RECORD numbers of planning disputes are causing growing delays in decisions on contentious developments.
Less than half (49%) of all cases referred to An Bord Pleanála are now being finalised within the 18-week deadline set out in law — down from 82% 10 years ago. The board has repeatedly stated its aim is to have at least 90% of cases dealt with in time.
Board chairman John O’Connor said the backlog was due to a record level of cases being appealed. According to the board’s annual report published yesterday, 5,930 new appeals were lodged last year and the number for 2007 is expected to reach 7,000.
“There isn’t an increased propensity to appeal — that remains stable at about 7% of all applications — but there still is a lot of activity in the construction business despite what we’re hearing about a slowdown,” he said.
Developments most likely to prompt appeals, either by the developer or a third party, were housing schemes of 30 or more dwellings, agricultural developments, quarries, wind farms and houses in suburban gardens.
Mr O’Connor said the board regretted the delays but was attempting to address them through additional manpower. The number of cases outsourced to private planning inspectors and consultancy firms increased by 48% last year.
The board was also given additional responsibilities last year, taking over the new fast-track planning system introduced under the Strategic Infrastructure Act to allow major infrastructural developments skip the normal objections phase of the planning process and be considered directly by the board’s inspectors.
So far the board has received 64 applications from proposers of projects such as electricity installations, gas pipelines and waste management plants.
Negotiations were completed in 19 cases and only six of those were deemed admissible to the fast-track system while the rest were referred back to the normal planning process.
The three most advanced cases are the Dunboyne railway extension in Meath, a gas-fired power plant in Louth and an LNG (liquid natural gas) terminal in Ballylongford, Co Kerry. Although the board is not obliged to hold public oral hearings in such cases, Mr O’Connor said it would be policy to do so in the majority of cases.
Hearings would take place on the three named projects soon as the deadline for decisions on them was next February or March.