Under section 126 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, An Bord Pleanála has a statutory objective to determine planning appeals within 18 weeks. Where the Board does not consider it possible or appropriate to reach a decision within 18 weeks (e.g., because of the particular complexities of a case or the requirement to hold an oral hearing), it will inform the parties of the reasons for this, and will indicate when it intends to make its decision.
The compliance rate with the statutory objective period has been reduced over the past year due to a number of factors. Firstly, there was a reduction in Board capacity in mid-2017, arising from a time interval between the departure of five outgoing Board members, whose terms of office had expired in April and May, and the five new replacement Board members taking up their posts. While, by September 2017, the Board complement had been fully replenished, this time interval significantly impacted on the Board’s case work output over the whole year.
In addition, An Bord Pleanála is also implementing a major ICT strategy which will facilitate the introduction of on-line planning services as part of a complete upgrade and replacement of core systems. In this regard, a new case management system was installed and became operational in Q4 2017. As is to be expected with such a fundamental and integrated project, the transition to the new system has caused some initial disruption to the processing of cases, resulting in a further increase in the backlog of cases on hand. However, measures have been put in place to ensure that the new system is bedded down and becomes operational at an optimal level as soon as possible.
Furthermore, during this period, there has been a general increase in cases received by the Board. For example, there was an increase of almost 12% on normal planning appeals received in 2017 compared to 2016; this upward trend has continued into 2018. The intake of normal planning appeals in the four months to end-April 2018 was 17% greater than the intake over the corresponding period to end-April 2017.
Now that the Board's full complement has been restored, combined with the measures that are being put in place in relation to the new ICT systems, it is expected that the backlog of cases will begin to reduce over the coming months, with an associated improvement in the compliance rate with the statutory objective period for the determination of cases.
My Department liaises closely with the Board to ensure that it has appropriate resources in relation to the performance of its functions. In mid 2017, the Board acquired additional functions in determining planning applications for strategic housing developments. A new Strategic Housing Division of the Board was established to decide on these applications, involving the recruitment of an additional dedicated 10 professional and administrative staff members in 2017. Two additional Board members have also been sanctioned to serve this Division, with the appointments being made in February and June this year.
The Board now has a complement of 11 members and has over 150 staff employed. I am satisfied that the Board has sufficient and necessary resources to deliver effectively and efficiently on its important statutory mandate and functions.