3 Oct 2008
On foot of their survey of members regarding failings of the planning system, the RIAI sought submissions from members on suggestions on how the system can be improved. I made the following submission. I look forward to hearing your comments on it.

1.0       Development Plan


The basis of the planning system will be the Development Plan which will express a long term vision for the area within its jurisdiction describing, in as much detail as practicable (using 3D computer models and so on) the nature, scale, use, massing, appearance, etc. of permissible development. The document will also include all rules and regulations in relation to the development of new roads, paths, points of access in respect to new developments as well as all regulations in relation to connection to existing services, including detail on what measures will be required to be taken by the applicant in order to ensure that necessary service upgrades, etc., are fully understood in advance. The exact nature of the generality of the Development Plan will require detailed discussion but will be similar to aspects of the German ‘twin plan’ for urban areas as well as the prescriptive Zoning Ordnances used in some major cities of the United States.


Development which in all respects complies with the regulations of the Development Plan will be permitted ‘as of right’.

‘As of right’ developments may sometimes occur without any approval process whatsoever

For example, a single family, detached house located in an area where single family houses are permitted and complying with rules regarding dimensions, set backs, heights, access, etc. will, upon submission of a set of drawings certified by a registered architect (a ‘Notification’), be issued with a permit.

Or, take the example of a housing estate of two hundred houses, all to the same semi detached design and with little variation, located on the outskirts of Dublin. The houses have back and front gardens, side entrances and garages. A provision in the Development Plan allows the residents of the estate to be responsible for drawing up a Planning Scheme which will describe the types of alterations permitted to be made to houses located within the Scheme area. The Planning Scheme would comprise details of the size and nature of extensions to accommodation, attic and garage conversions, construction of boundary walls, use of materials, planting of trees in common areas, etc. Wherever a resident proposes to make changes to a dwelling (a kitchen extension, for example), drawings will be presented to the Resident’s Association to indicate how these changes comply with the Planning Scheme. Once accepted by the Residents’ Association, the resident will be required to have a registered architect lodge a ‘Notification’ with the planning authority.  


Where the development plan indicates that a building of ten stories; of ten thousand square meters; located directly on the street line; having one hundred percent site coverage at ground level; a parapet at twenty meters above street level with two meter set back above; having commercial use at ground floor level in a ‘double height’ arrangement; having commercial use above the residential with a maximum of four tenants per floor, a proposal for such a development will be permitted as of right, but subject to Approval of Architectural Quality.   


Where ‘as of right’ development can occur only after Approval of Architectural Quality (for example, on public streets, or other visible areas, etc.), the adjudication will be carried out by the Design Review Board for the relevant area which will meet regularly and, having first been apprised of the details of the planning application, hold public hearings on the architectural quality of the proposals before them. A majority vote from Board members secures an Approval of Architectural Quality.


The regulations set out in the development plan will continue for the long term. Any changes to the regulations in the Development Plan will only be allowed after a Land Use Reform Procedure has been followed (to be developed in detail, but similar to the ULURP system operated in New York City). Rezonings by simple vote of Councillors will not be permitted.

2.00     Planning Applications


There will be two types of planning application:

Notification – where ‘as of right’ development is proposed and is subject to no other form of adjudication. Notifications are lodged with a planning authority by a registered architect who certifies that the work to be carried out is in compliance with the Development Plan and qualifies as ‘as of right’ development. The registered architect also certifies that the works to be carried out comply with the relevant building regulations. The role of the planning authority is simply to maintain a record of the proposed works.

Application for Approval – where in all other respects a development proposal qualifies ‘as of right’ but where there is a compelling public interest to ensure that, for example, it attains a high level of architectural quality, the proposal will be submitted before the Design Review Board for Approval of Architectural Quality in the manner described above.

Similarly, where an application for development involves works to an Historic Structure, approval will be sought from the Historic Buildings Board which meets regularly and publicly to decide on applications for Approval of Conservation and Restoration works. 

Similarly, where works to be carried out, for example, to an existing structure, and where strict adherence to the Building Regulations is not possible, an application for Approval of Building Regulation Compliance will be made to the planning authority.

3.0       Application Process


Planning consultations with the local authority will be allowed only where clarification on matters contained within the Development Plan is necessary. Any advice given will be considered material to future courses of action.


All planning applications to be validated (or otherwise) on the day they are lodged, documents to be sealed/perforated or otherwise marked ‘official’ and scanned on the premises of the local authority on the day of acceptance. The duty of the validation clerk to be limited to ensuring that information is correctly formatted and dated, etc. The validation clerk will not be responsible for making value judgements on the nature of the material submitted before accepting an application.


