THREE Ennistymon area councillors have raised concerns about the adequacy of resources in the local authority’s Planning Department, citing a backlog with access to pre-planning advice.
In a joint, cross-party, motion tabled before the July meeting of the local authority, Councillors Shane Talty, Joe Killeen and Joe Garrihy described the pre-planning function as being “bedevilled by delays”. “Pre-planning should be the cornerstone of building a house,” Councillor Talty told the meeting. “Planning staff now appear to be swamped with full planning applications. Those have to get priority. This is not a criticism of the Planning Department, but there are delays, in getting pre-planning meetings, in some cases of four or five months and that’s not serving anyone. People are getting frustrated with the wait and they’re firing in their applications and then getting into conflict.”
The Fianna Fáil member also described a “geographical lottery” for those looking for pre-planning advice. “There are huge build-ups in some areas and a long queue,” Councillor Talty said. “I know of one agent who put in two requests on the same date for two different areas. They were dealt with six weeks apart.”
Councillor Killeen reiterated the point that the motion in no way sought to criticise planners, but said there seemed to be a particular issue in North and West Clare. “Pre-planning consultations help to give applicants an understanding of the different issues they need to address,” he noted. “It gives a guideline and the prospective applicant can be told if something might be a runner or not.”
The Corofin man added that there seemed to be particular pressure post-lockdown. “The planners are overworked at the moment,” he said. “A lot of people got a few Euros together over Covid and there are lots of new builds, happily, in our area, but extra resources in planning are now needed.”
Councillor Garrihy said he was very glad to support the motion and said that planners do a great job.
Adding his voice to the debate, Councillor Gerry Flynn described the Planning Department as “very, very helpful”. “Pre-planning is something that’s very important,” he said. “Another big issue is the use of Section Five to regularise planning status of properties. The council’s PR Department might need to publicise this a bit. It applies to developments that happened inadvertently and people should be advised to sort them out using Section 5.”
In a written reply to the motion, Liam Conneally, Director of Economic Development said that despite the increase in activity, he is satisfied with the resourcing of the Planning Department.
“As with all sections within the Local Authority, the Planning Authority are constantly reviewing resource levels based on customer demands and needs,” the response outlined. “So far this year we have received over 700 planning applications which is an increase of over 36% from the same period in 2020. In terms of pre-planning queries received these are also up 33% from last year. Section 5 applications and Section 254 licence applications have also increased, the latter to facilitate outdoor dining. As well as the increase in activity in Development Management, significant staff resources have gone into the preparation of the pre-Draft Development Plan which has recently been furnished to the elected members.
I acknowledge that there is a delay in some pre-planning applications, priority at the moment is to facilitate duties of a statutory and strategic nature and which will facilitate economic activity. It is anticipated that the backlog of pre-planning requests will be cleared by the end of the year.
“Overall while there has been a significant increase in activity within the Planning Section I am satisfied that there is, at present, sufficient resources in the section to deal with same.”
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.
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