Cork officials call for planning board revamp

Cork county councillors are to urge Minister Eoghan Murphy to put more professional planners on the board of the highest planning authority in the country.

Cork officials call for planning board revamp

It comes amid concern that many recommendations by An Bord Pleanála’s inspectors are being overruled by its existing board.

As they debated the motion by Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton, the majority of councillors were wearing ‘No Incinerator’ t-shirts, which are being sold to raise funds for a judicial review being taken by CHASE (Cork Harbour for a Safe Environment) against An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant Indaver planning permission for an incinerator in the harbour.

Despite the inspector’s report recommending Indaver be refused planning permission, An Bord Pleanála gave the company the green light to build the incinerator in Ringaskiddy.

Ms D’Alton, an environmental engineer, pointed out that just three members of the 10-person board are planners.

She said the legislation governing membership of the board is written in such a way that none of the board members even have to be planners.

It seems to me imperative that for the highest planning authority in the land, at least a majority would have an expertise in planning. When the board is deciding on a planning appeal, the quorum for a meeting is two. So it is entirely feasible (in some cases) that a decision is taken by two people who, although undoubtedly highly qualified in their own fields, are not planners,” she said.

Ms D’Alton said that all board decisions are informed by a planning inspector who will have examined the planning proposal in detail, but the board is at liberty to overturn the recommendation of that planning inspector.

“The most recent high-profile overturning of a senior planning inspector’s recommendation by the board was in the granting of planning permission to the proposed incinerator at Ringaskiddy. In this case, the decision was taken by seven members of the board, only two of whom are planners or architects,” said Ms D’Alton.

“The board is required to implement government policy, but each proposal must be evaluated and considered in the context of proper planning and sustainable development.

“To do that, it’s critical that board members would have qualifications and experience in planning, or at the very least be capable of demonstrating long-standing experience and interest in the planning field.”

Ms D’Alton said that a request for this had been made previously by the Royal Town Planning Institute of Ireland.

Fianna Fáil councillor Seamus McGrath said the inspector who oversaw the lengthy oral hearing into the Indaver application came up with a clear conclusion that it shouldn’t be granted.

The fact that decision was overturned was a travesty as the board members weren’t at the oral hearing. There need to be relevant people on the board,” said Mr McGrath.

Independent councillor Kevin Conway said a board revamp is long overdue as a lot of decisions made in recent years overruled inspectors’ recommendations.

“Bord Pleanála needs to be more transparent. Some of its decisions need to be looked at more closely,” said Fine Gael councillor Anthony Barry.

Fine Gael councillor Kevin Murphy said there should be more health experts on the board to provide balance.

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