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Tower cranes pictured over the Dublin docklands Sam Boal
planning reform

Councils seek €40 million to help beef up staffing in planning departments nationwide

Local authorities have sought funding from the Government to recruit an additional 541 planning staff.

COUNTY AND CITY councils have sought an additional €40 million from the Government for their planning departments, with requests for resources to beef up their staff by more than a third.

Findings from a Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) report show that local authorities have asked for an extra 541 planning staff as of Q2 2022.

A snapshot of this report – provided to TDs on the Oireachtas Housing Committee – says that, as of Q2 2022, there are 1,550 staff across planning departments in all councils.

If provided, this would boost the total number of planning department staff across all councils to 2,091.

According to the briefing note from the Department of Housing, 217 of the additional posts sought are within the planning policy area, while 212 are within development management. The remaining 112 posts are within the planning enforcement sector.

The total cost of the 541 posts sought by councils is approximately €40 million, however the Government has only allocated €5 million to hiring additional planning staff.

This would only add approximately 68 additional staff to planning departments nationwide.

Social Democrats’ Housing Spokesperson Cian O’Callaghan said that this funding from the Government represented a “tokenistic approach” and that planning departments within local authorities are under-resourced.

Return to Dail 010 Social Democrats' Housing Spokesperson Cian O'Callaghan Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

“Given the scale of the housing crisis we have and actually the huge deficit in terms of the provision of infrastructure alongside housing, it doesn’t make sense to be under resourcing housing,” O’Callaghan told The Journal.

“If we want to get more delivery of housing and more delivery of infrastructure then resourcing planning, including forward planning, that’s an important part of it.

“It’s a tokenistic approach really from the Government on this.”

Sinn Féin’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said that he wanted to see a “multi-annual” funding plan to help increase staffing levels across all local authority departments.

“I think what we need is a plan. What I’d like to see is the Minister [Darragh O'Brien] and the LGMA engage with the Oireachtas Committee and work out what that plan is in terms of how much staff do they need when and how quickly they can be recruited,” Ó Broin said.

He said that key aspects of planning policy come through both local development plans and local area plans, but that at present, councils do not have enough resources.

“You’re not getting the kind of joined up infrastructure going with housing, so it’s very important that the area is properly resourced. Without that, we’re not going to get the kind of delivery, both of housing and the facilities we need with it.”

There were initially cuts to staffing at planning departments nationwide following the 2008 financial crisis, with the Department estimating that 30% of staff were cut.

Ó Broin told The Journal that local authorities have still not recovered their staffing levels following the crash.

“Local authorities have never recovered back to their pre-2008 crash staffing levels.

998Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Sinn Féin's Housing Spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin

“The local government lost 25% of its employees as a consequence of the austerity budgets post-2008, the single largest percentage loss across the public sector.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the local authority managers are saying that their need for staff is far greater than what the Government has budgeted for.”

The Department says that alongside recruitment of new staff, there will be a “concerted focus on upskilling, training and education”, with the Office of the Planning Regulator finalising a new training plan for councils.

“Further work is underway to examine how the broader funding of the planning system and the need for greater cost recovery to ensure that funding is sustainable into the future,” the briefing note reads.

Planning ‘logjam’

The briefing document comes days after a construction report showed that there is a significant “logjam” at An Bord Pleanála (ABP), with 59% Strategic Housing Development (SHD) applications in 2022 being stalled.

The Mitchell McDermott Annual Construction Sector Report 2023 says that 28,786 units of housing remain undecided upon by ABP, with the delay being labelled as “unacceptable”.

“Everyone knows the Board has had its issues this year but to have so many units delayed amid a housing crisis is unacceptable,” said Paul Mitchell, one of the report’s authors.

“You would imagine this backlog could easily be addressed by drafting in additional temporary resources from private practice here or from the UK and we believe this should be done straight away.”

SHDs have since been replaced with Large Scale Residential Developments (LRDs), which are applied for at the council level rather than directly to ABP.

Concerns about the level of staffing within planning departments come as the Government last week published the Planning and Development Bill 2023, which is set to overhaul the current planning system.

Under the bill, there will be a renewed focus on Local Development Plans, including extending their lifespan to ten-years.

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