Wednesday 18 September 2019

Planning staff shortage hits efforts to ease housing crisis

DARRAGH O’BRIEN: Builders being hit by undue delays. Picture: Collins
DARRAGH O’BRIEN: Builders being hit by undue delays. Picture: Collins
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Staffing figures at the State's planning body are still 12pc below boom levels - despite the pressures of the housing crisis.

The average waiting time for a decision on a proposed housing development is around 18 weeks, according to the latest information from An Bord Pleanala.

But figures released to Fianna Fail show that staffing levels at An Bord Pleanala are still below the peak of 2008, when there were 179.5 full-time equivalent positions filled.

At the end of last month, the statutory body had 159.9 posts filled.

The lower level of staffing comes despite a 19pc increase in workload at An Bord Pleanala year on year since 2016.

Darragh O'Brien, the Opposition party's spokesperson on housing, said "numerous builders have raised their concerns with me regarding undue delays in An Bord Pleanala reaching a decision on proposed new housing developments.

"At a time when housing is so urgently needed, facilitating development projects should be a priority, but instead there are very clear signs of serious blockages in planning."

In reply to a serious of parliamentary questions, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said his department engaged on "an ongoing basis to ensure that it has the appropriate resources to perform its broad range of functions".

However, Mr O'Brien said the minister's satisfaction that the body was well-resourced was at "complete odds to the growing fears raised by builders that are sitting on housing projects waiting to get building".

The planning body has found itself plagued by staffing issues and an IT overhaul, leading to a backlog of cases this year. The departure of board members in mid-2017 saw a lapse in the body having a full complement of 11. The board is now back at full capacity.

The staffing issues at board level coincided with the implementation of a new IT suite to allow online planning services.

A spokesperson for Mr Murphy said: "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."

Delays have occurred in major housing projects including the Poolbeg scheme in Dublin's Docklands which was first touted as a 'fast-track' project by then housing minister Simon Coveney.

Separate figures show that funding for An Bord Pleanala now marginally exceeds 2008 levels, having been substantially reduced during the recession. The total available funding for 2018 is just more then €21.8m.

The issue of housing is expected to form a key part of the ongoing Confidence and Supply talks between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Meetings last week saw officials from the departments of housing and health make presentations as the review of the agreement took precedence over any discussions about extending it.

Sunday Independent

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