Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Land Rezoning.

Bernard Allen

Question:

1 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the procedures in place in his Department to ensure that all rezoning decisions taken by local authorities are in line with local development plans and the spatial strategy; and the number of rezoning decisions in the past 30 years taken by local authorities which have been overturned by his Department. [17800/02]

Section 10 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, requires a development plan to set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. The Act also provides that a development plan must include objectives,inter alia, for the zoning of land for the use solely or primarily of particular areas for particular purposes, whether residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational, as open space or otherwise, or a mixture of those uses, where, and to such extent, as the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, in the opinion of the planning authority, requires the uses to be indicated. It is primarily a matter, therefore, for each planning authority to ensure that these zoning provisions are consistent with the overall strategy contained in the plan.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is a statutory consultee for all development plans. In accordance with normal practice, the Department, on my behalf, examines draft plans and regularly offers comments to local planning authorities. It will be well known that in recent years, and particularly in the context of the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, my Department has raised substantive queries with a number of local authorities about their draft development plan objectives. These interventions have generally led to satisfactory outcomes.

Ministerial power to direct a planning authority to amend a development plan is contained in section 31 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000. Similar provisions were included in the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, but were never used.

The new Planning and Development Act provides also for the making of regional planning guidelines by regional authorities to which local planning authorities must have regard in making and accepting a development plan. The strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area represent such regional planning guidelines. I would intend that similar force should attach to the relevant provisions of the national spatial strategy when this is published shortly.

I missed the start of the Minister's reply because of the noise in the Chamber, but on the question of the number of rezoning decisions overturned by the Minister in the past 30 years—

There were none.

Is there a need now for a certifying authority to safeguard the good name of councillors, in other words, a land use commission which would examine all rezoning decisions? This would not be an attempt to undermine the role of councillors but to safeguard their good name and ensure that all decisions made locally are in line with the development plan and the sustainability factor in that area?

Will the Minister familiarise himself with the facts about the recent controversy regarding the rezoning of land in Delvin, County Westmeath, where local councillors went against the recommendations of the county manager and rezoned land, and decide that a land use commission is now long overdue?

It is important to bear in mind that planning is, and should be, regarded as a primary function of local authorities. The whole principle of subsidiarity comes into this, and that is certainly a European position as well. People may be trying to confuse other important issues, and indeed findings, with some suggestions now being made that we may remove it from the system. I am not sure that Deputy Allen is going that far, but I am not inclined to do that.

In the planning process there is a wider range of issues that councillors consider. For instance, adopting housing strategies and local area plans; strategic development zones for housing, and economic development is part of the same function; approving proposed developments which would be in material contravention of the development plan; adopting a register of protected structures; and specifying other important non-zoning objectives of their development plan. These issues are central to overall good governance and proper planning.

Under the new 2000 Act a more transparent, open and consultative process is in place which is only beginning to come into its own recently at local level in terms of the way the whole planning process is seen in a public context. I am not sure that the Deputy's idea about another layer to oversee the process is necessary. I believe in the honesty, probity and primacy of councillors. The public wants to see the transparency, honesty and probity of the system and the 2000 Act, in terms of its consultation role for various parties, contributes to that.

The Deputy's final point is the subject of a separate question. I do not have the facts of the case before me but he is right in that when the national spatial strategy is published shortly, I will expect local and regional authorities, in terms of all their planning functions, to have serious regard to that strategy. As I indicated under the guidelines set out for the strategic development of Dublin, that was very much part of the brief in terms of coming in under the new 2000 Act.

May I address the Minister?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk)

No, the Deputy cannot do so.

These are Priority Questions. Only the Deputy who tabled the question can ask a supplementary question.