Madam, - As a planner/urban designer who has worked in architectural practices in Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands, it was with personal interest that I read The Irish Times commentary on the changes to the Planning and Development Act 2000, specifically the requirements on social and affordable housing.

However, having examined the details of the new Act, I wonder if it is the same piece of legislation that has been subject to a continuous "critique" and comment in The Irish Times. A simplistic notion has been created that the construction industry has won the day in its confrontation with the Government, and the social and affordable housing requirements have been abandoned. This is certainly not the case.

The reality is that private developers still have to indicate when making a planning application how they envisage complying with the "20 per cent social and affordable housing" requirements. The planning authority will then assess what is the best mechanism available to it in meeting its housing objectives and what resources it has at its disposal. In addition, I am aware the retention of the "two-year withering rule" would also have affected a number of planning permissions that were to be developed for social and affordable housing.

The widening of options for a planning authority in the form of alternative land or equivalent monetary value from developers should allow a more localised response by local authorities in meeting their housing objectives, whilst also ensuring better value for money.

It must be remembered that any housing system comprises a series of localised housing markets each with different influences and each of which require different interventions. The original legislation, the Planning and Development Act 2000, had a universal requirement to provide social and affordable housing on every private site regardless of cost or social mix in the area.

Planning laws on their own cannot compensate for any flaws in the Irish housing system where access to a housing tenure is determined by ability to pay. In other EU member-states much less emphasis is placed on the linkage between housing tenure and social status. In the Netherlands, for example, almost 40 per cent of the population live in housing rented from non-profit housing associations.

Therefore, I would have expected a more rigorous examination by The Irish Times of what the practical application of the changes to the new planning legislation would mean to households seeking social and affordable housing. Maybe deep in the Irish psyche, an antipathy towards builders and developers is affecting our ability to have a balanced analysis of the new planning legislation. Certainly, the brevity of the debate in the Oireachtas regarding the changes to the Planning and Development Act didn't help and fuelled some of the wide speculation that arose in The Irish Times.

The message should be clarified that the "social and affordable housing requirements" of the Planning and Development Act haven't gone away. Let us not undermine morale and put unnecessary pressure on our professional planners and housing officials who will now become key to implementing all aspects of the Planning and Development Act. - Yours, ets.,


Harvey's Quay,