Councillors codemn Planning Regulator’s refusal to attend meetingPadraig Conlon 20 Jun 2022
Dublin City Councillors say they condemn the Planning Regulator’s refusal to attend last Monday’s meeting.
The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR), that has criticised many parts of the councillors’ draft development plan for Dublin, refused a request to attend a special meeting of city councillors on Monday evening.
In a statement issued by the Group Leaders of all political parties and independents on Dublin City Council, the councillors united in their opposition.
The councillors say the refusal of the Regulator to attend is ‘undemocratic’ and that their voices ‘must be heard in this process.’
In a statement, signed by Cllr James Geoghegan (Group Leader – Fine Gael), Cllr Hazel De Nortúin (Group Leader – People before Profit), Cllr Daithí Doolan (Group Leader – Sinn Féin), Cllr Deirdre Heney (Group Leader – Fianna Fáil), Cllr Dermot Lacey (Group Leader – Labour Party), Cllr Michael Pidgeon (Group Leader – Green Party), Cllr Cieran Perry (Group Leader – Independents) and Cllr Catherine Stocker (Group Leader – Social Democrats), they said:
“Development plans come around once every five years and the OPR was only established in April 2019.
“This is the first time the development plan process, and specifically the Dublin City Development plan, is subject to its very significant statutory powers.
“The OPR makes 7 recommendations in their submission which Dublin City Council, the largest local authority in the country, “is required to implement” and 3 observations which we must “take into account”.
“These include, amongst other things, removing the requirement that 40% of apartments in Build-To-Rent (BTR) developments would be required to be ‘standard build to sell apartments’ and removal of restrictions on BTR schemes of less than 100 units.
“If councillors fail to make the required changes, the OPR, under the legislation will force Dublin City Council to comply with those recommendations.
“Our own City Planner disagrees with some of the recommendations made by the OPR but councillors have had no chance to debate these in a public forum.
“We simply requested a dialogue with the OPR in City Hall to bring greater transparency and accountability to this process. This request has been inexplicably denied and the chance for democratic accountability has been lost as a result.
“We have cancelled Monday’s meeting as a result and are rescheduling to meet at a time of OPR’s choosing.”
In response to the councillors statement, a spokesperson for the Office of the Planning Regulator told Dublin People:
“The Mahon Tribunal established by the Oireachtas, recommended the formation of a planning regulator to ensure that the democratically guided local planning process operates within its regulatory and policy boundaries.
“One way the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) does this is by performing independent assessments of local authority plans to ensure they properly apply national and regional policies.
“Where the OPR considers that national or regional policy has not been correctly applied in a draft development plan, it can make a recommendation to local authority to address the matter.
“The OPR then considers how these recommendations have been addressed by the local authority and can, where the matter is considered to be of importance, recommend to the Minister that he/she issues a direction to the local authority to take certain steps to remedy this situation.
“Contrary to statement the by DCC councillors, it is not the function of the OPR to force Dublin City Council (or any local authority) to comply with our recommendations.
“Rather, after our independent written assessment of the plan as made, which may include a recommendation to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to issue a direction to the local authority to change some aspect of the plan, it is ultimately the decision and legal function of the Minister whether or not a direction issues.”
The spokesperson also included a response email that the OPR sent to the invite on Friday which can be read below.
Dear Lord Mayor
Thank you for the your enquiry following on from the request of elected members that the OPR attend a special meeting of Dublin City Council concerning, but not limited to, the OPR’s written submission to the Draft Dublin City Development Plan 2022-2028.
I know that Niall has responded to the previous request and so I will not reiterate the matters covered in that email but hopefully the response below will be helpful in responding to the subject request.
In terms of wider issues beyond the OPR’s submission to the draft Plan, it is important to emphasise that the OPR very much acknowledges and respects the role of elected members and facilitates engagement with them in their hugely important and statutory role in setting out local authority planning policies through a variety of channels including the training programme operated jointly with the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG).
Indeed we held a special in-person training event aimed specifically at any questions members may have about the development plan process, including our role in it, yesterday in Athlone and will hold a second event tomorrow in Kilkenny.
Niall was in attendance yesterday and will be giving the presentation again tomorrow so it is an excellent opportunity for elected members who wish to understand in more detail the OPRs role and functions. There will, of course, be an opportunity for Q&A at the event.
Unfortunately it would not appear that any of the DCC members were able to attend the event yesterday, but I have attached details of tomorrow’s event which were also circulated to all elected members by the AILG.
As previously offered, we would also be more than happy to provide a response if there is any specific written clarification needed by the members around procedural aspects of the development plan finalisation process, including our role within that process.
It would also be possible to provide a briefing note for elected members outlining the process and the role of the OPR if this was considered to be helpful.
Turning to the matter of the OPR’s submission to the draft Plan, and mindful of the fact that the Dublin City Development Plan preparation process is in train, and of our independent and statutory assessment role, it would not be appropriate to attend a meeting with the elected members outside of that statutory process.
As noted by the elected members, the Office has made its submission to the draft Plan and very much looks forward to reviewing the material amendments to address the important matters of national and regional policy raised in due course.
The OPR will then make a submission on the material amendments during the statutory timeframe and within the process set out in the legislation.
I trust this will be helpful, but please revert if you need anything further.
Anne Marie O’Connor