Final decisions on planning applications are a matter for the relevant local planning authority or, in the case of planning appeals, An Bord Pleanála. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is a statutory consultee in the case of any proposed development which may have an impact on built or natural heritage. The Minister is accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and the public in respect of the exercise of this function.
On receipt of planning applications from a planning authority, an assessment is first undertaken by the relevant archaeological, architectural or national parks and wildlife service personnel. The procedures in place to facilitate the consideration of applications include consideration of a recommended response by the relevant line management. Some recommendations may be submitted for consideration at a more senior management level. In the final decision, a recommendation may be adopted in full, amended or rejected. The procedures are designed to ensure that the full implications of all applications are considered and that applications of a similar type are treated in a similar manner.
Where consideration is being given to recommending that a planning authority should refuse permission, require the undertaking of an environmental impact assessment or lodge an appeal to An Bord Pleanála, a submission is made to the Minister under whose statutory authority the comments are being made. In deciding whether or not to recommend that a proposed development should not proceed, consideration is also given to the use of other methods to ensure the protection of natural and built heritage. It is my belief that such methods have been underutilised. This course could involve availing of powers under the National Monuments Acts.
While my input into planning cases is limited to considerations of habitat and built heritage protection, the responsible exercise of this role by a Minister involves taking a balanced view in the overall public interest of the merits of the various possible interventions. Since my appointment as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, my Department has appealed far more cases than previously. A total of 19 planning decisions have been appealed to An Bord Pleanála which constitutes a strong track record.