The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 (the “2018 Act”) provides legislative footing for the National Planning Framework, which was launched in 2018. It is the first time in Ireland a national planning strategy has been given legislative status.
In another first for Ireland, an independent regulatory body to oversee planning was created under the 2018 Act. This oversight body comes in the form of the Office of the Planning Regulator (the “Planning Regulator”) and was officially established with effect from 3 April 2019.
Some of the key functions of the Planning Regulator include:
- evaluation, assessment and provision of observations on local development plans, local area plans and regional spatial and economic strategies
- conducting training and education of members of planning authorities and staff of local authorities and regional assemblies, and
- examining complaints made by the public or at the request of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (the “Minister”).
The Planning Regulator will evaluate and assess, at a strategic level, draft development plans and area plans of a planning authority, as well as any amendments to existing development plans. In the event of non-compliance by the planning authority with a recommendation of the Planning Regulator, he can recommend that the Minister directs the planning authority to act to ensure a development plan or amendment complies with an overall planning strategy. If the Minister disagrees with Planning Regulator’s recommendation, he must give reasons for not agreeing and this must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Will the Planning Regulator have any bite to its bark?
Under the 2018 Act the Planning Regulator can appoint an authorised person to carry out a review or examination of a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála (the “Board”) in respect of the performance of its functions under the 2018 Act. The authorised person is entitled to be provided with information, records and documents in carrying out the review, and similarly is entitled to enter and inspect the premises of the planning authority or the Board. Anyone who obstructs, impedes or fails to comply with a request of the Planning Regulator or authorised person commits an offence.
The National Planning Framework
The National Planning Framework is undoubtedly an ambitious document. Although it was introduced over a year ago, more time is needed before its success can be measured. Regardless of whether or not the National Planning Framework achieves the “transformational change” its authors intended, the establishment of an independent Planning Regulator is a positive step for a country whose planning landscape is often fraught with challenges.
Mr. Niall Cussen was appointed as the first Planning Regulator. His previous role was Chief Planner at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. His initial term is for five years, which is renewable once.