The Government's fast-track planning system is having a "knock-on" effect on An Bord Pleanála's ability to deal with ordinary planning appeals, an Oireachtas committee has been told.
The planning authority missed over half its decision deadlines in 2018. Just 43 per cent of planning appeals were decided under its 18-week statutory deadline, it confirmed on Thursday.
Board chairman Dave Walsh blamed a backlog due to reduced capacity, and the introduction of a new case-management system, for the low clearance rate.
However, he also told the Public Accounts Committee that the volume of cases brought under Strategic Housing Development (SHD) legislation is also having an impact.
“Given the priority the Government and Oireachtas is placing on ensuring we have a quick decision on those, we expedite them as best we can,” he said. This leads to “prioritising and putting extra resources to make sure we meet [the] 16-week deadline. That may have a knock-on implication in relation to smaller level categories,” he said.
He admitted last year's clearance rate was a "poor and challenging performance", and said that An Bord Pleanála was also facing challenges in retaining staff in an buoyant employment market where their skills were also sought after by the private sector.
It comes as the Department of Housing considers introducing new time-limit rules on planning permissions granted under the fast-track regime. Under the mooted rules, developers would face their planning permission lapsing after a certain period unless construction starts, with so-called “use it or lose it” limits of between a year and 18 months under consideration.
Periods of between 12 and 18 months are currently under consideration, after an expert review group recommended options for improving the system earlier this summer.
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy will present his conclusions on the review group’s report to the Oireachtas by the end of the month, the Department of Housing said.
The planning authority aims to clear its backlog and achieve an improved compliance rate with its 18-week deadline of between 70 and 80 per cent by the end of 2019. Mr Walsh will say in his opening statement that average decision times have fallen to 19.5 weeks, from 22.5 weeks in 2018.
“For the last four months, we have averaged 78 per cent compliance, but we know that more work is needed.”
In relation to Strategic Housing Developments, the board has decided 39 cases in 2018, all within the target of 16 weeks. A total of 7,100 housing units and 4,500 student bed-spaces have been consented, “which is a vital contribution to the overall increase in residential activity”.
A further 40 applications have been approved so far this year, accounting for 9,000 homes and more than 3,000 student bed spaces.
Mr Murphy is also examining further reforms, including rules to limit recourse to judicial review to those who can demonstrate a legitimate interest in a planning application, in an effort to limit the opportunities for so-called “serial objectors” to slow down planning permissions.