Notifications – material submitted as part of a Notification process will simply be maintained on file at the local authority office as a record of works carried out and for general availability to the public. No process of approval, public notification or commentary will be involved.


Applications for Approval – where Approval is necessary for ‘Architectural Quality’, ‘Work to an Historic Building’, members of the public will be permitted to air views during the public hearing or by written submissions to the board prior to the public hearing. An Application for Approval must be made one month before the next possible hearing by the relevant Board and the applicant is obliged to notify the public by placing an ad in a local newspaper. Applicants will be responsible for ensuring that adequate information is submitted to the relevant Board to ensure it can arrive at an informed decision.


Where an application has been made to the planning authority in regard to the compliance of a proposal with the building regulations, the planning authority will make a decision within two months citing reasons and relevant case history for their decision and suggesting ways in which the submission can be made more compliant with the regulations. Applicants may submit applications of this type as often as necessary.


Any comments by the planning authority in relation to connections to services will be appended to the Approval and will be taken on board by the applicant. The applicant may appeal these conditions to the Planning Board.


Where an application is for works which cannot be considered ‘as of right’ under the terms of the Development Plan or is proposed for an area for which there is no detailed Development Plan, an independent ULURP procedure (mentioned previously) will be conducted.


Where an application is for works which vary only slightly from the terms of the Development Plan, the variation to the Development Plan will be permitted, or otherwise, by an application to the Planning Board.
4.0       General Provisions


All planners employed by the Local Authority will have an undergraduate degree in architecture (B.Arch. or equivalent).


Any interactions, including meetings and telephone calls, between applicants and local authority officials during the planning application period to be minuted and included on the planning file.
Friday, October 03, 2008 2:03:39 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Good points Garry, but as none of the Planners I know have any Architectural qualifications so they will all have to be replaced. Galway County Council still does not have a county Architect despite the position being advertised last January!
Colm Cantillon
Friday, October 03, 2008 6:58:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Really interesting overhaul of the Development Plan in particular Garry and always good to hear about innovative comparisons from other stratospheres entirely. Even with the guidelines I struggle to categorise what the format of an Irish DP amounts to. How we persist with basing our local system on a 'strategy' of deliberately woolly verbiage driven by process not vision (or am I wrong?) I just cannot see.

By the way, what’s the most complete example you can think of where a planning authority prescriptively set out exactly what they wanted for a particular site (like a mini-SDZ?)in a Development Plan?

The ULURP (not sure of the exact mechanism)sounds all too sensible and evidence-based to ever be put into practice here as an alternative to ad hoc rezoning. Where can I find out more about the German ‘twin plan’ approach? Ich spreche nicht Deutsch.

Do you think that by bringing the application more fully into the public domain and involving those most effected in consultation, this Resident’s Association (I guess those fora are reasonably formalised by their interaction with County/City Development Boards) planning scheme and vetting system would be robust enough to somehow justify rowing back on the third party right of appeal? Would this ever stand up to legal scrutiny in this country?

Sunday, October 05, 2008 11:57:34 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Ronan - this is the legislation which sets out the basis of the German system: http://www.iuscomp.org/gla/statutes/BauGB.htm I've been piecing together the way the system works by following up on leads from friends, emailing contacts in Germany, talking to Irish architects who've worked over there, etc. I'm hoping to make a trip to Berlin in the not too distant future (if ever I can find the time) to meet with some people who've promised to talk me through the process.

With regard to the robustness of a system which would mean we wouldn't have to go down the objection route all the time - yes, why not? They do it every where else. Doing it here is only a matter of time.

I've yet to find a development plan in this country which resonates in any way. Either they're too loose (practically all of them) or else their they've a misguided sense of clarity (DDDA).

The answer to the development plan is to have communities responsible for putting them together themselves. Ireland would be a very different - and I'm sure better - place if this were the case. I'm hoping to have a run at the County Council elections next year - it'll be one of my main issues.
Monday, October 13, 2008 9:39:24 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hi Garry, I have a number of freinds who are Berlin Architects and one who is a Planner (Student 4th year). If you like I can e-mail them and see if they would like to speak with you. let me know.
Colm Cantillon
Monday, October 13, 2008 11:12:09 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Colm, that would be absolutely fantastic. I'd be delighted, if its not too much trouble. Maybe if Ronan, Tom and others were interested as well, we could figure out a way of discussing as a group.

Ronan, I found another interesting article about the German system last week. I'll figure out a way of getting the bones of the information to you.

Monday, October 13, 2008 2:12:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hi Garry, I'll e-mail the lads and see if its Ok to swap addresses. Colm
Colm Cantillon
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 7:45:23 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Ronan - I just came across an article about the German planning system in a book I had lying around. If you send me an email, I can scan the article for you and send it on directly.
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