The Irish Planning System: Spotlight on The Office of the Planning Regulator

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The Irish Planning System: Spotlight on The Office of the Planning Regulator

Published 28 February 2022

What is it?

Arising from recommendations made by the Mahon Tribunal (formally the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments), the Office of the Planning Regulator (“OPR”) was established in April 2019.

What does it do?

In broad terms, the role of the OPR is to ensure that local authorities and An Bord Pleanála support and implement Government planning policy. The role and functions of the OPR are set out in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 (“the Act”).

The OPR has 3 main functions:

Evaluation

The OPR has responsibility for independently assessing all statutory forward planning with a view to ensuring that the plan provides for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned. This includes evaluating city and county development plans, local area plans and variations/amendments to these plans.

Review

The OPR may review the systems and procedures used by any planning authority, including An Bord Pleanála, in the performance of their planning functions.

Education

The OPR is responsible for driving national research activities as well as education, training and public awareness programmes to support the application of best practice in planning functions and activities.

What are the powers of the OPR?

In the context of its evaluation function, the OPR provides the relevant local authority with observations and/or recommendations regarding how a plan should address legislative and policy matters.

The relevant local authority must then outline how these observations and recommendations will be addressed, taking account of the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

If an adopted plan is subsequently not consistent with any statutory recommendations, the OPR may issue a notice to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage recommending that powers of direction (section 31 of the Act), be utilised to compel the local authority to address the matter.

In the context of the OPR’s review function, following a review, the OPR may make independent and evidence-based recommendations to local authorities, and to the Minister.

The OPR also has the power to examine complaints received about a local authority, however these complaints must relate to the systems and procedures the authority uses in the course of its planning function. It is notable that included in the OPR’s Strategy Statement is the objective that “a culture of continuous improvement will be created in planning authorities driven by regular reviews of their performance”. To this end, a cyclical programme of review of the planning functions of local authorities is underway.

OPR in the headlines

The OPR recently made headlines following its submission in respect of the Draft Dublin City Development Plan 2022-2028. Dublin City Council has proposed measures that seek to limit developments of build-to-rent (BTR) apartment blocks and to specify a proportion of properties for sale within the development. The OPR however, while acknowledging the intended purpose of this proposal, has indicated that this would constitute a breach of national planning policy and in particular, is not in line with ministerial guidelines on the matter.

OPR into the future

The relatively recent establishment of the OPR means that we have yet to see exactly how significant a role it will play in the advancement of the Irish planning system or indeed the direct consequences of the powers available to the OPR. Recent headlines appear to suggest that the OPR will ensure that its role in monitoring planning policy is to the fore of its activities.

Authors

Lisa Broderick

Lisa Broderick

Dublin

+353 (0) 1 231 9683

Rowena McCormack

Rowena McCormack

Dublin

+353 (0)1 231 9628

Julie-Anne Binchy

Julie-Anne Binchy

Dublin

+353 (0) 123 19636

Charlotte Burke

Charlotte Burke

Dublin

+353 (0)1 2319679

David Freeman

David Freeman

Dublin

+353 1588 2558

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