THE JAILING this week of lobbyist Frank Dunlop “brings into sharp focus” the need for new planning legislation aimed at ensuring that local plans will be consistent with national policy, Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said.
Speaking yesterday to The Irish Times, he said the Planning (Amendment) Bill due to be published shortly would “ensure that the powers that councillors have are exercised in a responsible way in accordance with good planning practice”.
He said it was “on the record that Dunlop gave money to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour Party councillors” and urged people to “reflect on that in terms of who they will vote for in next week’s local elections”.
“From now on, there will have to be consistency between a local authority’s development plan and the National Spatial Strategy, regional planning guidelines and ministerial directives, such as those I have issued to a number of councils”, Mr Gormley said.
His Bill would “ensure that the sort of bad planning we’ve seen over the past 15 years or so will not re-occur”, he said, adding that this had “led in many ways to inflated house prices, the property bubble and the economic difficulties we’re now experiencing”.
Bad planning in the past – particularly in relation to land rezoning against planning advice – had also led to a “marked deterioration in people’s quality of life through the lack of facilities such as schools, sewage treatment plants and proper public transport”.
The new legislation would give the Minister of the day a greater legal role in making local authorities’ development plans.
Since taking office, Mr Gormley has been forced to intervene where councillors zoned far more land for development than was required. In Monaghan and Mayo he used his powers to overturn zonings that conflicted with national planning policy. The new Bill will give greater legal force to ministerial guidelines in relation to areas such as development planning, flood risk management and sustainable residential development.
Local authorities will be required to show how their policies and plans are consistent with national policies and objectives as well as ministerial guidelines. The city or county manager’s report on the development plan must state the extent to which the plan complies with these guidelines.
To be passed, a development plan must be ratified by at least two-thirds of the councillors on any authority as opposed to the current majority vote. After development plans have been subject to public consultation, any changes made to them can only be minor.
Mr Gormley is also giving greater powers to local authorities to deal with rogue developers. A new provision will let an authority refuse permission where the applicant has carried out a substantial unauthorised development.