The basic starting point for the modern planning code is the The Planning and Development Act, 2000. This Act consolidated all planning legislation from 1963 to 1999 and codified much of what had grown up in custom and practice during that time, clarifying and simplifying the overall process into one self-contained piece of legislation. The 2000 Act remains the basis for the Irish planning code, setting out the detail of regional planning guidelines, development plans and local area plans as well as the basic framework of the development management and consent system. Among other things, it provides the statutory basis for protecting our natural and architectural heritage and the carrying out of Environmental Impact Statements. The Act has been amended a number of times since 2000, such as in 2010 and 2011, which clarified new requirements in relation to matters such as the Appropriate Assessment of plans and projects governed by the planning system.
Development, with certain exceptions, is subject to development control under the Planning Acts and the local authorities grant or refuse planning permission for development, including ones within protected areas. There are, however, a range of exemptions from the planning system. Use of land for agriculture, peat extraction and afforestation, subject to certain thresholds, is generally exempt from the requirement to obtain planning permission. Additionally, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for a range of classes and large scale projects.
Under planning legislation, Development Plans must include mandatory objectives for the conservation of the natural heritage and for the conservation of European sites and any other sites which may be prescribed. There are also discretionary powers to set objectives for the conservation of a variety of other elements of the natural heritage.