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An Bord Pleanála

Report says An Bord Pleanála in need of 'urgent reform' as government adopts recommendations

The report includes 11 recommendations aimed at restoring public confidence in the Board and ensuring effectiveness in the planning system.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 4th 2022, 2:32 PM

AN BORD PLEANÁLA is in need of “urgent reform”, according to the first phase of a review of the planning body by the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR), released today.

The OPR includes 11 recommendations in its report aimed at restoring public confidence in An Bord Pleanála and ensuring effectiveness in the overall planning system.

Part of those recommended changes includes the formation of a new Governance, Ethics and Compliance Unit within the Board to manage and oversee potential conflicts of interest in planning decisions.

It comes after the planning authority found itself at the centre of controversy for several months, with its deputy chair, Paul Hyde, resigning in July following revelations about alleged conflicts of interest.

Hyde has always denied any wrongdoing.

The OPR report today said that formal procedures are required to identify and monitor conflicts of interest in decision making, and the decision-making process itself needs to be formalised.

Other recommendations include scrapping the quorum of two people for meetings and implementing a five-person quorum for certain categories of planning decisions.

Regarding board members, the report recommends that the previous practice of “relying on individual board members to present planning cases at board meetings must cease in favour of these presentations being made by the inspector that prepared the planning report (or an appropriately delegated person)”.

Action plan

In response to today’s report by the OPR, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien published the government’s Action Plan for An Bord Pleanála following approval this morning.

Minister O’Brien said: “This action plan will serve to underpin confidence in the capacity of the Board to make planning decisions in a fair manner, supporting the values of independence, impartiality and integrity as articulated in its statement of strategy. We are making fundamental and legislative changes which will impact on the Board appointment process, structure, capacity and operations.”        

He added: “I am conscious that today’s OPR report is only the first phase of an ongoing OPR review of An Bord Pleanála to be concluded in November. However, I am determined to move quickly on today’s recommendations and this Action Plan does just that. If any further recommendations arise in November I will again move quickly to address those.”

The government plan is to implement a number of the recommendations from the OPR report today, including an update of the Board’s Code of Conduct by mid-November “to provide sufficient unambiguous guidance based on the guiding principles in the OPR report”.

‘Fundamental overhaul’

Speaking in the Dáil on 15 September, Darragh O’Brien outlined a series of actions the government has taken to respond to the immediate problems and address the underlying issues while maintaining a functioning planning system.

“The actions fall broadly into three categories. Firstly, dealing with specific allegations of wrongdoing. Secondly, implementing the internal reform of process procedures and the workforce plans of An Bord Pleanála. And thirdly, a fundamental overhaul of An Bord Pleanála’s nomination process and its broader legislative framework,” O’Brien said.

“The planning system must be made fit for purpose while still moving forward. The series of reforms arising from this controversy will be rolled out without delaying critical housing and infrastructure developments,” he added.

The minister said he has asked all opposition housing spokespeople for their input into the process and said he will engage with their proposals.

The second phase will be delivered over the coming months, and a second report will be published by the end of November.

The second phase of the review will examine decision-making practices and activity within the Board, including the interface between board members and planning inspectors, processes for departing from inspector’s recommendations in board decisions and further consideration of decision-making practice and procedure.

Separately, another report into the alleged conflicts of interest at ABP was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by Minister O’Brien last month, following advice from the Attorney General.

The Irish Planning Institute (IPI) has welcomed the eleven recommendations.

Gavin Lawlor, the Vice President of the IPI said it supports the cessation of two-person boards and the greater use of larger boards to decide on more complex cases.

He said to restore public confidence in the board, it is important to review and update processes around how potential or perceived potential conflicts of interest are dealt with.

“We consider the measures proposed by the Minister regarding the code of conduct to be practical,” he said.

With reporting by Céimin Burke, Emer Moreau and Christina Finn