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About The Office of the Planning Regulator

The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) was established in April 2019 on foot of recommendations made by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (the Mahon Tribunal).

Our role is to ensure that local authorities and An Bord Pleanála support and implement Government planning policy.

We also implement planning research, training and public awareness in order to promote the public’s engagement in the planning process and to enhance knowledge and public information about planning in Ireland.

Watch our video or visit the drop down menu below to find out more.

The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) was formerly established in April 2019 on foot of recommendations made by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (the Mahon Tribunal).

The appointment of an independent Planning Regulator, empowered to oversee the planning system in Ireland, was one of the key recommendations of the Tribunal.

While not a policy-making body, the OPR’s role is to ensure that local authorities and An Bord Pleanála support Government policy and statutory requirements when implementing planning policy and statutory requirements.

We also put in place effective programmes of planning research, training and public awareness in order to strengthen the planning process and so that the wider public are engaged in the planning process and understand its importance.

The Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, (the Act) gives the OPR a statutory basis to carry out three main functions:

Evaluation of Statutory Plans

In accordance with sections 31AM and 31AO of the Act, 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. Firstly, the OPR provides the relevant planning authority with observations and/ or recommendations regarding how a plan should address legislative and policy matters.

Once the OPR has provided statutory inputs to the plan-making process, the relevant planning authority must outline how such inputs 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 recommending that powers of direction, specified under section 31 of the Act, be utilised to compel the planning authority to address the matter.

Planning Reviews and Examinations
In accordance with sections 31AS and 31AT of the Act, the OPR may review the systems and procedures used by any local authority including An Bord Pleanála in the performance of their planning functions.

On foot of a planning review, the Office may make independent and evidence-based recommendations to authorities, and to the Minister. The OPR is implementing a programme of reviews whereby each authority will have a general review conducted across all of its planning functions on a cyclical basis.

The OPR is also empowered to examine complaints received about a local authority where the complaint relates to the organisation of the authority and of the systems and procedures used by it in relation to the performance of its functions under the Act.

Education, Training and Research

In accordance with section 31Q of the Act, the OPR is responsible for driving national research, education and training to highlight the role and benefit of good planning.

We deliver education and training programmes both elected members and staff of local authorities and regional assemblies.

The education, training and research function helps to maximise knowledge transfer between the 31 local authorities, three regional assemblies, An Bord Pleanála and wider stakeholders such as professional bodies and interest groups thereby maximising efficiency, effectiveness and consistency across the planning system.

The OPR does not review complaints about individual decisions of planning authorities including An Bord Pleanála. This includes decisions relating to granting or refusing planning permission or enforcement.

Nor do we consider complaints where legal proceedings have already been initiated or if a complaint is under consideration by another body.

To find out what type of complaints we do consider, visit our complaints information page.

The OPR’s Strategy Statement 2019-2024 was published in October 2019, in accordance with Section 31T of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. The Strategy Statement sets out the OPR’s high- level goals, actions and milestones in delivering on our statutory mandate.

Vision

The OPR’s vision is that by the end of the Strategy Statement period the OPR will be in a position to conclude that:

  • Ireland benefits from a well-coordinated planning hierarchy,
  • a wide-ranging, effective and well received programme of education, training and research on planning matters has been put into effect and
  • a culture of continuous improvement will be created in planning authorities driven by regular reviews of their performance

Values

The strategy identifies the five key values of the OPR as:

  • Independence;
  • Professionalism;
  • Transparency;
  • Engagement, and
  • Customer Focus.
Niall Cussen

Niall is the Chief Executive and Planning Regulator at the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) established by Government in April 2019.


Prior to his appointment, Niall was Chief Planner at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government from July 2014, having also worked in the Department from January 2000 in a number of professional planning roles.


As Chief Planner, Niall was responsible for leading the department’s forward planning section and its professional and multi-disciplinary planning team in developing legislation as well as all Government policy on planning and related matters. This included the National Planning Framework as part of Project Ireland 2040 alongside the National Development Plan.


Prior to joining the department in 2000, Niall had an extensive planning career working for local authorities in Clare, Meath, Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála where he worked in all aspects of the planning process.


