Opening its Annual Conference titled ‘Achieving Competitiveness & Promoting Innovation – The Future Role of Planning’ in Belfast City Hall today (Thursday) President of the Irish Planning Institute (IPI) Joanna Kelly called for a less bureaucratic and more democratic approach to planning. This requires an all-island strategy and greater public confidence in local democracy in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Calling for an all-island Landscape Strategy and an all-island Spatial Strategy, Kelly said “There are increasing pressures for transboundary developments such as fracking projects and windfarms. The need for collaboration and co-operation from governments, north and south on the implications of such projects on our landscape is crucial. All national and regional policy documents throughout the island of Ireland should be strategically aligned so that the public policies are consistent.”
The economic and social opportunities presented by greater all-island planning collaboration were acknowledged by Minister for Planning and Housing Jan O’Sullivan TD and Environment Minister Alex Attwood MLA. Addressing the conference, Minister Attwood commented “I am delighted to welcome the first Irish Planning conference to be held in Belfast. An all-island spatial strategy may be a ‘no-go zone’ for some - however I believe it is the best future for us all. We can prosper and grow with an all-island approach to health, roads, water and waste. In the absence of this we have duplication, less cohesion, less impact, more cost.”
Commenting on the potential of all-island planning Minister O’Sullivan said, “I believe that we have much to learn from each other and that increasing collaboration across administrative and political boundaries will ensure the planning process gives certainty to both communities and investors, whether in the North or in the South and in relation to defining future development priorities and possibilities.”
Arguing that restoring public confidence and trust in local government and the planning system requires greater public participation, Joanna Kelly said “The best way to achieve accountability and transparency in our planning systems is to ensure effective public participation. I believe the key to ensuring public engagement and participation is education. The public must understand how their local government and planning system works. We need to ensure that everyone understands the principles of good planning and why certain decisions are made.”
The President’s emphasis on the importance of education and participation was reinforced by both Ministers. Discussing planning reform in Northern Ireland which will see planning functions devolved to local Councils, Minister Attwood said “We have to learn from best practice and avoid the worst practice of planning devolved to to local councils in Scotland and Ireland. Local plans done well can liberate local areas. We can see that in other places. We can replicate this here if we get the transfer of planning done right. This is the prize. We can secure it.”
This was echoed by Minister O’Sullivan, “There is strong synergy between the needs to have an effective planning system and overcoming our economic challenges. There is a determined consensus in the view that what happened the past can never occur again, but our vision for planning must go beyond that. By placing the values of community, sustainability and the common good at the heart of our planning system we can fashion a mechanism that prepares for our country’s economic recovery and delivers a thriving, sustainable Ireland for the decades ahead.”
The conference continues on Friday 26th April.