Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 22 February 2024

Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Planning and Development Bill 2023: Committee Stage (Resumed)

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I just want to speak briefly on amendment No. 605. I welcome the fact we will return to this amendment because it is quite significant for planning. It is slightly open ended in the way it is written at the minute. I would have concerns about that. When strategies were introduced into development plans, to me, it was a progressive step with regard to forward planning because we introduced evidence-based planning on zoning. We carried out infrastructure assessments on settlements. We identified settlements by their characteristics and potential to grow. It brought us away from that very grubby period in our history when zoning was done in corrupt manners, as we know from the Flood and Mahon tribunals. It brought us away from that to evidence.

We all know that planning is not an exact science. It is our best attempt to say this is how we should develop and grow. The introduction of strategies helped with that. It helped to be able to point out at development plan meetings that proposed zonings would not align with core strategy. It was one of those major improvements to the planning system. My concern about this is that we would exceed those population targets. I do not believe a population target should be a cliff edge. I believe that where we have set out population targets, they may have been set at a certain time and there may have been advances in infrastructure, services and so on that could allow a little headroom, expansion room or wiggle room in that target.

My concern is we always focus on pipes in the ground and roads to say that a development has services. We often miss the other services that make the number of houses into actual homes and communities, such as school places. My constituency has seen considerable housing growth, which is welcome, because want to see it. There have been significant improvements. The rate of delivery of housing is on an upward scale the whole time, which is welcome, but there is a lag in the provision of transport services, community services, health, education and so on. We cannot have a situation where the planning authority is making a decision that it can exceed the population target because we feel there is room in services to allow that growth. Essentially, the planners in the local authorities are then replicating the work the Planning Regulator would have done before that, because the zonings would go through the Planning Regulator.

We need to make sure we have something here that is consistently applicable because we want to bring certainty to planning decisions. That was one of the key measures when we were introducing this Bill. I am glad the Minister is going to revisit this because it is significant. It could be positive but it could also be very negative unless we are very careful in how we introduce scope to exceed population targets.


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