Planning regulator ‘to end bad practice’ in county councils

The Cabinet has approved the establishment of a new planning regulator after a lack of transparency, poor record-keeping and some irregularities in the planning process were found in a number of county councils.

Planning regulator ‘to end bad practice’ in county councils

Environment Minister Alan Kelly yesterday published a report into failures in standards at six local authorities, including Cork city and county councils.

Cork County Council was found to have had “a lack of transparency in relation to meetings and other contacts” between council officials, planning applicants or their agents and councillors and TDs.

It urged the minister to consider the preparation and issue of a standard application process for one-off houses.

Cork City Council was found not to have made certain planning files available for public inspection.

The report made a total of 29 separate recommendations and Mr Kelly said he accepted all of the recommendations “in principle”.

The report contains a number of recommendations, both for individual councils and on a broader, national basis, which Mr Kelly is said to be willing to implement.

The independent investigation into the planning departments of Carlow, Cork, Galway and Meath County Councils, and Cork and Dublin City Councils, was ordered by Jan O’Sullivan when she was minister of state for planning.

Her 2013 decision to seek the external investigation followed a High Court order quashing part of an earlier local authority planning review undertaken by the Department of the Environment.

The planning report says a “common problem” was the failure to maintain adequate records of meetings with third parties. “It is critical for transparency, public participation, good governance and to provide the planning authority with a defence against allegations that may arise.”

In relation to the planning regulator, Mr Kelly said he accepted the legislation is unlikely to pass through the Oireachtas in time for the general election.

The establishment of of an independent planning regulator was the main recommendation contained in the Mahon Tribunal report into planning irregularities.

While the regulator will “be independent of the Department of the Environment in its day-to-day operations”, it will be formally subject to the minister of the day.

Mr Kelly said it was important that too much power did not rest in one pair of hands and that the input of democratically elected politicians was important.

He said this “double lock” approach was preferable.

The Planning and Development Bill will provide for the establishment of the independent office of a planning regulator to “maintain a constant watch over the general systems and procedures employed by planning authorities including An Bord Pleanála.

It will also examine and report on the content of development plans including zoning practices of local authorities.

Mr Kelly also published an outline of a National Planning Framework which will introduce planning rules and strategy at national, regional and local level.

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