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New planning regulator can be overruled by minister


Environment Minister Alan Kelly

Environment Minister Alan Kelly

Environment Minister Alan Kelly

The new planning regulator will not be given powers to force local authorities to change their rules to comply with national policy.

Instead, the Environment Minister will ultimately decide if a city or county council is flouting the guidelines, and will retain the power to force a council to make changes.

The details are contained in the head of the Planning and Development (No 2) Bill 2014 published by the Department of the Environment.

A key recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal, which found that corruption affected "every level of Irish political life", the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) will be established as a new and separate office and will be obliged to inform the minister if a planning strategy is "not consistent" with proper planning.

If the minister agrees, they will issue a direction to the local authority, ordering them to change the plan. If they disagree, they must state the reasons why, which will then be published.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has issued four directions in recent months to local authorities in Donegal, Roscommon and Limerick, relating to windfarm developments and proposed caps on the size of retail units.

The Irish Planning Institute (IPI) said while it welcomed the establishment of the office, it was disappointed that the regulator would not be independent.

"We've always called for an independent regulator and that's not what we're getting," IPI president Mary Hughes said.

"We do have to acknowledge the democratic role in planning, and it's welcomed that advice to the minister will be published. The regulator may not be as independent as we might like it to be, so it's vitally important all advice and documents are published."

The regulator will also have powers to oversee how planning policies are implemented by local authorities and An Bord Pleanala, the planning appeals board. Refusal to co-operate can result in a fine of up to €2,500 and/or six months imprisonment.

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The heads of the bill also state that the regulator can serve up to two seven-year terms; can conduct research to identify best planning practice; and will organise training courses for officials and local politicians. Where councillors plan to amend the development plan, they must give advance notice to regional authorities and the OPR.

The Department of the Environment said the bill had not yet been published, and was subject to changes in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The minister would also have to explain why they ignored the advice of the regulator before the Dail Environment Committee.

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