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Ireland’s planning regulator could change attitudes to planning

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Ireland has created an independent Office of the Planning Regulator, and it could be the catalyst in a transformation of the way members of the public and politicians understand planning , says Aidan Culhane

It is profoundly to be hoped that the least-commented-upon functions of Ireland’s new independent Office of the Planning Regulator will become its most important – research and education.

The Planning and Development Act 2018 empowers the regulator “to undertake research and conduct programmes of education in respect of proper planning and sustainable development”. This could be transformative in developing an understanding of planning principles among the public, and advancing knowledge across the construction and development sector.

Imagine what could be achieved with a well-resourced office charged with promoting planning across society. Imagine what a cutting-edge research programme could do in terms of developing the planning response to climate change, carbon-neutral cities, new housing and settlement patterns, smart cities and how we will live, work, and play.

Imagine what well-designed education programmes could do to advance the role of planning with the public, elected members, and across government and the private sector.

“Imagine what well-designed education programmes could to advance the role of planning with the public”

Ireland has been without a government agency to research planning issues for almost 25 years. As the infrastructure, housing, and climate change challenges mount, we are missing it more with each passing year.

Ireland’s National Planning Framework is an ambitious document. There is a need to flesh out how its principles can be implemented and to explore what new ways of doing things can be found. A research agenda driven by an independent state agency would be an enormous asset to Ireland.

The education function, too, could be tremendously important in changing hearts and minds. In a country where absurdly dispersed settlement patterns in rural areas are routinely promoted by some politicians and where there remains a firm preference among the people for traditional houses rather than the apartments and more compact development forms that changing demographics demand, there is a need for an ‘honest broker’ who can present the facts about housing – renewable energy, the future of retail and town centres, and mixed-use neighbourhoods in easily explained forms.

Most of the regulator’s focus will be on the other two key functions of the office: monitoring of plan-making, and ensuring the planning system is run properly in councils. But the research and education function is a remarkable opportunity to enhance the role and function of planning in public policy. 

Aidan Culhane MRTPI is chair of RTPI Ireland, director of housing at Urbeo Residential, and former special adviser on housing & planning to Ireland’s Department of Environment, Community and Local Government


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