Mr. John Gormley, TD, Minister for the Environment, Heritage
and Local Government - in opening the the Irish Planning Institute's
National Planning Conference - gave the following address
"The theme of this year's conference - Sustainability
- is, of course, one which strongly resonates with me. Indeed,
it's probably fair to say that this issue has been the touchstone
of environmentalism and the single greatest determinant of
my involvement in politics and in public life.
"Sustainability is not about making us feel better about
ourselves just because we suddenly become more responsible
citizens by composting or recycling the occasional bottle
or piece of plastic. Achieving sustainability is more than
an optional add-on - it's my firm belief that sustainability
is also the hidden ingredient to national competitiveness.
Those economies and, indeed, industries that are 'ahead
of the curve' already realise and accept this.
"I know I speak to the converted when I say that the
planning system has a pivotal role to play in achieving sustainability
at local, regional and national level."
Urban Forum Article
"I read with interest this week's articles in the Irish
Times, highlighting the need for the planning system to be
more proactive and integrated. I welcome this input and the
opportunity it afforded me to reflect on the National Spatial
Strategy and the progress being made in achieving more balanced
"The articles raised significant issues about how this
country can - and should - grow in a sustainable and successful
way and also stimulated a productive and thought-provoking
debate among planning experts, proponents and policy makers,
such as are gathered here today.
"Let me say on this issue - and on planning reform,
generally - that neither I, nor my Department, have all the
answers. I believe we have some and that these can make a
significant contribution - but, the challenges we face will
require all our combined strengths, expertise and abilities.
"I would readily accept some of the conclusions made
in the articles, such as the need to work with - and not against
- the forces that will shape our future and the necessity
for joined-up thinking in planning, investment decisions and
delivery. However, I would strongly challenge the notion in
the article that the National Spatial Strategy is misplaced
and undeliverable and that it is futile to try to alter demographic
trends on the island - unsustainable though they may be.
"Contrary to some people's mistaken understanding of
what the Strategy is designed to achieve - a misconception
reflected throughout the article - the NSS is not about securing
the 'nirvana' of balanced regional development, it's
about facilitating and securing more balanced regional development.
It's not about taking development away from Dublin and limiting
the economic growth of the capital, which we all acknowledge
is the main international gateway to this country and main
driver of our economy.
"Indeed, looking at the scale of investment in critical
infrastructure in the capital - such as the Metro and Luas
- new Governance arrangements through the establishment of
the Dublin Transportation Authority and the commitment to
a Dublin Mayor with real decision-making powers - and the
support for significant developments in the Docklands or Adamstown
- this theory does not stand up to scrutiny.
"The NSS is aimed at tapping fully into the resources
and opportunities available to 'Ireland Inc.' as a
whole, by activating the unique and specific potential of
all the regions - while, at the same time, supporting the
development of Dublin in a sustainable manner. This has to
be our over-riding objective and definitive goal."
The Importance of Competitiveness
"The article rightly acknowledges the intrinsic role
that planning plays in creating and sustaining the conditions
for employment. Planning for the future and putting in place
the services and the infrastructure that our economy needs
to grow, will be critical to meeting this challenge. We must
remain competitive - anticipating the future demands that
our economic success will bring - and the national vision
set by the NSS, reflected in regional and local planning priorities,
is the best way forward.
"From the Government's perspective, we will continue
to ensure that our planning system works to change the face
of our cities and towns for the better and that through it,
we can add impetus to the creation of dynamic regions, cities
and towns that provide a competitive and vibrant environment
for enterprise and a high quality of life that attracts people
to live, work, visit and come together in.
"Without this strategic perspective and long-term planning
vision, we will be hard-pressed to cope with the projected
national population of over 5.3 million people by 2020 - over
7 million on the island as a whole."
National Development Plan
"Under the National Development Plan, investment in the
regions - particularly infrastructure investment - is being
focused and prioritised around the NSS. The Plan sets out
a strong framework for the promotion of regional development
with a particular focus on critical and accelerated investment
in the NSS Gateway centres.
"This is the first time that we have been able to base
and influence financial decisions on strategic spatial analysis.
This link provides us with an opportunity to ensure that the
investment decisions we now make at both central and local
levels, facilitate sound planning decisions and the creation
of sustainable communities.
"Rather than 'spreading the jam' too thinly across
the country - as has been posited - the NSS and NDP are about
maximising the use of our resources and tapping the potential
of all areas of the country - despite more difficult economic
circumstances, the jam-jar is still at least half full!"
"Intrinsically linked to the strategic planning of sustainable
communities is the coordinated delivery of the necessary infrastructures
and services in those strategic locations which are currently
under development pressure.
"The Developing Areas Initiative is an innovative
and refreshing response to the challenge of joined-up Government
and integrated delivery of infrastructure and services. Fundamentally,
developing areas is about communication - between local and
central government, between public and private sectors and
between Government Departments and delivery agencies.
"I would agree with Mr. Skehan and Lirr that new developments
need to be more than just the provision of houses. The Government
set out its stall on this very clearly in 2007 in the housing
policy statement - Building
Homes - Sustaining Communities - and further reinforced
its commitment by mandating my colleague, Minister of State
Batt O'Keeffe, to take responsibility for driving forward
the 'Developing Areas' Initiative. We are all agreed
that the integration of schools, community facilities, employment,
transport and amenities with the housing development process,
in a timely, cost-effective and sustainable manner, is essential."
Ensuring Consistency between Plans
"Since the publication of the NSS only five years ago,
which is not at all long in planning terms and the 2004 RPGs,
we now have a solid hierarchy of plans and policies to effect
strategies and decisions at local level. And these policies
are beginning to have an effect on the ground - take, for
example, the prioritisation of the Western Road and Rail Corridor
in Transport 21 and the creation of the strategic non-national
roads programme to fund critical roads infrastructure in and
around the gateways and hubs.
"We can improve further in reinforcing the links in
the planning hierarchy. We need to look closely at the scale,
pattern and location of development - especially with regard
to newly-zoned lands, where trends towards dispersed, rather
than strategic and sequential, development have emerged in
some locations, especially around Gateways, Hubs, county towns
and other urban centres, leading to uncoordinated development
and expensive servicing and environmental costs. I am examining
policy and legislative measures necessary to support achieving
the consistency I refer to.
"Against the backdrop of a tightening economic environment,
it is vital that we make the best use of Exchequer funding
by focusing infrastructure provision on those locations which
have been earmarked for development within each county and,
through which development we can secure optimal value for
"My Department will continue to be proactive in ensuring
conformity in development plans with regional policies and
priorities and I will continue to impress upon councils their
responsibilities to plan effectively and appropriately for
their constituents and for future generations."
"I am excited by the challenges facing the entire planning
system over the coming years. These challenges present great
opportunities to make a lasting contribution to the development
of a more responsive, transparent and effective planning system
that delivers high-quality outcomes for communities across
Ireland rooted in the principle of sustainability.
"I recognise the potential to make our system more effective
and plan-led and I do not intend to let these opportunities
pass us by.
"I recognise your professional commitment and determination
as planners in delivering the type of vision I have set out
here today. Let me repeat what I said earlier - the challenges
we face will require all our combined strengths, expertise