Regulator Gives Kildare County Council’s Planning Department a Positive Review

Kildare County Council is providing its key planning functions effectively, with the forward planning function being delivered in a highly effective manner, according to a review published by the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR).

The review also finds, however, that the Council is facing ongoing challenges in relation to staff retention and recruitment which if not addressed over time could impact on the Council’s capacity to effectively deliver its planning services. It is recognised that recruitment and retention of staff are key challenges faced by many planning authorities in the current climate.

This is the first time that the systems and procedures used by Kildare County Council’s planning department have been reviewed by the OPR. Specifically, the report considers the Council’s performance in the context of 11 operational processes in planning service delivery, outlined below.

The review also makes recommendations on how systems and procedures could be improved or how areas of high performance may be maintained. The report makes 15 recommendations in total, which are designed to provide clear advice as to how the planning department’s systems and procedures can be maintained effectively or improved.

The key findings of the review include:

  • The Council is delivering its key statutory planning functions on an effective basis;
  • Its forward planning function is being delivered in a highly effective manner;
  • The Council should prioritise the identification of opportunities to address staff retention and recruitment challenges,
  • The Council should place an emphasis on staff training and development, to strengthen the capacity of the planning department given the complex and demanding environment within which it operates;
  • The Council deals with a range of planning application types, some of which are more complex in nature than other authorities, with development management outputs generally consistent with national trends;
  • The Council is experiencing an increasing volume of enforcement complaints which require resourcing; and
  • The Council is successfully implementing land activation mechanisms such as the Urban Regeneration Development Fund and public realm strategies.

Commenting on the review, Planning Regulator, Niall Cussen said,

“Local authorities such as Kildare face the twin challenges of managing development pressures associated with being located in the Greater Dublin area while also dealing with issues associated with rural authorities, such as quarry development and single houses in the countryside.

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

Niall Cussen continued:

“Our review finds that Kildare County Council’s planning department continues to deliver effectively on significant workloads, with the forward planning function being rated as ‘highly effective’ in its delivery. This will help ensure that that development is plan-led, rather than developer-led, meaning that as Kildare grows, it does so in a sustainable and viable way.

The review shows that the planning department delivers on an increasing number of planning applications, which can frequently be large and complex. They have also successfully developed innovative public engagement techniques, and approaches to public realm improvements.

However, our review found that the Council is facing ongoing challenges in relation to staff recruitment and retention. It should be recognised that performing to this level with resource limitations creates pressure on staff and, if not addressed over time, can create risks with regard to meeting key business objectives and delivering statutory functions on an ongoing basis.

Therefore, our overarching recommendation is that the Council prioritise the identification of opportunities to address challenges in staff retention and recruitment, in addition to facilitating staff training and development, with a view to presenting the findings to senior management within the next six months.

I very much welcome that Kildare County Council has committed to implementing our recommendations and my office will continue to engage with them in order to monitor progress in this regard.”

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, to advise on areas for improvement and to promote learning across the local authority sector, with a view to enhancing the overall planning process.

This is the OPR’s fourth review of the systems and procedures used by a local authority in the delivery of planning functions. The finalisation of this review concludes the pilot phase of the OPR’s programme of reviews, with the second phase of the programme having been initiated in April.

Note to Editors: There are 11 operational areas in local authority planning functions, as set out below, which are provided for under the Planning Act and which are examined in OPR reviews.

  1. Forward Planning
  2. Implementation of Ministerial Planning Guidelines and Directives
  3. Control of Development
  4. Architectural Heritage
  5. Land Activation
  6. Planning Enforcement
  7. Environmental Assessment
  8. Local Authority own-development and Taking-in-Charge
  9. Amenities
  10. Events and Funfairs
  11. Miscellaneous Provisions