LOCAL councils should not zone land for development which does not have access to public transport and services, the chair of the planning appeals board has warned.
Launching An Bord Pleanála’s 2007 annual report, John O’Connor said the board constantly comes across zoned sites that are too far removed from developed areas, too remote from public facilities such as piped services, footpaths, lighting and with no prospect of public transport. Many of the proposals are dependant on long-distance commuting by private transport.
“The idea that every place must get development, no matter how thinly spread, was never sustainable, but will be distinctly less sustainable in the future — either in the environmental or the economic sense.
“Major public investment in railways, roads, water supplies, waste water treatment and education facilities, must dictate where future development should be located.
“Development is necessary to ensure these investments yield best returns but these investments cannot be replicated everywhere and this must be reflected in development plan zonings,” Mr O’Connor said.
He said the board also had concerns about the frequency with which decisions by local authorities do not reflect policies in their own development plans.
“The board can often be seen as a stronger defender of the development plan than the local authority who adopted it,” he said.
The board has also noted the inappropriate locations of some nursing home developments being appealed to it.
“Invariably, these have been refused by the board as it is considered that such facilities are best located within existing settlements where public services are available and where the occupants have some degree of access to shops and other amenities, or can walk up the street and encounter members of the local community,” Mr O’Connor said.
An Bord Pleanála has a backlog of about 1,000 cases before it and admitted that only one-in-four appeals received this year will be dealt with in the statutory time objective of 18 weeks.
At the end of last month, the board had 2,780 cases on hand, 250 less than the peak number of active files it had in March 2007.
It handled a record 6,700 cases last year but the 4,806 new cases it received in the first 10 months of 2008 is down 16% on the same period last year, although only 4% less than up to the end of October 2006.
The number of appeals relating to applications for 30 or more houses has fallen from 403 in the first three-quarters of 2007 year to just 297 in the same period this year.
Just under a third of local authority decisions appealed to An Bord Pleanála were reversed in 2007, while 29% of appeals by applicants who were refused permission were successful.
Fewer cases in which third parties appealed grants of permission by a council resulted in refusal by An Bord Pleanála, down to 37% from 43% in 2007.
The board said water resources are another constraint which must be considered in planning future development strategy and the long-term economic and environmental costs of pumping water or sewage over long distances will have to be factored into planning decisions.