Wednesday 13 December 2017

Councils to get tough on developers who breach planning regulations

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

LOCAL authorities will be ordered to get tough on planning enforcement from early in the new year.

Planning minister Jan O'Sullivan is to issue a directive to the State's 34 local authorities, ordering them to crack down on developers who build without permission or who breach the conditions of their planning.

The move comes after the local government auditor expressed concern that some councils were not doing enough to collect unpaid development levies. These are charged to pay for essential public services such as sewage treatment plants, roads and public lighting – but councils are still owed almost €270m.

Now there are concerns that some developers are not serving local authorities with a commencement notice saying that work has begun, which means levies must be paid.

Resistance

And in other cases, bonds (cash deposits) lodged with the local authorities have not been paid, despite being a condition of planning.

A series of audit reports reveal:

• Work had begun on 17 building sites across Waterford that the council was not aware of.

The developers should have paid bonds totalling €114,000 to the council.

• In Monaghan, bonds worth €827,000 on four developments expired at the end of 2011. The council said it had met "significant resistance" from banks which refused to extend the bonds.

• Also in Monaghan, cash deposits were not received in four other developments. The value was €206,000.

• Cavan County Council, which is owed €3.7m in development levies, could not provide a breakdown of the debtors. The auditor said it was not inspecting enough sites.

The new directive, which will be issued early in the new year, says councils have obligations to ensure that staff are available to inspect sites and carry out enforcement activities, and that senior management should be regularly updated. Larger housing developments under construction will be targeted.

"In discharging their functions, planning authorities shall prioritise large-scale unauthorised development," it says. "Sufficient and appropriate human resources will be made available for planning enforcement."

Figures seen by the Irish Independent show that 22 developers were prosecuted last year for carrying out works without planning permission. Just one was convicted.

Separately, 2,979 enforcement notices – ordering a developer to make safe a site, carry out specific works or comply with planning permission – were served. However, most were largely ignored.

There were 1,819 notices not complied with, leading to 799 prosecutions. Of these, just 196 people were convicted.

Levies

Meanwhile, Ms O'Sullivan also said that developers who build in town centres will benefit from a cheaper rate of levies.

Regulations to be published in the new year will provide reductions or exemptions for sustainable schemes that promote jobs. Building works in town centres, in IDA or Enterprise Ireland developments, on broadband or sustainable energy initiatives will all benefit.

Change-of-use planning permission, where, for example, a pub is converted to a shop, will also benefit from the lower rates if they do not require infrastructure to be upgraded.

"I am confident the new guidance will be both pro-planning and pro-jobs," Ms O'Sullivan said. "It will enable authorities to achieve the right balance between generating the revenues required to provide the necessary infrastructure associated with new development, and creating the right conditions to support sustainable development patterns, economic activity and renewal."

Irish Independent

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