Introduction

The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 (the “Bill”) was first introduced in late 2015 and revised and re-introduced by the Government on 4 January 2016. At the outset, it is important readers remember the Bill has not undergone the task of legislative scrutiny, namely:

  • teasing out the policy thinking behind each provision,
  • testing whether, as drafted, each provision meets the stated objectives, and
  • tabling amendments to remedy any identified gaps or weaknesses.

After legislative scrutiny the Bill may be subject to certain changes and ultimately it must be approved by each House of the Oireachtas.

Dual Purpose Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the remaining planning-related recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal.

It provides for the establishment of an independent planning regulator, the Office of the Planning Regulator (the “OPR”), which was one of the key recommendations contained in the Mahon Tribunal report. The OPR’s functions will include:

  • evaluating, assessing and commenting on local authority development plans, local area plans and regional spatial and economic strategies (together the “Local Plans”);
  • reviewing the organisation, systems and procedures used by local authorities and An Bord Pleanala in relation to the performance of their functions under the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2015;and
  • undertaking research and conducting programmes of education and training for members of planning authorities and regional assemblies in respect of proper planning and sustainable development.

Where the OPR has evaluated and assessed Local Plans, it may recommend the Minister exercises his or her powers to ensure each Local Plan sets out an overall strategy for proper planning and sustainable development (a “Recommendation”). Where the Minister agrees with a Recommendation, he or she must issue a notice of intent, together with a draft direction, to the relevant local authority. Where the Minister disagrees with a Recommendation, he or she must explain his or her reasoning before the Houses of the Oireachtas and publish them on the website of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (the “Department”). It remains to be seen how effective the proposed OPR will be in practice, however its proposed introduction is welcome and marks an important step towards a more credible and transparent planning system.

The Bill also provides for placing the National Planning Framework (the “NPF”) on a statutory footing. The NPF will be the successor strategy to the National Spatial Strategy 2002. The Department described the NPF as a 20 year strategy providing the strategic context for planning housing, commercial, office and industrial development, together with investment in national infrastructure by both the public and private sectors in key areas such as transport, energy, water services, communications and waste management.

The Bill provides for the procedures to be followed in developing the NPF, including public participation, periodic review and approval. The Department published a ‘road map’ for the delivery of the NPF in December 2015 and it is intended a draft NPF will be published by the third quarter of 2016. Once published, we will update you further.

Conclusion

With the general election upon us, you might be wondering ‘what will happen to the Bill when the current Government is dissolved?’. The Bill will exist in a ‘legal limbo’ for the time being. When the newly elected Dáil convenes for the first time, it will decide whether to restore any outstanding bills or whether to allow them to lapse. A returning Government will usually only restore bills enjoying cross-party support. We will update you as the matter progresses and on the new Government’s legislative agenda in due course.