Wednesday 11 March 2009

Updates for Planning Act in new report

A NEW report to be launched today will recommend ways in which the Planning and Development Act 2000 should be “improved and updated” following a number of recent planning controversies around the country.

The report, which was being finalised last night, is the result of an investigation by the Oireachtas environment committee following a request from Mayo County Council. The council objected strongly to Environment Minister John Gormley’s direction to vary elements of its development plan 2008-2014.

The draft version of the report, Application of ministerial directions to city and county development plans, recommends the Planning and Development Act 2000 should be amended to require two thirds of all elected members of a local authority to vote in favour of the making of a development plan.

Ways in which the act can be “improved and updated” were also outlined in the draft report.

It said the right of a Minister to issue a direction under section 31 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 should continue, but it recommended a period of consultation involving the Department of the Environment, the council and the general public before a ministerial direction is finalised.

The draft report recommended a legal time limit after the adoption of a development plan by which time the Minister must issue a draft direction, if that is the intention.

The report said the Act must specify the process by which a development plan is varied following a ministerial direction, “especially where the elected members are not willing to make a variation to their development plan to include the ministerial direction”.

The report says conflict can exist between local and central government when city and county plans are being drawn up which can have an adverse influence on timely and effective planning.

The Oireachtas committee on the environment, heritage and local government hopes its recommendations will reduce conflict and facilitate greater co-operation between the Minister for Environment and local authorities.

The draft report said that members of local authorities should incorporate the views of the Minister in their development plans. “This should reduce the need for future ministerial directions,” it said, and would be “in the interests of achieving a sustainable and consistent framework for planning and development throughout the State”.

The report said the department and local authorities should arrange regional planning seminars for elected members. “This will help existing members refresh their knowledge and will be important for new members elected to local authorities” on June 5th, 2009.

The department and local authorities should ensure a mechanism is put in place whereby elected members of local authorities have access to independent legal and professional advice in their onerous and responsible duties. This could be achieved in relation to projects where both the manager and the elected members have a role. For instance, in drawing up development plans, the corporate policy group of the local authority should engage legal and professional advice required.

Irish Times

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