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Councillor Pat Daly: 'decision process at the board has totally gone over control.'

Frustration at planning appeal delays prompts call for more resources

FRUSTRATION with the waiting time for decisions on planning appeals has been expressed by members of Clare County Council. 

A joint motion from Councillors Pat Daly, Mark Nestor and John Crowe made a call for staffing levels at the appeals board to be increased. The members also agreed that more planners should be appointed to Clare County Council to handle a predicted surge in applications in 2022. 

“The normal planning appeals decision time with An Bord Pleanála is four months,” Councillor Daly told the December Council meeting.

“In recent times, the decision process at the board has totally gone over control… So many appeals in Clare are with An Bord Pleanála for up to 12 months.

“One, in particular is a proposed plaza for the outskirts of Ennis. Clare County Council gave its full planning permission 12 months ago creating up to 130 jobs and there’s still no decision [on the appeal]. The reply the frustrated applicant get from the board is the inspector hasn’t got around to making a decision yet  – seven months over the allocated time. This is just not good enough. Here we are, trying to promote jobs in this county, and an inspector in Dublin can’t make a decision. It’s just not good enough.”

Councillor Crowe highlighted the risk of developers abandoning major projects here and going to other counties.

  “The amount of planning applications for 2022 is set to be up by between 20 and 30% on this year so I think it is very, very important that there is sufficient staff in these departments,” he said.

“People are being left hanging on, and what happens – in an awful lot of cases – is that people get tired and put their money in other counties. It is very, very important that this is sorted out straight away.”

Councillor Nestor describe the frustration on the ground as “huge”. ‘We’ve spent the last number of months going over the new County Development Plan,” he said.

“To the year end 2021, there has been an increase in up to 40% in planning applications to Clare County Council. From the conversations I’ve been having with young couples that are looking to build and to get planning, that figure is going to increase into the future. So I think we should go full belt with this motion.”

The Ennis councillor also noted that the Council’s official response had highlighted the need for increased resources at the authority’s own Planning Section.

“We would also seek additional staff for Clare County Council, so that when that when the increase the planning applications comes in the future, we will be able to deal with them in the statutory timeline that that set forth for those planning applications,” he said. 

Councillor Joe Killeen highlighted delays in North and West Clare for those seeking pre-planning consultations before lodging applications.

“There are huge delays, so if you want to go for pre planning, there’s no statutory timeline on it, so you’re waiting and waiting and waiting,” he said. 

“With An Bord Pleanála, we can obviously tell Dublin what to do with their business but for ourselves, we do need to strengthen our planning department. I think some people did retire, either last year or the year before, and haven’t been replaced on a full time basis.”

Councillor Gerry Flynn noted the response from Director of Services Liam Conneally, which outlined how local authorities are set to have their powers restored on deciding on large-scale residential applications.

“It’s good to see that the Department saw the error of their ways in removing democracy at local level in relation to the large scale residential developments of 100-plus houses,” he said.

“It didn’t take them long to turn that around because it was totally undemocratic.” Councillor Flynn also backed the Director’s call for greater resourcing of the Council’s Planning Section. 

In a written reply to the motion, Mr Conneally said: “I support the sentiment of the members’ request to call on the government to sufficiently resource the Board, I am however, suggesting that the members would first call on the Government to make additional staff available to the Planning Departments within Local Authorities.

“In the case of the Planning Authority of Clare County Council it is anticipated that at year end 2021 across all our planning functions there will be a 30-40% increase on planning application numbers from what was received in previous years.  This increase in workload has not seen a corresponding increase in staff numbers being sanctioned by the Department.”

The response noted the restoration of decision making powers on large-scale housing developments, as well as the forthcoming Marine Area Planning Bill.

It added: “In addition to the above increased work load the effect of this new legislation will result in a significant additional workload for what are already burdened planning departments across the country as staff work to meet the statutory timelines being set down.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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