An Bord Pleanála: Damning report into process of planning decisions

An Bord Pleanála: Damning report into process of planning decisions

The as-yet unpublished internal report into An Bord Pleanála raises the possibility of potential risks of a lapse in adherence to operating procedures and in the recording of file movements and decisions. File picture

An Bord Pleanála has received evidence of a romantic relationship in the organisation that could have impacted on board decisions and procedures, according to an internal report. The alleged relationship is one of a litany of concerns raised in the report about misgovernance issues at the board in recent years.

The report notes that the alleged relationship could potentially give rise to a risk of “bias” in decision making and that it risked a lapse in adherence to operating procedures and in the recording of file movements and decisions. The report was delivered to the chairman of An Bord Pleanála, David Walsh, last week and has been examined by Department of Housing officials.

It was commissioned in the wake of a series of controversies in An Bord Pleanála first exposed in the media in March. The report outlines that correspondence was received from an individual about the alleged relationship, which was deemed to be credible. None of the parties concerned is named in the report.

The issue was examined in the context of how that relationship may have impacted on An Bord Pleanála’s decision-making at a time when major controversies had arisen.

The report also found that, in a number of cases, inspectors’ reports were changed in substantive ways after intervention from board members. Such a practice compromises the independence of inspectors who present cases to the board. The report found that these changes were not recorded and breached trust between An Bord Pleanála and the public.

The report examined around 300 files generated in An Bord Pleanála over the last four years to check for any of the issues reported in the media which highlighted major lapses in governance.

Other findings include:

  • Cases were identified in which an applicant or appellant to the planning body was well known to a board member or senior staff member involved in the case;
  • In a number of cases, files were allocated to and handled by board members in locations from which those members indicated, on taking up their positions, they should be excluded;
  • In a raft of cases, two-person boards decided on planning for major housing schemes under the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system, contrary to the legal requirements that at least three members should comprise the deciding body;
  • Files for SHD cases, which tend to be complex, were not predominantly allocated to the more senior inspectors in An Bord Pleanála, as per long-standing practice.

The report also references a number of governance issues that have been reported in the media, including the Irish Examiner.

Among these is that in 147 cases involving telecommunication masts, the same two board members decided on more than two thirds of these cases, contrary to the practice of rotating board members for such decisions.

In one in every four of these cases, the two board members departed from the inspector’s recommendation to deny planning.

The report also notes that in up to a dozen SHD cases there was a potential conflict of interest involving a board member and the director of one of the companies associated with the application.

The report is the third to be completed into issues of governance in An Bord Pleanála since the controversy emerged last March. 

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