A shortage of planners and a lack of regulation enforcement has led to chaos in the Irish planning system.
A shortage of planners has left the government scrambling to increase numbers. One measure put in place to address this has been the expansion of the School of Planning at University College Dublin in an effort to attract more students to the profession.
With some local authority staff making the move to the private sector, the shortage of planners has delayed the processing of new housing developments which has impacted long-term planning. A critical problem is the inability to punish those who embark on development without planning permission.
A lack of enforcement of planning laws and an inability to punish those who develop without planning permission is a serious problem. Ian Lumley of An Taisce describes the problem as "wide-scale and systematic" and says it is on a scale with the problem of off-shore bank accounts which have been exposed in recent years. He describes how the process of building without planning as environmentally damaging and a danger to lives as buildings are not only in breach of planning applications but also of fire regulations and fire certificates.
An Taisce is not alone in its criticism of the planning authorities. The Ombudsman has described it as,
A marked reluctance on the part of local authorities to take developers to court.
One example of this breach of planning was the unauthorised demolition of a listed 1940s garage. The developer was not taken to court and entered an agreement with Dublin Corporation to rebuild the garage. Figures show that in 1999, only 1,516 breaches of planning were pursued by local authorities with 147 cases taken and 136 warnings given. In total, just two convictions emerged.
Statistics also show that during the building boom of the late 1990s, the level of action increased just slightly even though planning applications more than doubled. Many experts believe that these figures grossly underestimate the level of planning abuses.
The practice of allowing retrospective retention permission encourages developers to continue to breach the planning laws.
Planning barrister Colm Mac Eochaidh explains that retention planning permission has now become the norm.
Phillip Jones of the Irish Planning Institute says that the country needs double the number of planners that it currently has in order to operate the existing system.
Minister for the Environment Noel Dempsey is in agreement that enforcement of the rules has not been as strong as it should have been. He believes that the recruitment of more planners along with the reorganisation of local government should help to improve the situation.
An RTÉ News report broadcast on 11 May 2001. The reporter is Tony Connelly.