Minister Gormley announces highlights of new Planning Legislation
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, T.D., this evening (28 May) announced that the Government had approved publication of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, 2009. This fulfills a Government commitment in this regard set out in Building Ireland's Smart Economy : A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal.
The Bill introduces a number of key changes to the Planning Code with the principal aim of supporting economic renewal and promoting sustainable development.
Minister Gormley said "Transparency, openness, and democratic involvement are defining features of planning in Ireland. The new Bill seeks to strengthen this and reinforce the extensive rights for public participation already in place."
The Bill is driven by the overarching ambition to strengthen local democracy and accountability, a key objective of the Minister in accordance with the ongoing process of local Government reform being pursued in the context of the White Paper on Local Government, by maintaining the central role of local government in the planning process.
"A sound development plan is the key to ensuring good planning at local level. Decisions taken at development plan stage affect all other planning decisions" said the Minister. A key element of the Bill is the introduction of a requirement for an evidence based core strategy in development plans which will provide relevant information as to how the plan and the housing strategy are consistent with regional planning guidelines and the National Spatial Strategy. The location, quantum, and phasing of proposed development must be shown as well as growth scenarios, details of transport plans and retail development and proposals for development in rural areas.
Minister Gormley explained that "the key objective is to ensure a strategic approach to zoning which will allow development take place at the right time and in the right place, and which will allow the State plan for the provision of infrastructure with much greater certainty.
This is key to the economic renewal agenda."
In addition, the Bill will also require that:
- the making or variation of a development plan or local area plan will require the support of two-thirds of the total number of members of the planning authority as opposed to a simple majority as is currently the case;
- in the preparation, making and variation of a development plan, the Manager's report indicates clearly the extent to which the draft plan complies with the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) and Regional Planning Guidelines;
- amendments to a draft development or local area plan which have been the subject of public consultation may only be modified in minor respects. This introduces greater transparency for the public into the plan making process by removing the likelihood of significant changes being made to plans at a late stage in the process.
"I have had occasion since coming into office to use Ministerial powers of direction under the Planning Acts to vary development plans where, for example, there has been excessive or inappropriate zonings. I make no apology for that. I am conscious, however, of the importance of exercising these powers in as open and transparent a way as possible". A number of new changes are being introduced in the Bill in this
- Firstly, the views of the Minister will be dealt with separately in the Managers Report on the development plan. This will allow a clear and open response to any Ministerial concerns on the development plan at an early stage in the plan making process;
- Secondly, Ministerial guidelines (on, for example, development planning, flood risk management, sustainable residential development) will have greater legal force and local authorities will be required to set out how their policies are consistent with national policy and objectives as well as Ministerial guidelines;
- Thirdly, the making or variation of a development plan or local area plan will require the support of two-thirds of the total number of members of the planning authority as opposed to a simple majority as is currently the case which will give greater force to the decisions taken at local level;
- Finally, the powers under Section 31 which allows the Minister issue directions are being amended to provide a new consultative procedure where the Minister issues a draft direction and seeks local views on his proposal before a final direction is issued. There is also the possibility of the Minister appointing an independent inspector to advise him on the local authority report on submissions on the draft direction before a final direction issues.
Minister Gormley said that "this new process also takes full account of the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Heritage and Local Government in their March 2009 Report on this issue".
As regards the broader environmental and sustainable communities" agendas, the Minister highlighted a number of key changes which will be dealt with in the Bill, some of which will be introduced as the Bill passes through the Oireachtas:
- In support of the broader climate change agenda, development plans must now contain mandatory objectives for the promotion of sustainable settlement and transportation strategies in urban and rural areas, including appropriate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- extending the life of existing planning permissions for wind energy projects in certain circumstances e.g. due to difficulties in securing grid connections.
- the retention planning permission system is being reviewed (a) the availability of retention permission for developments, including quarry developments, which would have required EIA is being significantly curtailed and (b) more generally, retention for other unauthorised development which was flagrantly in breach of the Planning Acts will be subject to a significant penalty;
- local authorities will be provided with the flexibility to use development levies, if needed, on a broader range of infrastructure such as schools, school sites, broadband provision and flood relief works;
- the powers of a local authority to refuse planning permission to applicants who have been convicted of serious breaches of planning legislation are being strengthened. A new provision is also being introduced to allow a planning authority to refuse permission where the applicant has carried out a substantial unauthorised development.
- Allowing an Bord Pleanála to reduce the statutory quorum from 3 to 2 members in respect of decisions on specified classes of (routine) cases;
The Minister also aims to introduce new provisions aimed at supporting the Government target of 40% of the energy supplied being from renewable sources by 2020 by integrating the foreshore consent process for offshore wind (and other infrastructure) with the consent process under the Strategic Infrastructure Act, delivering an integrated, fast-track, transparent, and participative consent process for the onshore and offshore elements of these projects.
The Government is acutely conscious of the difficulties being experienced with the tightening of bank credit and the knock on effect that this has had on development. It has decided that the Planning Act will be amended to permit an application to be made to a local authority to seek the extension of an existing planning permission; this mirrors the existing legal provision which allows the life of a permission to be extended where substantial works have been undertaken. The circumstances and limitations under which such an application can be made and considered will be further developed during the Bills passage through the Oireachtas.
On foot of Ireland's ratification of the European Landscape Convention, the Minister also intends to explore how a definition of 'landscape' might usefully be inserted into the Planning Code.