Wednesday 11 March 2009

Laws to prevent rushing through development plans before elections

TDs have agreed on recommendations for new laws for the Environment Minister in a bid to prevent councillors rushing through development plans ahead of elections.

Local authorities should be banned from commencing or renewing development plans within two years of local elections, under the proposals.

Fine Gael’s Padraic McCormack yesterday noted the turnover of councillors at election time, saying about a third of local authority members changed.

This affected the completion of development plans, with councillors either rushing through plans before elections or newly elected members being too inexperienced to deal with them, the Oireachtas Committee on Environment heard.

Under the proposals, which will be launched in a report today, it is recommended development plans are begun at least two years before councillors compete in local elections. The period is the full length of time available to local authorities to decide on development plans, therefore allowing for their completion before the turnover in councillors.

"There should be no start of a development plan before elections as they (councillors) have no time to complete the plan. The process can’t and should not be interrupted by elections," stressed deputy McCormack, the committee’s vice chairman.

The Green Party’s Ciarán Cuffe said the interruption of development plans was "a very real issue".

It is understood Green Party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley is preparing planning legislation which is expected to go before the Houses of the Oireachtas this year.

The proposals for the ban on rushed development plans are expected to be included in a report launched today. The Application of Ministerial Directions to City and County Development Plans will also feature proposals for councillors to get "impartial" legal advice on development plans and local authority proposals.

It is also expected that the Oireachtas Committee will recommend that where a minister intervenes in development plans, they must do so within a limited timeframe.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Environment Minister intervened in six development plans belonging to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Laois, Monaghan, Castlebar, Mayo and Waterford.

The report recommends reducing conflict between the minister and local authorities when city and county plans are being drawn up.

It follows complaints by Mayo County Council after Mr Gormley intervened in its plan.

Irish Examiner

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