NEW PLANNING legislation to be published early in 2009 will put an end to opportunist rezoning of land by county councillors, according to Minister for the Environment John Gormley.
The Planning and Development Bill 2009 will no longer permit excessive zoning of development land, a phenomenon that has become a "major problem" in recent years, Mr Gormley said.
The Bill is designed to allow an adequate supply of zoned and serviced land to ensure that house prices are not forced upwards and that economic development is maintained.
However, it will also outlaw practices where councillors zoned far more land for development than was required.
In the past 18 months, Mr Gormley has been forced to intervene with two county councils, Monaghan and Mayo - as well with zoning decisions in Dungarvan, Co Waterford - over plans that conflicted with national planning policy.
He won backing for his position from An Bord Pleanála. Its chairman John O'Connor said at the time that the board had frequently dealt with appeals relating to zoning decisions that did not accord with sustainable development. He said the zonings seemed sometimes to originate from pressure from local developers.
Mr Gormley points out that lands zoned in some county and city council areas were capable of meeting well over five times the housing needs of the development plan and led to houses and estates being built in improper and inappropriate locations.
The Bill proposes a new requirement to be imposed on local authorities to draw up a development plan that is evidence based.
The authority will have to show why the land is being zoned and demonstrate the basis for the scale of the development and the reason behind the locations.
For the first time also, there will be a requirement to show which parts will be developed first, and what plans are provided for public transport, water and sewerage, as well as the provision of schools in the locality.
Another significant change will see the common practice of introducing zonings very late in the preparation of county development plans, leaving no time for public consultation, being outlawed. All stages of the zoning process will now be the subject of public consultation.
"This is a touchstone issue for the Green Party and a huge priority for the party in terms of our history," said Mr Gormley.
"It will bring common sense and coherence to the planning system and introduce new obligations on local authorities to comply with all the planning guidelines . . . the National Spatial Strategy; flooding guidelines; regional guidelines and sustainable transport like cycling and walking."
Another key provision of the Bill is that all city and county development plans must include a "core strategy". This will align the plan to regional and national planning policies; will more closely relate housing strategy to population forecasts for the region; and also ensure that it reflects the National Climate Change Strategy.
In a separate development in early 2009, the issuing of foreshore licences will come under the remit of the Department of the Environment for the first time.
Mr Gormley described this as significant in terms of fast-tracking development of alternative energy sources such as wind, wave and tidal technologies.