Friday, April 30, 2021

Photo for illustration purposes only.

By Finian Coghlan

“A WEALTH of unauthorised developments” have been taking place during the pandemic across the Kildare-Newbridge Municipal District according to local councillor Kevin Duffy. He told the recent meeting of the municipal district councillors that he has seen everything “from extensions, to new builds, to caravans in back gardens…to even two more this morning”.

People will say if they get away without planning permission, why should I pay these fees…chance your arm and see can you get away with it,” he pointed out.

We’ve all seen them popping up,” concurred Cllr Chris Pender.

The stats don’t match what’s happening as neighbours don’t feel safe reporting these,” he said.

I’ve had to report four unauthorised developments because the neighbours are afraid,” he revealed.

However, Ms Mairead Hunt from the council Planning Depatment was quick to reassure the meeting on this point.

The complainant ID is kept anonymous through the whole process, and even if we need to use them as a witness we can only do that with their permission,” she said.

She reminded the councillors that the council can still take an unauthorised development to court “even if there’s a retention application on it, but it’s likely the judge will grant an adjournment if he sees this”.

Cllr Duffy had asked for a report on the unauthorised developments in the municipal district but was told the planning department was unable to provide such a breakdown – for the time being.

The number of complaints has risen recently – between five and 600 files – with more reports coming in as people are working from home more often,” said Ms Hunt.

We just can’t afford to take staff off this to divide this into specific MD areas, but I can give you a countywide report into this,” she added.

However, she did indicate that this would not be a problem in the near future with an expected upgrade in the operating system at her section.

The Planning Department is currently exploring the procurement of a new planning management system which should include enforcement activity, and it is envisaged that the system would be able to produce reports by Municipal District area,” she revealed.

One of the specs on the new system is if you have an enforcement notice on a site this will come up automatically on any further applications, rather than staff having to manually go through all the files,” she pointed out.

In the meantime, if Cllr Duffy wishes to provide details of the sites of interest, the enforcement team will revert to him in this regard,” she said..

At a previous local authority I had the ability to employ private investigators to investigate unauthorised developments, by we haven’t done this in Kildare,” said Ms Hunt.

She suggested the increase may be down to “adult children who had been living in the city, and are now working from their parents’ home”.

It can be difficult to go an inspect a garage that’s been converted, as we’re not supposed to go into a home during Covid for inspections,” said Ms Hunt.

Ms Mairead Hunt from the council Planning Depatment was quick to reassure the meeting on this point.

The complainant ID is kept anonymous through the whole process, and even if we need to use them as a witness we can only do that with their permission,” she said.

She reminded the councillors that the council can still take an unauthorised development to court “even if there’s a retention application on it, but it’s likely the judge will grant an adjournment if he sees this”.

Cllr Duffy had asked for a report on the unauthorised developments in the municipal district but was told the planning department was unable to provide such a breakdown – for the time being.

The number of complaints has risen recently – between five and 600 files – with more reports coming in as people are working from home more often,” said Ms Hunt.

We just can’t afford to take staff off this to divide this into specific MD areas, but I can give you a countywide report into this,” she added.

However, she did indicate that this would not be a problem in the near future with an expected upgrade in the operating system at her section.

The Planning Department is currently exploring the procurement of a new planning management system which should include enforcement activity, and it is envisaged that the system would be able to produce reports by Municipal District area,” she revealed.

One of the specs on the new system is if you have an enforcement notice on a site this will come up automatically on any further applications, rather than staff having to manually go through all the files,” she pointed out.

In the meantime, if Cllr Duffy wishes to provide details of the sites of interest, the enforcement team will revert to him in this regard,” she said..

At a previous local authority I had the ability to employ private investigators to investigate unauthorised developments, by we haven’t done this in Kildare,” said Ms Hunt.

She suggested the increase may be down to “adult children who had been living in the city, and are now working from their parents’ home”.

It can be difficult to go an inspect a garage that’s been converted, as we’re not supposed to go into a home during Covid for inspections,” said Ms Hunt.

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