Dublin city councillors issued a joint statement on Monday to express their dissatisfaction with the Office of the Planning Regulator’s decision to reject invitations to attend a council meeting.
At the monthly meeting of the full council on 4 July, Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan made a statement on behalf of all councillors, calling on the Office of the Planning Regulator again to come in and answer councillors’ questions ahead of the approval of the new city development plan.
“They seem to think they are under some cloak of papal infallibility that they cannot be questioned,” said Geoghegan.
The city development plan is the blueprint for the city drawn up by councillors every six years. In it, they decide – among other things – what can be built where across the city.
The Office of the Planning Regulator’s job is to look over proposed plans like these and decide if they’re in line with sustainable development and national legislation. If they think they aren’t, but the council ignores them, the regulator can recommend that the Minister compel the council to address the issues.
At the May monthly meeting of the full council the then Lord Mayor, Alison Gilliland, Labour Party Councillor, said that she would write to the Office of the Planning Regulator and ask them to attend a council meeting to discuss rules around build-to-rent homes.
The council has proposednew rules in its next development plan that new housing complexes should include 40 percent of homes for sale and that smaller build-to-rent complexes, of fewer than 100 homes, should not be permitted.
The Office of the Planning Regulator has said that the council cannot curtail build-to-rent housing that way, because the proposed caps would conflict with national regulations.
Geoghegan said at the meeting that the Office of the Planning Regulator was set up so that the planning process would be open, transparent and have credibility but their refusal to meet councillors was undermining that, he said.
“Come to the elected chamber of the people of Dublin and be answerable to us and lend credibility to your organisation,” he said.
The Office of the Planning Regulator initially said that it couldn’t attend Dublin City Council because if it did that then it would have to attend every council in the country, said Geoghegan.
“The second reason was they said that it wouldn’t be part of the statutory process and it could interfere with their independence,” he said.
Then the council’s group leaders issued a joint statement calling on the Office of the Planning Regulator to a meeting, said Geoghegan. After that, the planning regulator said that it was up to the minister, he said.
“The level of obfuscation that the office has gone through, not to come before the elected members of Dublin City and simply explain their rationale, their reasons for why they are in favour of some aspects of our development plan and opposed to others,” he said.
The Lord Mayor, Green Party Councillor Caroline Conroy, said she agreed with the sentiments expressed on behalf of all councillors. “I urge them to come to our next meeting when we invite them to come along.”
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn suggested that the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, should also write to the Office of the Planning Regulator and urge them to attend. Conroy said she will ask the chief executive to do that.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Planning Regulator said: “In its independent regulatory and oversight capacity, the OPR has made its formal written and statutory submission to the draft Dublin City Council Development Plan.”
According to planning law, it must wait for the council to respond, he says.
“Given the above independent role in the plan-making process, the OPR has already outlined to a number of local authorities, including Dublin City Council, why it is not appropriate to make or engage in any additional comment while their development plan making processes are in train,” says the spokesperson.
It is willing to provide written clarification on any aspect of its submission, he says.
Next Steps for the Royal Canal Greenway
Dublin City Council hopes to appoint a builder for the third leg of the Royal Canal Greenway by the end of September, a council report says.
That’s for a 2.1km strip which runs from Newcomen Bridge to Cross Guns Bridge.
Two smaller sections, from Guild Street to Sheriff Street Upper and from Sheriff Street Upper to the North Strand Road, have already been done.
“The tender assessment process and preparation of the Final Business Case is underway,” says the report.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner says she has been trying to get details about the design of that part of the greenway since she joined the council in 2019.
The council must have a design in mind since it has already tendered for a builder, but councillors haven’t got to see it yet, says Horner.
“We haven’t seen any drawings or any final plans for phase 3, since September 2019, when we were looking at very draft provisional plans,” she said at the monthly council meeting on Monday.
She asked why that was.
Andy Walsh, director of the council’s active travel programme, said: “There’ll be a full briefing in September on the details associated with that.” The greenway will be discussed at future meetings of the council’s local area committee too, he said.
On Tuesday, Horner says she and other local area councillors would like to contribute to the plans for the greenway, which is an important project for the council’s Central Area.
For example, there are neighbourhoods needing entry points onto the greenway, she said.