Planning for Development (March 2016)
I went along to the Planning for Development conference last week in the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Dublin. The conference focussed on the impact of environmental legislation within the planning system, and more broadly, how this affects project developers across a range of sectors, especially wind and other renewables. For me, I was most interested in how green infrastructure was being incorporated into the planning system.
In the first session, Niall Cussen, Principal Adviser (Planning) of the Department of the Environment Community and Local Government outlined Ireland’s planning policy and key environmental issues. His presentation highlighted the huge number of legislative and policy instruments on planning, from EU Directives, Section 28 guidelines to sectoral influences and this is fast evolving. The new National Planning Framework that is being formulated in 2016 will sit at the top of the planning hierarchy, replacing the National Spatial Strategy and will provide a new framework for new challenges, particularly environmental. He noted Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a very important mechanism and questioned whether it was being utilised to its potential in relation to infrastructure planning.
Mary Kelly of An Board Pleanala stated that there isn’t a great deal of engagement with SEAs by ABP, other than with Strategic Development Zones, and that it would be helpful to expand this. Antonia Gaughran, Technical Director, Environment in RPA Group spoke of the effectiveness of SEA in Planning and how it drives cross departmental engagement, as well as the participation of stakeholders.
In the later session, Charles Stanley-Smith examined the impact of the Climate Bill on Ireland’s planning system and the challenges for sustainable development. Of most interest to me was Gerry Clabby’s talk on planning for environment and heritage. Clabby is the Heritage Officer of Fingal County Council and has been at the forefront of championing green infrastructure in Ireland, first hosting a conference on GI in Malahide back in 2008. He noted that green infrastructure thinking recognises that our environment is a resource which provides us with important ecosystem goods and services and that planning for the environment must be a core part of land-use planning. He stated that the environment is not a constraint to development and that proactive planning for GI facilitates compliance with environmental legislation, using the example of the Portmarnock South Local Area Plan.
For me, the conference again highlighted the value of green infrastructure as part of a sustainable planning process. I took away that GI is similar to Strategic Environmental Assessment as it is cross-departmental in its planning and delivery. It is heartening that the roadmap for the delivery of a new National Planning Framework in 2016 includes the statement that –
There is also a growing international consensus around the value of green infrastructure and cultural assets as defining elements of the attractiveness and competitiveness of both urban and rural places. …National planning policies have a very important role in coordinating the development of green infrastructure and cultural assets.