Bruce McCormack

Planning Inspector, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government


1                   INTRODUCTION

Ireland has a significant diversity of landscapes and seascapes, many of which are of great character and of noteworthy quality.  Many landscapes are under pressure as the Irish economy grows at rates which significantly exceed the European average.  The planning system is the main means through which the undoubted public interest  in landscapes is articulated.

This paper aims to provide an indication of some of the main means by which the Irish planning system and certain programmes approach landscape issues.

However prior to dealing directly with the planning system and with programmes, it is appropriate to highlight a few facts regarding Ireland .

2                   SOME FACTS ABOUT IRELAND

Ireland has a land area of approximately 70 000km2 with a population of approximately 4m.  It is thus one of the smaller countries in Europe .  Since the mid 1990s Ireland has experienced unprecedented rapid economic growth, with the Gross Domestic Product expanding at rates just under 10% per annum for many of these years.  Although in the last few years growth has been lower, at 4 – 5% per annum it remains substantially above the EU average.  The economic growth has been mirrored to a significant extent by the growth in population, driven to a meaningful extent by high in-migration.

Ireland is particularly well integrated into the world economy and the world society at large.  The Globalisation Index produced by the Foreign Policy journal[2] has in recent years ranked Ireland first or second amongst the 62 countries which comprise the index.  This openness creates a fluidity and pace of change which has direct impacts onto the environment, and landscapes as an element of the wider environment. 

The strong economic growth is translated into housing and infrastructure development which  are key drivers of the physical change in rural, urban and partly urbanised areas.  For example in 2004 about 70 000 new houses were built, a very high building rate in relation to the population base.  The 2005-09 capital expenditure allocations to the Departments of Environment and Transport together amount to about €19billion, expenditure which will see the process of physical transformation continued into the future.



Types of Plans

There are four main levels of planning in Ireland , namely, national, regional, County/City and local.

At the national level there is the National Spatial Strategy[3] (NSS) which sets out a framework for guiding development.   Key aims of the NSS are to achieve a more balanced pattern of growth so that areas outside the Dublin area grow to their full potential, and to embed sound planning and development practice within the planning system.  Achieving sustainable development is a key underlying aim.  The NSS recognises that landscapes play a major role in defining national identity.  Furthermore, landscapes are included as part of the sustainable development concept.

Landscapes are seen as a key resource in some areas which can assist in promoting tourism development.  In fact the NSS states that “…the environment is of prime importance in enhancing Ireland ’s competitiveness in the global market place.”

The NSS recognises the need to promote “sensitive development and conservation of landscapes’.

Ireland has eight regions and Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs) exist for these regions[4].  The RPGs give expression to the key proposals in the NSS and incorporate the local needs and circumstances in each region.  All RPGs acknowledge the importance of landscapes and in various ways indicate a need to preserve or enhance certain types of landscape.

The third level involves Development Plans (DPs) which are produced for each of the 29 administrative counties and five cities[5] in Ireland .  Development plans are also produced for certain towns.  All DPs contain objectives related to preserving or enhancing landscapes and set out measures to further these objectives.  In many cases the measures are based on landscape assessments that have been carried out on a systematic basis.

Local Areas Plans are the produced for smaller towns and villages, or for parts of the larger towns and cities.


Planning and Development Act 2000

This Act sets the legal basis for the types of plans which are referred to above.  It also has provision for the designation of Landscape Conservation Areas and Architectural Areas.

The Act gives the Minister the authority to make Guidelines which need to be taken into account by Planning Authorities.  In practice the Guidelines are referred to in Development and Local Area Plans and form the policy basis on which Planning Authorities make decisions about development applications.  A number of Guidelines which have a more direct relevance for landscapes and planning in relation to landscapes are:-

q       Landscape and Landscape Assessment draft Guidelines (2000).  These draft Guidelines set out a methodology, called the Landscape Character Assessment , which Planning Authorities should use which should underpin the provisions related to landscape matters in their Development Plans.

q       Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines (2005).  Ireland has experienced a considerable amount of pressure for single family houses to be built in rural areas outside of towns and villages.  Although this pressure is particularly acute around the Cities, it also exists in may other parts of Ireland .  In fact one of the major challenges facing planning is how to deal with applications for new housing outside of the more tightly defined urban areas.  These Guidelines provide a framework for dealing with this development pattern.  The Guidelines indicate that the ease with which permission is given to new applications for such houses depends inter alia on the type of area within which the proposal is located.  Four types of areas are identified, namely, areas under urban pressure, structurally weak rural areas, strong rural areas and areas where the pattern is one of dispersed settlement.  In areas under strong urban pressure permissions would be relatively difficult to obtain whereas in structurally weak areas the opposite would be the case.  The Guidelines stress the importance of protecting landscapes and outline the benefits of Planning Authorities using the Landscape Character Assessment approach to classifying landscapes within their areas.  The Guidelines give strong emphasis on the need to deal sensitively with the design and siting of dwellings within landscapes and promote the production of design guidance documents by Planning Authorities[6].

q       Residential Density Guidelines (1999).  These Guidelines are applicable in urban areas.  A key message is the need to develop at higher densities and to ensure good quality design.

q       Other Guidelines.  Other Guidelines of relevance which have been issued include Architectural Heritage Protection (2005), draft Wind Energy Development (2004), Implementation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (2004), Quarries and Ancillary Activities (2004), Architectural Heritage Protection (2005) and Telecommunications Antennae and Support Structures (1996)


The Department has also released Planning Leaflets, some of which deal with or have relevance for landscape issues; Architectural and Farm Development – The Planning Issues (2003), Environmental Impact Assessment (2003) and a Guide to Architectural Heritage (2003).


A full set of Guidelines and Leaflets can be found on



A number of programmes operated by the Department have a direct impact on landscapes as set out below.

q       Urban and Village Scheme.  This scheme has the aim of stimulating the regeneration of areas in towns and villages and has involved 608 schemes in the period 2001 to 2004.  These schemes create improved urban landscapes in both functional and aesthetic terms.

q       Tidy Towns Competition.  The aim of this competition is to create pleasant environments.  Currently 650 – 700 communities participate each year in this competition  The judging criteria include references to landscape issues.

q       Tax Incentive Schemes.  The aims are to promote appropriate development, upgrade built environments within historical core areas of towns and cities, turn back processes of social decline etc. These schemes are currently under review by the Department of Finance. 

q       Other Competitions.  Other competitions which have an impact on urban landscapes in particular are Irelands Best Kept Towns Competition, City Neighbourhoods Competition, Entente Florale, National Spring Clean, Green Schools and the IBAL Anti-Litter Campaign




Over the past decade Ireland has experienced rapid economic development, rapid population growth, significant shifts in where people live, substantially increased levels of car ownership as well as changes in lifestyles .  Landscapes form a backdrop against which and onto which all these and other shifts are written.  The planning system with its various types of plans at different levels, the Planning Guidelines and the programmes and competitions which exist provide a sound basis on which to manage these changes.

[1] Paper delivered at the Third Meeting of the Workshops for the Implementation of the European Landscape Convention.  Cork 16 – 18 June 2005


[3] see

[4] Only seven RPGs exist because a single set of Guidelines was produced for the Dublin and the Mid East regions.

[5] Dublin , Cork , Limerick, Galway and Waterford .

[6] A good example in this regard is the Cork Rural Design Guide: Building a House in the Countryside. See