Evidence that investment plans are being co-ordinated nationally augurs well for sustainable progress in development

“For the first time ever, we can see a co-ordination now at national level in the planning and funding of land use and the development of infrastructure which promises to enable a higher quality and more sustainable approach to development, and the support of growth in our society and our economy through the next century than was the case in the past”

This was the comment of Irish Planning Institute President Joe Corr, responding to the first session of this year’s National Planning Conference which opened this morning (Thurs 4 April) in Carrick on Shannon.

Mr Corr had welcomed delegates by noting the “the very positive environment that now exists for planners. Over the past year, since the launch of Project Ireland, Government has made a decisive commitment to longer term investment. Our role as planners is to ensure an evidence-based approach is taken that helps focus investment in the direction of the greater good and over the longer term while responding effectively to immediate needs“

This morning’s first session saw three papers from key players in the delivery of that co-ordinated national approach to national development and planned investment.

·         Ms. Maria Graham, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (with responsibility for Planning, Land and the Housing Market) set out the governance structure and programme management approach now being adopted by central government to guide flows of funding and to co-ordinate action plans.

Describing it as a “paradigm shift in the planning system”, she highlighted the emphasis into the future on ‘active land management’ and how the role of the Land Development Agency, launched late last year, will be crucial in both co-ordinating the use of State land for regeneration and development and in driving the strategic assembly of land banks for development, working with both public and private sector land owners.

·         Ms Graham’s comments echoed those of Sean Laffey, head of Asset Management at Irish Water who emphasised the necessity of a co-ordinated approach to ensuring both effective use of resources and beneficial outcomes. “The Irish Water mandate is to support social and economic development across Ireland, and we will spend just over €6.1bn on capital investment in doing so between now and 2024. That work includes an average of 50 planning applications annually and a considerable number of these applications are for projects in smaller towns or villages where Irish Water work with other government agencies to enable growth and improve compliance with drinking water and wastewater regulations. We see this being best achieved through including provision for the supply of water and waste water disposal networks in spatial planning generally”

·         The opening session was rounded off by the Chair of An Bord Pleanála Dave Walsh who noted that the 2018 publication in tandem of the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the funding programme of Project Ireland 2040 had concentrated minds on co-ordination and collaboration. In his address he returned on a number of occasions to the themes of ‘joining up’, collaboration and ensuring ‘coherence’. He also highlighted the development and growth in partnerships and knowledge sharing that is now happening with planning authorities, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and utilities like Irish Water. “While our primary focus is to facilitate good development in the right locations in a timely manner, we need also to maintain a better and more accessible service to planning authorities in particular that promotes quality planning and informs future policy development”

Mr. Corr concluded “2019 a good time to be a planner. There is a strong need for planning expertise in both the public and the private sectors and a greater awareness of the need to maintain a focus on the use of an evidence based approach to protect the greater good in development activity. We look forward to a vigorous discussion over the coming days and to putting up our hand as a professional community ready to play a key role in the next stage of Ireland’s development.”