Dáil Éireann - Volume 537 - 30 May, 2001
Written Answers. - Planning Process.
Mr. Gilmore Mr. Gilmore
56. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the steps he intends to take arising from the recent report of the Ombudsman which found that the administration of the planning system was in a state of collapse; if, in view of the Ombudsman's findings, he will consider the establishment of a planning inspectorate to enforce planning regulations and conditions and investigate complaints from the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15949/01]
Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dempsey
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): As the recent annual report by the Ombudsman acknowledges, there has been a huge increase in planning applications in the past few years in line with the growth in the economy. Planning authorities have responded to this increase by improving their productivity enormously. This growth in applications has placed increasing demands on the officials and resources of planning authorities and, as the report highlighted, this has led to difficulties, in particular in relation to planning enforcement.
I am strongly of the view that the introduction of a culture of enforcement is critical to ensure that the planning control system works properly and for the benefit of the whole community. I therefore brought forward simplified and strengthened provisions on enforcement in the Planning and Development Act, 2000. These changes should address some of the concerns of the Ombudsman, in particular the requirement on local authorities to keep complainants updated as enforcement actions proceed.
The Planning and Development Act, 2000, was enacted on 28 August 2000. Because of the scale and complexity of the Act and the need to make regulations to give full effect to its provisions, it is necessary to commence the Act in stages. To date I have made three commencement orders bringing a number of parts of the Act into force. The commencement orders for the development control and enforcement provisions of the Act will be made in tandem with the necessary regulations, some of which will require the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. Work on these regulations is now at an advanced stage and a draft will be submitted to the Oireachtas in the next month.
I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure adequate staffing levels of local authority planning departments. I and my Department have taken a variety of measures to address this issue. I have approved numerous requests from planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála for sanction for additional planning posts, both professional plan ners and administrative staff, although I am aware that some authorities have experienced difficulties in recruiting to fill these additional posts. Nevertheless, staffing levels are increasing. The most recent survey by my Department of the larger local authority planning departments, that is county councils and county borough corporations, carried out on 31 January 2001, found that the overall level of serving staff, both administrative and professional, had increased to 1,090, which compared with a figure of 1,066 in October 2000, 994 in July 2000 and 895 in September 1999. I have also liaised with the Minister for Education and Science and the third level education sector on ways of producing more planners through the education system. In the interim, to meet the short-term demand, the employment of planners from abroad on fixed term contracts is being pursued.
The Ombudsman's report acknowledged that these changes were being made and stated his intention to monitor the area closely over the coming year. In light of this and because I believe enforcement is best carried out at local level, I do not propose to establish a national planning inspectorate in relation to enforcement.
Dáil Éireann 537 Written Answers. Planning Process.