels, and helping our places and, indeed, our communities to achieve their full potential by creating the right conditions for sustainable, effective development within villages, towns and cities.

I look forward to talking to meeting as many of you as I can over the course of the night. Enjoy your night.