29 Jan 2009
Is there something going around about a recent High Court decision which says you can’t have a material contravention to a Local Area Plan?

Here’s the scenario. It sometimes happens that the zoning designation for a site precludes development of a certain use which the zoning designation wasn’t really intended to preclude. For example, if an area in the centre of a village or town is zoned as ‘amenity’ and the list of permitted uses doesn’t specifically mention, say, a ‘community centre’ – even though no one would have any objection to the community centre being built in the amenity area – then the elected members of the council can institute a ‘material contravention’ procedure to allow the development to take place.

However, there’s something going around now that, because the Planning Act doesn’t specifically mention Local Area Plans in the relevant paragraph, the High Court has said that the ‘material contravention’ procedure only applies to County or Borough Development Plans, even though we all know that Local Area Plans are, in reality, a type of development plan.

If what they’re saying is true and the High Court has handed down such a decision (which, so far, I can’t find) does this mean that the many ‘material contraventions’ to Local Area Plans which have been implemented since the Planning Act was first introduced are now void?

I can’t really see how something like this would have come about unless some local authority somewhere brought a case to the High Court on the particular issue and, had that happened, I’m sure there would have been something about it in the newspapers. It sounds a little bit like something a local authority  might suddenly come up with because they want to block something from happening. 

29 Jan 2009

Well, the word on the street is that local authority planners are racing to sites the moment a planning application arrives across their desk to make sure that the notice has been posted. They are, of course, hoping that the notice hasn’t been posted so that the application can be invalidated thereby forcing the applicant to reapply. In addition to giving planners something to do, this little ruse has the additional advantage of falsifying planning application numbers: applicants who get caught out have to lodge the exact same application all over again so that what looks like two separate development proposals is really only one. 

Meanwhile, despite some local authorities’ claims that they are carrying out ‘over the counter validations’, what’s actually happening (in these days when you really have to wonder what’s making over-staffed planning offices so busy that they can’t validate planning applications on the spot) is that some local authorities are offering a ‘pre validation service’ during certain hours of the day, all the while reserving the right to invalidate the application three weeks later if the fancy strikes them.

But the news isn’t all bad. First, a very small and really inconsequential planning application which I was involved in (I wasn’t the main consultant on the job) in Limerick City was approved last week. It took only about two years. 

And second – do you remember that ad I tried to place in the regional newspapers a couple of months back asking people to contact me if they were getting shabby treatment from the local authority but which no paper would run because they depend on planning application classifieds for revenue and were afraid they’d be de-listed as an acceptable publication if they ran my ad? Well, it seems that one particular regional paper may be about to run the ad after all. Hopefully I’ll get some responses from people who aren’t afraid to publicly confirm some of the goings on in the Local Authority which falls within the circulation area of the same newspaper. 

21 Jan 2009
Since becoming the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley has used the powers available to him the under the planning legislation to ‘call in’ the Development Plans for Counties Monaghan, Waterford and Mayo (he’s currently in a scrap with County Clare) in order to force these counties to reduce the amount of land they’re proposing to free up for development. Later this year he’ll be bringing forward legislation which will compel local authorities to act in even stricter compliance with the terms of the National Spatial Strategy when preparing new Development Plans. John Gormley will root out planning anomalies in this country if it’s the last thing he does! And, at some level, I suppose we all agree that planning shouldn’t be some sort of free for all where local councillors use their powers to rezone sites willy-nilly for the financial benefit of party lackies.
19 Jan 2009

A man knocked at the Heavenly gate
His face was haggard and old
He stood before the Man of Fate
For admission to the fold

‘What have you done,’ St Peter asked
‘To gain admission here?’
‘I’ve been in the planning business, Sir,
For many and many a year.’

The pearly gates swung open wide,
Saint Peter touched the bell.
‘Come in and choose your harp,’ he said.
‘You’ve had your share of hell.’

13 Jan 2009

‘Once upon a couple of weeks ago... ‘ This is the injudicious phrase that Bono used as he debuted as an op-ed contributor in this Sunday’s New York Times.
Good Lord. Never. Never ever. Not even if I was down with the worst respiratory tract infection since the plague of 1343, not even if I was strung out on laudinum, blackmailed by Mossad for faked pictures of me in compromising situations with Twink, not if I were being waterboarded in Guantanamo Bay, not if I were under hypnosis itself would I begin even a lowly Dispatch post with a phrase as RTE-poetry-competition as ‘Once upon a couple of weeks ago…’ because, if I did, you’d immediately peg me for an overly self-esteemed secondary school pupil (remember, the Gauloise smoker? Who all the teachers said shouldn’t really do Honours English because, while they themselves recognised his special talent, it wasn’t necessarily the kind of talent that would shine through in a written-exam type situation?) Nevertheless, in the anthology of how-not-to-start-your-Junior-Cert-essay opening lines, it is the phrase ‘Once upon a couple of weeks ago’ -  burdened as it is with at least eleven different types of linguistic misdemeanour – which Bono decided was the one most appropriate to his purposes.

