Planning affects us all. Proper planning transforms lives. In any place where people enjoy a great quality of life, you will find a place guided by good planning and proper development.
It is because planning has such a big impact on our lives that the Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, commonly known as the Mahon Tribunal, recommended the establishment of an independent planning regulator.
Ireland is currently undergoing unprecedented change. The Government’s National Planning Framework projects that over the next 20 years, Ireland will become home to an extra million people, requiring half a million new homes and 600,000 extra jobs.
So how can this change be managed in a sustainable and balanced way?
Every six years, city or county councils prepare a development plan. These plans set out a vision for the future development of your local area. It is vital that the public participate in the preparation of these plans and have their say.
County councillors are responsible for ultimately approving these plans and every local authority in Ireland is currently revising their development plan, taking account of a raft of revised national and regional planning policies and the public’s views.
Some of these policies include action on vacant and derelict buildings; appropriate locations and levels of land identified (zoned) for future development; the delivery of quality and affordable housing; enabling more people to choose walking, cycling and public transport; and care for our environment.
It is important to be clear that the Oireachtas established the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) not to set planning policy but to perform independent scrutiny of local authority plans to ensure they properly apply relevant strategic policies that the Government and the public have endorsed.
Last year, we made 110 observations and 93 recommendations across 45 plans. These flow from strategic policies we are obliged under law to reflect.
The vast majority of our recommendations were implemented, pointing to better future planning outcomes. This year, we expect to assess in the region of 100 plans.
Where necessary, we can recommend to the minister to intervene if a council’s plan seriously breaches national policy. These tend to be extremely rare. Consensus is a better way forward.
Good planning is the difference in ensuring our cities, towns, villages and rural areas meet future challenges, that housing and employment needs are met, infrastructure and amenities are delivered in the right locations, and our environment and heritage are not only respected and protected but enhanced, particularly so in our progress on climate action.
The Oireachtas established the OPR to independently oversee the planning system. Through research, training, public awareness and scrutiny of how all the local authority plans integrate, the OPR functions to ensure the various parts of Ireland’s planning process work together in the public interest, and above all to ensure our communities develop sustainably, creating the great places we want to live in, work, and be proud to be a part of.
Niall Cussen is Chief Executive and Planning Regulator at the Office of the Planning Regulator.