26 March 2020
By Bryan Smyth
Eoghan Murphy, T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government confirmed today that the planning and building control systems remain open for business. Measures being brought through the Dail today will only be activated if necessary and do not halt the planning system when passed. They are precautionary in nature and require a further Government decision before they can take effect.
Every effort is being made to ensure that these systems can continue to operate, taking account of public health advice. Local authority public offices and the Offices of An Bord Pleanála remain open.
Many of the systems including the Building Control Management System can be accessed online, and people can also make submissions online for most planning authorities.
How are Cork Councils responding?
In Ireland, Planning Permission is still a paper based system. The most recent principal Act is The Planning and Development Act from the year 2000 when internet penetration was not what it is today. zmIt did not require Councils to have online systems. While most Councils have ‘Planning Enquiry systems’ (websites) where you can view applications, these actually display scans of paper documents.
In the two weeks since the COVID-19 crisis hit Irish shores, most Councils started reducing the ability of members of the public to access the 31 City/County Halls across Ireland as part of social distancing measures.
Planning Applications are still being accepted, ideally via a letterbox or some other non face-to-face route.
Here in Cork, Cork City Council is in a good position. Their online Planning Enquiry System works on all web browsers, meaning that members of the public who are interested in a development need not visit City Hall in person. All details can instead be looked up online, in a self service fashion.
However, across town in County Hall; the Cork County Council Planning Enquiry System has suffered from problems for many years. The Cork County Council browser version of the Planning Enquiry System operates with Internet Explorer only (which has been replaced by Microsoft Edge on most computers), meanwhile, the App version suffers from having a maximum file size limitation. The file size set is so low that one cannot view most applications. The Council was wrapped on the knuckles by Transparency International in 2019 for the poorness of its online Planning Enquiry Systems.
Extract from Transparency Intl website:
Q: Does the local authority publish online a searchable database of past and current planning applications, with complete documentation for each application?
A: Unable to access files for numerous attempts. TI Ireland researchers also found multiple applications in which the planning application states that pre-planning consultations took place, but there are no corresponding reports included in the file.
Section 38 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000 requires that information on planning applications be made available to the public. This includes ‘a copy of the planning application and of any particulars, evidence, environmental impact statement, other written study or further information received or obtained by the authority from the applicant … a copy of any submissions or observations’ and ‘a copy of any report prepared by or for the authority’.
A member of the public – in the normal course of events – who wishes to view a Cork County Council planning application is required to visit a Council office. This was a mere inconvenience before, but now the Council’s poor investment in ICT contributes to a health issue insofar as it creates a need for some to travel to the offices of the Local Authority to perform a task that should be performed online.