An independent planning regulator to oversee planning will be established later this year.
That’s according to the Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government Eoghan Murphy when he was responding to a Commencement Matter raised by local Senator Victor Boyhan in Seanad Eireann last Wednesday.
Senator Boyhan a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Planning sought reassurance from the Minister that the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) would be independent of his department and that the OPR would have oversight of all local authority and regional assembly planning decisions.
Senator Boyhan told Dublin Gazette he welcomes the news and says it has been a long time coming.
“Great, all very positive; I believe he is genuinely supportive of this initiative. The important thing is now to agree on a timeline and funding to get the Office of an Independent Planning Regulator up and running.
“I have long argued for an Independent Planning Watch Dog, independent of planning authorities and for that matter independent of the Minister of the day.
“The Mahon Tribunal into planning irregularities and allegations of corruption made strong recommendations that included the establishment of an Independent Planning Regulator. I raised this matter in the Senate in order to keep the focus on this particular important recommendation by Mahon.”
Minister Murphy confirmed that the regulator would have the power to review the organisation, systems and procedures used by any planning authority, including An Bord Pleanala.
Senator Boyhan told us more.
“A key recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal, which found that corruption affected ‘every level of Irish political life’, was that the Office of the Planning Regulator will be established as a new and separate independent office but would be obliged to inform the minister if a planning strategy is ‘not consistent’ with proper planning.”
Senator Boyhan also looked for confirmation on the powers of the Independent Planning Regulator to consider complaints from members of the public and Minister Murphy confirm this was the case.
Senator Boyhan said it is important that the Government does not try to restrict court challenges to major building projects.
“In my deliberation with the Minister in the Senate, I cautioned him against any attempt the restrict or curtail the right of citizens to engage in the planning process particularly and their current right to lodge submissions of objection to their council or An Bord Pleanala concerning a planning application.
“I will oppose an attempt by the government to curtail the current position.”
He added that he also has a further proposal on the table.
“This week I have a proposal before the Minister for consideration as part of the Planning & Development Bill in the Senate. I have tabled an amendment seeking a waiver of the standard fee of €20 per objection that county councillors are expected to pay per planning application. The current arrangement is anti-democratic and restricts councillors in their public representative role.”
Senator Boyhan said he would support the Ministers Planning and Development Bill before the Seanad this week, which would enable the establishment of the OPR if passed.