Niall holds qualifications in economics and geography, regional and urban planning and environmental engineering from Maynooth University (1987), University College Dublin (1989) and Trinity College Dublin (1995). He is a member and a past President of the Irish Planning Institute.

Anne Marie O'Connor
Anne Marie is the Deputy Regulator and Director of Evaluations of Local Authority Plans. She is responsible for the assessment of all local authority development plans, local area plans, and variations to these, and any future reviews or amendments of regional spatial and economic strategies. The purpose of these assessments is to ensure that the plans are consistent with regional and national policies and objectives, and to provide for proper planning and sustainable development.

Anne Marie has more than 20 years’ experience as a planner in both the public and private sectors. Before joining the OPR in 2020, Anne Marie was the Assistant Director of Planning in Bord Pleanála where she was responsible for the management and oversight of planning appeals, and most recently led the Strategic Infrastructure Development and Environment team. Prior to that role she was a Senior Planning Inspector with the Board. She has also worked as a planner in planning authorities in the UK, and in the private sector in both Ireland and the UK.

In addition to a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from UCD (1996), Anne Marie holds a primary degree in Economics (UCD, 1994), a MA in Public Management (IPA, 2013), and diplomas in EIA and SEA Management (UCD 2010), and Planning and Environmental Law (Kings Inn, 2019). Anne Marie is a member of the Irish Planning Institute.
Gary Ryan
Gary is Director of Planning Reviews and Examinations and is responsible for leading on the establishment of a process of reviews of the systems and procedures used by state’s 31 planning authorities, and An Bord Pleanála in the performance of their planning functions. Gary also oversees the OPR’s complaint handling process for members of the public on such systems and procedures.

Prior to his appointment in the OPR, Gary worked for 18 years in the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government, most recently progressing the Planning & Development (Amendment) Act 2018 through the Houses of the Oireachtas, which provided for the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator. Previous roles included working on homeless services, the social housing capital investment programme, including the Ballymun and Limerick Regeneration initiatives, for the press office and implementing the urban renewal tax incentive schemes.

In addition to a MA in Town and Country Planning, Gary holds a BA in Geography and Sociology and an Advanced Diploma in Environmental and Planning Law.
Joanna McBride
Joanna is the Director of Research, Training and Corporate Services and is responsible for the Office’s statutory functions in relation to planning research, training and public awareness and oversees the corporate affairs of the organisation, inter alia, finance, HR and corporate governance.

Prior to joining the Office of the Planning Regulator, Joanna had worked in a variety of senior financial and corporate roles within the public and private sectors. These included multinational corporations, a higher education institution and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

Most recently, Joanna led the corporate establishment of the OPR as part of her role in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and, in her prior positions, she led a change management project in a higher education institution, managed financial reporting in the private sector and worked on projects funded by the European Commission.

Joanna is a qualified accountant and a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and also holds an Advanced Diploma in Environmental and Planning Law from the Honorable Society of King’s Inn.
Planning Legislation
Planning legislation is largely set out under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to 2018.

The principal regulations underpinning the Planning and Development Acts are the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 to 2018. These regulations are updated regularly to put legislative changes into effect on more detailed aspects of the implementation of the provisions of the Act.

In addition to the Acts, the Minister may issue Planning Guidelines under Section 28 of the Act and Policy Directives under Section 29 of the Act, which planning authorities must adhere to in discharging their planning functions.

Under Section 30 of the Act, the Minister is precluded from influencing any specific planning case or appeal before a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála.

Under Section 31 of the Act however, the Minister may give Directions to planning authorities or regional assemblies in relation to the content of their statutory development plans and regional spatial and economic strategies.

The Office of the Planning Regulator conducts independent assessment of development plans, local plans and regional spatial and economic strategies and informs the Minister regarding any Directions that may be required to uphold policy and regulatory requirements.

The Planning and Development Act 2000, (as amended) provides:
“in the interests of the common good, for proper planning and sustainable development”.

Under the Act, there are four main parts to the Irish planning process.

