Planners may be forced to explain decisions

Niall O'Connor

EVERY city and county councillor may soon have to give a detailed reason why they have voted a specific way on planning issues, the Herald can reveal.

A major court judgment relating to Dublin City Council could have one of the most "significant impacts" on planning in the history of the state, senior planning sources have said.

City councillors will be advised by their lawyers on Monday that a significant part of the city development plan may have to be changed as it is too "restrictive", sensitive documents reveal.

More significantly, councillors now face having to provide a detailed reason for every single planning decision they make in the future.

Sources say it would be the biggest step towards ending the public's perception towards the "brown envelope" culture that has dogged planning decisions across the State.

The revelations come after a Commercial Court judge quashed the controversial Z15 zoning rule -- which banned homes being built on different parts of land in the capital.

The court ruling means that at present, there are hundreds of hectares of land across Dublin that are currently unzoned.

The Z15 was a major aspect of the 2011-2017 Dublin City Development plan. It outlined that any land zoned this way would be banned from having private residential properties built on it.

However following legal challenges by the Sisters of Mercy and RTE, Mr Justice Frank Clarke ruled last month that the Z15 aspect was "highly restrictive".

TWIST

In an incredible twist, sensitive documents devised by city council lawyers which interpret the court ruling say there is "no basis in principle" why members cannot give reasons for their planning decisions.

The documents, seen by the Herald, state that the judge's ruling argues that there is an "obligation on elected members to include whatever reasons motivate their decision", that the reasons must be "publicly available" and that having no reason "will not suffice".

Sources have told the Herald that the decision would lay down a "major precedent" which could affect all councils.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the body could not comment for legal reasons.

hnews@herald.ie