Dáil Éireann - Volume 543 - 06 November, 2001
Written Answers. - Planning Regulations.
Mr. S. Ryan Mr. S. Ryan
106. Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the steps he is taking 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. [26675/01]
Mr. Molloy Mr. Molloy
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): I do not accept the proposition that the planning system is in a state of collapse. Planning applications have increased significantly in recent years in line with the growth in the economy. Planning authorities have responded to this increase by improving their productivity substantially. However, the expansion in the demand for  planning permissions has in the short-term stretched the resources of planning authorities, and this has led to difficulties, in particular in relation to planning enforcement.
I consider that strong and visible 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 will address concerns identified by 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. Draft regulations which will enable the development control provisions of the Act to be brought into force, have been prepared by my Department and sent on an informal basis to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government. Oireachtas approval of the regulations is required and I hope to be in a position to make the regulations shortly.
I have also been concerned to ensure adequate staffing levels of local authority planning departments through a variety of measures. My Department has approved numerous requests from planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála for sanction for additional planning posts, both professional planners 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 in July 2001 found that the overall level of serving staff, both administrative and professional, had increased to 1210, which compared with a figure of 1090 in January 2001, 1066 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 properly carried out at local level, I do not propose to establish a national planning inspectorate in relation to enforcement.
Dáil Éireann 543 Written Answers. Planning Regulations.