Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Draft Planning and Development (LRD Fees) Regulations 2021: Motion

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I will go through the three questions. The Deputy is correct in terms of the interdisciplinary competencies that we need across local government right now. Not every local authority has the full suite of them but some do and, separate from the announcements next week from the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I will be announcing a scheme to roll out additional biodiversity officers. While it is not going to get us to every county, it will certainly move us forward with a view to trying to have a biodiversity officer in every county over the next number of years. We want those officers to have a key role in the planning process, so they are not just additional heritage officers but they actually carry out a very strategic role within local government around the protection of nature. We will be announcing that element of it next week from my side.

In terms of the analysis gap, as I said, that work is ongoing within the Department and we will see the announcement from the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, next week. If gaps still exist, it is the Minister, Deputy O'Brien's commitment to ensure that we address those. We want to have a robust planning regime and an adequately resourced local government system that is able to cope with what will be a decade and beyond of increased development and increased requirements on that development over that time.

In terms of forward planning, the Deputy is correct. We saw with the development plan process that some local authorities managed the Covid restrictions better than others, some were able to set up very good online portals for public consultation and there was very good engagement. We see this with many of the online meetings, which are fantastic. Again, there was a commitment in the programme for Government to try to move away from linear-type processes into much more expansive and participative planning with communities by using that interdisciplinary approach, be it the heritage section, the arts section or the libraries, in order to be part of engaging with communities very early on. That leads to much more expansive and inclusive development plans that are able to reach hard-to-reach communities and groups and ensure everybody is able to have their voice heard. We are keenly aware of it and local authorities are responding in kind, with some very good, innovative work going on in local government across the country on that side of things.