  1. Plan-Making: the preparation, by Government and the local government system, at national, regional and local levels, of long-term policies to shape and guide development in the public interest, including public and private investment and the determination of individual planning decisions;
  2. Assessment of Planning Applications and Appeals: most development activity in Ireland requires a formal grant of planning permission from the relevant planning authority or in some larger and specific cases An Bord Pleanála. Planning Authorities’ decisions may be appealed to An Bord Pleanála;
  3. Planning Enforcement: aims to ensure compliance with the requirements of planning permissions. It includes legal actions by planning authorities mostly in cases of non-compliance by those engaged in the development; and
  4. Oversight: of the planning process at planning authority level through the Office of the Planning Regulator, who analyse local government planning at regional and local levels and consider the broad systems and procedures employed by the 31 planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála.
Planning at National, Regional and Local Levels Working Together
Government provides a broad legislative and policy framework for planning which sets the context for delivering planning services by the 31 planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála.

Ireland’s 31 county and city councils are local authorities who discharge a range of functions and are known as planning authorities in the context of their planning functions under the Planning Act.


National Planning Framework
The National Planning Framework (NPF) is the Government’s statutory strategic planning framework to guide the development of the country in economic, social and environmental terms. The Office of the Planning Regulator is responsible for monitoring implementation of the NPF through local development plans and regional and economic spatial strategies.

The National Development Plan 2018-2027 was published in conjunction with the NPF and sets out the capital investment required to implement the NPF.

Regional Planning
The Local Government Act 2014 provides for a regional dimension to local government in Ireland and groups the authorities into three regional assemblies:

One of the functions of regional assemblies is to make regional spatial and economic strategies, which co-ordinate both the development plans and local economic and community plans of local authorities. The Office of the Planning Regulator is a statutory consultee in the process of preparing the regional strategies.
Development Plans
The development plan is a local authority’s main policy document in relation to planning.

Elected members of the local authority are responsible for making development plans. The development plan sets out the overall core strategy and specific objectives for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area of the local authority. The plan consists of a written statement which sets out the policies for the county, and maps which show zonings for different types of development, for example, residential, industrial and amenities such as parks. The Office of the Planning Regulator is now a statutory consultee for all development plans.

Local Area Plans
Local authorities are also responsible for developing local area plans (LAPs). A LAP is similar to a development plan, but provides a more detailed locally focused planning policy framework. Elected members of the local authority are also responsible for making local area plans.

A LAP must be made for any designated town with a population of over 5,000 people. LAPs can be reviewed or amended at any time, provided the planning authority follows the public consultation procedures set down in the planning acts.

LAPs must be consistent with the objectives and policies of more strategic county and city development plans as well as national and regional policy considerations arising from the National Planning Framework and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies

Planning Permission
In the Planning and Development Acts, development is defined as ‘the carrying out of any works on, in, over or under land or the making of any material change in the use of any structures or other land’.

Planning permission must be obtained from the local planning authority, or in certain larger strategic cases, from An Bord Pleanála before development, other than minor developments known as exempted development, can start.

In considering an application for planning permission, the planning authority must ensure that the development is consistent with the policies and objectives of the development plan, although An Bord Pleanála has the scope to approve developments that might not be precisely consistent with local planning policies but are consistent with national policies. Planning permission is also required where there is a material change of use to a premises (for example, a change from retail outlet to takeaway restaurant).

The chief executive or designated official in charge of planning in local authorities decides on planning applications made to local authorities.

The Board of An Bord Pleanála, appointed by the Minister, decides on appeals and applications made to the Board.

A planning permission is typically valid for five years and some larger applications may be approved for a 10-year period.

Pre-Application Consultations
Anyone who intends to make a planning application may consult with the planning authority about any proposed development. The planning authority may give advice regarding the proposed application.

Pre-application consultations are quite important in ensuring successful applications. They give the local authority the opportunity to explain to applicants the type of development that is likely to be acceptable according to the local plan. Local authorities are obliged to keep a record in writing of consultations that relate to a proposed development. This record is kept with the documents relating to that or any subsequent planning application.

