Property lobby wants radical cut in councils with planning powers


THE NUMBER of local authorities with planning powers should be cut from 88 to 34, with all borough and town councils abolished, according to a report by Property Industry Ireland (PII) advocating reform of the planning system.

PII, a division of Ibec lobbying for changes to help revive Ireland’s property sector, wants to make the planning system “more effective, efficient and responsive in line with future economic, social and environmental needs”.

The report notes construction output was down to 5.9 per cent of gross domestic product in 2011. “International norms and Ireland’s stage of development suggest that the property sector should reasonably account for approximately 12 per cent of GDP,” it says.

If this target was achieved by 2015, PII claims it would “result in the creation of an additional 80,000 direct and indirect jobs in the economy and would result in construction output of €20 billion, compared to an estimated €11.7 billion in 2010”.

The report says a “redefined planning system . . . should put aside past mistakes and put in place a robust, professionally competent and publicly supported planning process” that would contribute positively to the regeneration of Ireland’s economy.

It wants the National Spatial Strategy to be revisited, with “an immediate re-evaluation of the number of identified gateways and hubs”, saying that the 2002 strategy “has failed to meet its initial objectives [and] remains largely aspirational”. While recognising there would be “difficult political barriers” to be overcome in revising the NSS, the report seeks a “justified and quantified prioritisation” of the nine gateways and nine hubs designated for development 10 years ago.

It complains that “poorly resourced” regional authorities “do not contribute to strategic plan-making . . . particularly for development proposals that have regional implications such as roads, waste water, flood management [and] large-scale retail development.”

On local government, the report queries the need for 114 authorities in a State with a population of 4.58 million and recommends that the number of those with planning functions should be reduced to the 29 county councils and five city councils.

Despite a 70 per cent reduction in the number of planning applications generally from 92,651 in 2006 to 27,789 in 2010, it notes that the number of staff in planning departments decreased by only 21.7 per cent from 1,877 in 2007 to 1,470 in 2010.

“These statistics illustrate that there must be clear capacity for redeployment of planning department personnel,” the report says.

But while the proposed merger of some local authorities was welcome, the retention of town councils should be closely examined.

“Templemore, Co Tipperary, for example, with a population of 2,071 people in the town and its environs in 2011, has a town council that received only four planning applications in 2011, with only three of those decided in the initial eight-week period,” it notes.

PII believes there is a need to codify planning laws and resolve conflicts between it and the 2009 Act that established Nama, with a mandate to take “all steps necessary or expedient to protect, enhance or better realise the value of assets transferred to it”.

The report complains about a “one-size-fits-all” regime for protected structures, with equal weight given to an internationally important building and a modest terraced house, and advocates the introduction of a grading system.

Calling for a “more customer-oriented and pro-business” approach, it highlights the difference between the €220 fee for third-party appeals to An Bord Pleanála and fees of between €1,500 and €9,000 for developers, saying this “needs to be re-examined to ensure equity”.