“The board is a vital part of the planning architecture in Ireland and, in the context of the recovering national economy, the further potential expansion of the board’s remit, and the increasingly challenging national and EU legislative and regulatory context in which it operates, I consider that now is an opportune time to undertake an organisational review to ensure that it is appropriately positioned for the future,” said Mr Kelly.
The Irish Planning Institute (IPI) has welcomed the development, and its president, Mary Hughes, is a member of the four-person review panel.
“It is important that the board remains independent and that the integrity of the board and its professional planning staff — for which it is highly regarded — is not compromised,” said IPI vice-president Brendan Allen.
The panel has been given six months to report its findings, and its terms of reference include an analysis of whether An Bord Pleanála has the capacity to handle an anticipated increase in construction activity; how it can operate in increasingly complex and changing national and EU legislative and policy contexts; the appropriateness of the current legislation governing the functions of the board; and recommendations on the optimal organisational structure for the planning body.
However, Mr Allen said the IPI has concerns over the six-month timeframe for the review, and said it believes the panel should be given more time to conduct its work.
“We have some concerns that the proposed six-month timeline is very tight given the breadth of An Bord Pleanála’s work and its future roles, which also mean the board must be properly resourced,” said Mr Allen.
“It is part of wider changes in planning and its interaction with the proposed Office of Planning Regulation must be considered. The board should not become a body setting planning policy. Instead, its decisions should be framed in the context of explicit, clearly articulated plan-led policies.”
The panel will be chaired by Gregory Jones, queen’s counsel, London, and its membership also comprises vice-chair Áine Ryall of the School of Law at University College Cork and Michael Malone, former county manager with Kildare County Council.
Mr Jones is in independent practice at the bar of England and Wales, specialising in town and country planning, environmental, European and compulsory purchase law. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Dr Ryall is a qualified barrister and a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory committee, the Royal Irish Academy’s climate change and environmental sciences committee and the European Commission expert group of academics on access to justice in environmental matters.
Mr Malone retired in 2014 after a 42-year career in local government, including time at North Tipperary County Council, Galway City, South Tipperary, North Tipperary, and Kerry. He also worked as county manager in Laois, Kilkenny, and Kildare.