Irish Planning Institute survey finds resourcing of planning system is a significant challenge

A new survey from the Irish Planning Institute (IPI), the all-island professional membership body for spatial planners, has revealed that both public organisations/local authorities (62%), as well as private/semi-state organisations (60%), are facing significant challenges with retaining and recruiting new staff.

Many respondents highlighted the perceived difficulties in attracting new talent to the workforce and the lack of understanding that the public has of the profession as a career choice.

The survey, which was conducted by KPMG Future Analytics on behalf of the IPI, found that the role of planning in climate action and Marine Spatial Planning are viewed as major issues in the profession. Greater emphasis on engagement at the plan making stage and further collaboration between public and private sector planners were highlighted as key requirements over the coming years. This initiative would ensure better outcomes for developments.

The extent of legislative change is also an issue facing the planning profession. The legal system being seen as the final arbiter in planning decisions and the need to ensure the expertise and planning judgement of planners is respected were highlighted as serious challenges. The reconstitution of An Bord Pleanála, third party objections, judicial reviews and regular changes to the legislative framework were also among the top topics presenting concerns for practising planners. Many respondents feel that the planning profession is poorly understood by the public and that the system, and by association the profession, is portrayed negatively in the press.

The backlog of planning applications pending determination by An Bord Pleanála, remains a major concern for the planning sector. This is exacerbating the housing crisis and demand for development more widely thereby undermining the function, role, and public perception of the planning profession.

Mary Mac Mahon, President of the Irish Planning Institute said: “As a professional body representing planners engaged in physical and environmental planning, it is imperative that the IPI engages with members to gauge any industry issues or concerns. Across all sectors, recruitment and staff retention is a common theme, this is also the case for the planning sector. It is important to recognise that an efficient and effective planning process is reliant on a well-resourced and informed profession.”

Stephen M. Purcell, Director and Co-Head of KPMG Future Analytics, said: “At KPMG Future Analytics we were delighted to have had the opportunity to support the Irish Planning Institute in the delivery of this project. With a heightened focus on the environment, on the quality of development-delivery and on decision making processes, it is important that we collectively consider the future of the profession. The surveys are intended to provide the Irish Planning Institute with a snapshot of feedback and experiences from across the professional planning community on an all-island basis.”

Hybrid working has become a common practice in most planning workplaces with 71% of the private/semi-state organisations that responded to survey stating they have a ‘Hybrid/Remote’ working model in their workplace, while local authorities and public organisations reported 73%. This contributes to more than 80% of respondents stating that they are satisfied in their current role, with factors such as work life balance and sense of purpose also important.

Other key findings include:

  • Nearly 82% of planners have additional qualifications, showing it is a very wide ranging, diverse, highly trained, and motivated profession.
  • Marine Spatial Planning will be a significant area of activity for planning in the future but only around 2% of the respondents identify ‘Marine Spatial Planning’ as an additional qualification, confirming the need for urgent capacity building in this area.
  • Lack of entry level planners and fewer graduate planner opportunities in public authorities.
  • Professional planners in Local Authorities are also working in a wider range of areas compared to previous years.
  • Nearly 52% of the respondents were female, and this level of female participation surpasses the norm in the construction and built environment professions.

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