Appeals backlog delays Castletroy Shopping Centre extension decision

Backlog means An Bord Pleanála is deciding only 40% of cases on time

Urban Green wants to add 17 shops to Castletroy Shopping Centre. The company estimates the extension could provide an additional  300 jobs locally. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Urban Green wants to add 17 shops to Castletroy Shopping Centre. The company estimates the extension could provide an additional 300 jobs locally. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

A planning appeals backlog is delaying a decision on proposals to extend a high-profile shopping centre and create around 300 new jobs.

David Walsh, chairman of planning appeals body An Bord Pleanála, recently told politicians that a backlog means the board is deciding only 40 per cent of cases on time, despite progress in tackling the problem.

The board has written to developer, Urban Green Private, saying there would be a delay in deciding the company’s appeal against Limerick City and County Council’s refusal to allow it extend Castletroy Shopping Centre.

Planning laws oblige An Bord Pleanála to decide such appeals within 18 weeks. Where it cannot do this, it must tell the parties in writing.

The board told Urban Green that it would “not be possible to determine the case within the statutory objective period due to the necessity to clear the current backlog of cases”.

Its letter added that it would rule on the appeal on March 12th or before if possible. The developer appealed the local authority’s refusal to grant planning permission last October.

Urban Green, led by businessman Tom Coughlan, wants to add 17 shops to Castletroy, which is close to the University of Limerick and the National Technological Park. The company estimates the extension could support an extra 300 jobs locally.

It is challenging the council’s refusal partly on the basis that the authority relied on out-of-date regulations limiting the size of shopping malls.

The council fears the extension’s impact on city centre shopping. However, Castletroy is projected to have a population of 24,000 by 2022 while the local area plan designates the shopping mall as a district centre.

Urban Green did not comment as the proposal remains in the planning process.

The backlog delaying the appeal affects all types of cases An Bord Pleanála handles, except the fast-track system for housing projects of 100 dwellings or more.

Clear plan

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government recently, Mr Walsh acknowledged that handling just 40 per cent of cases on time was “not where we want to be”.

He said the board had a clear plan to improve that to 80 per cent of cases by the year end. Mr Walsh explained that when An Bord Pleanála began tackling its backlog, it cleared older cases first, which had a knock-on impact on its overall compliance rate.

The chairman pointed out that the board had made progress, deciding more than 2,800 cases last year, a 32 per cent increase on 2017.

“In November and December alone, we decided almost 600 cases, which was 36 per cent up on the same months in 2017, and helped to reduce the number of cases on hand by more than 300 from the level of 1,355 to just over 1,000 files currently,” he said.

A reduction in the number of board members from its full complement of 10 to just four in 2017, and a change to a new IT system, contributed to the backlog’s build up.