Angry councillors call for Bord Pleanála ‘overhaul’

Cork city councillors want the environment minister to overhaul An Bord Pleanála amid claims it has rendered the city’s development plan useless.

It follows their decision not to risk public funds mounting a legal challenge against a the board’s decision to grant planning permission for a local retail centre in the western suburbs.

The board’s decision overturned a unanimous council vote to refuse permission for the project in the Melbourne Business Park off the Model Farm Road.

It was the second time in just over 12 months that the board overturned a council vote relating to changing the city development plan.

Cllr Seán Martin (FF) led calls for an overhaul of the board after councillors were advised on Monday that seeking a judicial review would cost a minimum of €270,000, and would not be a “prudent use of public funds”.

He criticised how the unelected body can supersede planning guidelines set down in the city development plan.

“We should direct the environment minister to bring in legislation that would insist that an oral hearing be held when there is an appeal to a Cork City Council decision relating to a material contravention of the development plan.

“These guys meet behind closed doors to make these decisions.”

Cllr Michael Ahern (Lab) backed his calls for changes.

“This is the second time it’s happened to us.

“It happened with the gaelscoil in Mayfield and now it’s happened again here.

“There has to be a change to national legislation to ensure Bord Pleanála can’t overturn council decisions like this.”

Sinn Féin, which tabled the unsuccessful Section 140 motion which sought to direct city manager Tim Lucey to seek a judicial review of the decision, criticised councillors for not taken a stand to defend the development plan.

“There was an onus on us to protect the plan,” Cllr Chris O’Leary said.

“We are the city fathers. We are responsible for protecting the city and the plan we set out.

“Why would we abandon this plan half way through its life?”

He said his party is seeking further legal and planning advice. “This is not the end of this matter.”

His party colleague, Cllr Henry Cremin, said the board’s decision would create a “Bermuda triangle” of large retail giants in the western suburbs that would suck the life out of smaller locally-owned retailers.

But Cllr Emmet O’Halloran (FG) criticised Sinn Féin for being willing to gamble public money on a legal challenge.

“We had strong legal advice that we would have lost the case,” he said.

“Sinn Féin wanted us to gamble for what would have been broadly political reasons.

“Fine Gael councillors weren’t prepared to risk almost €300,000 of taxpayers’ money.”

The council’s vote not to seek a judicial review clears the way for Melbourne Management Company Ltd, associated with developers Michael and John O’Flynn, to proceed with plans to develop a 4,500sq ft retail centre with an off-licence and four other shops at a block within the Melbourne Business Park.

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