MINISTER FOR Communications Eamon Ryan has strongly defended plans to build Metro North, describing the proposed €5 billion project as a key element of Dublin’s economic future.
Mr Ryan told the annual conference of the Irish Planning Institute (IPI) it would be “blind stupidity” not to recognise that the development of a metro and the proposed Dart underground link between Heuston and Docklands were essential for Dublin to compete in the world economy.
“Failing to make that investment, losing our bottle, will leave us with a car-based transport system. So it has to go ahead, even in these difficult times.”
Equally, failing to build an electricity grid to cater for a huge increase in wind energy along the western seaboard would render Ireland insecure. He said it wasn’t technically feasible to put this underground, so “by and large, it will be overhead power lines”.
IPI president Andrew Hind said reform of the “almost crazily fragmented and confused” local government system in Ireland was needed to make the country more competitive.
“We need a planning system that itself is efficient, effective and sustainable and, in turn, will deliver an economy that is more competitive and more sustainable in the future.”
He told the depleted ranks of planners attending the conference – down by 50 per cent since the peak of the boom – that Ireland needed a planning system that stopped bad development but also placed fewer impediments in the way of good development.
Many people saw the current system as “nothing but unnecessary red tape” because it sometimes put at least as many obstacles in the way of development that should be encouraged as it placed in the path of the development that should be refused.
“There will be significant benefits both to users of the planning system and to the rebuilding of our economy if we can remove impediments to sustainable development without compromising our ability to resist development that is inappropriate or unsustainable,” he said.
Referring to the fact that 88 of the 114 local authorities exercise planning functions, Mr Hind said this was “too many” for a population of just over four million. As a result, users of the system found it “almost crazily fragmented and confused”.
“What signal is this giving to those who want to invest in the development of our country,” he asked, saying this needed to be tackled “if we are to present a coherent front” to investors creating sustainable employment and economic growth.
He suggested that the process of making local area plans should be improved.
If this was done, “then it might be possible to allow planning applications that were consistent with them to be approved without the risk of appeal by a third party”.
In order to achieve this, there would need to be an independent assessment by An Bord Pleanála of objections made by the public as well as elements of any plan changed by elected members against official advice, on land rezoning, for example.
Referring to the fact that processing of even an average planning application is subsidised by €1,500, Mr Hind said the cost should be met by the charges paid by applicants, “thereby releasing taxpayers’ money for purposes that are more urgent”.
Dealing with transport, Mr Hind said “we seem to think we get better value for money from lavish road schemes directed almost exclusively at the private car” than by investing in low-cost projects to improve accessibility for those walking or cycling to work.