Tuesday, 8 February 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank Deputy Aindrias Moynihan for raising this matter, which is very important to his community. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage's role in relation to the planning system is primarily to provide a policy and legislative framework under which the planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála and the Office of the Planning Regulator perform their statutory planning functions. The legislative framework chiefly comprises the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended. The Department has also issued planning guidelines under section 28 of the 2000 Act that planning authorities and the board are obliged to have regard to in the exercise of their planning functions. However, the day-to-day operation of the planning system is a matter for the planning authorities, and for the board where planning appeals or strategic infrastructure development are involved.
In making decisions on a planning application, a planning authority or the board, as appropriate, must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area having regard to the provisions of the development plan, any submissions or observations received from the public and the statutory consultees, and any relevant ministerial or Government policies, including any guidelines issued by the Department. Under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is specifically precluded from exercising power or control with regard to any particular case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála is, or may be, concerned.
Consequently, it would not be appropriate for me to comment regarding any individual planning case or cases.
It is important to be aware, however, that Ireland has set an increased goal under our revised climate action plan for the generation of up to 80% of our electricity from renewable sources by the end of the decade. An electricity grid powered by renewable energy sources will contribute to Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by substituting primarily wind and solar electricity generation for fossil fuel electricity generation, as well as displacing emissions in other sectors, for example, through the electrification of car transport and residential heating.
The renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, is Ireland's flagship policy to deliver on this up-to-80% target and to set a pathway to a net-zero economy. The first RESS auction for onshore wind and solar projects was held in 2020. The second RESS auction process has begun, with the qualification application window having closed in January. The auction is scheduled to take place in May and the final notice of award in June, which is three months ahead of our previous plans. It is anticipated that RESS 2 will deliver a major increase in renewable electricity generation by the end of 2024. The RESS programmes, including the launch of the second onshore auction and the forthcoming offshore auctions, are a major step forward in meeting the Government's ambition of reducing emissions by 51% by 2030 and delivering up to 80% renewable electricity by 2030.
A cornerstone of the RESS is the provision of pathways for increased community ownership of, participation in and benefit from renewable electricity projects. To facilitate delivery of this objective, an enabling framework for community participation has been developed. This framework includes a preference category for community projects to ensure a route to market for communities; a community benefit fund for all projects to ensure that benefits are distributed to the local communities hosting these projects; and a suite of supports, such as information toolkits, trusted intermediary advisers and financial grants, to help communities to develop their own generation projects. Furthermore, a supportive spatial planning framework for onshore renewable electricity generation development is critical to ensure delivery of the electricity targets set out in the climate action plan.