Ciaran Cuffe has acknowledged what the rest of us already know in the Dail yesterday – that bad planning was a significant contributor to the crisis that Ireland now finds itself in, being a prime contributor to over-development and leading to the need to create NAMA.  This comes as the government seek to introduce the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, which aims to introduce greater regulatory oversight of the planning system and ensure that all future zoning decisions will be plan-led and evidence-based and work to the benefit of both local and national interests and not simply those of developers, speculators, and individual and vested interests.  As Cuffe noted, it is about replacing a “developer-led planning system with a plan-based one.”

It’ll be interesting to see how opposition parties react to the Bill at local and national level because it represents a challenge to the clientelist nature of local planning and politics.  As the Irish Times reports, Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan attacked the Bill as being overly prescriptive, determining how many people would live in towns and villages and that it ‘treated personal decisions about where people wanted to live, work and rear families as if they were boxes on a shelf that could be rearranged at the department’s whim’.  To be frank, this is nonsense.  All laws are prescriptive to a delimited extent, but people can live pretty much where the heck they like in Ireland, especially now given the over-abundance of available housing stock.  They might not be able to live in a house built to their specification on the exact spot they want, but the vast majority of people are in this boat, especially if they live in urban areas.

The planning system should have a strong local input, but that input has to have integrity and display responsibility and sustainability across scales and groups of people.  The pure localism rife in the Celtic Tiger years has failed local people and Ireland as a whole, and we need a planning system that has strong utilitarianism that doesn’t simply work to serve the interests of particular groups of people at the expense of others.  The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill might not be perfect, and it comes after the horse has already bolted, but it is at least a step in the right direction.

Rob Kitchin