And as the ink so regrettably dried on the hallowed pages of the Opinion section, something good about Ireland perished. Because, as you’ll see when you click on the link below, it was all down hill from there. The reversible-roof-house-dweller’s second sentence runs as follows…

'I’m in a crush in a Dublin pub around New Year’s. Glasses clinking clicking, clashing crashing in Gaelic revelry: swinging doors, sweethearts falling in and out of the season’s blessings, family feuds subsumed or resumed. Malt joy and ginger despair are all in the queue to be served on this, the quarter-of-a-millennium mark since Arthur Guinness first put velvety blackness in a pint glass.'

Malt joy? Ginger despair?

Anyway... as Bono stands in the crush of some imaginary Dublin pub (there hasn’t been a crush in a Dublin pub since 1982) and with all his imaginary fellow crushers all thinking the same exact thought – lose those shades – Bono’s own thoughts turn for some inexplicable reason to… Frank Sinatra:

'We had spent some time in his [Sinatra’s] house in Palm Springs… looking out onto the desert and hills, no gingham for miles. Plenty of miles, though, Miles Davis.'

Yes. That’s what he actually wrote. And while I feel bad that poor Miles Davis is no longer in a position to exercise his right of reply, I take solace from the fact that Bono’s unfortunate turn of phrase is the best argument I've ever heard as to why Americans should switch to kilometres. 

Meanwhile, this is what I want to know: did Bono actually wait in this Dublin pub to see in the New Year? Or did he nip out at a quarter to midnight and slip through the bowels of Dublin Airport en-tax-efficient-route to Amsterdam?

Here's the rest of it:  


9 Jan 2009

A consultant who lodged a planning application on a commercial/infrastructure project not too far from Dublin was refused permission because the dimensions of a ventilation grille as shown on plan were 6mm different from how they were depicted on section. Part of me hopes this didn’t really happen, part of me knows that it did - if not on that particular telecom application in Wicklow, then probably somewhere else.

… which leads me to think that, with planning applications around the country down to a trickle, there may be something to your suggestions that some local authority planners have a dose of the blue flu. For example, after all the criticisms last year about the dunderheaded way in which local authorities send planning applications to Galway for scanning before validating them, it turns out that Clare County Council is STILL at it. In other words, the planners in Clare County Council are prepared, in this day and age, to waste tax payers’ money by sending bulky packages around the country for an expensive scanning procedure before deciding that the material wasn’t worth scanning in the first place.

Which, of course, begs the question why planning offices don’t just accept electronic submissions as they do in other parts of the world? The answer, according to Paul Lee, is as follows:

'Many public servants can't open pdf attachments because their trusty IT departments tell them they are too dangerous. Or is it because things would have to move more quickly and efficiently if planners could actually read drawings of preliminary proposals emailed to them?

This problem is endemic across the public sector, who are still fixated on the use of that ancient Egyptian technology: Snail Mail

I am reliably informed by an IT consultant that he has never heard of an infected pdf file.'

Meanwhile, I promise I’m not forgetting about the Ballymun Regeneration Euromillions Overrun. The report on how that project spun completely out of control was due last September. From what I can see it never showed up on the internet. Various emails from various interested parties to various other interested parties have gone unanswered. If any of you have a spare moment (and, lets face it, which of us doesn't these days) you might send a quick email to Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Bernard Allen bernard.allen@finegael.ie  to see what’s going on.

8 Jan 2009

I started the New Year full of new planning themes to post about but, to be honest, for the past week I’ve been very distracted by this whole business in Gaza. I’m sure that even as we speak there are worse atrocities being committed all over West Africa and Zimbabwe but for some reason the fact that Palestinian children are being killed by a regime that styles itself a champion of Western values makes Israel’s actions in Gaza seem all the more appalling. And as angry and distressed as I was after the Al Qaeda/9-11 attacks, I really would like the Israelis to know that, whatever personal reasons they may have for treating the Palestinians so ruthlessly, they must not feel that their actions are somehow protecting me in their War On Moslem Terror. So I’ll be taking part in the Amnesty International protest at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin Friday evening at 6. I hope I run into a few of you there.

(The graphic on the Planning Dispatch banner is a Google Earth detail of the Gaza Israel border.)