Government to appoint planning regulator

Functions to be more limited than Mahon tribunal recommended

Minister of State for Planning Jan O’Sullivan described as a “milestone”  the appointment of a planning regulator, with which the Government to proceed. Photograph: Frank Miller

Minister of State for Planning Jan O’Sullivan described as a “milestone” the appointment of a planning regulator, with which the Government to proceed. Photograph: Frank Miller

Wed, May 8, 2013, 08:00

The Government has decided to proceed with the appointment of a planning regulator, in a move described by Minister of State for Planning Jan O’Sullivan as a “milestone” in implementing the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal aimed at eliminating corruption.

At its meeting on Tuesday the Cabinet approved the draft heads of a planning and development Bill to establish a new office of planning regulator, saying this was “the most significant recommendation” on planning made by Mahon.

However, it would appear that the proposed regulator’s remit will be limited to providing an “independent appraisal” of city and county development plans and regional planning guidelines as well as “planning research, education and investigation”.

In its March 2012 final report, the tribunal chaired by Mr Justice Alan Mahon recommended that the regulator should be “entrusted with the power to investigate possible systemic problems in the planning system, including those raising corruption risks”.

It also said 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”. However, there is no mention of this in the proposed legislation.

Ms O’Sullivan said that, in formulating the proposal, she had “engaged with a wide variety of stakeholders” and believed the new regulator would improve the quality of planning and increase transparency, accountability and public trust in the planning system.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said the regulator’s role would be to “review and assess all forward planning functions by local authorities [and] advise the Minister to reject or overturn part or all of a plan where it is not up to scratch”.

However, he made it clear that the final decision on whether to issue a direction to any local authority would rest with the Minister, who is accountable to the Oireachtas. The tribunal, on the other hand, said the regulator should have this role.

The regulator’s office would be staffed and resourced “in so far as possible” by personnel taken on secondment or on a permanent basis from An Bord Pleanála, according to an explanatory note issued on Tuesday by the Department of the Environment.

It said the regulator would also have investigative powers along the lines of Section 255 of the 2000 Planning and Development Act, which provides for the appointment of a commissioner to carry out the functions of an errant planning authority.