Dáil Éireann - Volume 555 - 10 October, 2002
Written Answers. - Planning Regulations.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
343. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if, in view of the strong views expressed by the Ombudsman regarding the laxity of enforcement, he will ensure his Department monitors the degree to which the new provisions of Part VIII of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, are being acted upon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17749/02]
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
350. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the steps he is taking arising from the recent Ombudsman's report which found that the administration of the planning system was in a state of collapse; if, in view of his findings, the Minister 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. [17757/02]
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
357. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government his views on whether local authorities lack the resources necessary to enforce the planning laws and regulations. [17765/02]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen)
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 343, 350 and 357 together.
I reject the proposition that the planning system is in a state of collapse.
In recent years planning applications have increased significantly in line with the growth in the economy. Planning authorities have responded to this increase by improving their productivity substantially. The expansion in the demand for planning permissions has, in the short-term, stretched the resources of planning authorities. This has led to difficulties, particularly in relation to planning enforcement.
Strong and visible enforcement is critical to ensuring that the planning control system works properly and for the benefit of the whole community. A key objective of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, was to bring forward strengthened provisions in relation to planning enforcement. These new provisions come into force on 11 March.
Changes in the 2000 Act will encourage increased enforcement and more compliance by developers and includes a new streamlined enforcement procedure. Fines under the Act have also been greatly increased and planning authorities will retain the income from such fines. Planning authorities will also be able to recoup their expenses when they prosecute a case. In addition, an application for permission to retain unauthorised development will no longer act as a  defence against an enforcement action or be a reason for staying a criminal prosecution. Increased penal fees for applications for such retention permission will act as a significant deterrent to developers from undertaking unauthorised development. The Planning and Development Act, 2000, also enables a planning authority to refuse to grant permission to a developer who has not complied with previous permissions. This is subject to the consent of the High Court.
I want to ensure adequate staffing levels for local authority planning departments. Numerous requests from planning authorities for sanction for additional planning posts, both professional planners and administrative staff, have been approved. Staffing of local authority planning departments has almost doubled over the past four years from 660 in June 1998 to 1276 in July. This has involved significant recruitment of planners from abroad. I am confident that the resources available to the planning system are increasing and will continue to increase over the next number of years as a significantly expanded number of graduate planners become available from the educational institutions.
The Ombudsman's report acknowledged that these changes were being made. He also stated his intention to monitor the area closely. In light of this, and because I believe enforcement of planning issues is properly placed at local level, I do not propose to establish a national planning inspectorate in relation to planning enforcement.
Dáil Éireann 555 Written Answers. Planning Regulations.