No examinations of public complaints by new planning regulator
Approvals for apartments bypass houses for first time but urban sprawl concerns remain
The State’s new planning regulator has not examined a single complaint made by the public about the planning system, according to the regulator’s first annual report published on Friday.
Ninety one cases were reported to the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR), headed by Niall Cussen, but no examinations of the local authorities concerned were begun.
The planning regulator’s office was established to investigate “possible systemic” planning problems including those “raising corruption risks”, following the recommendations of the 2012 report of the Mahon tribunal.
However, none of the 91 cases met the “statutory criteria” for undertaking examinations of the local authorities concerned, the regulator’s annual report said.
“Many related to individual planning application or planning enforcement cases which the OPR cannot become involved in, rather than systemic issues that the OPR is mandated to examine.”
While no examinations were initiated, the matters raised by the public “were not without merit”, Mr Cussen said, since they gave a sense of the quality of service offered by the planning system.
“In many cases, complaints made to the OPR relate to individual applications which are more appropriately considered through local authority internal complaints procedures and the Ombudsman’s Office.”
It is “taking time” for the public to understand that the OPR is an independent office set up to look into local authority planning systems and procedures, rather than being “another level of planning appeal above An Bord Pleanála”.
OPR director Gary Ryan said 130 cases had been received so far this year, and a small number of these would be “quality complaints” and did require preliminary examination. These appeared to relate to administrative aspects of planning procedures, “not any kind of major diseconomies or impropriety in terms of local authorities”.
The annual report raised concern about the ongoing pattern of residential development with a “trend of faster development in Dublin commuter counties than city core”.
Fifty five per cent of all houses granted permission last year in the eastern and midlands area are in the four commuter counties outside Dublin: Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow.
This did not indicate inappropriate development in these counties, he said but rather indicated the lack of new houses in Dublin itself, which “poses a challenge” to the Government’s ambitions to tackle urban sprawl.
However, the report said approvals of apartment developments, which were “key to sustainable urban development”, exceeded house approvals for the first time in 2019.
Nearly two-thirds of apartment units permitted in 2019 were cleared by Strategic Housing Development plans for large-scale housing developments that are made directly to An Bord Pleanála, bypassing local authorities.
The 2018 removal of the cap on the height of apartment blocks and the changes to apartment standards had also influenced the growth in apartment numbers, the report said.
More than eight in 10 of all apartments approved in the east and midlands region are in Dublin, accounting for 69 per cent of all apartments permitted nationally. For houses, the figures are 27 per cent and almost 12 per cent.
The OPR examined 25 local authority development plans and recommended changes to 11 of them to cut flood risk and improve road policies. All recommendations made were implemented, the report said.