An Bord Pleanála (ABP) now has a full complement of 15 board members which will speed up decision-making amid a backlog of planning files, the Dáil’s spending watchdog will be told on Thursday.
During an appearance at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the board’s interim chairwoman, Oonagh Buckley, is set to outline how 2022 was a “particularly difficult” year while expressing confidence that its output of decisions will increase.
In the middle of a housing crisis, turmoil at An Bord Pleanála has delayed the delivery of thousands of new homes.
Ms Buckley was appointed in November after months of controversy in the board prompted the Government to overhaul the quasi-judicial body.
She was previously a deputy secretary general in the Department of Justice.
It was reported in February that the departure of two board members cut ABP’s decision-making body to six members - less than half-strength as it struggled to work through hundreds of delayed files.
In her opening statement to the PAC, Ms Buckley is expected to refer to the controversy that arose in 2022 over allegations of “potential conflicts of interest that may arise during the course of the decision-making process”.
She says she cannot discuss such issues in any detail “given pending matters before the courts”.
Ms Buckley’s statement adds: “Suffice to say that these events have had a serious detrimental impact on the board’s reputation.”
She will outline how the board’s performance “disimproved significantly over the second half of 2022″ and “it is fair to say the morale of staff was also badly affected”.
Her statement says: “The departure of board members, including scheduled departures, sharply reduced the overall decision-making capacity” and the 2,090 cases determined in 2022 was down 25 per cent on the previous year.
However, she adds: “The rapid appointment of board members, with 15 appointed as of this week, will allow the board to resume a much higher level of weekly decision-making once the new board members are trained.”
Ms Buckley says: “I am confident that decision output from the board is increasing and will continue to do so”.
She says she is “working with colleagues from across all areas in An Bord Pleanála to see how we can reduce the significant overhang of work from 2021 and 2022 over the remainder of this year”.
The PAC will also be told that additional staffing resources have been sanctioned by the Government and “we are recruiting them as quickly as possible”.
Meanwhile, new CSO figures show that almost 6,800 homes were completed in the first three months of 2023, the highest first-quarterly figures since records began.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said on Wednesday that the Government was now “really upbeat” about its Housing for All policy and the latest figures reflected what was a “good start to the year”.
“We exceeded our target last year. I want to exceed it this year. Again, we want more affordable, more social houses, more cost-rental housing. I want to ramp that up further.”
Mr O’Brien was speaking at the launch of a scheme of 52 social housing apartments in Bluebell, Dublin, and a neighbouring scheme of 153 homes on the Long Mile Road. Both have been developed by the approved housing body, Respond.