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Housing; Local Government and Heritage | An Bord Pleanála appeals and applications planning process

To ask the Minister for Housing; Local Government and Heritage the steps, if any, that can be taken to improve the planning process in terms of more rapid determination of applications and appeals to An Bord Pleanála, having regard to the situation in respect of backlogs and waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

An Bord Pleanála (the Board) is the national independent statutory body with responsibility for the determination of planning appeals and direct applications for strategic infrastructure and other developments under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, (the Act) and certain other Acts.
Section 126 of the Act provides that it shall be the duty and objective of the Board to decide appeals as expeditiously as may be and, for that purpose, to take all such steps as are open to it to ensure that, insofar as is practicable, there are no avoidable delays at any stage in the determination of appeals.
Intensive work is underway on the review and consolidation of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which is being led by the Office of the Attorney General.  All provisions of the Act are being examined in the context of this review. Whilst a key principle of the review is to avoid unnecessary change to aspects of the current planning system that are operating effectively, the review is examining the timelines involved in the planning application stage, with an aim of ensuring optimum efficiency whilst maintaining sufficient time for the appropriate levels of public participation in planning processes.  
My Department is acutely aware of the necessity for the board to have the resources available to it to perform its statutory functions as expeditiously as possible.   This is determined through appropriate workforce planning.  In October 2021, my Department approved the 2021-2022 An Bord Pleanála Workforce Plan which provides for an additional 24 posts across a range of technical and administrative grades including the setting up of a new Marine and Climate Unit to implement the role assigned to the Board under the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 and associated projects under the Climate Action Plan 2021. These additional 24 approved posts increase overall approved Board staffing by 13% from its previous total of 183 staff (excluding board members).  In addition, the Board advertised on 25 March 2022 for qualified individuals to apply to be members of external specialist consultancy panels to advise the Board e.g. ecologists, ornithologists, hydrologists etc.  
Following an updated assessment by the Board of resourcing issues likely to emerge as a result of planning applications for the National Development Plan and other infrastructure projects as well as legislative changes, a new workforce plan for 2022-2023 seeking additional resources was submitted to my Department by the Board earlier this year and this subsequently supplemented by a specific marine resourcing plan.   I am happy to say that additional funding is being provided to the Board in 2023 to enable the recruitment of substantial levels of additional staff.   These will also include ensuring that procedures are kept under review to ensure that full advantage is taken of the potential impact of the digital agenda, to improving efficiencies.

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