An Bord Pleanála cases jumped by almost 10% last year in a clear sign of a recovering property market.
Notably, the Bord Pleanála annual report suggests many builders are returning to multi-unit developments which had been previously granted permission but have since lapsed.
“2015 saw a small increase in the numbers of multi-unit development over 30 houses; the early months of 2016 has seen this trend increase with a small but significant number of larger multi-unit housing developments [over 100 units] under appeal,” the report stated.
The body said that many of these cases relate to housing developments which had secured earlier planning permissions but have “either lapsed or need to be revised to take account of market conditions, new planning policies/standards or both”.
“An Bord Pleanála is determined to play its part in solving the housing supply problem by dealing expeditiously and fairly with appeals but is equally committed to ensuring that the provision of new housing developments results in the creation of sustainable and well-functioning communities for the future.”
Planning cases were up over 9% to 1,979 in 2015 compared to 1,810 in 2014. However, these numbers are significantly lower than the peak of 6,664 cases in 2007.
The vast bulk of appeals involved housing cases with extensions, single house developments in urban and rural locations, and multi-unit developments accounting for almost 60% of cases.
An Bord Pleanála chairwoman Mary Kelly said: “That trend has also continued into the first part of 2016, with case intake up for the first five months.”
The report also revealed Bord Pleanála had to ask for €2m in extra government funding last year to pay for increasing legal costs.
Expenditure on legal costs “remains significant” after 30 new legal challenges to its decisions were brought before the courts last year.
Although this was down from 42 cases in 2014, rising legal costs meant the board spent more.
The Government paid €14.886m to the planning authority in 2015, up 8.5% from €12.138m the previous year.
The board admitted there was “a significant incoming budget deficit” at the start of 2015 which was primarily related to increased exposure to legal costs and the report stated that €2.3m was spent on legal cases last year, this compares to €2.2m in 2014 and €1.4m in 2013.
The report said the “ongoing increase in legal liabilities” was down to the right to seek judicial review of a planning decision, and have also been impacted by new costs rules in planning acts which prevent Bord Pleanála seeking recovery of its legal costs in certain cases.
Legal cases not only resulted in extra costs but also impacted a number of other hearings.
The board pointed to the O’Grianna case relating to six turbines in Co Cork, out of which it was found that all applications for wind turbines must include the associated grid connection as part of their Environmental Impact Assessment. This had a knock-on effect on other windfarm applications that were deferred to allow them comply with the ruling.
An Bord Pleanála said they had to give extra time to a number of windfarm cases to allow them carry out an EIA in accordance with the judgement.
“The information has now been received in most cases and a decision on the deferred cases are now moving toward assessment and decision stage.”
In 2015, there were 16 substantive High Court judgments in cases taken against An Bord Pleanála, with 15 of them upheld and one found against. There were also several cases involving the Court of Appeal and a number in the Supreme Court. While some of these cases are still ongoing, none of those which have finished found against Bord Pleanála.