Planning board ‘significantly underestimated’ strategic housing work

More staff needed to deal with ‘predicted surge in applications’, An Bord Pleanála says

An Bord Pleanála said it needed extra resources to deal with a major upsurge in legal cases taken against its decisions, which had risen to 83 last year. File photograph: Getty Images

An Bord Pleanála said it needed extra resources to deal with a major upsurge in legal cases taken against its decisions, which had risen to 83 last year. File photograph: Getty Images

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An Bord Pleanála told the Government it had “significantly underestimated” just how much work would be involved in dealing with applications under the controversial Strategic Housing Development (SHD) application process.

The planning board said it had assigned just six inspectors to the process at first, but that this had more than doubled under the weight of work required.

In a submission to the Department of Public Expenditure-led review of the National Development Plan, the board said it needed 16 extra staff to manage its workload.

The agency said a major increase in manpower would be needed to deal with the “predicted surge in applications and the increased complexity of cases that come before us”.

On SHD it said it expected a significant rise in pre-application requests and applications over the next 12 to 18 months.

It said that even though the SHD process was winding down, it thought it was likely it would be making decisions on it until at least mid-2022.

The agency argued that prioritisation of these applications would be crucial due to the “continued housing deficit” in what was likely to be a recovering economy.

It said the number of pre-application consultations it was receiving where developers consult with the agency in advance of submitting of formal plans had “significantly exceeded projections”.

Its submission said: “[This] has been challenging to manage during Covid restrictions”.

Planning operations

For its planning operations, the agency also argued it would need to strengthen and expand capacity to deal with strategic infrastructure developments.

It said a particular emphasis would be on new marine development proposals including offshore renewable energy, underwater cables and other projects.

The agency said it was looking at creating a new “marine/climate unit” to deal with this type of application.

The submission said: “The prioritisation of renewables and marine proposals with dedicated resources would also help to free up existing . . . inspectors to expedite other critical infrastructure proposals (eg water/wastewater, electricity, transport/roads and local-authority projects) to the board for timely decision”.

The agency also said it needed extra resources to deal with a major upsurge in legal cases taken against board decisions, which had risen to 83 last year from 55 in 2019.

It said it would use these to manage the increasing caseload, help provide instructions to legal teams and adapt practices and procedures to “minimise risks of future judicial reviews”.

The agency also said it was moving ahead with plans to improve customer services, launch a more accessible website, and towards a fully digital system.

Asked to comment on the submission, the agency said it had nothing further to add.