16 Jun 2007

You’ve heard me complain often enough that Irish Development Plans aren’t really ‘plans’ in the common sense of the word in that they don’t, in fact, plan anything. They’re just fifty thousand word writing exercises, is all. 

Anyway, because the plans contain such little useful detail, it sometimes happens that when applicants in villages and urban areas approach the Council to discuss larger projects (twenty plus residential units, say) they are instructed by the planners to go back and prepare some kind of Local Area Plan. On occasion, Councils will insist that these LAPs include much larger areas of land than were referred to in the original proposal: i.e. lands which are often owned by people who have nothing to do with the applicant and who have no intention of entering into development themselves any time in the near future.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A few years back I was doing work for a developer in one of our larger cities. He was proposing to redevelop half of a city block. The planners told him that they wouldn’t consider his proposal unless he came up with a plan for the whole city block, even though he didn’t own the other half. The owner of the other half wasn’t interested in getting involved in the exercise. To cut a long story short, the deadlock was only broken when one of the planners went on extended leave.
But sometimes the planner doesn’t go on extended leave and the project remains in deadlock. Several of you in various parts of the country have been bringing my attention to scenarios broadly similar to the one I’ve just described. In one case an applicant was refused a pre-planning consultation unless he presented what amounted to a Local Area Plan for the entire village. None of his neighbours were interested in getting involved. End of (what was actually a good) project.

The point is that we shouldn’t be relying on planning applicants to draw up local area plans for cities and towns. This is what we have local councils for. And when planners insist that applicants prepare plans that they know they themselves (i.e. the local authority planners) are responsible for, we should be prepared to resist.

The problem, of course, is that some butbynomeansall planners behave like thugs. They neither know nor care what their responsibilities are under the planning regulations and they simply take advantage of the fact that most applicants will comply with almost any crazy demand if it means they’ll eventually get their planning application approved.

I’ve raised this matter with local authority officials on occasion and the answer I routinely get is that planners are forced into this kind of behaviour because most developers/planning applicants are cowboys.

Well, even if every developer/applicant in the country is a bandit, I expect my local authority to behave with integrity. I think, that of all the planning related activities where local authority involvement is letting us down, this is the most serious. 

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