It is now over four years since the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) was established, and four years on, our work of independently overseeing the planning system in Ireland is already having a positive impact.
Assessing development plans
Last year alone, as part of our responsibility for assessing all statutory plans, under Deputy Regulator, Anne Marie O’Connor, we made 55 submissions including 207 recommendations and 85 observations on the 23 plans made by local authorities.
In total, 11 plans addressed our recommendations. Unfortunately, 12 failed to satisfactorily address all recommendations and as a result, we issued recommendations (proposed directions) to the Minister for Housing Local Government and Heritage to address key policy breaches, which the Minister confirmed.
See our recommendations: https://www.opr.ie/recommendations-made-by-the-opr-to-the-minister/
As always, we listen to clear planning rationale put forward by either elected members or the executive of local authorities, and these often prevent directions.
“The OPR now holds near bi-monthly events that have benefitted almost every single councillor in the country and that have built up into a practical range of learning resources.”
However, where there are clear breaches of sound planning policy and principles without justification, it is our job to call out and take out.
The outcome of our interventions are positive in terms of promoting compact growth, sustainable settlement, transport strategies and climate change.
Thanks to the final directions issued by the Minister, development far removed from urban centres and remote from services were prevented. Building on lands that have flooded in the past or, owing to climate change, will very likely flood in the future, was also prohibited.
In four years, we have also established an independent process of external review of local authority planning functions.
We have completed four reviews of a pilot phase of a local authority reviews programme. Across these (Tipperary, Louth, Galway city, and Kildare) the key theme was the need to strengthen local authority capacity, particularly in forward planning and enforcement, through enhanced resources, better digital systems, more training and staff development.
Reviews are currently being finalised in Waterford and Offaly county councils.
Reviews will be initiated shortly in Meath and South Dublin county councils meaning four years into our establishment, we have completed or are embarked on reviews of a quarter of all local authorities.
Read our reviews https://www.opr.ie/reviews-programme/
Training and education
Until we were established, the 949 local elected members – who we must acknowledge are the policymakers in the development plan – never had a national training programme in arguably their single most important function.
The OPR now holds near bi-monthly events that have benefitted almost every single councillor in the country and that have built up into a practical range of learning resources.
See our training resources: https://www.opr.ie/research-training-public-awareness/
In addition, we have held well-attended planning training events for staff of local authorities and regional assemblies.
Local authority members and staff working in planning in the local government sector, now have access to relevant, practical and applicable training which they can apply to their day-to-day jobs which will improve outcomes for their communities.
Resources such as practice notes, case study papers and planning leaflets have also been put in place providing the latest research and information on important planning-related topics.
Four years is a short period in the lifetime of any organisation but, the OPR is already delivering on its mission.
With the growing recognition of the vital role of planning as the country grows and develops, the OPR will continue to bring added value to the sector over the next four years and beyond.
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