I am aware of the difficulties being encountered by An Bord Pleanála in meeting the four month deadline due to the ongoing increase in appeals. To date in 2001 the intake of cases is 3% higher than in 2000. In view of the pressures on the housing market and the Government's policy objective to increase housing supply, the board now accords priority status to housing developments in excess of 30 units. As at end February 2001 the percentage of such cases decided within the statutory period in the year to date is 86% with the average time taken to decide these cases being 15.8 weeks as against 23.6 weeks for all appeals.
My Department and the board have been discussing on an ongoing basis a range of measures to enable the board to process appeals more expeditiously. The number of board members was increased from six to ten. I approved all staffing proposals submitted by the board in 1998 and 1999. In July of last year I approved an increase of 29 additional staff – nine professional planners and 20 administrative staff – which brought the board's authorised staffing complement to 134. Recruitment of these additional staff is ongoing.
A variety of measures are being taken to increase the availability of professional planners both to the local authorities and the board. My Department is involved in the FÁS Jobs Ireland campaign to secure planners from abroad. The Department, local authorities and An Bord Pleanála attended the FÁS jobs fair in London in December. This is the first in a series of jobs fairs where the appointment to both local authorities and the board of planners is being pursued. In addition, general details of the opportunities in the local authorities and the board for planners have been included on the FÁS Jobs Ireland website. I am also aware of plans by the board to engage private planning consultants to assist in dealing with the large number of appeals on hand.