Wednesday 31 December 2008

Minister Gormley Publishes Statutory Sustainable Residential Development Planning Guidelines

Mr. John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, today (31 December) launched statutory planning guidelines on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas, which will act as a blueprint for the future sustainable development of Irish cities, towns and villages in the coming years.

These guidelines were issued as a consultation draft for public consultation earlier this year, and the Minister expressed his thanks to the numerous public and private bodies who made valuable submissions and contributions to the drafting process.

The guidelines are accompanied by a best practice Urban Design Manual, which illustrates how the guidelines can be implemented effectively and consistently across the different scales of urban development around the country.

The draft guidelines have also been updated to refer to the recently published draft Guidelines for Planning Authorities on the Management of Flood Risk (September 2008) and the Joint Code of Practice on Provision of Schools and the Planning System (August 2008). Advice from the recent circular on taking-in-charge of housing schemes has also been included.

Publishing the Guidelines, the Minister was pleased to note that the Guidelines and best practice Urban Design Manual have been warmly welcomed both by planning authorities and by professional bodies during the consultation process earlier this year; “The Guidelines and associated Design Manual provide a basis on which planners and designers can reach a shared vision for new housing schemes in cities, towns and villages throughout the country, and have the potential to raise the quality of our built environment”, the Minister continued.

These Guidelines replace the 1999 Residential Density Guidelines for Planning Authorities and have been prepared in the wider planning/housing context, as part of the suite of inter-related guidance documents, which also include the Apartment Design Standards guidelines that were issued in September 2007, and Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities published in March 2007. They take account of, and knit with, other policy initiatives such as Housing Policy Framework: Building Sustainable Communities, and will be a valuable resource as the key policy reference document for local authority planners, as well as developers, architects and other interested parties when planning for new residential development.

The guidelines are focused on creating sustainable communities by incorporating the highest design standards and providing a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of essential infrastructure and services. These guidelines add to and support the considerable work which has been done at central and local government levels to plan for this anticipated growth in an appropriate manner that supports the creation of sustainable communities within a high quality living environment.

The objectives of these new Guidelines are to:

· facilitate the development of sustainable communities through more effective planning and the provision of necessary supporting services and amenities;

· help achieve the most efficient use of urban land through housing densities that are appropriate to the location involved and availability of supporting services and infrastructure, particularly transport; and

· set high standards in terms of space and facilities to meet the needs of the Irish context into the future.

Preparation of the guidance and the complementary design guide was overseen by a broadly representative Steering Group, which comprised officials from the Department and planning authorities, along with prominent representatives from Local Authorities, the Irish Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the Irish Home Builders Association and An Bord Pleanála.

There is a major emphasis in the guidelines on the need for new residential developments to be supported and facilitated by the necessary supporting services and infrastructure. Crucial infrastructure such as education and health facilities, public transport, child-care and community amenities are set as equally important as the usual hard infrastructure needed like water services and road access.

“Improved integration, which is driven and supported by effective and democratically mandated local planning, between the provision of housing and the necessary, supporting community and social infrastructure, such as schools, community amenities and child care facilities, is essential” the Minister said. “This policy guidance further reinforces the Government’s Developing Areas Initiative, which is aimed at providing a holistic and partnership approach to the integrated delivery of both hard and soft infrastructure, such as water and wastewater services, roads and public transport, schools and sports & community facilities”

The new Guidelines are being issued to planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála under section 28 of the 2000 Planning Act, which requires them to be taken into account when preparing or varying development plans and local area plans.

Minister Gormley concluded by saying “I firmly believe that, when implemented in planning authorities countrywide, these new guidelines will be make a positive difference in how we plan and build new developments.”

The guidelines, together with the urban design best practice manual, are available to view and download from the Department’s website:

Appendix - Key Policy in the Guidelines

Role of Development Plans and Local Area Plans
· Development plans, urban local area plans and planning schemes for Strategic Development Zones schemes should contain policies and objectives which will underpin the creation of sustainable residential developments.

· They should also include clear guidance on implementation measures, particularly with regard to the phased and co-ordinated provision of physical infrastructure, public transport and community facilities.

Role of Urban Design
· Development plans should include urban design policies which are capable of being expanded in more detail in local area plans

· Planning authorities should issue design briefs and receive design statements for particularly important, sensitive or large-scale development sites.

· Pre-planning application discussions should be encouraged, so that there is clarity around sequencing priorities of the development plan, the vision statement and phasing objectives of the local area plan (where applicable), and how they relate to the applicant’s land.

