Skip to main content
Close Menu Open Menu

Dr Caroline Brown: Eating an elephant?

Dr Caroline Brown is the Director for Scotland, Ireland and English Regions

In case you missed it, the Irish planning system is in the midst of a significant process of reform, with a juicy 700 page Planning & Development Bill making its way through the Committee Stage in the Dáil. Whilst the length of the bill is itself notable, even more remarkable is the news that more than 1100 government and opposition amendments to the bill have been lodged – providing the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Heritage with rather a lot of work to do.

It’s hard to summarise what the bill is doing, because it’s doing rather a lot - with an explanatory memorandum running to 150 pages. In some places the bill consolidates previous amendments, in some places it adds new requirements and in other places it changes key features of the system.

Many newspaper headlines have focussed on proposed changes to the provisions for judicial review and third-party rights of appeal – but the bill does a lot more than tighten up these processes. It also clarifies the hierarchy of plans, with national planning statements having greater weight than before, and the lifespan of development plans being extended from 6 to 10 years.

One notable element of the bill is the introduction of mandatory timelines for the determination of planning applications and appeals – and the introduction of penalties where these timelines are not met. That approach certainly appeals to those frustrated by lengthy delays in local decision making, and the even lengthier delays in the workload of the appeals body An Bord Pleanála. Of course, a punitive approach to planning performance could be quite demotivating for local council planners – and RTPI Ireland has instead made the case for a positive approach to planning performance.

The size of the task to bring the bill through the committee stage reminds me of the riddle about how to eat an elephant, to which the answer is ‘to cut it into small pieces’.

The Minister Darragh O’Brien and the Select Committee is doing just that. There have been 6 sessions on the bill so far and more sessions are scheduled. It’s a huge amount of work to consider the 1100 amendments – some of which are relatively minor changes to syntax or language, but some of which are more fundamental, for example strengthening consideration of disability through the addition of disability assessments to planning requirements.

Recently, the Minister expressed his frustration with those claiming the reforms are ‘rushed’ and pointing out that the review of the legislation began in 2021 and the draft bill was published more than a year ago. Reforming a planning system is always going to be difficult,  somewhat painstaking, and slow – particularly when set against the very real and very urgent narrative of a housing crisis, resourcing challenges and skills shortages within the Irish planning profession. But I’m sure there’s a wider lesson here for us all about the nature of planning systems and planning reform – it's easy to say you’re going to eat the elephant, but actually doing it takes determination, persistence and time.

If you would like to keep up to date with the Planning & Development bill, the Oireachtas has a helpful webpage showing its progress along with the text of the bill, the amendments and details of the Select Committee debates. 



Back to top