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An Bord Pleanála

An Bord Pleanála fully recognises reputational damage caused by recent allegations, says chair

former deputy chairperson of ABP, Paul Hyde, resigned over the weekend.

AN BORD PLEANÁLA (ABP) says it “fully recognises” the seriousness and potential damage that recent allegations have made to the Board’s reputation for integrity, independence and impartiality, an Oireachtas Committee will hear today. 

The former deputy chairperson of ABP, Paul Hyde, resigned over the weekend amid an ongoing probe, lead by senior counsel Remy Farrell, into multiple planning decisions following allegations that conflicts of interest were not declared.

The report itself was due to be finished at the end of June, but has since been pushed back for another month.

When the investigation began, Hyde stepped back from his role as deputy chair of the planning authority

Hyde, who took up the role in 2019, had denied all allegations made against him of potential conflicts of interest.

Under the terms of reference of the investigation, Farrell will provide his opinion on three planning decisions, including a decision made by ABP in relation to a housing development in Blackpool, Co Cork.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today, Dave Walsh, Chairperson of An Bord Pleanála, will set out in his opening statement that in recent months, a number of issues and allegations have arisen in respect of “potential conflicts of interest and the effectiveness of Board systems and procedures”. 

He will tell committee members that he has commissioned a team of senior managers to examine any issues arising, “with a view to identifying areas which may require improvements in relation to the suitability and effectiveness of existing controls, procedures and systems designed to manage potential conflicts of interest and related matters”.

“I will take whatever actions and reforms may be necessary and appropriate to
strengthen our systems and procedures to ensure that they are as legally robust and
fit for purpose as possible and practicable and with a view also to maintaining public confidence in the impartiality of the Board’s decision-making processes,” Walsh will state. 

“I will also take account of any outcomes and proposed recommendations from the ongoing review being undertaken on behalf of the Minister, and the targeted review of the Board’s systems and procedures proposed to be undertaken by the Office of the Planning Regulator later this year,” Walsh will add. 

The Board is currently reviewing its Code of Conduct and any outcomes or recommendations arising from these reviews will be integrated into the Code review process, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year. 

“The Board is well aware of its critical role within the planning system, in considering
and determining planning appeals and major housing and infrastructure proposals
and we remain committed to delivering robust decisions as quickly and effectively as
possible.

“We are also very cognisant of our corporate governance responsibilities
and I can confirm that the Board considers itself generally in full compliance with all
applicable provisions of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies,” he will state. 

Walsh, and other ABP representatives, are before the committee today to discuss the financial statements of ABP. 

The planning body received €19.2 million in Exchequer funding in 2020 and recorded a net deficit of €2.6 million the same year.

Expenditure on legal costs for 2020 amounted to €8.2m, an increase of €4.8m on 2019, split between the Board’s own legal fees in respect of legal proceedings, which amounted to €4.3m, and the other sides’ legal costs of €3.9m.

Walsh will tell the committee that the Board continues to prioritise strategic housing developments appeals, with just over 100 cases decided in 2021.

Of these, the Board granted permission in 76 cases and refused permission in 25 cases.

Information provided to the committee shows that of these, 83 applications for judicial review were received in 2020 (95 in 2021 and 45 to end-June 2022), with ABP stating that there is an increasing volume in such legal challenges to Board decisions.

A significant proportion of these cases relate to strategic housing development
applications, with 32 out of 83 in 2020; 47 out of 95 in 2021; and 18 out of 45 in the first 6 months of 2022.

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