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The Minister for Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan, TD has today published the findings and recommendations of the planning review report. The report outlined 12 key recommendations, set out below, dealing with changes to and consolidation of existing legislation, amendments to changes to and consolidation of existing legislation, amendments to statutory guidelines, consistency across planning authorities and enhanced transparency.

The report also highlighted six broader themes which require further examination. This examination will be conducted by an independent planning expert who the Minister will appoint. The themes are as follows: Communication of planning policy;

pre-planning application records; submission of draft Local Area Plans by individuals and groups; role of structured dialogue between planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála; the means by which socio-economic considerations relevant to a proposed development can be central to the decision-making process; and any remaining gaps or inconsistencies in existing package of statutory guidelines.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1: All proposed grants of permission by a planning authority in material contravention of their own Development Plan would automatically go to An Bord Pleanala for final determination while also providing for a public notification and participation process.

Recommendation 2: The Department will urgently prepare and publish a consolidation of the Planning Acts and Regulations, and thereafter prepare to place these on a statutory footing in recognition of the complex and evolving nature of the planning code.

Recommendation 3: (informed by specific reference to Cork City Council): The Department will address the problem of differing interpretations of Section 247 of the Act.  At present there is an inconsistency between what the Act says (and specifically does not say under Section 247) and what the Guidelines say.

Recommendation 4:  (informed by specific reference to Meath County Council): As part of the consultation process on the draft Guidelines on Local Area Plans the potential amendment of 18(6) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is being examined with a view to prohibiting the bringing forward of draft local area plans by landowners / prospective developers.

Recommendation 5: (informed by general reference to all seven planning authorities): The Department will comprehensively review the existing Development Management Guidelines (last updated in 2007) to take account of all relevant findings of this review and of any further recommendations made under the next phase. Specific revisions should include, inter alia:

Reminding authorities of the need regularly to review decisions and policies governing such decisions, particularly where such decisions are overturned by An Bord Pleanála, and to take appropriate steps to amend and clarify such policies, in consultation with both elected members and with the public, where appropriate;

Identifying and utilising examples of best practice for internal supervisory / management arrangements in planning departments; Clarifying how records of pre-planning consultations should be dealt with;Providing for regular review of planning decisions and policies governing such decisions, particularly where such decisions are overturned by An Bord Pleanála, and taking appropriate steps to amend and clarify such policies; and introducing standardised approaches in planner’s reports listing and analysing the various policy and legislative considerations and the respective weightings applied to each in the decision making process.

Recommendation 6: (informed by general reference to all seven planning authorities): The Department will consider and develop further mechanisms (both statutory and non-statutory) to ensure timely, responsive, communication of planning policy e.g. a mechanism such as statutory Planning Policy Guidance Statement(s)

Recommendation 7: (informed by specific reference to Dublin City Council): The dissemination of best practice examples for internal supervisory / management arrangements for planning departments, to ensure consistent application of policy in the decision making process, should be advanced by the Department with the City and County Managers Association.

Recommendation 8: (informed by specific reference to Meath County Council): The draft Local Area Plan Guidelines for planning authorities, inter alia, encourage effective public and community participation in the process of preparing and/or reviewing of local area plans. The Guidelines also provide further guidance to planning authorities and developers and other parties as to what assurances should be given regarding the preparation of both statutory and non-statutory plans to ensure that no concrete commitments are given to adopting such plans, unduly raising expectations and limiting the decision-making powers of elected members.  These also set out clearly the purpose, requirements, preparation, consultation around, content and delivery of LAPs by planning authorities.

Recommendation 9: (informed by specific reference to Dublin City Council):A Circular Letter will issue to planning authorities reminding them of the need regularly to review planning decisions and policies governing such decisions, particularly where such decisions are overturned by An Bord Pleanála, and to take appropriate steps to amend and clarify such policies, with both elected members and with the public, where appropriate.

Recommendation 10: (informed by specific reference to Dublin City Council): The Department will examine the introduction of a structured mechanism for dialogue at a policy level between planning authorities and the Board providing for generalised feedback from An Bord Pleanála to planning authorities and vice versa ultimately enhancing the wider planning system.

Recommendation 11 (informed by general reference to all seven planning authorities):The Department should strengthen the formal arrangements for Ministerial engagement with the County and City Managers’ Association (CCMA) on planning matters, with a view to meeting at least annually, and official level engagement with the CCMA Planning Sub-Committee at least quarterly.

Recommendation 12: (informed by specific reference to Carlow County Council):Planning Authorities should become more proactive and communicate directly with the public, notwithstanding the ongoing engagement of locally elected members, in promoting public awareness and understanding of the planning system, particularly where significant changes or improvements are underway in order to ensure continued public confidence in the planning system at the local level. 

To highlight the extent of the changes that have taken place on foot of the Quinlivan report and in order to assist in restoring the damaged reputation of the planning service in Carlow it is recommended that the County Council should initiate an awareness raising programme (public hall meetings, information briefings for local media).  Implementation of the Quinlivan report remains ongoing as not all of the recommendations have been fully delivered; the Manager will be asked to provide a further progress report by end July. 

Restoring confidence

According to the Minister, the report aims to restore confidence in planning in Ireland. The Government, she added, is committed to “developing a 21stcentury planning system that provides a democratic, transparent and coherent framework for creating thriving sustainable communities”.