Dáil Éireann - Volume 595 - 09 December, 2004

Other Questions. - An Bord Pleanála Annual Report.

  10. Mr. Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will make a statement on the publication of the annual report of An Bord Pleanála for 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32691/04]

  Mr. Roche: The annual report of An Bord Pleanála 2003 was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 23 November 2004 and published. Copies are available in the Oireachtas Library. The report is very positive and shows that the board’s performance on decision times, planning appeals and major local authority projects continues to improve significantly, notwithstanding an increase in the board’s workload, which is up 4% in 2003 compared to 2002. The board met the statutory objective timeframe of 18 weeks for making a decision on a case in 74% of cases in 2003. This has increased to 82% in the first three quarters of 2004. The average time taken to dispose of cases has been reduced from 16 to 14 weeks to date in 2004.

This substantial improvement in performance was due largely to the board clearing the backlog of cases that had built up over a number of years. The board and its staff achieved this by a steady improvement in their productivity and efficiency, including the use of fee-per-case inspectors and outside consultants.

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The report shows that in 2003 the percentage of local authority planning decisions appealed continues to be about 7% of the total number of planning applications made. The number of local authority planning decisions reversed by the board was 30%, compared to 33% in 2002. First party appeals against refusal resulted in grants of permission in 22% of cases compared to 20% in 2002, while third party appeals against grants of permission resulted in 41% of refusals compared to 45% in 2002.

Under the Planning and Development Act 2000 a number of functions previously exercised by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, such as the determination of compulsory purchase notices, certification of local authority projects requiring [118] environmental impact assessment, and motorway and other road schemes, became the responsibility of the board. Timely decision making on these schemes is critical to the delivery of the national development plan and future infrastructural development. The board received 97 such cases during the year and disposed of 92.

An Bord Pleanála provides a service that is critical for the development of the State, through the decisions it takes on major local authority infrastructure projects and its independent adjudication on planning appeals and related cases. To ensure the board can continue to deliver on its statutory objective to determine cases within 18 weeks, I will make additional financial resources available to it in the coming year. A significant portion of this will go towards the improvement of the board’s information and communication technology capabilities. The additional resources will ensure the board can continue to offer an effective and timely service to all participants in the planning process. My Department will continue to monitor closely the board’s performance in this area.

I recently met senior officials from the board and was impressed by their dedication and the effort they have expended in clearing the then unacceptable backlog that was criticised on all sides of this House. Their level of efficiency and application is to be commended.

  Mr. Gilmore: I welcome the improvement in the output of An Bord Pleanála and the reduction in waiting times. What is the Minister’s response to the comments made by the chairman of the board in the report, in which he seems to seek Government direction or new departmental guidelines in respect of three areas? The first of these is what he described as the poor quality of design evident in some housing developments. His second criticism related to the incidence of inappropriate 1970s-style suburban developments around many villages. Third, he criticised the poor quality of some section 50 student accommodation developments, in regard to which he observed that the relevant departmental guidelines relate only to space and that there is a problem with quality. Will the Minister consider those guidelines and perhaps revise departmental guidelines with a view to improving quality of design and addressing the issue of inappropriate development around villages and the quality issue in respect of section 50 developments?

  Mr. Roche: As I have said, I am impressed by the chairman, the work of the board and the contents of the report. I will be conscious of the points made by Deputy Gilmore. He is correct in that the chairman drew attention at the launch of the report to poor design standards in many of the suburban estates around towns and villages, particularly in regard to living environments for occupants. I agree with the board that developers should be required to ensure high standards and will be calling on local authorities to pay attention to these design issues. I will consider all aspects of the report, including those to which the [119] Deputy has referred in his comments on section 50 developments. I am aware of some criticisms that have existed for some time in that regard.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.