The Chief Executive of the Office of the Planning Regulator has described recent remarks from politicians about the organisation as unhelpful and inaccurate.
Niall Cussen said that it's "perfectly appropriate" that the OPR would be subject to scrutiny, but he took issue with personalised attacks.
Mr Cussen told the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage that OPR staff had been "exceptional" during the pandemic and are "hard working public servants".
Last month, in the Dáil, Wexford TD Verona Murphy urged the Minister for Housing, Darragh O'Brien, to put an end to the "Stalinist regime in the Office of the Planning Regulator".
Deputy Murphy said that a letter from the Regulator to Wexford County Council was the equivalent of a "missive one might expect to receive from the politburo", adding that the OPR's letter "sets out a plethora of recommendations that will shut down rural Wexford and ghettoise our towns".
Verona Murphy was expressing concern over planning policy, during a Private Members Motion debate on Project Ireland 2040. She feared that people in rural Wexford would be forced to move into "high-density, ghettoised settings with no infrastructure to support them".
Mr Cussen said that Deputy Murphy's words and subsequent commentary from others suggested that the OPR was "attempting to restrict rural development" but he insisted that the OPR's objectives were "far from it".
Niall Cussen said that he understood that politicians are "passionate about their areas", adding that "we're all from different areas of the country, we're all very passionate about our local place".
He said that the OPR is engaged in monthly training events on planning with elected members and that his team would like to do more for public representatives.
At the Oireachtas Housing Committee this afternoon, Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin O'Broin said that "TDs and Councillors have every right to criticise policy", however he felt that the criticism of the OPR wasn't directed where it should be, "which is the people that actually took the policy decisions".
The Office of the Planning Regulator is the independent overseer of local authorities and An Bord Pleanála with regards to their implementation of planning policy and regulations.
Separately, Mr Cussen said that there are challenges in delivering houses at the levels, quality, and affordability that is needed.
He said that it is also challenging to deliver those homes at prices that people can afford in towns and cities.
Green-field development is relatively simple but developing within cities can be difficult, the Committee heard.
It tends to be more contentious, with locals having different views on what is appropriate in each location, Mr Cussen said.
Labour's Housing spokesperson, Senator Rebecca Moynihan, asked why the OPR requested that councillors in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown scale back its residential zoning.
Niall Cussen said that there were many aspects of the development plan that OPR were happy with, but there was one issue that it felt needed to be looked at more closely.
He said that it would be "erroneous" to say that OPR were calling into question, in any great or significant way, the Dun Laoghaire plan.
OPR's Anne Marie O'Connor explained that the plan was published around the same time as new Government guidelines on housing supply targets were issued, so Councillors did not have the benefit of that information.
She said that the OPR found a misalignment between the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown plan and the new housing targets, ultimately resulting in the OPR asking the local authority to scale back its residential zoning.
Ms O'Connor said that the OPR was not saying that Dun Laoghaire should not grow.
She said that the National Planning Framework runs until 2040, whereas the plans for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown were for the next six-year period and it was about "prioritising for this six-year period where the initial growth should be concentrated on".