Belfast Telegraph

Councils 'miss planning process'

Eight local authorities have not complied with Government rules to improve developer-led planning, a new report has revealed.

Planning and Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan warned council officials she will crack down on them to ensure planning mistakes of the Celtic Tiger remain a thing of the past.

"We intend to make sure that the planning process is appropriate," said Ms O'Sullivan. "That it's in the interest of the general public and not developer-led."

The recent publication of the Mahon report, which found corruption between developers and officials during the 1990s, has prompted the Government into revising the planning system. Calls were made under recent legislation for city and county councils to carry out reviews of their maps, following the boom when stretches of land were often rezoned despite being inappropriate for a new use.

But eight local authorities have not completed the process within the timeframes set, which Ms O'Sullivan described as concerning. The minister said she will write to the authorities - which include city councils Donegal, Carlow, Longford and Westmeath - this week to remind them of their legal obligation under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010.

"I will be communicating with the chairs and managers of these local authorities in the days ahead to ensure that the legislation is complied with," Ms O'Sullivan said. She added that the councils in question will be consistently monitored to make sure they comply with guidelines.

More than 42,000 hectares of land were zoned for housing in 2009, which led to an oversupply of 4.5 times the actual need. By reviewing zoning, the Government hopes to get that down to just more than 11,000 hectares, which it claims will meet future housing needs.

Last week, the minister ruled out plans to end investigations into planning matters in seven local authorities across six counties - Donegal, Galway, Carlow, Meath, Cork and Dublin. Former environment minister John Gormley announced investigations in June 2010 before the outgoing Fianna Fail and Green Party government left office.

Current Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused the current Government of shelving the investigations, following the publication of the Mahon report in which former members of his own party were linked to corruption.

But Ms O'Sullivan argued that neither Mr Gormley nor his successor Eamon O Cuiv launched a formal inquiry. She added that her predecessor Willie Penrose ordered an internal inquiry into the matters and that should it recommend further investigations, they will be carried out.

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