'Excessive' land zoning criticised


Some development land may have to be ‘dezoned’ in order to return to realistic planning and development and to restore a sustainable market, the chairman of An Bord Pleanála has said.

John O’Connor said “excessive and unsustainable zoning of land” had been a contributor to the property bubble and its aftermath.

He said bad planning had long-term environmental, economic and social costs.

There could be “no expectation” that proper planning standards would not be applied to development proposals, even where the land was linked to “distressed loans”, he added.

He was speaking as the board’s annual report for 2008 was published today.

Mr O’Connor said it would be “extremely short-sighted” if there was any tendency to relax good planning standards in response to our current economic difficulties.

“Now, more than ever, we need to embrace the principles of good planning and sustainable development in order to prevent further deterioration of our environment, to respond to climate change, to maximise the return from expensive infrastructure investment, to get the most efficient use of limited land resources and to help restore confidence by producing well located good quality developments,” he said.

The planning appeals board chairman said there was increasing evidence that many of the current local authority development plans are replete with such excessive zonings.

“If we are to return to realistic development planning some of this land will have to be dezoned and facing up to this has a part to play in deflating the bubble and restoring a sustainable market.”

Mr O’Connor said the planning bill currently before the Oireachtas should ensure a much more coherent and sustainable approach to zoning and that it was a very welcome response to the trends over recent years, to which he had “repeatedly drawn attention to in the past”.

“Thus, anyone now assessing property values in terms of development potential must in many cases look beyond the particular zoning and focus on the availability of services and infrastructure and the other parameters of good planning such as densities, heights, impact on amenities and the orderly sequence of urban expansion.”

An Bord Pleanala had a total intake of 5,800 in 2008, according to the annual report.

The chairman said that while this was down on the record intake for 2007, it was was still “very high by historical standards” and it meant the board continued to be under severe workload pressure in 2008.

The number of cases of all types on hand peaked at over 3,000 in March 2008.

But with the continued drop in intake (over 30 per cent) and special measures to maximise output, the number of cases on hand had been almost halved to 1,550.

Some 36 per cent of cases last month were determined within the 18-week statutory objective and the average time taken across all cases was 20.6 weeks.

The board said it regretted delays that had occurred and that it believed it was approaching the point where routine delays can be eliminated.

In general trends, the percentage of local authority decisions appealed to the board increased from 6.7 per cent to 8.1 per cent. (46 per cent were received from third parties).

The proportion of local decisions appealed which were reversed by the board remained steady at 33 per cent.

First party appeals against refusal resulted in grants of permission in 28 per cent of cases, compared to 29 per cent in 2007.

Third party appeals against grants of permission resulted in 39 per cent refusals, compared to 37 per cent in 2007.