The current make-up of the board of An Bord Pleanála is to remain unchanged despite an ‘action plan’ being put in place aimed at restoring public confidence in the beleaguered planning authority.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the restoration of confidence in ABP is “crucially important” and that the structural changes he is to implement, such as the removal of two-person boards for planning decisions, will be key in achieving that goal.
The Minister has said that recommendations made by the Office of the Planning Regulator regarding the reform of An Bord Pleanala are “eminently sensible” and he expects to include them in the implementation of that action plan.
The board has been under intense pressure for much of the past six months after a series of allegations of potential conflicts of interest were made against its former deputy chair Paul Hyde.
Mr Hyde, who has denied any impropriety on his part, stood back from his duties in May pending an investigation into certain of his decisions by senior counsel Remy Farrell, before resigning from the board last July.
However, despite the fact that the remaining six members of ABP made hundreds of decisions in the company of Mr Hyde, theunderstands that the six remaining personnel currently employed at board level will remain in their positions.
Mr O’Brien said the number of board members will increase from a maximum of nine at present to 15, while any potential appointments going forward may be recommended via any minister, not just the Minister for Housing.
Cian O’Callaghan, Social Democrats spokesperson on housing, said it is “incredible” and “utterly unacceptable” that independent accusations into the alleged poor behaviour of other members of the board will not be investigated.
“There have been multiple allegations against existing and current members of the board with regard to potential conflicts of interest, and those allegations have not been independently investigated,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
“If confidence is to be restored then those allegations must be investigated and must be responded to. If the Minister ignores those allegations it will not help An Bord Pleanala to regain the confidence and trust of the public.”
The Office of the Planning Regulator delivered the findings of the first part of its review of ABP’s decision-making processes, and recommended, among other things that both a new ethics unit be installed at ABP in order to manage conflicts of interest and that a new in-house legal unit be established at the authority “to support the decision-making of An Bord Pleanála".
Among its 11 recommendations, the regulator also called for formal procedures to be put in place to monitor conflicts of interest, and said that board members should no longer present individual planning cases at board meetings with such presentations now to be made by the inspector who prepared the original application report.
The OPR report is the second probe into ABP to deliver its findings to the Minister after Mr Farrell’s probe was finalised in late July.
That report was subsequently delivered to An Garda Siochana and the Director of Public Prosecutions. It has now emerged that report was delivered at a cost to the State of just under €43,618 for just under three months’ work.
A decision as to whether or not criminal charges are to be taken against Mr Hyde is expected in the coming days, as is a final report into ABP, commissioned internally, which is due to be delivered to its chair Dave Walsh later this week.