The Planning and Development Act 2000 provides for a structured hierarchy of plans at national, regional and local levels and these are now actively being put in place. A range of measures is under way to advance the implementation the national spatial strategy, NSS, which was published by the Government in November 2002.
At national level, my Department is co-ordinating a process for the integration of NSS considerations into the programmes and activities of Government Departments and agencies. At regional level, to support NSS implementation, regional planning guidelines are currently being prepared by all regional authorities, with the objective of having guidelines adopted in all regions by May 2004. Regulations made by me already provide that regional authorities must take account of the NSS in making regional planning guidelines.
At planning authority level, section 10 of the 2000 Act requires a development plan to set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the relevant local authority functional area. Section 27 of the Act further provides that in making and adopting a development plan, a planning authority must have regard to any regional planning guidelines in force for its area. In terms of NSS implementation at local level, planning authorities are putting in place development frameworks and plans, at the gateway and hub level, that will support the achievement of a critical mass of development at strategic locations. These are already established in a number of locations, for example, Cork area strategic plan, Galway transportation and planning strategy, and are well advanced in others.
The Planning and Development Act also provides for statutory local area plans. Local area plans are mandatory for areas designated as towns in the most recent census of population, which have a population in excess of 2,000 and which are situated within the functional area of a county council. In addition, a planning authority may prepare a local area plan for any area within its jurisdiction which it considers suitable, in particular for those areas that require economic, physical and social renewal and for those likely to be subject to large scale development within the lifetime of the plan. The Act requires that a local area plan must be consistent with the objectives of the relevant development plan.
Section 28 of the Act provides that the Minister may, at any time, issue guidelines to planning authorities regarding any of their functions under the Act and requires planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have regard to such guidelines in the performance of their functions. Such guidelines have been issued to date with regard to a variety of specific planning matters, for example, residential density, retail planning, telecommunication masts and so forth, to ensure the handling of such types of development by the planning system in a standardised manner that is fully aligned with national policy. Work is underway in my Department on the preparation of a number of further guidelines which I propose to issue during 2004.