Offaly family's letter to Minister reveals extent of housing crisis
In her letter to Eoghan Murphy, Aoife writes, "I ask you, as Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government do you consider this acceptable?"
She also vented at the lack of updates on An Bord Pleanala's online resource. "When I use the search facility on An Bord Pleanals’ website www.pleanala.ie our case number returns no results. I telephoned the offices of An Bord Pleanal on 27th September, inquiring about this and I was told that their software system does not integrate very well with the website and they are having difficulty with it."
"I understand that technological issues may arise temporarily, however, this leaves people like us in the dark as to the status of our case," the Offaly woman added.
"During that telephone call I learned the process a case must go through before its decided on. The 18 weeks are made up approximately of 6 weeks administration work, 6 weeks inspectoral work and final 6 weeks for the board to review the case and make a decision on it. I was informed that our case was currently with the inspector since mid-August, and that realistically we should expect at least one delay on our decision, as apparently, most cases are experiencing at least one delay."
"I ask you, as Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government during a housing crisis in the country, do you consider this acceptable?" Aoife queried.
"I inquired if there was anything I can do to speed up the process, I was told I could write a letter seeking the case to be prioritised and it would be added to my file. On 1st October, I wrote to the board, asking them kindly to prioritise our case. I explained in my letter that we are a family with 2 young children, both under the age of 2 and desperately need a decision as our rental agreement is set to expire shortly," Aoife writes.
"I also explained that there is no houses available to rent in the townland or in any of the surrounding hinterlands. In essence, we could be made homeless," Aoife said.
"The reports in the media are blaming the reduction in board members in 2017 as a cause for the backlog of cases to be decided on. However, I was advised by the offices of An Bord Pleanala on 16th October, that after 18 weeks, our case has not yet been submitted to the board, it is still at the inspectoral stage of the process."
"I ask you, Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government can you please investigate what is causing such delays with An Board Pleanala?"
"We have invested heavily financially into our planning applications over the last four years, we cannot afford and we are not ready to just give up on building our ‘dream’ house in the country, where we were reared and lived all our lives. We cannot move on in any shape or form until a decision is made by An Bord Pleanala."
"As a working couple with two babies and mortgage approved we are desperate to move on with our lives and have a house we can call home. The unforeseen delays and possibility that we could be made homeless is, simply, unthinkable."
"Do you believe it is acceptable that no indication can be given to anxious applicants awaiting a decision. That our lives could be put on pause, for an unknown length of time. At a time when mental health is so important, there must be accountability. Myself and my husband and many more like us are having to cope with the stress and worry of not knowing where our family home will be," Aoife says.
"Let us be very clear, we are not looking for a political intervention to an independent investigation. We respect the integrity of the process. We are however looking for change. We are in a housing crisis, we desperately need to change from a system that is failing the hard working people of this country."
"If An Board Pleanala requires additional staff or resources to enable them to make decisions within their statuary objective of 18 weeks, then we urge you Minister to make provision immediately for this. We also believe the ‘statuary objective’ should be amended to become a ‘statuary right’ as 18 weeks is a very sizeable amount of time to deliberate on any given case. We
also believe that change is needed at local authority level, the maximum amount of time for the council to deliberate on a case should be significantly reduced, and resources and procedures should be put in place to make this possible," the letter continues.
"We welcome the ‘fast track’ planning application initiative. But we are asking you why is the ‘fast track’ system limited to large-scale housing developments of 100 units or more? Why is our housing need, for a once off house in rural Ireland deemed less important? Surely we are all entitled to enjoy the same rules, where decisions are aimed to be made within six months of the initial consultation."
She asks the Minister if staffing levels in An Board Pleanala have been raised sufficiently to deal with these ‘fast track’ cases or "are they just ‘skipping the queue’ on pre-existing backlog of cases submitted to the board?"
"Having been immersed in the planning system for so long, we are so disheartened. We have become entangled in a system that is not fit for purpose. The experience which started in 2014 as excitement and enthusiasm has become a haze of documentation, bills, anxiety and sleepless nights. I don’t think any person should have to go to such lengths to build a house on their family farm."
"Once again, we pick ourselves up, dust off the negativity and we nervously count the days to our new target date, 10th December 10, remembering, yet again that we have no guarantee that a decision will be made by this date. If it's not, we will be left with no indication of when a decision will be made. What are we, as a family of four, with two young children expected to do?"
"Where are we going to live? As I ask these questions, it terrifies me with the realisation that we do not have the answers. Do you?" Aoife letter concludes.