Public confidence in An Bord Pleanála 'ebbing'

The former president of the Irish Planning Institute Dr Conor Norton has warned the public perception of An Bord Pleanála is in danger of being damaged
Public confidence in An Bord Pleanála 'ebbing'

Vivienne Clarke

Updated: 10.50am

The former president of the Irish Planning Institute Dr Conor Norton has warned the public perception of An Bord Pleanála is in danger of being damaged.

His comment come as Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien referred a report on certain decisions at An Bord Pleanála to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Gardaí and the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) on the advice of the Attorney General.

Dr Norton told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland there was a perception that the planning system “may not be as robust” as people imagined and confidence was “ebbing” in An Bord Pleanála.

The system needs to be reviewed.

Such a recommendation had been made in 2016, he said, including a further recommendation that legal advice be included on governance issues on a regular basis.

“These things will help. Now there is an opportunity to go a bit further – to look at the vision and the mission of the board.”

Dr Norton added it was “timely” to look at the roles that An Bord Pleanála had been required to undertake in recent years.

When the board was founded in 1977 it was to play the part of an independent review service for planning decisions made by other bodies – local authorities.

It was a vital role for transparency, but since then An Bord Pleanála had taken on decisions for Strategic Housing Developments, which will now revert to local authorities, which Dr Norton said was a good thing.

It was critical that the various reviews being undertaken about An Bord Pleanála and its role be compatible so that decisions reached could lead to greater rationalisation, he urged.

Report publication

Following the confirmation on Monday evening that the independent report had been forwarded to the DPP, Gardaí and Sipo, opposition parties have called for the report to be published in full.

However, Mr O'Brien has since acknowledged that parts of a report he has commissioned into the board may have to be redacted when it is published because of the possibility of legal action.

The Minister told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show he did not want to prejudice any future investigation, but insisisted he wanted the report to be published.

Mr O'Brien also spoke on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, stating he believed the report was very important, but there would be two further investigations into the planning body – one internal and the other external.

The internal report will be completed by a senior management team while the external report will involve the Planning Regulator and two experts from outside the jurisdiction.

Mr O’Brien said he expected the expert report within six weeks on the decision-making and record-keeping processes at An Bord Pleanála.

The current appointment process needed to change, he said, adding that he plans to bring a memo to Government on the issue in September.

In the meantime there would be a new function in relation to offshore renewables and marine planning and he wished to proceed with an advertisement for the position, he said.

Mr O’Brien added there was a need to ensure there was public confidence in the planning body and that any damage caused was reversed.

"The process going into the future needs to be more robust and more transparent.

"Where changes need to be made, they will be made," Mr O'Brien said.

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