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Address by Mr Damien English, T.D., Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal
On the occasion of the UCD Planning Seminar: “Reflections: The Past, Present and Future of Planning”
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon.
As Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal I am delighted to join you for the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of UCD’s Planning School.
On behalf of the Government, I wish to acknowledge the important contribution that the School has made to the development of the planning profession and to shaping the overall learning process of planning since 1966.
It is right that we celebrate that contribution and discuss how it might be expanded, developed and improved for the future.
The well-being and strength of our cities and towns has increasingly become the barometer for the health and strength of our economy, and of our wider society – all of which is possible through proper professional planning.
I would like to reiterate the sentiments of my colleague, Minister Simon Coveney;
I believe in the importance of having vibrant and dynamic urban and rural places. I believe in the need to plan for the longer term interests of both.
However, we must reflect on the present fact that just over 12,600 housing units were completed last year, almost half were “one off” houses.
We need to be building somewhere in the region of 25,000 units for the future.
These houses are principally needed in our key cities, our towns and our villages.
They are needed to meet future and evolving household formations, economic and demographic patterns.
Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness
‘Rebuilding Ireland – an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness’ sets out a holistic response to the overall housing system as a fundamental building block of our urban and rural policy.
The Plan provides over 80 practical and readily implementable solutions that aim to increase the annual housing supply to 25,000 units per annum by 2021.
The Plan will enhance the stock of social houses by 47,000 units in the same period.
To back this up, a massive €5.5 billion, yes €5.5billion, is available for future housing and infrastructure in Ireland.
Planning plays a major part in setting the conditions for housing delivery and accordingly Rebuilding Ireland aims to support and develop the planning process.
Urban Renewal and Regeneration
The impression might be that the Action Plan is all about building new houses.
But the Plan also has an emphasis on making the best use of our existing buildings and existing places.
To this end I am leading an Urban Renewal Working Group which
- Will drive forward these and wider proposals;
- It will complement the existing regeneration programme;
- It will further develop projects under the Social Housing Capital and Social Programmes across local authorities.
Action 5.1 of the Plan also undertakes to develop a National Vacant Housing Re-Use Strategy by 2017.
The Housing Agency, will lead the responsibility for co-ordinating the development of the Strategy.
It has established a working group to inform the Strategy, and includes senior representatives from my Department and from the Local Authorities. Its first meeting was held in September and work is progressing.
My Department and the Housing Agency are liaising with Local Authorities and with the Central Statistics Office in order to obtain a better understanding of the numbers, characteristics and reasons why homes are vacant.
This understanding will also assist Government in:
- Introducing a new Town and Village Renewal scheme; a similar scheme to the ‘Living City Initiative’ to regenerate urban centres and villages (Year 1 action)
- Exempting the use of under-utilised or vacant areas over ground-floor premises in urban areas, from “change of use” requirements, for both residential and commercial use (Year 1 action)
- Reforming the Derelict Sites Act to tackle the under-use and hoarding of derelict land by the State, semi-State and private sectors;
- Commencing the new “Buy and Renew” initiative with an initial capital provision of €25 million in 2017, and
- Rolling out the new Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) for which I have secured €140m over the next five years.
National Planning Framework
While our housing needs must get priority attention, I recognise the value of planning for the future.
This is why I, and my Department, are committed to the development of a new National Planning Framework (NPF) to succeed the National Spatial Strategy.
The National Planning Framework ‘Ireland 2040’ will be different from its predecessor in the following ways:
- It will be a framework not in sole ownership of Government.
- It will, as provided for under statutory legislation, and as recommended by the Mahon Tribunal, be approved by Dáil Éireann.
- It will be the definitive statement on the future strategic development of our remarkable country.
- The NPF will be more strategic and more concise than its predecessor.
There will be three new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies developed alongside the NPF.
They will be developed by the three Regional Assemblies representing the local government sector and co-ordinating their local economic development and planning functions.
I believe that the National Planning Framework will address the key aspects of planning for the future in Ireland. It needs to:
- Identify where and how our housing needs are best met;
- Identify our Regions key assets for economic development and job-creation;
- Specify the location, delivery and funding of critical infrastructure;
- Enhance the role of planning our sustainability, our greenness;
To achieve these we need to:
- Find the right balance between the complementary but contrasting strengths of our regions; and
- Strengthen the opportunities for an island approach to our development;
- And integrate the marine and terrestrial planning processes.
We will have a realistic national conversation about the potential of our places, both urban and rural, recognising that a National Planning Framework will mean hard choices and avoiding the “one for everyone in the audience” approach.
In a globalised world, quality of ‘place’ really matters.
You as Planners know more about making a place work than any other profession.
So I look forward to working together with UCD Planning School in forming both policy and urban development practice so that we create better urban places for all.
Learning From The Past
As we all know, we had dark times in our recent planning past.
Let us not forget the enormous work undertaken and the huge financial cost associated with the Mahon Tribunal, its reports and recommendations.
I am happy that the implementation of the recommendations are ongoing, and includes legislation such as the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill presently at second stage in the Dáil.
As previous Ministers have stated and I certainly have no difficulty with re-stating today, abuses of the planning process are not acceptable and are not victim-less crimes.
By putting the wrong developments in the wrong places, at the wrong time, we are condemning future generations to live with the mistakes of the past.
That is why this Government is fully committed to the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) through the Planning and Development Bill.
Looking to the Future
To conclude, this evenings 50th anniversary celebrations will reflect on the past, present and future of Irish Planning.
I think we will all agree that while there are challenging times ahead for planning in Ireland. They will be interesting times, if you are a Planner I am sure they will be exciting times.
Times which will require a better vision, a better commitment and better technical skills of the Professional Planner to address the many challenges we face together.
Within my own Department, it is fitting that 50 years after the establishment of this School that for the first time, we have the word “Planning” in our title.
I am proud to be a Minister in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government; one that reflects a newly re-constituted and expanded planning capability and function.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that, having come through the past, we are witnessing a new and golden era for planning and professional planners in Ireland.
We now know what didn’t work. We know what does work and with proper professional planning we know what will work.
There is now a remarkable opportunity to shape the future of our country through planning.
Ultimately, I believe that Planning is about bringing the future into the present so we can do something about it.
Or as Abraham Lincoln said – “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Let us now do this together.
Finally, congratulations again to University College Dublin and to the Planning School.
I salute you for the past 50 years of your work; I look forward to working with you during the next 50 years as you play a dynamic part in the planning of Ireland’s future.
Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank You.