In late 2007, my Office carried out a telephone survey of the same 30 local authorities that were surveyed in 2004 to establish the charges currently being levied for planning documents. The authorities chosen represent a broad geographical spread and a mixture of urban and rural authorities and constitute 85% of all city and county councils. The bodies were asked to provide the following information:
- What is the fee for photocopying an A4 page from a planning file?
- Does a minimum charge apply?
- Does a maximum charge apply?
- When were the charges set?
- Copy of the Council's schedule of all fees for photocopying planning documents.
Appendix B sets out the results in detail. The range of charges varies significantly from body to body. Donegal County Council, for example charges no fee where the number of pages being copied is less than five while South Dublin County Council waives the charge where the total fee would not exceed €5 but Galway County Council charges €5 for photocopying a single A4 page.
Comparison of charges for 2004 & 2007
A comparison with the charges levied in 2004 shows that in:
- fifteen local authorities (50%), the charge for an A4 page remained unchanged,
- seven local authorities (23%), the charge decreased,
- eight local authorities (27%), the charge increased,
- one local authority (Laois), the charge increased by 275% - up to 75 cent per page from 20 cent,
- another (Westmeath), the charge decreased by 80%, from €1 to 20 cent.
These comparisons illustrate starkly the significant lack of uniformity that still exists across local authorities in relation to the charges being levied for photocopying planning documents and also the extent to which local authorities appear to differ in their interpretation of the phrase 'reasonable cost' in the Department's Circular Letter of August 2005. The results are set out in more detail at Appendix C.
Minimum charges - the worst offenders
The local authorities shown below set a minimum charge the effect of which can be that a member of the public may pay as much as €5 for a single A4 page.
|Galway County Council||€5|
|Kildare County Council||€1|
|Longford County Council||€1|
|Roscommon County Council||€1.15|
|North Tipperary County Council||€3|
|Waterford County Council||€1|
Excessive charges - the worst offenders by reference to the Department's Guidelines
The local authorities shown below charge 50 cent or more per A4 page.
|Local Authority||Cost per A4 photocopy|
|Cavan County Council||50 cent|
|Clare County Council||60 cent|
|Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council||50 cent (Multiples of 5 pages €1.20)|
|Galway County Council||€5 for the first page and 50 cent per page thereafter|
|Kerry County Council||50 cent|
|Laois County Council||75 cent|
|Limerick County Council||80 cent (No charge for first two pages)|
|Louth County Council||
1-10 pages - €1.05 per page
11+ pages - 55 cent per page
|South Dublin County Council||75 cent (Charges less than €5 waived)|
|South Tipperary County Council||50 cent (Multiples of 5 pages €1.20)|
|Wexford County Council||50 cent|
Maximum Charges - welcome development
Two local authorities also operate a maximum charge. Kerry County Council's maximum charge is €50 while Roscommon County Council's is €30. In addition, according to Cork County Council, it exercises discretion as regards the maximum charge where large files are involved. This practice appears to have been introduced since the last survey was carried out in 2005 and is a very welcome development from a customer service perspective, as it facilitates the public in gaining access to records, particularly copies of large planning files which they may need in order to participate fully in the planning process.
Availability of planning documents online
Another welcome development is the increasing availability of planning documents online. It appears that growing numbers of local authorities are scanning relevant planning records and making them available to members of the public online, without any charges applying. This development means that not only can members of the public obtain the documents for free but they can also access the documents at the time of their choosing and without the need to call to the local authorities offices. It is acknowledged that this service involves a cost for the local authority as the scanning of the documents takes some time, however, where this alternative service is available, it will inevitably lead to a decrease in staff time spent making planning files available for inspection and purchase. The increasing availability of this service is to be applauded and encouraged.
I feel compelled to comment on the feedback that I received from one local authority who sought to justify levying excessive charges for providing photocopies of planning documents on the basis that this acted as an incentive for members of the public to avail of the online service which it provides. Such excessive charges are not in accordance with the provisions of section 38(4) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and are contrary to the Department's guidance on the matter. In addition, they fail to take account of the fact that members of the public have a statutory right to inspect and obtain copies of relevant planning documents at the offices of the local authority at a reasonable cost, even if the documents are also available online. Not all members of the public have easy access to the internet or are familiar with the use of the internet. In addition, some may simply opt to avail of the inspection and purchase service at the local authority offices which local authorities are required by law to provide. While I consider the availability of the online service a significant and welcome development from a customer service perspective, this cannot be used to justify unreasonable charges for providing photocopies of planning documents.