· The best practice Urban Design Manual sets out the following 12 criteria, which should be used, both in pre-application consultations and in assessing individual planning applications.

Best Practice Design Guide Criteria

1. Context: How does the development respond to its surroundings?
2. Connections: How well is the new neighbourhood / site connected?
3. Inclusivity: How easily can people use and access the development?
4. Variety: How does the development promote a good mix of activities?
5. Efficiency: How does the development make appropriate use of resources, including land?
6. Distinctiveness: How do the proposals create a sense of place?
7. Layout: How does the proposal create people-friendly streets and spaces?
8. Public realm: How safe, secure and enjoyable are the public areas?
9. Adaptability: How will the buildings cope with change?
10. Privacy / amenity: How do the buildings provide a decent standard of amenity?
11. Parking: How will the parking be secure and attractive?
12. Detailed design: How well thought through is the building and landscape design?

· The design of residential streets needs to strike the right balance between the different functions of the street, including a “sense of place”.

Planning for Sustainable Neighbourhoods
· No substantial residential development should proceed without an assessment of existing schools capacity or the provision of new school facilities in tandem with the development.

· No substantial residential development should proceed without either adequate existing public transport provision or new public transport provided in tandem with the development.

· There should be adequate provision at convenient locations for retail, health and other community facilities.

· New developments should:
o prioritise public transport, cycling and walking, and minimise the need to use cars?
o ensure accessibility for everyone, including people with disabilities?
o encourage more efficient use of energy and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions?
o include the right quality and quantity of public open space
o include measures to ensure satisfactory standards of personal safety and traffic safety within the neighbourhood?
o Present an attractive and well-maintained appearance?
o Promote social integration and provide for a diverse range of household types, age groups and mix of housing tenures?
o protect, and where possible enhance, the built and natural heritage?
o provide for Sustainable Drainage Systems?

Cities and Larger Towns
· Sustainable patterns of urban development should be promoted, particularly higher residential densities in locations, which are, or will be, served by public transport. Higher densities must be accompanied in all cases by high qualitative standards of design and layout.

· In general, minimum net densities of 50 dwellings per hectare should apply within such public transport corridors and should be specified in local area plans.

· Other appropriate locations for higher densities include city and town centres and some inner suburban locations.

· The greatest efficiency in land usage in outer suburban sites will be achieved by providing net densities in the range 35 - 50 dwellings per hectare.

· Particular sensitivity is required in relation to the design and location of apartment blocks, which are higher than existing adjacent residential development.

Small Towns and Villages
· Is the Local Area Plan or supplementary non-statutory planning framework focused on securing development patterns that are sustainable in economic and social development and environmental protection terms, recognising the challenges faced by rural economies in the future?

· Is the scale of development envisaged in terms of future housing, population, retail and employment growth in line with the overall County Development Plan Settlement and Housing Strategies and any Regional Planning Guidelines in force?

· Will the plan ensure a compact and easily walkable town or village creating forms of development that will make walking and cycling, especially for local trips, more attractive than using the car?

· Are adequate arrangements in place to ensure that the scale of new housing development schemes is in proportion to the pattern and grain of existing development?

· Have policies been put in place to ensure that the design, layout and character of new development successfully relates to the local character and heritage of the existing small town or village?

The Home and its Setting
· It is of fundamental importance to the acceptability of higher density development by the public that the quality of design and finish extends also to the individual dwelling and its immediate surroundings.

· Residents are entitled to expect that their new homes will offer decent levels of amenity, privacy, security and energy efficiency.

· The orientation of the dwelling and its internal layout can affect levels of daylight and sunlight, and will thus influence not only the amenity of the occupants but the energy demand for heat and light.

· Privacy is an important element of residential amenity, and contributes towards the sense of security felt by people in their homes.

· Where possible, designers should seek to create child- and pedestrian-friendly car-free areas, especially in higher density schemes, through the careful location of access streets and parking areas.

· All houses (terraced, semi-detached and detached) should have an area of private open space behind the building line. The provision of adequate and well-designed private open space for apartments is crucial in meeting the amenity needs of residents; in particular, usable outdoor space is a high priority for families.

· Circulation within housing layouts, including access to individual buildings, should have regard to the varying needs of occupants over their lifetimes, including needs associated with mobility difficulties and the normal frailty associated with old age.

· Adequate provision should be made for storage / collection of waste materials.

· The quality of finish and the maintenance arrangements of completed residential developments are intrinsic elements of their long-term sustainability. The quality of the finish of the public realm is of particular importance.

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