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We need to address the inefficiencies in our planning process

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At the Construction Industry Federation conference earlier this month, the Taoiseach commented that the sector was inefficient and used many outdated construction practices.  While direct criticism is uncomfortable, I am sure plenty in the room would acknowledge that there are efficiency gains that could be achieved in the sector.  If we accept that improvements can be made in the private sector, we should also consider where the public sector can make the construction process more efficient.  

I returned to Ireland in 2018 following 11 years working as a planning consultant in London.  This provides a different perspective on how the planning system operates in Ireland and where improvements could be made.  

Firstly, it is important to note that there are many areas where the English planning system could learn from Ireland.  Decision timescales in Ireland are shorter, application fees are much lower, and Development Plan preparation is more streamlined.  In London, local authorities can charge £5,000 for a single pre-planning meeting.  Better still, local authorities can ‘request’ that applicants pay the salary costs of their planners to determine the application.  This is on top of the planning application fee and increases costs by £30,000 or more.  This ongoing escalation of cost ensures that only a diminishing pool of developers can engage in the process.  

Turning back to the Irish planning system, it is disappointing that we are still required to submit planning applications in hard copy in 2019.  For a normal planning application, the requirement is six hard copies of all documents.  If the application has an Environmental Impact Assessment Report, it is ten hard copies.   Environmental Impact Assessment Reports are regularly 500+ pages in length leading to many thousands of printed pages.  

If we accept that improvements can be made in the private sector, we should also consider where the public sector can make the construction process more efficient.  

Raymond Tutty, Head of Planning, Savills Ireland

Consider the inefficiencies in this process.  Each report and drawing were prepared electronically, printed, and posted or couriered to the local authority.  The local authority then scans each page so that it can be displayed on its website.  The person on the street may not shed a tear for the cost to developers but think of the cost to the taxpayer of processing these hard copies.   That is before you consider the environmental cost of all this unnecessary paper and ink.  Public bodies have digitised many of their functions to assist efficiency, but planning continues to lag.  

The good news is that the e-Planning system for the electronic submission of planning applications in Ireland should be launched next year.  By comparison, the system for the submission of electronic planning application in England and Wales was launched in 2002.  By 2014, 80% of all planning applications were submitted online and this continues to grow.  

Despite the e-Planning system being long overdue, all parties involved in its preparation should be commended once it is rolled out.  It can’t be easy to corral all local authorities in to a single application submission system.  Irrespective of this, it should be viewed as a staging post to a modern planning system and not the end point.  

The launch of 5G is predicted to revolutionise every sector of the economy including construction.  It will facilitate the widescale adoption of the Internet of Things to allow everyday items to send and receive data.  A new building’s construction and operational constituents will be the subject of greater levels of automation to create smarter buildings and cities.  

The planning system should continue to evolve and grasp other efficiency gains that are being offered by technological advancements.  National Government should ensure that local authorities have the resources to utilise these advancements for the benefit of our urban and rural environments.  We cannot again allow our planning system to lag 18 years behind our neighbours in Great Britain if we are to meet the needs of modern Ireland.  

Raymond Tutty is Head of Planning at Savills Ireland

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