Q&A: Why should I care about the National Planning Framework?

A quick guide to the Government’s new development and capital plans and how they might affect you

The National Planning Framework is intended to give a clear strategy for where and how the country is to be developed, built and connected over the next decade. File photograph: Getty Images

The National Planning Framework is intended to give a clear strategy for where and how the country is to be developed, built and connected over the next decade. File photograph: Getty Images

 

What is the Government discussing today?

Ministers are meeting in Government Buildings to discuss the content and presentation of two important documents due to be published in the coming weeks.

One is the National Planning Framework (NPF), shortly to be published by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy.

The second is the 10-year capital investment plan which Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe is finalising. Ministers will not be asked to sign off on either plan on Monday, but will offer observations, objections and recommendations which may influence the final reports.

So what is the National Planning Framework?

It’s an overarching blueprint, intended to give a clear strategy for where and how the country is to be developed, built and connected over the next decade.

One of the country’s problems is the dominance of Dublin – it sucks in too much investment, too many jobs, too many people. One of the goals of the NPF will be to constrain development in Dublin and promote it elsewhere.

A new planning regulator will oversee the plan, allowing denser development in Dublin – to prevent uncontrolled sprawl – while promoting alternative cities for growth, including Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway.

Doesn’t that leave a lot of the country out?

This is emerging as a significant political problem, with voices inside as well as outside the Government warning that the plan will ignore rural development, as well as development in other large urban centres.

The Government insists that nowhere is going to be left out. It says the planning framework is an overarching national plan, and regional and county plans will “flesh out” the priorities at local level.

TDs and Ministers have been lobbying furiously for more specific local elements to the plan that they can promote in their own constituencies. They have warned that they can’t go home and tell their voters that Dublin and the four other cities are to get all the investment.

But are there any investment announcements in the actual planning framework?

No – that’s for the capital plan, which will be announced at the same time. The capital plan is a 10-year strategy for public capital spending which will involve many tens of billions of euros in investment being committed to projects such as hospitals, schools, roads, railways etc.

The idea is that the capital plan will align with the planning framework to achieve its objectives and ensure that the country gets a maximum return for the money it spends.

How big will the numbers involved in the capital plan be?

Very big. Though there is little reality to saying we will build a road for a hundred million euro in 10 years’ time, the capital plan is a big departure, both politically and in substance. Expect a nice big round number.

What’s not to like?

Many Government politicians are concerned that the two plans will be criticised for ignoring rural Ireland – a charge that Opposition TDs and some campaigning groups have taken up with gusto after seeing early drafts published last year.

The Government insists that the plans will reflect an even and fair distribution of investment, but privately some Ministers say there will have to be a moderation of the plan’s concentration on the cities, and more promotion of regional towns and rural Ireland.

You mean they want one for everyone in the audience?

This is the Government’s fear. If the plans for investment are spread too widely across the country, they will be ineffective in promoting specific centres for growth and development.

To counter Dublin’s dominance, senior Ministers believe, they must promote the second-tier cities and that means prioritising them for investment. But that will be a hard sell politically to the parts of the country that are not prioritised. Lobbying is intense, but the Government will have to make some difficult choices.

Or?

Or it will try to fudge them.