Planning Regulator Publishes Local Authority Planning Performance Review for Galway City Council

Galway City Council planning department is delivering its key planning functions effectively, with some aspects being delivered at a higher level when compared to national performance trends, a report published by the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has found.

The report also recommends that the Council prioritise an internal evaluation of ongoing and emerging work demands in the planning area to ensure that it continues to successfully deliver its important functions as a regional city authority.

This is the OPR’s third review of the systems and procedures used by a local authority in the delivery of planning functions. It is the first review which examines the planning performance of an urban local authority. Previous reports examined Tipperary and Louth County Councils.

Reviewing the performance of planning functions of local authorities is one of the three key roles of the OPR. The purpose of these reviews is to highlight good practice, advise on areas for improvement and to promote learning across the local authority sector, with a view to enhancing the overall planning process.

The report considers Galway City Council’s performance in the context of 101 key operational processes in planning service delivery. It makes recommendations on how systems and procedures could be improved or how areas of high performance may be maintained. Recommendations are graded as critical, high, medium, low or advisory.

Some of the review’s key findings are:

  • the planning department is delivering its key statutory planning functions on an effective basis;
  • its development management and enforcement functions are being delivered at a higher level compared to national performance trends;
  • the Council’s invalidation rate is significantly lower2 than the national average which shows that it is a robust validation system in place;
  • the Council should prioritise an internal evaluation of ongoing and emerging work demands in the planning area, the resource capacity and skills available and any gaps;
  • the Council should place an enhanced focus on the training and development of planning department staff to ensure that all staff are appropriately skilled; and
  • the Council should prepare a comprehensive set of procedures in relation to all development management decisions in the area of environmental assessment.

Commenting on the review, Planning Regulator Niall Cussen said:

“Urban local authorities generally deal with larger and more detailed development proposals in a context where there are a wider range of built environment considerations. It is also often the case that development proposals will have a greater effect on neighbouring properties and communities. All these factors make for a complex decision-making process which is resource-intensive.

This is the case for Galway City Council which has an entirely urban administrative area, and which is also bounded by a Special Area of Conservation. Fundamentally, as a metropolitan authority and as a regional city, the City Council’s planning department has significant responsibilities in driving sustainable development.

That’s why it’s so important to ensure that the systems and procedures used by urban authorities such as Galway City are robust and effective.”

Speaking about the report, Niall Cussen said:

“The general finding of this report is that the planning department’s performance is effective for the most part. It is an achievement to deliver such wide ranging, and complex planning duties on an effective basis with a relatively small staffing complement.

With this in mind, I believe that the ratings and recommendations set out in this review provide clear advice regarding how the Council’s planning output can be maintained or improved.

Specifically, given the identified resource constraints, our analysis has led us to make an overarching recommendation that the Council carry out an internal evaluation of its continuous and future work demands in order to ensure it has the requisite capacity and expertise to meet it.”

The Planning Act gives the OPR the discretion to review the systems and procedures used by local authorities in performing their planning functions. Accordingly the OPR is implementing a programme of reviews whereby each authority, in turn, will benefit from a review of their systems and procedures.

Note to editor:

  • Forward Planning
  • Guidelines and Directives
  • Architectural Heritage
  • Control of Development
  • Land Activation
  • Planning Enforcement
  • Environmental Assessment
  • Part XI: Local Authority own-development and Taking-in-Charge
  • Amenities
  • Events and Funfairs

2. Between 4.2% and 7.4% of applications received during 2015-2020 were invalidations which contrasted with national rates of between 13.9% and 17.1% during the same period.