PLANNERS FROM local authorities are to be transferred to An Bord Pleanála to help deal with a backlog of appeals, an Oireachtas committee was told today.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley told the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government there were 2,5000 appeals before the planning appeals board at present.
He said it was his department’s intention to move planners from local authorities, where the numbers of planning applications had dropped, to An Bord Pleanála to help deal with the backlog.
He said the department would also reduce the quorum required within the board to decide on smaller applications from three to two to speed up the process.
He was responding to Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan, who said the board’s operations were “a disaster at the moment”. He said over 50 per cent of the applications were being dealt with outside the accepted timeline of eight weeks.
“It is scandalous the amount of time the cases are taking,” he said.
He suggested the department considers introducing a statutory time limit and examines resourcing in the board. Mr Gormley said the department would first check they had people qualified to move from the local authorities to the board and then they would be moved.
“Now we have an opportunity to deal with that backlog,” he said.
He also told the committee that the €300 million Gateway Innovation Fund, launched in June 2007, was being deferred. The fund was intended to stimulate capital development in gateway areas around the country.
The Minister said the fund had been talked about when the country was “doing very, very well. We had this free-for-all during the good times . . . now we have to plan,” he said.
The Minister also told the committee, which was discussing the Draft Regional Planning Regulations 2009, that the National Spatial Strategy was being updated to reflect current trends. It would be completed before the summer, he said, and would feed into regional planning.
Fianna Fáil TD Christy O’Sullivan asked the Minister how the guidelines could reverse the decline of the population in rural areas.
Mr Gormley said he was aware of the decline and was familiar with the increase in population on the eastern side of the country.
A lot of problems had been created by bad planning, he said.