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Government Action on Planning during Covid 19 Crisis

Published on Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020
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  • Clears way for temporary health facilities
  • Removes requirement for planning for change of use from restaurant to takeaway
  • Various statutory periods applying under various Planning and Building Control Acts will be paused as necessary

In the context of the Covid-19 emergency period, Minister Eoghan Murphy is taking a number of specific measures via the planning laws to support businesses, the public health response, and the planning system itself.

Minister Murphy said; “This package of measures will serve to ensure that the planning system can work as effectively as possible to meet the needs of the current emergency. The measures we are proposing remove planning barriers for temporary medical facilities, allow hard hit restaurants adapt, protect the supply chain, and preserve the integrity of decision making and public participation in the planning process. We will keep the situation under constant review as this crisis evolves and respond to any emerging issues in the coming weeks and months.”

The Minister is proposing to make regulations which would ensure that any temporary facilities required, such as hospitals, isolation units, step down facilities etc, can be developed without need for planning consent for the temporary period of the emergency.

Regulations will also provide that a change of use from a restaurant to a takeaway would not require planning consent, again also for the period of the emergency.

In relation to the planning system more generally, local authorities play a key role in facilitating general construction activity (including residential construction) through a range of responsibilities, including granting permissions under the Planning and Developments Acts and granting Fire Safety Certificates and Disability Access Certificates under the Building Control Acts.

The Minister and his Department have been engaged with the local authority sector to ensure that these critical processes are identified in business continuity planning and maintained as a critical service.    The Minister has also engaged with An Bord Pleanála and the Office of the Planning Regulator, regarding their business continuity arrangements.

Every effort is being made to ensure that these systems can continue to operate, with appropriate accommodations, taking account of public health advice.   Many of the systems including the Building Control Management System can be accessed remotely over the local authority network, while in the case of planning, there are established systems in place that enable people to view planning applications and make submissions on-line in many planning authorities, which can be maximised.

Local authority public offices and the Offices of An Bord Pleanála are remaining open to the greatest extent possible, subject to adherence to HSE guidelines on physical distancing and any local arrangements around managed access.

The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill being brought forward for consideration by the Dáil on Thursday will provide powers to the Government, at the request of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, to set a period during which various statutory periods applying under various Planning and Building Control Acts will be paused.  This is similar to the position as applies in normal circumstances over the Christmas period when public offices are closed.

The Minister will continue to keep matters relating to the planning and building control regimes under review in consultation with planning authorities.

Finally, concerns have been raised regarding planning conditions which impact on operational hours in the food and retail sectors.  These conditions were designed with normal “business as usual” circumstances in mind and, in the context of the current emergency, cannot be allowed to act as a barrier to the effective operation of supply chains.  Following consultation with local authorities, the Minister has received reassurance that they cannot envisage enforcement action where technical non-compliances with planning permission occur, given the compelling reasons in the public interest to support the delivery of food and essential supplies at this time.

The Minister will be keeping this matter under review, through continuing engagement with planning authorities, and will provide guidance as required,