An Bord Pleanála and the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) are urging the Government not to impose fines for failure to meet new statutory deadlines for making planning decisions.
The Draft Planning and Development Bill 2022 will introduce timelines for processing planning applications with penalties to apply to planning authorities, including the new An Coimisiún Pleanála which will replace An Bord Pleanála, if they miss their targets.
Acting assistant secretary for planning at the Department of Housing Paul Hogan told an Oireachtas committee on Tuesday that the details of both the penalties and timelines were being “worked through” by the department.
However, officials from the board and the OPR have cautioned against the use of fines for missing deadlines.
In a submission to the Oireachtas housing committee Oonagh Buckley, who is chairing the board on an interim basis, said some applications, due to their complexity, may take longer than mandated deadlines allow. There was also a requirement for the new commission to be “adequately resourced by Government, both by ensuring adequate staffing and timely appointment of commissioners”, she said.
“That does raise the question: is an approach whereby fines from the public purse are paid to developers the best way to deal with delays or are there other effective measures that could be taken to ensure that the future commission works to its mandated timelines in the majority of cases and that its management is accountable for delivering that?”
In its submission to the committee, the OPR said it supported mandatory timelines. “We, however, disagree with the concept of fines for failures to meet statutory deadlines,” it said. “There needs to be a better way found than the prospect of An Bord Pleanála, as it is now, handing over fee income it needs to function to applicants.”
The planning service was “chronically underfunded” the OPR said. “The historic and structural underfunding of our planning processes is all the more remarkable when one considers how central the planning process is to building anything in this country — homes, infrastructure, schools, flood defences, renewable energy infrastructure.”
It said these “long-running and structural resourcing issues must be addressed” if deadlines are to be met.
Ms Buckley said she and her colleagues within the board are “actively working to implement those changes that are within the board’s remit which will in part help to prepare the organisation for the more extensive changes that the Bill will introduce”.
These include a revised code of conduct “which will include careful attention to avoiding conflicts of interest, both among the staff and those making critical decisions on planning appeals and applications”.
Ms Buckley and OPR officials will appear before the housing committee on Thursday.