Introduction

The primary piece of legislation governing planning and development in Ireland is the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963. This has been revised a number of times over the years under the consolidated Planning and Development Acts, the most recent being the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 (the “2018 Act”). Part 2 of the 2018 Act provides for the creation of the Office of the Planning Regulator (“The Office”). The appointment of an independent Planning Regulator with oversight of the planning system in Ireland was a key recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal. The Office, which was formally established in January 2019 on foot of the 2018 Act, will have a significant impact on the future of planning in Ireland.

Functions

The Office, led by Chief Executive Niall Cussen, is an independent public body tasked with monitoring Ireland’s 31 planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála. Its aim is to oversee the effective delivery of planning services and to ensure sustainable development by planning authorities going forward. The Office will review the organisation and systems applied by planning authorities in the performance of their planning functions, assessing whether decisions were made in accordance with planning legislation and policy. It will do so by carrying out a number of important functions:

  1. Evaluate and assess development plans, variations of development plans, local area plans and regional spatial and economic strategies.
  2. Will inform the Minister if, in the opinion of the Office, any plan or strategy is not consistent with its observations and recommendations.
  3. Conduct research as to what constitutes proper planning and sustainable development.
  4. Conduct education and training programmes and research.
  5. Conduct reviews of the performance of planning authorities and An Bord Pleanala.
  6. Oversee the delivery of effective planning services to the public by planning authorities.

Evaluation and Enforcement

The Office shall evaluate at the strategic level all development plans, local area plans and regional spatial and economic strategies by planning authorities and may make observations or submissions to the authority in relation to such plans. It will address the legislative and policy matters relating to the plan and may make recommendations to the authority where it sees fit. The Chief Executive will prepare a report which summarises any issues and outline recommendations. The planning authority will have 5 days to resubmit the plan and if not made in accordance with the recommendations, the Office will notify the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government who, at his discretion, can exercise his function and rectify the matter. For example, the Minister can hire an inspector where further enquiry is necessary or he may issue a direction which the planning authority will be obligated to follow. Further, the Office can conduct a review of a planning authority, either by its own accord or on instruction from the Minister, in respect of the systems and procedures used in relation to the performance of its functions. The Office will draft a report, to which the planning authority may make submissions and observations. The report will then be sent to the Minister for review who can issue direction as he considers necessary.

Conclusion

As our population increases and the housing demand heightens, the creation of this Office and the appointment of a planning regulator is a key step in ensuring a sound and sustainable approach to planning in Ireland for the years to come. The Regulator will ensure that planning authorities are operating with the highest standards of integrity instilling confidence in the general public that important planning decisions are being made in line with the Government’s national policy.