Page Title

    THE IRISH PLANNING SYSTEM: AN
    OVERVIEW


    INTRODUCTION: THE PRINCIPLES OF PLANNING

    Formal planning is the ability to consciously control the future through current actions - by
    devising plans and implementing them. As such, it involves the design of a desired
    future and selecting effective ways of bringing it about. As the practice of modern spatial
    planning, it is concerned with creating geographies of the future through the conscious
    and deliberate shaping of the landscapes in which people will work, live and play.

    Insofar as planning is concerned with the future landscape it is fundamentally about two
    of our most precious resources - land and people. The challenge for planning is to guide
    and manage the use of these resources as wisely as possible - to provide as much of
    our needs between now and the future as is reasonable without compromising the
    ability of those resources to continue to sustain future generations.  Planning therefore
    attempts to achieve a balance between development and conservation. Development
    involves the creation of new living and built environments and conservation is about
    maximising the use of existing resources and infrastructures. The essence of
    sustainable planning is to keep the best of what we have and add to it without
    compromising our future.  

    Planning also has a strong political and management dimension (governance) because
    it involves strategic decision-making about using resources and directing or controlling
    change to achieve the desired future to which we aspire.  It is through the wise and
    effective management of change that we create order and establish certainty and achieve
    the optimal use of resources.  Planning is expected to shape changes in co-ordinated
    and constructive ways that avoid ad-hoc confusion, policy contradictions and wasteful
    overlaps.  Modern societies do this by establishing formal procedures for spatial
    planning and incorporating them into government activities.  The spatial planning
    process in Ireland is an institutionalised procedure (a systematic legal activity) for
    shaping the environment of Ireland’s communities. Plans are made and implemented
    through a sophisticated and democratic governance process (of policy-formulation and
    decision-making) which involves politicians, officials, and the wider community or public.  

    The issue of governance in relation to plans raises the question of who actually makes a
    plan and implements it.  The planning about which we are speaking here is public
    planning; it is about plans made by, and on behalf of, the public. These plans are meant
    to enshrine the wishes of the public about the future environment in which they will live.  
    As such, the plans represent the democratically agreed framework or policy context for all
    subsequent decisions and actions required to achieve the desired outcome - namely,
    the desired agreed future society and environment selected by the community.  

    This process of planning or shaping the environment applies at many scales from the
    local plans for local communities to plans for whole towns and their wider regions, up to
    the level of the whole country. Integrated ‘hierarchical’ (or vertical) planning is said to
    exist when plans for the different scales are clearly connected in a mutually reinforcing or
    joined-up way. Integrated horizontal planning occurs when plans at any one scale are
    consistent.

    THE PHYSICAL PLANNING SYSTEM IN IRELAND

    Planning Legislation
    Ireland's planning system was first introduced on the 1 October 1964, when the Local
    Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963 came into effect. This Act provided
    for the orderly planning and development of the country on a local government basis with
    local authorities also designated as planning authorities. It was a system heavily based
    on the English planning system of that time and with an onus on ‘trend’ planning.

    The large body of planning legislation and regulations in the years since then,
    consolidated and updated in the Planning and Development Act of 2000, reflects the
    expansion of the statutory development control system to meet the demands arising
    from economic growth, rising public concern in the area of environmental control, and a
    desire, on the part of the public, for a statutory and independent planning appeals
    system. The Act also reflects a growing European dimension arising from Ireland’s
    membership of the European Union. The core principles of the review which gave rise to
    the new legislation were to ensure that the planning system of the twenty first century
    would: (a) be strategic in approach, (b) have an ethos of sustainable development, and
    (c) deliver a performance of the highest quality. As part of the new legislation, a clear
    hierarchical planning system was introduced within the context of a national spatial
    strategy (NSS), with regional planning and its associated guidelines being put on a
    statutory footing for the first time.

    Following on from the publication of the European Strategic Development Perspective
    (ESDP) in 1999, the DoEHLG published the Irish National Spatial Strategy (NSS) in
    November 2002. The NSS provides an overall framework for planning in Ireland. Plans at
    regional and local level (i.e. Development Plans, see below) must have regard to the
    NSS. The hierarchy of plans for Ireland is summarised in Figure 1.

    Institutional Roles and Responsibilities
    At a national level two main organisations have responsibility for plan¬ning: Department
    for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DoEHLG) and An Bord Pleanála
    (Planning Appeals Board). As the main overseer of the planning system in Ireland, the
    DoEHLG is responsible for the framing of planning legis¬lation as well as the
    preparation and issue of policy guidance. The DoEHLG is, therefore, responsible for
    devising a national planning framework and for the issuing, as required, of guidance
    documents in respect of national planning issues such as rural housing, wind energy,
    retailing, etc.

