The city development plan is the “planning rulebook” for the city, says Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, who chairs the council’s planning committee.
When developers ask the council or An Bord Pleanála for planning permission to build homes, or shops, or offices, or anything else, planners turn to what’s enshrined in the development plan to work out whether it complies, and should be allowed.
The development plan covers almost everything, says McAdam.
Building heights, transport links, protecting built heritage, providing public housing and protecting the environment, to name a few, he says.
Councillors drill down and look at specific sites. They decide “how much of the site can be developed, the nature of the development that can take place and what other services need to be provided as part of the redevelopment of particular lands”, he says.
In a nutshell, says Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey, the development plan is a document that works out “how can the city be better planned”.
This week, the council launched its first public consultation for the next development plan, which will be in force from 2022 to 2028, inviting the general public, businesses, residents’ associations, community groups, and children all to have a say.
After that, councillors and council managers will thrash out ideas for the improvement and planning of the city, says McAdam. Those ideas will be reflected in the zoning for land, he says.
There are 15 different categories of zoning, which tell us what kind of development is permitted in that area, he says.
Passing the annual budget and working on the development plan are councillors’ key responsibilities, says McAdam.
What’s the Process?
“It is actually a really interesting process,” says Lacey, a long-standing councillor, who guesses this might be his fifth or sixth development plan.
Creating a new development plan takes nearly two years. The first step? To review the last one, says McAdam.
The public consultation launched this week will run until February and, based on submissions, Dublin City Council planners will set objectives and publish issue papers, he says.
Then in spring and summer, councillors will examine those issue papers.
“The way I do it is I go through the list of submissions then I see my area or topics of interest,” says Lacey.
Then the councillors table amendments to the manager’s recommendations, he says.
“We will maybe direct the council management to look at some other priorities,” says McAdam. “Or look at existing priorities in a different way.”
All together, councillors might submit thousands of amendments, says Lacey. “Last time around I had about 170 amendments.”
The draft plan will be published by next September, says McAdam.
After that, come another set of meetings to fine-tune it. The final plan will be launched in late 2022 and will run for six years until late 2028, says McAdam.
Lacey and McAdam both say that rezoning industrial lands for housing will be a major part of the new development plan.
“Most of the industrial estates in the city centre will be rezoned if they haven’t been already,” says Lacey.
Housing will obviously be one of the main issues, says McAdam and “the development plan should be about ensuring that there is future economic growth”.
He says that the plan is about “creating good placemaking”. Councillors need to work out how to develop the city in a way that promotes sustainable communities, he says.
That means planning for diverse housing needs including older people and those with disabilities and ensuring that parts of the city zoned for housing are well connected by public transport.
Other objectives that McAdam would like to see include greening the city, making it more pedestrian friendly, and climate mitigation measures, he says.
Lacey says that Covid-19 has thrown up some specific issues, too. There could be a glut of office blocks and hotels, so councillors will need to grapple with how to deal with those, he says.
There’s more beyond the big-ticket items like zoning, heights, and transport links, too.
“The city is littered with unnecessary poles,” says Lacey. Old traffic signsthat were never taken down, when new ones were put up.
He proposed for the last plan that it “be an objective of the council to remove 50 poles in each local area, each year”, he says. That should be carried into the next plan too, says Lacey.
Councillors often table motions on protecting specific structures of historical significance, he says.
Years back, Lacey proposed protecting a local green space with a view to turning it into a park, he says.
The council hasn’t yet done that. But it is still a green space, so there’s still hope, he says.
From a Height
The city development plan dictates the height of buildings in each pocket of the city.
The current development plan doesn’t specify a maximum height, says Lacey, and it allowed for very high development in appropriate locations.
Take the Irish Glass Bottle site in Irishtown, where the plan allowed for 22 storeys because those buildings don’t overlook anyone, he says.
But in residential areas, where people are living in houses, heights were restricted to five storeys. That’s high enough, says Lacey.
“It is all about context,” says Lacey. “I didn’t oppose the 12 storeys on the RTÉ lands, because they don’t shadow over anyone and are on a main thoroughfare.”
In December 2018, then Minister for Housing Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy, issued guidelines removing height restrictions and effectively overruling the council’s development plan.
“There should never have been a need for that to happen,” says McAdam the Fine Gael councillor, who agreed with the lifting of height restrictions.
“People obviously want more housing to be built but the reality is we have a finite amount of land available in the city,” he says.
Unless planners allow developers to build upwards, they will have to extend Dublin city into Wicklow, Kildare and Cavan, he says. “We have to take an approach that works.”
Lacey hopes that councillors will revert to the restrictions on height, regardless if they are overruled again. “We should stick with what is best for Dublin.”
One of Murphy’s predecessors, Labour’s Alan Kelly, also issued guidelines in 2018 that overruled and continue to overrule the city development plan. Those allowed, among other things, developers to build smaller apartments than the council had allowed.
The new development plan is different from previous ones because theOffice of the Planning Regulatorwas set up in 2019.
That office – headed up by Niall Cussen, a former chief planner at the Department of Housing – has the authority to query decisions in the development plan.
In the last development plan, councillors said that they wanted to build more housing but simultaneously reduced the amount of land that was available for housing, says McAdam.
“If that were to happen this time the planning regulator could say, ‘the targets you have set cannot be realised,” he says.