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OPR publishes first annual report

Words: Laura Edgar
Ireland / iStock_000022788127

Ireland’s Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has published its first annual report, which identifies some ‘significant’ trends that reflect the country’s planning performance in 2019.

The OPR was established last year following a series of recommendations made by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (The Mahon Tribunal).

The annual report highlights the work that the OPR carried out in 2019, including assessing and reviewing 25 local authority statutory plans. These assessments resulted in 31 recommendations and 16 observations to the relevant local authorities on the statutory plans. Most of the recommendations – 39 per cent – concerned better implementation of guidelines on planning published by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to ensure there was a consistent approach to matters including flood-risk management (2009).

The report also notes that the OPR set up the first multi-annual national training programme for local elected councillors on their planning functions and established a free online planning library service, which provides easy access to information on planning documents, research papers and resources.

OPR sets out the work of Ireland’s 31 planning authorities, as well as that of An Bord Pleanála. Approvals of apartment developments, identified as key to sustainable urban development, exceeded housing for the first time last year. Also, 55 per cent of all houses in the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly area were permitted in the four commuter counties outside of Dublin (Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow), which the OPR says poses a challenge to the government’s planning objectives in tackling urban sprawl.

A total of 32,000 applications for planning permission were submitted in 2019, with nearly 90 per cent of valid applications approved.

Planning regulator Niall Cussen said: “Our planning process directly affects every citizen of the state in meeting housing, physical and social infrastructural requirements, enhancing the quality of our environment and enabling the economic functioning of our country.

“Indeed, proper and effective planning is needed now more than ever in helping to lay the foundations for national recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The government has correctly prioritised the importance of joined-up planning and investment in both meeting immediate pandemic-posed economic recovery challenges, while at the same time addressing the global climate challenge and realising the potential of a greener future.

“The OPR is operating at a time when the planning process will play a central role in how our cities, towns and villages develop. This is because over the next six years the OPR will evaluate close to 200 draft plans from around the country to measure how well they align with existing planning policy and regulatory requirements with view to ensuring that the plan provides for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned.”

The report can be found on the OPR website (pdf).

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