Irish Planning Institute Annual Planning Conference 2017

The Irish Planning Institute (IPI) recently held its annual conference in Westport, Co. Mayo. The conference is a key event on the IPI’s calendar and it provides a forum for learning and discussion on emerging planning and environmental law issues, both in Ireland and abroad. The two-day conference was attended by planning professionals, engineers, architects, surveyors, regulatory officials, property and housing professionals, and policy-makers. Among the speakers at the conference are representatives from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland and the Simon Community who have called for a range of measures to bring down house purchase costs and to increase housing stock.

The agenda for the conference focused on ‘Reimagining the Planning System: Making it Work’. Deirdre Fallon, President of the IPI opened the conference proceedings by highlighting the importance of policy-makers stepping up to the mark as they develop a new framework for national planning, which will mean making difficult decisions to avoid urban sprawl, unsustainable rural housing and even longer commutes. The Institute called for the forthcoming National Planning Framework to be a more robust initiative than the National Spatial Strategy, calling for the Framework to be a statutory document, approved by Parliament, and backed by all government departments and stressed that the new Framework must also be accompanied by an implementation plan which sets out a roadmap for delivery. The Institute indicated that the Office of the Planning Regulator will have a crucial role in ensuring that the forthcoming Framework is implemented through local development plans and local area plans.

The homelessness and housing crisis was the focus of a number of speakers, with Claire Solon, President of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, highlighting how the cost of bringing a property to market is inhibiting building in certain geographic areas, as well as the building of affordable housing units. The impact of the current housing crises on homelessness was further considered by Niamh Randall, Head of Policy and Communications with the Simon Communities of Ireland, who believes one of the first priorities to tackle needs to be freeing up the many empty homes around the country. Day One of the conference also saw updates from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Department for Infrastructure Northern Ireland on emerging policy and legislative changes, including the Strategic Housing Development Regulations, finalisation of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines and Transposition of the EIA Directive.

The second day of the conference was, again, well attended and commenced with an address from the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney T.D. A focal point of this address was the Government plan, ‘Rebuilding Ireland – Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness’, which sets out to increase housing output to at least 25,000 homes per annum by 2021. The Minister outlined a number of measures to aid in the achievement of this goal, including opening up land supply and low-cost State lands, the creation of a Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF), and through legislative changes in the form of the Strategic Housing Development provisions in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016.

The Minister also reflected on the role played by the forthcoming National Planning Framework (NPF) in planning for Ireland over the next twenty years, and outlined the various consultation measures and preparatory work undertaken by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to date. Key items to be addressed by the forthcoming NPF include the provision of at least 500,000 extra homes and the spatial extent of growth trends over the next twenty years and beyond.

Following the Minister’s address, a plenary session under the theme of ‘Tourism, Regional Development and Communicating Success’ was held. This session opened with a presentation from Paddy Mathews, Head of Investment and Innovation at Fáilte Ireland, who provided an overview of planning and strategic tourism policy at Fáilte Ireland and the lessons learned from the successful Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East tourism initiatives. This was followed by a presentation by Wendy Langham, Programme Manager of the Eastside Partnership, on the development of the Connswater Community Greenway in east Belfast. Completing the first half of this plenary session was a presentation by Peter Hynes, Chief Executive of Mayo County Council, on harnessing the role of Local Authorities and planning in achieving effective economic, environmental and social contributions to communities.

The second half of the plenary session commenced with a presentation from David Minton, Director of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly under the theme of ‘Unlocking the Potential of Ireland’s Regions’. This was followed by a discussion by Sheila Reilly, Head of Digital at Iconic News, on effective means of communicating the planning process to the general public.

Following this, were two presentations featuring award-winning plan making case studies. The first of these was a presentation by Jonathan Bell, Head of Development Planning at Plymouth City Council, whose development plan and associated consultation process was the recipient of an award at the European Urban and Regional Planning Awards. The second plan making case study was presented by Donall Mac An Bheatha, Senior Planner at Longford County Council, featuring the Longford County Development Plan 2015-2021, which was a winner of the Plan Making Award at the IPI National Planning Awards and commended as an example on how a vital but complex, multifaceted planning document can be made accessible to the community.

The plenary session concluded with a presentation by Eddie Taaffe, Director of Services at South Dublin County Council, on the public consultation strategy employed for the South Dublin County Development Plan 2016-2022. This public consultation was also highly commended at the IPI National Planning Awards for its proactive inclusion of energy planning and green infrastructure and particularly commends its approach to public engagement and consultation and the collaborative partnership approach taken with councillors.

Closing the National Planning Conference in the afternoon session was a panel discussion on the effectiveness of the planning system which featured Deirdre Fallon, President of the IPI; Peter Hynes, Chief Executive of Mayo County Council; Carol Tallon, Property Author and Commentator; and Hubert Fitzpatrick, Director of Housing and Planning at the Construction Industry Federation. The panel discussion provided a lively debate and engagement amongst the panel and delegates regarding the current direction of planning in Ireland and the key changes required by the planning system in the future.

For more information on the Irish Planning Institute, visit www.ipi.ie

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