Inishowen’s county councillors have asked to meet with Donegal County Council officials over what they claim are “serious problems” within the Council’s planning department.
The issue was raised at the recent Inishowen Municipal District meeting by Councillor Martin McDermott who raised concerns over the availability of planners and delays in the processing of applications.
He said: “You can’t get planners and if you call them they don’t come back to you.”
Colr McDermott said this was the most “difficult part of his job” and called for a planner to be located in Inishowen.
He said: “It’s taking months to get back to people. We need to get this situation rectified.”
Inishowen had the highest amount of planning applications in the county for the month of January, with 24.
Councillor Rena Donaghey said the current situation with the planning department was “anything but satisfactory.”
She said: “The staff are doing their level best but they are not superhuman. Staffing in planning is at an all-time low. It must change and soon. Applicants, architects and councillors are being put under a serious amount of pressure and there is an unusually high number of refusals. Architects are asking why this is. Is it because there isn’t enough staff to ask for further information?”
Councillor Martin Farren said it was “impossible to get a planner” in order to discuss applications and said a member of planning staff needs to be located in the Carndonagh Public Service Office.
“I think the only way this is going to be resolved is to bring a planner back to Carndonagh. I am very, very frustrated with planning at the moment.”
Councillor Paul Canning claimed planners were not assessing applications in the correct way and were being sent back for further information.
He described the planning department as being in a “total mess” with people “coming and going.” Councillor Canning, an architect, said that the legislation states applications must be looked at within a six-week period. He said: “The application goes in, it sits for five or six weeks and in order to cover themselves they send it back with ‘further information request’ on it.”
Colr Canning said the process needed to return to the “old way,” where a planner “comes out and meet with the applicant.”
He added: “Now, the application goes in. it sits for five or six weeks. The Councillor tries to represent the applicant. The planner says they haven’t looked at it. It comes to the fifth week, it’s refused and goes back over something simple that could have been rectiifed with a meeting. It then goes back to Donegal County Council and adds volumes of work to a planning system that is already not working.”
Councillor Albert Doherty said the delays were restricting commercial opportunities which would be beneificial to the Wild Atlantic Way. Councillor Nicholas Crossan said Councillors needed to raise the issue with Council CEO Seamus Neely. Councillor John Ryan agreed, stating: “We need action.”
Carol Margey of the planning department said structures were being put in place and the issue was due to staf and resources. Councillor McDermott proposed that they ask the Director of Service and senior planners to meet with them in the next few weeks. This was seconded by Councillor Farren.