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19/06/2020

New Irish Government agrees on planning reform package

Words: Roger Milne
Ireland / Shutterstock_188001107

Ireland’s new coalition government of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green parties has agreed a draft programme for its first five years – including a slate of planning and housing reforms against a backdrop of an ambitious environmental and climate change agenda.

The planning commitments include:

  • No extension of the fast-track regime for major housing projects, which is due to expire in 18 months.
  • A ‘use it or lose it’ condition for all planning applications of 10 or more units.
  • Reform of the judicial review process and the establishment of a dedicated Environmental and Planning Law Court.
  • Review of how community gain can be captured through a review of the development levy process, rezoning systems and planning permission conditions.
  • Ensuring that the Office of the Planning Regulator is adequately resourced.
  • Avoiding an over-reliance on particular housing types in areas.
  • Reform and consolidation of the compulsory purchase order (CPO) laws.
  • Strengthening enforcement of the vacant site levy.
  • Developing the ‘Live above the shop’ initiative and exploring how unused or underused buildings in cities and urban centres could be repurposed for sustainable housing.

The incoming administration has committed to create 50,000 new social homes over the next five years with the emphasis on new-builds. The Land Development Agency will be beefed up with CPO powers and a remit that will extend to cost rental housing as well as affordable purchase homes, affordable rental homes and social housing on state-owned land.

The draft programme includes a long mission statement in favour of a ‘green new deal’.

This commits Ireland to an average 7 per cent a year reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, which is a 51 per cent reduction over the decade, with the aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The 2050 target will be set in law by a climate action bill that will be introduced in the Dáil within the first 100 days of government, alongside a newly established Climate Action Council. The legislation will set five-year carbon budgets for every sector, including agriculture.

The deal promises a huge energy-efficiency retrofitting programme involving more than 500,000 homes by 2030, which will also see a programme to install 600,000 heat pumps by that date.

Also pledged is the accelerated electrification of the transport system including electric bikes, electric vehicles and electric public transport alongside a ban on new registrations of petrol and diesel cars from 2030. Cars will be phased out of town and city centres.

A major reversal in road construction policy is pledged, with twice as much now to be spent on public transport as on roads. Of the total transport capital budget, 10 per cent will be spent on cycling and another 10 per cent on walking infrastructure. This will amount to €360 million a year.

Cheaper electricity is promised with a national grid drawing heavily on renewables, including more offshore wind. Urban district heating schemes to use commercially produced heat are promised while communities will be encouraged to pursue renewable energy projects of their own, and to get paid for feeding excess electricity into the grid through a microgeneration system.

There will be a ban on the further exploration for gas in the waters off Ireland and a ban on the importation of fracked gas, which will halt the construction of the Shannon LNG terminal project and other similar facilities.

In a bid to keep rural Ireland onside, farmers will get expanded rural environment protection scheme grants to take care of the land, including incentives to cut fertiliser use, to plant native trees and rewild parts of their land. 

Afforestation will be expanded, although there is no target for the increase in tree planting. Neighbourhood and community forests will be encouraged. There will be a land use review of farmland, forests and peatlands.

So-called “nature-based solutions” such as rewetting bogs to sequester carbon and restore biodiversity are strongly backed by the agreement, along with the expansion of Marine Protected Areas.

The 50,000-word document also says the new government will work with the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver key cross-border infrastructure initiatives, including the A5, the Ulster Canal connection from Clones to Upper Lough Erne, the Narrow Water Bridge, and cross-border greenways, in particular the Sligo-Enniskillen greenway.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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