Update on Next Phase of OPR Planning Reviews Programme

One of the main functions of the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) is to conduct reviews of the 31 local authorities and An Bord Pleanála in relation to the systems and procedures they have in place to deliver planning services to the public.

The OPR is conducting these planning reviews as a rolling programme, whereby each authority in turn benefits from a performance review of its functions, with recommendations arising from the process that are designed to enhance the delivery of services. The programme is intended as a developmental resource for the local authority planning sector, with a focus on good practice and achievements, to promote learning between planning authorities, as well as identifying opportunities for improvement.

The OPR delivered the pilot phase of this programme during the course of 2021, with reviews conducted of four authorities (Tipperary, Louth and Kildare County Councils and Galway City Council) which demonstrated a variety of urban and rural planning contexts. This variety of characteristics provided the appropriate blend in which to deliver the pilot phase and the experience of those reviews will now inform subsequent phases of the OPR’s programme.

Based on knowledge gained from the pilot phase, refinements are being made to the overall approach, with a view to making the review process more effective, including streamlining submission of information requirements. Also, lifting of public health restrictions will enable on-site visits and in-person engagement with local authorities.

Furthermore, prior notification of the next schedule of reviews and details of the material required of local authorities will assist the overall process. The next phase of the programme will therefore include the following authorities:

  • Waterford City & County Council (initiating April 2022)
  • Offaly County Council (initiating Q2 2022)
  • Meath County Council (initiating Q3 2022)
  • South Dublin County Council (initiating Q4 2022)

The OPR’s streamlined information request, which will issue to local authorities subject to review, is available at this link.

While the initial focus of the reviews programme has been on examining practical and operational aspects of the delivery of local authority planning services, engendering a culture of performance improvement in that sector, with the successful competition of the pilot phase, and the next phase identified, it is appropriate that consideration now be given to An Bord Pleanála’s scheduling in the programme.

Anticipating that the current review of planning legislation will result in enhanced statutory provisions including the operations and functions of An Bord Pleanála, it is the OPR’s intention that An Bord Pleanála would be included in the reviews programme in 2023 and on an ongoing basis.

The OPR is also mindful that progress is still being made in implementing the recommendations of a 2016 organisational review of An Bord Pleanála, which was prepared for the then Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government.

Given the specific role of it holds in 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 the progressive review of distinct elements over time, alongside the wider multi-annual local authority reviews programme. Therefore, at this stage, it is envisioned that the Board would be reviewed on the basis of discrete modules, phased at regular intervals.

Given the complexity of the challenges faced in a dynamic operational environment and the expected completion of the review of planning legislation later this year, the OPR will commence a focused stakeholder consultation exercise towards the end of this year to inform our approach to a series of modular reviews of An Bord Pleanála’s functions.