Chapter IV (‘Review of Planning Functions’) of Part IIB of the Planning & Development Act 2000, as amended, empowers the OPR to conduct reviews of the systems and procedures used by local authorities and An Bord Pleanála to deliver their planning functions. Under section 31AS of the Act the Office is given discretion to conduct reviews while under section 31AT the OPR can be asked to conduct a review at the Minister’s instigation.
These provisions give a basis for the OPR to oversee the effective delivery of planning services to the public and, in doing so, significantly strengthens institutional arrangements to ensure the proper functioning and integrity of the planning system.
The undertaking of any individual review process is comprehensive, taking several months to complete, involving significant processes of information gathering, analysis and engagement with planning officials to fully appraise the systems and procedures used to deliver planning functions.
Through these reviews the Office places an emphasis on identifying good practice and achievements, promoting learning between organisations, as well as highlighting any areas for improvement. The overall intention is to embed a culture of continuous improvement in the Irish planning sector.
Reviews Programme Updates
OPR Initiates Review of An Bord Pleanála (August 2022)
As committed to in our Strategy Statement, the Office is conducting local authority planning reviews as a rolling programme, whereby each authority will in turn benefit from having the OPR look at how it delivers its planning services. This allows the OPR to monitor the general performance of the local authority planning sector and to identify areas for improvement and shared learning across all 31 local authorities.
The programme is intended as a developmental resource for the planning system, with recommendations arising from the process that are designed to enhance the delivery of services to the public.
Monitoring the implementation of OPR recommendations is essential to ensure the integrity of the process. Following the completion of each review the Office continues to engage with each local authority. The OPR engages with each authority at six-monthly intervals to ensure the successful implementation of review recommendations.
A pilot phase of the local authority reviews programme was conducted between 2021 and 2022 with the completion of four planning reviews – Tipperary County Council, Louth County Council, Galway City Council and Kildare County Council.
The review process was piloted through this initial group of local authorities which, when taken together, provided an excellent representative sample of national planning contexts, comprising a blend of characteristics and scale over a regional spread of locations.
The Office continues to roll out the programme through 2023 and beyond.
The OPR also has statutory responsibility for reviewing the systems and procedures used by An Bord Pleanála in the performance of its planning functions.
Given the fundamental role it plays as the top-tier of the planning system, and the scale of functions associated with that role, it is considered that An Bord Pleanála will benefit from an approach that sees reviews scheduled on a recurrent basis alongside the wider multi-annual local authority reviews programme. This will allow for the progressive review of discrete modules, phased at regular intervals, addressing various areas of performance.
The OPR oversaw an initial review process in relation to the functioning of An Bord Pleanála during 2022. This was carried out over two phases with the assistance of experienced external experts. The emphasis of the review was on examining the robustness and effectiveness of decision-making practices, the organisation of work, governance arrangements and casefile handling, as well as reporting on wider relevant structural issues.
Two separate reports were produced on foot of this process containing 34 wide-ranging recommendations. These recommendations include measures designed to improve capacity to deliver timely and robust planning decisions, enhance corporate management and improve arrangements for internal governance and procedural transparency. The Office will continue to work with An Bord Pleanála through 2023, and beyond, to ensure the implementation of the review recommendations.
Read our Local Authority Reviews
Read our Reviews of An Bord Pleanála
Local Authority Reviews Methodology
To give structure and guide the programme, a methodology for conducting reviews of local authorities was formulated in 2020. The methodology was developed with the assistance of the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, the National Oversight & Audit Commission, representatives of the local government sector, An Bord Pleanála, the national planning institutes and wider stakeholders. The methodology is updated on an ongoing basis as lessons are learnt through the rollout of the overall programme.
OPR reviews consider the systems and procedures used by local authorities in the context of a number of key areas of statutory planning service delivery. The Office will analyse performance under these headings utilising a range of available evidence as well as information and reports provided by the local authority being reviewed. The Office will also conduct fieldwork, visiting the local authority offices and engaging with planning department staff through workshops.