The number of planning cases handled by An Bord Pleanála has fallen by half in the wake of a year of controversy that left it hobbled by staff shortages, new figures show.
Draft data shows that by the end of March, An Bord Pleanála had disposed of 366 cases this year, a 49 per cent reduction on the 719 cases it dealt with in the same period in 2022. The planning body has said its backlog includes 27,000 homes awaiting determination.
In March the number of cases the planning body processed was 145, down from 300 in the same month last year. The figures are contained in internal performance data compiled by An Bord Pleanála, which has not yet been published but has been shared with the Department of Housing.
The data shows that the number of cases it received in the year to the end of March was down slightly – a 14 per cent drop from 813 to 701.
It comes after the body endured a torrid year in 2022, culminating in the departure of its chairman Dave Walsh, who took early retirement last November.
As the planning body became embroiled in controversy, the rate it dealt with cases dramatically reversed, including its compliance with statutory targets. The data shows this continued into early this year and had significant impact on the board’s compliance with its statutory objective of turning applications around in 18 weeks. In the first three months of 2022 the board complied with this goal 44 per cent of the time – dropping to 33 per cent for the same period in 2023.
The authority was first engulfed in scandal in April of last year, when questions emerged about deputy chairman Paul Hyde’s personal declarations to An Bord Pleanála and claims of conflict of interest.
Mr Hyde resigned in July having stepped back from his duties in May, denying any wrongdoing. He appeared in court last month on nine counts of failing to comply with planning laws.
The situation was compounded by commissioners coming to the end of their term, many of whom were not replaced on a permanent basis. The Government recently seconded a group of civil servants to act as new board members.
A spokeswoman for An Bord Pleanála said: “The departure of board members, including scheduled departures, sharply reduced the overall decision-making capacity at board level.” From November last year only four serving board members were available to make decisions, the spokeswoman said.
The Department of Housing has approved additional resources, including 33 new positions in December 2022 and 59 at the beginning of April 2023. “The sanctioning of these resources by the department will provide the necessary capacity to address current delays in determining cases and reduce the backlog of cases for determination,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said there are now more people than ever working at An Bord Pleanála, with 117 additional posts approved since 2021. “The number of board members is now at 15, ensuring that decisions can be made and that the cases on hand can be dealt with.”
Sinn Féin said decisions taken by Mr O’Brien had also caused difficulty for the planning authority. The party’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said this included a “ham-fisted” mechanism to end Strategic Housing Developments in a way the party said led to a “glut of applications which the board are still working through”. He said the Government underresourced the board which is “still recovering from a year of scandal last year which saw [it] greatly diminished in terms of members and decision-making capacity”.