An Taisce calls for independent and more stringent planning regulator


THE PROPERTY bubble followed a “catastrophic and systemic failure” in planning, an An Taisce study has found.

The group has called for the establishment of an independent planning regulator “free from political pressure”, and for national development plans to be put on a statutory footing.

It recommended a move to regional governance for planning and development, as well as “serious reforms of local authority structures” and that enforcement “be urgently improved”.

The heritage body said there was an onus on Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to “immediately recommence independent inquiries” into seven councils which he suspended in favour of an internal review.

The relevant councils are Dublin and Cork city councils and county councils in Carlow, Galway, Cork, Meath and Donegal.

Yesterday a spokesman for the department said “at no time did we indicate that there would be no external review of the complaints received. Jan O’Sullivan, Minister for Housing and Planning, absolutely agrees that there is a need for reform of the planning system and has committed to that reform. She and other Ministers are working on a set of proposals in response to the Mahon Tribunal.”

He also said that “in addition to actions on foot of the Mahon Tribunal, internal investigations ongoing in the department and the findings of that report will be published in the coming weeks”.

According to the An Taisce State of the Nation: Ireland’s Planning System 2000-2010 study published yesterday Donegal, Roscommon, Leitrim, Mayo, Galway county, Cavan, Carlow and Waterford county are, in that order, the worst when it comes to planning.

It also found that “councils which scored poorly generally had the highest rate of residential vacancy, the highest rate of decline and out-migration, the highest levels of unfinished ‘ghost estates’, lower residential property prices and significant ground and surface water pollution”.

The proposed internal Department of the Environment review of seven councils was “scarcely credible given that it perpetuates the hopelessly discredited model of selfregulation” whereby the Department of the Environment holds itself as an impartial observer, it said. This was “patent nonsense”.

It called for reform of Ireland’s “obsolete local government structures” with its 88 city and county councils, as well as 54 town or borough councils.

Instead it favoured approximately 25 local councils, each administering a minimum population of 200,000.

“Site value tax” should replace the household charge as it “would provide a real incentive for the development that becomes zoned, and will deter overzoning . . .”

It was “essential” that a new planning regulator be given strong statutory powers to oversee enforcement.

Throughout the Celtic Tiger period it noted that An Taisce itself was “marginalised” for highlighting the consequences of “promoting development at all costs . . .”

It had made submissions at local level on around 3 per cent of all planning applications lodged (approximately 30,000 out of 450,000 over a decade). Of those approximately 2,000 appeals it lodged over that decade, 80 per cent were upheld by Bord Pleanála, it said.

Eight indicators were used to rank Ireland’s 34 city and county councils where planning was concerned. (1) overzoning; (2) decisions reversed or (3) confirmed by Bord Pleanála 2005-2010; (4) percentage of and (5) change in vacant housing stock 2006-2011; (6) water quality; (7) percentage of one-off houses permitted as a percentage of all residential planning permissions 2001-2011; and (8) legal proceedings commenced following non-compliance with enforcement notice 2005-2010.