Nothing to fear from inquiry, city council told

CORK’S city manager said City Hall has nothing to fear after submitting a detailed report on foot of a planning probe announced by Environment Minister John Gormley.

Joe Gavin said it has always been his policy that officials should be as “open and transparent” as possible in dealings with the public.

And Mr Gavin told councillors, this week, his officials are “competent, committed and loyal” and have always worked for, and on behalf of the city, with “absolute integrity”.

Cork City Council is one of six local authorities – along with Cork County Council, Dublin City, Galway County, Meath and Carlow county councils – being investigated following complaints of irregularities.

Mr Gormley has asked experts to examine whether the authorities ignored best planning procedures and went against their own development plans.

In his response, Mr Gavin defended the council’s handling of certain cases, stating it had adhered to relevant planning policies.

And he also suggested that, as part of the minister’s review, his own department should consider clarifying how records of pre-planning consultations are dealt with.

This was a key issue in complaints made against the city council to the Ombudsman by Green Party activist, Mick Murphy.

He complained about how the council interpreted Section 247 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which states local authorities must keep a written record of pre-planning meetings, and that a copy be placed in the planning file for public inspection.

He cited three cases:

*An application made on September 9, 2005, for the demolition of buildings and the erection of a mixed use scheme at Victoria Cross and Carrigrohane Road, Cork, which was granted by the council in April 2006, subject to a one-storey height reduction, and upheld by An Bord Pleanála.

*A January 11, 2008, application for a co-located hospital at the Cork University Hospital campus, that was granted, with reduced car parking, in March 2008, and upheld by An Bord Pleanála.

*And an application made on June 12, 2008, to demolish a building and erect an apartment block at Farranlea Road in Cork, which was refused in August 2008.

Mr Murphy claimed that the council had failed to make records of certain pre-planning meetings available in the public files before decisions were made.

The Ombudsman found that the council had a policy that did not reflect the requirements of Section 247.

It then examined nine councils, and discovered “systemic” problems and inconsistencies in how planning legislation is applied.

Mr Gavin said some pre-planning consultations are formal, and some informal, depending on a request from an applicant.

And he said the pre-planning consultation records are not specifically referred to in a section of the act.

Despite this, Mr Murphy was provided with the information once it was sought.


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