Planner sues over Minister's findings

 

A HIGH Court challenge has been launched aimed at overturning a finding by the Minister for the Environment’s that there was no evidence of planning irregularities in Co Donegal.

The action has been taken by consultant planner Gerard Convie, who wants the court to overturn the Minister’s finding that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in relation to a number of complaints he made between 2007 and 2009 about allegedly irregular planning decisions made by Donegal County Council.

He had made the submissions arising out of his concerns about planning procedures in Donegal County Council, for whom he had previously worked, and the manner that certain individuals were receiving preferential consideration arising out of their relationships with council officials.

Mr Convie claims his submissions were dismissed last June when the Department of the Environment said in a report it had found no evidence of corruption or abuse of public office by planning officials in several different local authorities, including Donegal County Council.

That review was undertaken in 2010 by the then Fianna Fáil/ Green administration to investigate complaints about planning in various local authority areas, including Dublin City Council, Cork City Council, Cork County Council, and Meath County Council.

The report also highlighted areas of policy and planning where greater clarity, consistency and transparency was required to improve the planning system.

However Mr Convie, Lower Main Street, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, claims his detailed complaints “were not investigated at all” and that the conclusions contained in the Minister’s report were based entirely on submissions made by the council.

At the High Court yesterday, senior counsel Conleth Bradley for Mr Convie told Mr Justice Barry White that his client’s complaints were dismissed by the Minister without being given “any appropriate consideration”.

Mr Bradley said the Minister had made several fundamental errors in respect of Mr Convie’s submissions, including the Minister’s findings that Mr Convie had not produced evidence of irregularities, that the submissions were lacking in detail and that Mr Convie was not a reliable witness.

Mr Bradley added that the Minister also took into account irrelevant considerations when considering the motivations Mr Convie had for making his submissions, and was concerned about the impact on his professional reputation.

He said Mr Convie was an independent planning consultant, who had previously worked as a senior planner for Donegal County Council, which he left in 2007. Prior to resigning from the council Mr Convie brought legal proceedings challenging a decision to dismiss him from his post.

In his proceedings against the Minister for the Environment, Mr Convie is seeking orders from the court quashing the Minister’s finding of June 12th last that there was no prima facie evidence of any malfeasance of his complaints.

Mr Convie is also seeking declarations including that having made a detailed submission about planning irregularities, he had a legitimate expectation that his complaints would be investigated in a thorough and impartial manner.

He is seeking declarations that the Minister’s inquiry failed to comply with natural and constitutional justice and that fair procedures were not followed. Donegal County Council is a notice party to the proceedings.

Permission to bring the challenge was granted yesterday by Mr Justice White. The application was granted ex parte, where one side only was represented in court. The matter was made returnable before the court next month.