Guidelines on lobbying in relation to development and zoning of land

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Introduction

The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the Act) commenced on 1st September 2015.

The Act applies mainly to:

  • professional lobbyists,
  • commercial organisations which have more than 10 full time employees;
  • representative bodies with at least one full time employee; and
  • advocacy groups, non-governmental organisations and charities which have at least one full time employee and which promote particular interests or causes.

General guidelines in relation to carrying on lobbying activities are available here.

How the Regulation of Lobbying Act might apply to individuals and local groups

When communicating with public officials or representatives regarding the zoning or development of land, individuals and groups who may not ordinarily regard themselves as carrying on lobbying activities, may find that the Act also applies to them.  These guidelines deal specifically with lobbying in relation to zoning and development. 

What is meant by Zoning?

Local authorities regularly draw up development plans and local area plans for their areas.  Among other things, these plans outline the use to which land may be put, for example, land may be designated for residential use; for industrial, commercial, agricultural or recreational use; as open space; or a mixture of those uses.  This is generally described as “zoning”.  From time to time, the local authority may consider changing the designation of particular lands (“rezoning”).

When drawing up development plans or local area plans, local authorities engage in a formal public consultation process.  This means that you may make a submission to the local authority setting out your views on the proposed plan.  Making your views known to a local authority as part of a formal public consultation process is not lobbying. 

Communicating, however, with a Designated Public Official outside the formal public consultation process about a development plan or local area plan or a proposal to zone or re-zone particular lands may be lobbying.  (For example contacting your local TD or County Councillor about a development plan or a proposal to zone or re-zone particular lands outside the formal public consultation process.)

What is meant by Development?

“Development” is defined in the Planning and Development Acts as the carrying out of any works on, in, over or under land or the making of any material change in the use of any structures or other land.

Applications for planning permission

Development may require planning permission.  In general, applications for planning permission are made to the local authority.  These applications are publicly available.  An application for planning permission is not lobbying.  Seeking declarations/referrals under the Planning Acts on development and exempted development is not lobbying.

Communications with a Designated Public Official about a planning application that adheres to the local authority's established development policy/development plan would be considered an implementation matter, and therefore exempt from the requirement to register and submit a return. However, a communication with a Designated Public Official about a planning application may be regarded as lobbying if the planning application seeks or requires a change in the local authority’s development policy, including a planning variance.

Enforcement of planning decisions

The local authorities are responsible for the implementation of the planning laws.  Complaints may be made to a local authority if a person considers that development is taking place or has taken place which is contrary to the planning laws or the conditions attached to a particular planning permission.  Such complaints are not lobbying as they involve the implementation of the planning laws.

Major infrastructural projects

Planning applications in respect of certain major infrastructure projects are made directly to An Bord Pleanála.  Appeals against planning decisions made by local authorities are also made to An Bord Pleanála.  Communications to An Bord Pleanála do not constitute lobbying activities as its members and officials are not currently Designated Public Officials.

Communicating with Designated Public Officials however, about planning applications or planning appeals for such projects may constitute lobbying if the planning application or planning appeal seeks or requires a change in the local authority’s development policy.