Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

An Bord Pleanála: Discussion

Mr. David Walsh:

We have had to wait for confirmation of our budget line. In terms of how it is spread out, we have set out our case and continue to have sufficient comfort that what we are doing will have the resources required. We expect to have both existing resources and additional resources, if required under the workforce plan that we are undertaking. We believe that we will be pushing an open door in that regard.

On the independent review, I was involved in that from the other side back in 2015 and 2016. A huge amount of work has been done and as the Minister and the Department have pointed out, we created an implementation group comprising departmental and board officials to look at the more than 100 recommendations of the review and to determine which ones were practical and could be implemented. Some of them are already in place, while others require legislative solutions. The responsibility lies with the board in some areas and with the Department in others. It is important to note that our five-year strategy looked very closely at all the actions that were within the control of the board and we have integrated all those actions into what we see as our five-year priority strategies. From the board's perspective, we are confident that there is a very strong correlation between the actions and commitments that we feel we can deliver. It will be a matter for the Department and the Minister to decide on some of the legislative or policy changes that may be required, including the issue of how the board is actually appointed. That is set down in legislation in the Planning Act at the moment. It is in the Minister's gift to look again at where nominations come from, that is, to consider the nominating bodies and to determine whether that needs to be updated or refined further. The board stands ready to support, inform and assist the Department and the Minister in making the process more efficient and responsive.

On the actions we have delivered under Rebuilding Ireland, the core element has been the strategic housing development policy. It is comforting for me to see a policy that I helped to design actually working so well in practice. It reflects the work that Ms Kenny and her team and the board itself have done to ensure it was a practical step. It may not be the perfect solution in terms of everybody getting what they want but it responded to a particularly acute need. We had to ensure that there was some clarity and certainty around the timeframes for delivering large scale housing projects. In terms of the record of homes that have been approved, it has not been a case of blanket approval. We have refused around one quarter of the applications that were submitted to the board. We have made very clear in our pre-application consultations that there is a lot of work that the developers need to do and, indeed, the local authorities need to feed in their views too. That obviously has a time stop. The legislation is due to fall, unless the Minister changes it, in 2021 and the process will then revert to the normal local authority planning system.

Ms Lambkin will talk about the ICT strategy and the fact that we have revamped our entire system and gone live internally. These projects always take longer than one might anticipate or hope for but it is important that the board has a fully robust system which it is confident can deliver before we go live externally and allow for online applications. Ms Kenny will deal with the issue of national versus local policies and how the board handles the potential mismatch there and the considerations involved in balancing national with local interests in certain plans.

On the question of litigation, there are lots of costs involved. We spent almost €3 million on legal costs in 2018. There are cases from which we can learn and we can then adapt our systems in order to avoid future litigation. We are learning from solutions across the board. We delivered about 2,900 cases last year and only 41 cases were subject to judicial review. Obviously, many of those were high profile cases but in terms of proportion, it is not a very significant number. That said, anything that draws high court costs and takes time to run through the system should be minimised. We are trying to ensure that the State is well served and any public money is spent wisely. We have conceded cases where we felt that we were clearly deficient in terms of our decision or in terms of our handling of the case. Some of those have come back in and we have had to review them again, de novo. We have a very strong system in which there are opportunities for judicial review. People can take a case and it is important that the system is efficient. I know that the courts themselves are looking at ways to ensure that there is a fast-tracking of some of the more critical cases through the commercial courts. Some cases go on the weekly list so that the courts can examine whether they need to be fast tracked rather than going through the longer High Court process.

I will ask Ms Lambkin to talk a little about the Plean-IT ICT system and Ms Kenny about the other issue to which I referred.


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