New Planning Regulator lacks ability to regulate.

20th January 2015
Press Release

An Taisce is largely disappointed with the proposed arrangements for the Office of Planning Regulation which is set out in the recently published General Scheme of Planning and Development No.2 Bill 2014 [Note 1]. It falls far short from the appointment of an Independent Planning Regulator as called for by the Mahon Tribunal [Note 2].

The proposed arrangement will see the Office of the Planning Regulator established as a new office which is separate from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It will be a required to inform the minister if development plans prepared comply with national policy. However, it is at the discretion of the Minister as to whether he or she will issue a direction to the local authority, ordering them to change a plan. The proposed Regulator would, therefore, only appear to have an advisory role as opposed to any powers of regulation.

Speaking on the General Scheme, Ian Lumley of An Taisce said 'we need an independent Planning Regulator who not only is free from political influence when undertaking independent inquiries, but also have the power to enforce its recommendations. The proposed arrangement will see the Regulator advising the Minister only, not regulating'.

Concluding Ian Lumley said: “we desperately need a planning system in which the public can have confidence, something the Department cannot achieve with internal investigations and directions”.

Enforcement and even the ability to enforce has been the Achilles’ heel of the achievement of sustainable development and land-use planning in Ireland and must, therefore, now, at this critical juncture be the focus of any proposed Planning Regulator.

ENDS

For further information, please call:
Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce Tel: +353 1 454 1786
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 2411995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.ie

NOTES:

  1. General Scheme of Planning and Development No.2 Bill 2014 http://environ.ie/en/PublicationsDocuments/FileDownLoad,39990,en.doc
  2. The catalyst for the setting up of the Mahon Tribunal was the placement in 1995 by Michael Smith, former Chairman of An Taisce, of an anonymous advertisement in the Irish Times through a firm of Newry Solicitors offering a reward of IR£10,000 for information on land rezoning corruption that would lead to a conviction. This action exposed a chain of corruption which reached into the highest level of Government. The recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal in relation to the Regulator were:

1.14 Finally, with regard to enforcement, the Tribunal is concerned that recent changes in the planning system have resulted in an over-centralisation of power in the hands of the Minister for the Environment which is not subject to sufficient checks and balances. Consequently, the Tribunal is recommending that the Minister for the Environment’s ability to give directions to Regional Authorities and Local Planning Authorities should be entrusted to a Planning Regulator. However, the Minister for the Environment should continue to play a key role in adopting the NSS and NDP.

1.15 While the Planning Regulator should assume some of the Minister for the Environment’s existing role in relation to enforcement, the Tribunal considers that his or her role should not be confined to this. In particular, the Tribunal is recommending that the Regulator should also be entrusted with the power to investigate possible systemic problems in the planning system, including those raising corruption risks, with the aim of making recommendations to address those problems. The Regulator should also be responsible for providing training to members of both local and regional authorities on planning and development to enable them to discharge their functions in this area more effectively. The Regulator should have sufficient powers to carry out his or her functions effectively, including the power to question witnesses and compel the production of documents.