The planning system continues to operate during the current Covid 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) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2021 (S.I. No. 29 of 2021) which will continue in operation until 5 March 2021. These Regulations classify "statutory planning system activities, insofar as they cannot be carried out remotely" as an “essential service”, as 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 resident without reasonable excuse. Regulation 4(2) in this regard provides that such reasonable excuse includes the possibility 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 to inspect a site notice. The foregoing arrangements enabling planning authority staff to perform their statutory functions and facilitating continued public participation in the planning process have enabled the planning system to remain open for business to the extent possible during the current restrictions.
An Bord Pleanála (the Board) introduced an on-line facility to accept public observations relating to planning applications for Strategic Housing Developments and the associated required fee in November 2020 and this facility is currently in operation for those cases only. The Board intends to use its experience with this initial pilot project to inform its development of similar facilities for other case types, including other strategic infrastructure development cases and planning appeals, and it is intended to advance these during the current year. Details of the pilot project arrangements are available on the Board’s website at www.pleanala.ie.
The Board is also currently in the process of finalising the development of a new upgraded website which will be more user-friendly and informative. The new website is currently scheduled to go live before the end of Quarter 1 2021. This will further help to improve communications and interaction between An Bord Pleanála and the public.
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.