The planning system continues to operate during the current Level 5 restrictions subject to appropriate safety protocols and services operating online where feasible.
For the purpose of giving legal effect to the current Level 5 restrictions announced by the Government, new Regulations have been made by the Minister for Health entitled the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 701 of 2020) which will continue in operation until 31 January 2021. These Regulations include "statutory planning system activities, insofar as they cannot be carried out remotely" as an “essential service” specified at paragraph 14, Part 2 of the Schedule to the Regulations concerning public administration, emergency services and defence. This enables the staff of planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to travel to and from their offices as may be required for the performance of their statutory functions. It also enables such staff to perform related statutory functions including site visits and inspections as well as enforcement activity subject to public health and social distancing requirements.
In addition, for the purpose of facilitating continued public participation in the planning process during the Level 5 restrictions, regulation 4(1) of the above Regulations provides that an applicable person shall not leave his or her place of residence without reasonable excuse. Regulation 4(2) in this regard provides that such reasonable excuse includes to attend the offices of a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála to engage in a statutory planning process (including making or inspecting a planning application or appeal, making an observation or submission or participating in a Development Plan process) or inspect a site notice.
Furthermore, it should also be noted in this context that planning authorities are required under the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Section 38) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 180 of 2020) to upload planning applications and related documentation onto their internet websites within 5 working days of receipt or, where exceptional circumstances exist, as soon as practicable thereafter.
These measures enable members of the public to view documentation online and at planning offices and facilitate planning applications, appeals or other submissions to be made during the Level 5 restrictions. These arrangements may include provision for attendance by appointment so that public health and social distancing requirements can be observed by both staff and customers.
In addition to the above measures, section 5 of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 gives the Government the option, at the request of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, to make ‘emergency period’ orders, during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic, which orders could extend certain statutory periods applying under the Planning and Development Acts and Building Control Acts. The objective of this temporary contingency measure is to ensure that the integrity of the planning regime, especially its public participation elements, and certain decision making and enforcement systems of the building control regime, are not compromised.
While it is not intended to request the Government to make such an emergency period order at this time, having regard to the other measures in place, my Department in consultation with the County and City Management Association continues to monitor the ongoing situation in planning authorities across the country and is keeping the situation under review.