Enforcement
Planning authorities may take enforcement action against any unauthorised development. An unauthorised development is one which is not exempted or which does not comply with planning permission and the conditions attached to it
An Bord Pleanála and Planning Appeals
Anyone can appeal a decision by a local planning authority to grant or refuse planning permission, provided they have submitted observations to the planning authority on the application. Appeals can be a first party (this means lodged by the applicant) or a third party (by a concerned individual or organisation).

A planning appeal is made to An Bord Pleanála whose remit and functions have expanded significantly in the past decade. An Bord Pleanála generally considers appeals as if the application had been made to it in the first instance, and its decision replaces that of the planning authority.

Unlike a planning authority, An Bord Pleanála can grant permission for a development that materially contravenes the local plan under certain conditions, for example, if it considers the development to be of strategic importance. An Bord Pleanála can also hold an oral hearing on the application, as it commonly does with strategic infrastructure or large developments.

Strategic Infrastructure and Strategic Development Zones
Under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, applications for permission to carry out strategic infrastructure projects are now made directly to An Bord Pleanála rather than through the local planning process.

This is because such infrastructure often straddles two or more planning authority areas. Strategic infrastructure means developments that are of strategic economic or social importance to the State or the region in which they will be located.

Strategic Development Zones (SDZs) may be designated by the Government as areas of strategic economic and developmental importance to the State.

In such areas, designated development agencies including local authorities, are mandated under the Planning Act to prepare planning schemes that are subject to the approval of local elected members or councillors or on appeal, by An Bord Pleanála.

Dublin’s Docklands, which has seen a high level of renewal and regeneration and office and residential development since its designation as a Strategic Development Zone, is an example of the SDZ process.
National Planning Policy Statement (2015) Objectives of Planning
  1. Planning must be plan-led and evidence based so that at the appropriate level, from the National Planning Framework, Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, City and County Development Plans and Local Area Plans, the Government, local authorities and local communities, work together to set out a cohesive vision for the future of our country.

  2. Planning must proactively drive and support sustainable development, integrating consideration of its economic, social and environmental aspects at the earliest stage to deliver the homes, business and employment space, infrastructure and thriving urban and rural locations in an economically viable manner that will sustain recovery and our future prosperity.

  3. Planning is about creating communities and further developing existing communities in a sustainable manner by securing high quality urban design through the design, delivery and co-ordination of new development providing a good quality of life for all existing and future users of land and buildings.

  4. Planning must support the transition to a low carbon future and adapt to a changing climate taking full account of flood risk and facilitating, as appropriate, the use of renewable resources, particularly the development of alternative indigenous energy resources.

  5. Planning must ensure that development facilitates and encourages greater use of public transport as well as making walking and cycling more attractive for people in support of active and healthy lifestyles by focusing development, whenever possible, at locations with more sustainable travel options.

  6. Planning will encourage the most efficient and effective use of previously developed (brownfield) land over the use of greenfield land to ensure the most efficient use of existing infrastructure, enhancing and strengthening the continued vitality of existing communities through regeneration.

  7. Planning will enhance a sense of place within and between cities, towns and villages and rural areas by recognising their intrinsic character and individual qualities and implement actions to protect and enhance that character and those qualities.

  8. Planning will conserve and enhance the rich qualities of natural and cultural heritage of Ireland in a manner appropriate to their significance,from statutorily designated sites to sites of local importance, and including the conservation and management of landscape quality to the maximum extent possible, so that these intrinsic qualities of our country can be enjoyed for their collective contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations.

  9. Planning will support the protection and enhancement of environmental quality in a manner consistent with the requirements of relevant national and European standards by guiding development towards optimal locations from the perspective of ensuring high standards of water and air quality, biodiversity and the minimisation of pollution risk.

  10. Above all, planning will be conducted in a manner that affords a high level of confidence in the openness, fairness, professionalism and efficiency of the process, where people have the opportunity to participate at both the strategic plan making and individual planning application level with decisions always being taken in the interests of the common good and in a timely and informed fashion and where people can have confidence that appropriate enforcement action will be taken where legal requirements are not upheld