    Ireland is unique among European countries in that it has an independent third party
    planning appeals system which is operated by An Bord Pleanála, (the Planning Appeals
    Board). The appeals board provides an arbitration forum in which any decision made by
    a planning authority on a planning application can be reviewed at the request of the
    applicant or another interested party. Another national organisation, the Environmental
    Protec¬tion Agency (EPA), was established in 1993, thereby restricting planning
    consideration to essentially land-use functions.

    In addition the regional authorities, of which there are eight, have responsibility for
    drawing up and implementing Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs) to support
    strategies for regional development.

    The implementation of the physical planning system in Ireland is the responsibility of the
    88 local planning authorities: this can be broken down into 29 County Councils, 5 City
    Councils and 49 Town Councils.

    Figure 1:         Hierarchy of Plans























    At this level, the planning system primarily consists of the preparation of a Development
    Plan, Development Control (i.e. the planning application process) and Enforcement.

    Operation of the Planning System
    The system as applied in Ireland has three main functions:
    •        Making development plans and local plans
    •        The need to implement the plan through planning permission (unless exempted)
    •        Planning enforcement.

    At this stage it is worth pointing out that the basis of the governance system in Ireland as
    it applies to local government is that the functions of a local authority (i.e. the planning
    authority) are separated into reserved (political policy) and executive (management)
    functions, the former performed by the elected representatives and the latter by the City or
    County Manager. Planning is a significant function of the local authority (see Table 1).
    The politicians have priority when it comes to making the plan but the manager and the
    appointed staff take precedence on a day to day basis. Thus, day-to-day planning
    decisions on individual planning applications are executive functions (i.e. the
    responsibility of the manager) while the adoption of Development Plans is a reserved
    function (i.e. the responsibility of local elected me
       
    1.Roles of Planning Authority and Public in Irish Planning
















    One of the most important reserved functions is the power to adopt a development plan
    or materially contravene it. This function is ‘reserved’ to the politicians who have been
    elected to the local authority by the public. The development control and enforcement
    functions are discharged by the executive (i.e. the manager and staff of the planning
    authority).  In other words the power in relation to these two or these different elements of
    planning is split between the policy making or strategic element of planning (i.e. the
    reserved of making the development plan) and the implementation or execution of the
    plan on a day to day basis through the development control system and enforcement
    procedures.  


    Development Plans and Local Plans
    The first function is the preparation and adoption of a Development Plan to represent the
    wishes of the people about the future geography of the area over a five-year time horizon.  
    The Development Plan constitutes a statement of aims and intentions in written and
    map form.  

    The Development Plan is the main instrument for regulation and control of development
    at the county level. Each planning authority is required to publish notice of its intention to
    review its plan, not later than 4 years after the making of a development plan. A new plan
    must be made every 6 years (i.e. 2 years after the notice of the intention to review the plan
    has been published). The plan states the authority's policies for land use and for
    development control and promotion in its area. The authority, in exercising control, must
    consider the provisions of the plan, and try to secure its objectives.

    In general, the plan shows the authority's objectives for the sole or primary use of
    particular areas (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural), for road
    improvements, for development and renewal of obsolete areas, and for preserving,
    improving and extending amenities. Public participation in making the development plan
    is important. The public can become involved in the making of the plan at the initial stage
    - when the planning authority publishes its intention to review the plan. The public can
    also become involved at the draft plan stage and, if applicable, at the amended draft plan
    stage. At all these stages, the public can make submissions or observations, within
    specified time periods, on what is being proposed by the planning authority.
    Notice of the making of the draft plan is published and the draft plan goes on public
    display for at least 10 weeks, during which time the public may make submissions or
    observations on its content. Any submissions or observations received within the
    specified period must be considered before the Plan is adopted by the elected members
    of the local authority.

    Local Area Plans, the preparation of which has only become a statutory requirement
    since the new planning legislation of 2000, are prepared for specific towns and areas
    within the remit of the planning authority. A consultative process is also followed through
    in the preparation of such plans. In line with the hierarch of plans principle, the contents
    of the Local Area Plan must be in line with the policies contained in the city/county
    Development Plan. In this regard, the 2000 Act states that “where any provision of a local
    area plan conflicts with the provisions of the development plan… the provisions of the
    local area plan shall cease to have any effect”.

    Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) is a recent obligation that has been
    attached to the plan making system in Ireland. SEA involves assessment of the likely
    significant environmental effects of plans and programmes prior to their adoption. The
    SEA Directive (2001/42/EC) took effect in Ireland on 21 July 2004. It provides for strategic
    environmental consideration at an early stage in the decision making process, and is
    designed to complement the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process which is
    project based. The Directive applies across a wide range of sectors viz. agriculture,
    forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste management, water management,
    telecommunications, tourism and land use planning.  The requirement to carry out SEA
    of plans/programmes in the sectors mentioned above arises where they "set the
    framework for future development consent of projects" which are listed in the EIA
    Directive (85/337/EEC, as amended by Directive 97/11/EC). SEA is also necessary
    where plans/programmes are likely to have a significant effect on a site governed by the
    Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC).  Responsibility for implementation of the Directive within
    each sector rests primarily with the relevant Government Department.


    Development Control
    The second major function relates to the need to obtain planning permission before any
    specific development can proceed. All development, unless specifically exempted,
    needs planning permission. This is called Development Control and requires all
    development proposals (i.e. proposals to build on or change the use of land) be checked
    against the policies and objectives specified in the development plan to ensure that the
    proposal conforms to the aims and intentions set out in the plan.  In summary,
    development plans are implemented through the development control system.  The
    development plan is applied by vetting and checking all development proposals
    (planning applications) to ensure that they conform to and are consistent with the aims
    and objectives contained in the development plan.  Those proposals which are in
    agreement with the development plan are those which have granted planning
    permission.  Those which, are not in accordance with the plan are refused consent.  

    In general, authorities must decide planning applications within 8 weeks of the date of
    receipt of the application. The applicant or any person who made a valid submission in
    writing, in relation to the planning application, to the planning authority can appeal to An
    Bord Pleanála, within 4 weeks of the decision.

    In deciding applications, authorities are restricted to considering the proper planning and
    sustainable development of the area concerned, including the preservation and
    improvement of amenities, the development plan, and any valid, written submissions or
    observations made on the proposed development. Where permission is refused, or
    granted with conditions, the authority must give reasons for the decision. A planning
    permission normally lasts for five years, but may be extended in certain cases.

    As noted above, appeals must be made within 4 weeks of the planning decision.  In an
    appeal, the planning application is considered anew by An Bord Pleanála, who
    examines all relevant issues independently.  The Board must, among other things,
    consider the proper planning and development of the planning authority's area and any
    submissions or observations received.  

    Certain developments must be assessed for likely environmental effects (commonly
    known as environmental impact assessment (EIA)) before planning permission can be
    granted. When submitting a planning application for such a development, the applicant
    must also submit an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
    In the case of development, where the planning authority considers that it is likely to have
    significant environmental effects, but which is under the relevant EIA threshold (i.e. not
    required under legislation to submit an EIS), planning authorities can, under Article 103
    of the 2001 Planning Regulations, request an EIS.
    In addition to planning permission, certain activities may also require an integrated
    pollution control (IPC) licence or a waste licence from the Environmental Protection
    Agency. Other consent requirements may also arise in the context of mining activities
    or development on the foreshore.


    Enforcement
    The third major function of the planning system is Enforcement.  In effect this is the
    policing aspect of planning; planning enforcement involves checking that all
    development actions, whether they be building works or changes of activity (called land
    use changes by planners - e. g. changing the use of a building from a grocery shop to a
    bank) have obtained planning permission and are therefore legal or authorised.

     The intention of this policing aspect of planning is to ensure that the development plan
    in particular, and the planning process generally, is taken seriously and properly
    observed by developers and the public.  Enforcement of planning control is the
    responsibility of the planning authority. Where development takes place without
    permission, or where it does not comply with conditions of permission, the authority may
    take enforcement action.  

    Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, planning authorities are obliged to follow
    up genuine complaints about breaches of planning control within a given timeframe, are
    entitled to retain fines imposed by Courts for planning offences to help finance more
    active planning control and can refuse to grant planning permission, subject to the
    consent of the High Court, to any developer who has seriously failed to comply with a
    previous permission.  These provisions came into force on 11 March 2002.  The authority
    must issue a warning notice, then an enforcement notice and possibly court action.  Also
    the authority, or any individual or group, may seek a High or Circuit Court order against a
    developer, stopping an unauthorised development or use.  


    LOCAL GOVERNMENT STRUCTURES


    The local government system in Ireland includes the local authorities and the regional
    authorities. The elected local authorities are the county councils (29), the five city councils
    (representing the larger urban centres), and the borough and town councils (80).  The
    members of these authorities are elected by a system of proportional representation,
    with elections taking place every five years. The county councils and city councils are the
    principal agents of public administration with a lesser range of functions coming within
    the ambit of the other bodies.

