A member of An Bord Pleanála who voted on more than 70 telecommunications mast applications, along with An Bord Pleanála's former deputy chair Paul Hyde, has signed off on nine large scale housing developments in the past two months.
Michelle Fagan, an architect on secondment to An Bord Pleanála since 2018, was involved in 11 final decisions — nine of which were approvals — regarding strategic housing developments (SHDs) since Paul Hyde stepped back from his duties on May 9.
All 11 decisions — five of which were delivered in June and six in May — were taken in collaboration with chair of the board Dave Walsh, and fellow board member Terry Ó Niadh.
The reported in May that Ms Fagan and Mr Hyde had together voted on 71 out of 100 applications to build telecommunications masts around Ireland from September 2020 until May of this year.
From that tranche, the pair voted to overturn their own inspectors’ recommendation of refusal in 32 cases out of 36 — or in just under 90% of cases, nine times the average for such a decision to be taken.
Mr Hyde resigned from An Bord Pleanála on July 8 amid a number of ongoing probes concerning his decision-making at the planning authority.
The news comes after Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien received a final report from senior counsel Remy Farrell on Thursday, regarding certain alleged conflicts of interest on the part of Mr Hyde in terms of those decisions.
The terms of reference of that investigation were announced on May 12. Despite intense media scrutiny regarding the conduct of Ms Fagan and Mr Hyde in terms of their decision-making, those terms were not expanded.
In a brief statement the minister said he “will now consider the report and its recommendations” but will not be making “any further comment pending consideration of the report”.
recently reported that Ms Fagan, along with Mr Hyde, made decisions on 26 cases in a single meeting, held without a third board member present. In one one-year period, the pair ruled on 58 telecommunications masts appeals at such meetings.
While the normal quorum for an An Bord Pleanála meeting is three, board resolutions have allowed for applications regarding certain kinds of development to be decided by just two members.
Ms Fagan has also repeatedly voted on planning applications within her own area of residence, Rathmines in south Dublin, including one instance which saw her and Mr Hyde vote to allow the construction of communications antennae on a church, now a protected structure, just 450m from her home.
A decision by Mr Hyde (together with Ms Fagan) to grant permission for a SHD at Temple Hill in Blackrock, south Dublin last April, is currently the subject of High Court proceedings, alleging a conflict of interest on Mr Hyde’s part given his brother’s firm was hired to consult on the proposed development.
That decision was the second time Mr Hyde and Ms Fagan had granted permission for development on the site since 2019.
Three of the recent SHD decisions — two approvals and a refusal — voted for by Ms Fagan, came after the High Court proceeding against that decision was lodged on June 8.
A strategic housing development is a soon-to-be-discontinued fast-track planning process, first introduced in 2017 by then Housing Minister Simon Coveney, with a view to speeding up residential construction, for projects involving more than 100 homes.
However, SHDs have become mired in legal objections, the vast majority of which the planning authority has lost, with An Bord Pleanála's legal costs spiralling to roughly €8 million — one third of the body’s budget — since 2019.