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The malaise in planning

The chair of DDPA comments on recent discussions on planning and Dublin.


Una Mullally’s citing of Jane Jacobs (“More gardaí on Dublin’s Streets won’t repair its broken soul”, Opinion & Analysis, September 11th) and Anthony Abbott King’s letter (September 13th) shine a bright light into the malaise that has caused the collapse of proper planning and sustainable development in Ireland. The cause is the move away from the plan-led constraints of statutory development plans to the centralised directives from ministers to liberalise those constraints. This has moved planning from a holistic vision of development to a random pattern of one-off site development, with developer-led advocacy for projects that maximise site value.

Given the collapse of construction in 2008 and financial crisis of 2010, it is understandable that government responded positively to the demands of the property lobby to reform the planning system to facilitate its needs. Nobody explored alternatives.

The rot started in 2015, when the property lobby convinced Alan Kelly to introduce mandatory Specific Planning Policy Requirements (SPPRs) to forbid planning authorities to have higher apartment standards than those mandated by his department. Many more SPPRs, added over the years, continued to over-ride development plan standards in many areas, always leading to lesser standards and always at the behest of the property lobby. Perhaps the most damaging SPPRs were those relating to forbidding development plans to set standards for heights of buildings. Effectively, the developers held all the cards in any given planning application to get the decision that they wanted.

These SPPRs are deeply undemocratic, centralising power to the minister, without any Oireachtas oversight. They fly in the face of subsidiarity and disempower local government.

The government even agreed to remove the right of the citizen to appeal these decisions by introducing the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) legislation, which gave An Bord Pleanála sole authority. This led to planning decisions so alien that it destroyed the trust of the citizen in the planning system.

Even more SPPRs are proposed in a current consultation paper, with more prohibitions on higher standards in development plans. While much of substance of this new paper is good, it further embeds the role of the “project proposer”, a new name for the developer, as a powerful voice, above the development plan.

None of these aids to the property lobby have produced the results that were promised - we still have a housing crisis and now, a dysfunctional planning system. The pre-legislative scrutiny of the 2022 Planning Bill indicates that this bill will not improve matters.

While the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage constantly refers to “plan-led development”, the actions that they propose, and take, constantly strengthen developer-led planning, undermining statutory development plans and diminishing the power of local government. We must address this if we are to achieve our needs on infrastructure, housing, climate change, biodiversity loss, heritage and community.

The real problems in planning are over-complexity, lack of clarity and lack of certainty of outcomes. The solution, as so well expressed by Mr. Abbott King, is in an area-based, plan-led model, guided by democratically agreed local policies and objectives. The “project proposers” should then abide by the plan, giving certainty to all.

Yours, etc.

Robin Mandal, FRIAI

Chair, Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance


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