    Compared to other European states, the Irish local government system is relatively weak
    with a more limited range of functions and powers. Local authorities have no role in
    policing, public transport or personal social services. Powers in respect of education,
    health and agriculture are very limited. The only social function is in respect of housing.
    The absence of financial autonomy within local authorities - almost all of their funding
    comes from central government - severely curtails their scope for independent action.
    Traditionally, local government in Ireland has been seen as a deliverer of local services,
    its scope defined by the centre. Local authorities were also severely constrained by
    legislation in contrast with the norm on the continent where the doctrine of 'general
    competence' holds greater sway. Instead of expanding the role of local authorities, as
    new services were demanded of central government, the trend has inexorably been to
    create new single function agencies at national or regional levels, such as the
    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Roads Authority (NRA).



    CITIZEN PARTICIPATION AND LOCAL GOVERNANCE

    Structures for participation in local government in Ireland have undergone change over
    recent years with the establishment of Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs) and County
    Development Boards (CDBs).
    The emergence of area-based local development structures outside of the local authority
    system has taken place in the context of a growing realisation globally, nationally and
    locally that to be sustainable, development should bring about not only an improvement
    in social and physical conditions, but must also contribute to an improvement in the
    capacity of people and communities to control and sustain those conditions.

    The limitations of both central and local government systems together with the perceived
    failure of the statutory agencies to address persistent problems of urban unemployment
    and disadvantage and of rural deprivation, led to the first pilot area-based local
    development initiatives in the late 1980s.  The late 1980s saw the development of the
    social partnership model at national level and its success was one of the reasons for the
    extension of the partnership model to the local level in the 1990s. The brief of the early
    partnership companies was to work with the long-term unemployed and socially
    excluded, i.e. those most marginalised from economic and social life.

    This was subsequently widened to provide partnerships with a more pro-active
    community development remit.
    Local government in Ireland has developed largely from a judicial system introduced
    under a colonial regime and is historically more removed from its community base than
    many continental European systems of local government. The local government system
    is inhibited by a lack of resources and an over-dependence on central government
    decisions made annually as part of the budgetary process, and by a lack of coherence
    and co-ordination in the delivery of services
    .
    Traditionally, citizen participation in local government has been through the electoral
    system, with councillors representing each local electoral area. The elected members
    receive their mandate to represent citizens through the democratic process of local
    elections held every five years. Despite the democratic process inherent in the system,
    local communities have felt increasingly alienated from local government. This alienation
    is attributed to:
    •        their frustration with the limited range of activities which fall within the remit of the
    local authority,
    •        elected members being perceived as representing the views of only some sections
    of the community, and
    •        The perceived failure of local authorities to be pro-active in responding to new
    needs and demands.
      
    In response to these factors, and also because of the recognition that the introduction of
    social partnership in Ireland at national level has provided the basis for social and
    economic progress, proposals for enhanced participative democracy at local level were
    set out in a 1997 Programme for Better Local Government (Department of Environment,
    1997). Measures were proposed which would recognise the legitimacy of local
    government as a democratic institution, enhance the electoral mandate within local
    government and broaden involvement in local government.  

    The recommendations of the Task Force led to the establishment of County
    Development Boards in 2000 as part of the integration process between local
    government and local development at county level. The primary functions of the CDBs
    are the putting in place of a comprehensive strategy for economic, social and cultural
    development within the county and to oversee its implementation.  

    The CDBs have a particular role in ensuring co-ordination of local service delivery and
    developing a vision at local level to encompass various local and sectoral plans; provide
    the focus for co-operation on a continuing basis at county level in the work of the various
    agencies, promote co-ordination and by bringing together the various interests, seek to
    maximise the effectiveness of spending on programmes and projects at local level
    included in the National Development Plan (NDP).

    In terms of citizen participation the most important sectors represented on the SPCs and
    CDBs are the public representatives and the representatives of the community and
    voluntary sector in the county. This process was the first time that the community and
    voluntary sector were, as a matter of government policy, being invited as full partners to
    participate in strategic planning at county level. It was also a very significant step in
    enhancing citizen participation and, hopefully, supporting representative democracy with
    participative democracy.


2. Regional Guidelines
[Regional Authorities]

3. Development Plans
[Planning Authorities]

4. Local Plans
(Planning Authorities)

1. National Spatial Strategy (NSS) and National guidelines
[D / Environment Heritage & Local Government]
Aspect
Plannin Authority
(Primary Role)
    Role of Public
Development
Plan
Politicians (Reserved
function)
    Consultation:
    public must be consulted before
    the plan is adopted
Development
control
Manager (Executive
function)
    Objections:(and appeals to An
    Board Pleanala)
    individuals
Enforcement
Manager (Executive
function)
    Objections: individuals can notify
    the local authority about, or take
    action through the courts against
    unauthorized development
PARTICIPATIVE GOVERNANCE
CPI The Lebanese Center for Public Information
PARTICIPATIVE
GOVERNANCE
37. THE IRISH PLANNING SYSTEM