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Restrictions and planning rights

Sir, – Under the Covid-19 regulations a significant proportion of the population is obliged to stay near home. That prevents them from seeing public notices for planning applications at development sites. They cannot see newspaper notices when they appear in free local newspapers distributed through neighbourhood shops. Planning applications can go entirely unseen by neighbours who suffer the direct impact.

Even with the 5km limit, serious obstacles remain. Owners of holiday homes cannot see what neighbours are proposing. They can’t see threats to protected structures or wildlife habitats. Prescribed bodies are also kept away from sensitive sites. Please consider how many oral hearings An Bord Pleanála would allow under these conditions or how many people would attend them. The public register kept by the local council must contain all documents relevant to its planning function.

The council is required to keep the register available for inspection during office hours. Our local council closed its planning department because of Covid-19 and telephone queries are not being entertained. The majority of planning staff are working from home and they are not responding to email queries.

Public files are not available and third parties are deprived of information they need to support observations on planning applications. Councils can make copies of planning applications available on their websites. However, this is a voluntary service and there is no deadline. Scanning of the files is given out to private firms and there is a constant backlog. Moreover, applications do not appear online until they are validated by the council staff.

By the time the public gets to view a proposal, over half the allotted period for observations may be gone. I predict legal challenges on the basis of obstruction of third-party participation.

Covid-19 confirmed the great social dimension of Irish life. Our planning legislation places the public good at its centre.

Before Covid-19, Minister for Housing Murphy curtailed community participation. He recently flagged further reductions of third-party rights, with more projects bypassing the local councils and going directly to An Bord Pleanála.

This destruction of public participation must be reversed by the incoming government. It also needs to address the ageist segregation imposed under Covid-19, – Yours, etc,

DIARMUID Ó GRÁDA,

Planning Consultant,

Clonskeagh,

Dublin 14.