Offaly County Council selling Industrial Units
Public engagement with Development Plans will be transformative in developing sustainable communities in every Local Authority in Ireland, according to Dr Conor Norton, President of the Irish Planning Institute (IPI).
While much of the recent media debate has focussed on the delay and cost of legal actions following the development management process, which are essentially outside of the control of the planners and planning system, the IPI is now calling on individuals, residents’ associations and business organisations to engage proactively with planning through the much more important and inclusive plan-making process.
The Development Plan at city, county and local level is the main instrument used by Local Authorities to set out a sustainable vision and strategy for places and it is the basis for decisions on planning applications. Development Plans must be reviewed by Planning Authorities every 6 years. Each Planning Authority is required to publish notice of its intention to review its plan, not later than four years after the making of their current plan. A new plan must be made within two years of this notice. Critically, many local larger authorities across the country are now in the process of reviewing their plans, as a result of a new alignment of timelines across the Country. These Development Plans are now open for public consultation.
According to Dr Conor Norton, President of the Irish Planning Institute: “While planners are responsible for preparing Development Plans, the process of shaping them should never be the preserve of professionals or sectoral groups. Consultation and engagement are built into the process of preparing Development Plans. This is a process that must be fully exploited, so that plans can be enriched and validated by ordinary citizens and communities.”
“Citizens and communities have a keen understanding of the issues and opportunities in their localities. When communities are genuinely engaged from an early stage in the making of Plans, they are a real part of the process and can have a greater role in shaping Plans. Allied to the expertise of planners, this engagement can provide a very powerful formula for robust and sustainable Development Plans at City, County and Local level. As new Development Plans will support new national strategies and guidelines for climate action and sustainable development, they will also provide a more robust basis for decision-making at the later planning application stage.”
Elaborating on what citizens need to do to make a submission on their County Plan, Dr Norton points to the many new and improved planning resources available on the websites and social media platforms of Local Authorities and other public agencies. “Prior to and since the onset of Covid-19, many Local Authorities have really innovated in terms of how they are engaging with the public and communities in preparing their Development Plans. The pandemic has shone a light on the vulnerabilities and potential of places across Ireland. With restrictions on personal travel, we have become more aware of the importance of our neighbourhoods and their role in our individual and community health and wellbeing. We have become aware of the absolute necessity to protect the viability and vitality of our town centres. And as a society we now have a stronger appreciation of our urgent need to transition to a more sustainable way of life. The Development Plan is central in providing the framework for communities to meet these challenges, while harnessing new opportunities.”
Dr Norton also raised concern about the recent, sharp increase in judicial reviews of planning decisions, particularly those relating to Strategic Housing Developments, which have added both delay and cost to the planning process. “While judicial review is essentially outside of the core planning process and indeed the control of planners, there is a need to curtail and reverse this current trajectory, much of which has been associated with Strategic Housing Developments. To do this we will need to move as planned, and without delay, to restore decision-making on Strategic Housing Developments to the Local Authorities. This will result in the welcome reinstatement of the established and accessible planning appeal to An Bord Pleanala. This will have the benefit of improving public confidence in the planning process and reducing the demand for judicial review. Alongside the restoration of the planning appeal for Strategic Housing Developments, it is also important that we review the necessary legal standing and limits in seeking a judicial reviews of a planning decisions, while retaining appropriate access to law.”
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