WHAT IS SPATIAL PLANNING?
Spatial planning is a relatively recent term that describes the evolution of town and country planning into a "set of governance practices for developing and implementing strategies, plans, policies and projects, and for regulating the location, timing and form of development." (P. Healy 1997)
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe described it in 2008 as: "....a key instrument for establishing long-term, sustainable frameworks for social, territorial and economic development both within and between countries. Its primary role is to enhance the integration between sectors such as housing, transport, energy and industry, and to improve national and local systems of urban and rural development, also taking into account environmental considerations."
Ireland's first National Spatial Strategy 2002 was a twenty year planning framework designed to achieve a better balance of social, economic, physical development and population growth between regions. Its focus was on people, on places and on building communities.
SPATIAL PLANNING IN IRELAND
Spatial planning in Ireland is governed by National Policy and Planning Legislation. There is a large amount of policy and legislation, which can be viewed at the end of this page and here. European Union Directives have generally been transposed into Irish legislation and have a great influence on the planning system. They are, however, outside the scope of this document.
In essence, the National Planning Framework sets out the core objectives. The legislation then addresses those core objectives. There are other policies which affect planning, such as “Rebuilding Ireland”.
The 1963 Planning and development Act was the first act to set out the planning system as we know it. It was amended many times and those amendments were consolidated into the Planning and Development Act 2000. The 1976 Planning and Development Act set up An Bord Pleanála, the Planning Appeals Board, to take over the power that had been used by ministers of the environment up to that date. This followed some extraordinary decisions, which were clearly abuses of power. The Board was tasked with running planning appeals (under the chairmanship of a high court judge) and some other processes such as Section 5 referrals.
The power of the Board expanded to include, amongst others, the Strategic Infrastructure decisions, the approval of Strategic Development Zones (SDZs) and Strategic Housing Developments (SHDs).
A part of the Planning and Development Acts provides for the making of Guidelines by the Minister of the day, under Section 28. It was under these ‘Ministerial Guidelines” that many documents were issued. In 2015, a clause was introduced by the then Minister, that changed the nature of these from guidelines to directives.
These have led to the Special Planning Policy Requirements (SPPRs) that supersede and must be included in any local development plans. In order to comply with the conditions that make an SPPR mandatory, applicants have to submit considerable paperwork that makes assessment of impacts of development. All of these “assessments” are made by the specialists employed by the applicant. In other countries, these specialists are appointed by authorities other than the applicant's.
In this context, the preparation of local development plans are now conscribed by central government through National Policy and Ministerial Directives, constraining them so that they can really no longer be “local”. The final nail in the coffin of local development planning is the SHD process, where the decision-making role of the Local Planning Authority has been removed and where such planning applications are made to An Bord Pleanála, the planning appeals board.
In the Dublin Area, the four local authorities have their Development Plans in place and the are due for replacement in the near term with new Development Plans.
NATIONAL PLANNING FRAMEWORK
The National Planning Framework is the overarching policy and planning framework for the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland. Drafted under the Project Ireland 2040, it succeeded the National Spatial Strategy in 2020. The National Planning Framework contains high-level general guidelines that Local Authorities must regard for their Development Plans.
REGIONAL SPATIAL AND ECONOMIC STRATEGIES
The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) aim to implement the National Planning Framework at the regional level, with one for each of three regions in Ireland. Local Authorities must regard their respective RSES for their Development Plans.