Planning report due out in May


THERE IS no intention of ending investigations into planning matters in seven local authorities, Minister of State for Housing and Planning Jan O’Sullivan said yesterday.

In a hard-hitting response to claims from Fianna Fáil and the Greens that investigations were being delayed, Ms O’Sullivan accused the Opposition parties of creating “a smokescreen”.

No investigation had been commenced by the outgoing government, and neither former minister for the environment John Gormley nor his successor Éamon Ó Cuív had ever awarded a contract for the inquiries, she said.

Mr Gormley, as minister for environment, announced investigations into planning matters in seven local authorities across six counties: Donegal, Galway, Carlow, Meath, Cork and Dublin, in June 2010.

This week Fianna Fáil and the Green Party accused the current Government, and particularly Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, of misleading the public on the progress of the investigations. However, Ms O’Sullivan said “a suggestion that Mr Gormley had launched any independent investigation is clearly not correct”.

She said her predecessor, fellow Labour TD Willie Penrose, had, on taking up office in March 2011, ordered his officials to carry out an internal review of the matter to avoid “the very considerable cost of retaining consultants to conduct these inquiries”.

This approach would allow that “where the internal reviews found issues of substance requiring full independent investigation, this could proceed”, said Ms O’Sullivan, and where complaints had no substance “the further follow-up could be reconsidered and the taxpayer would not be charged for unnecessary consultancy fees.

“There has never been, at any stage, a question of the review not being completed – this suggestion is untrue,” she said.

A preliminary report was received by Mr Penrose in July 2011, and Ms O’Sullivan said this would serve as a basis for the final report. This is due in May and could include a recommendation for further investigations.

In a memo last September, endorsing the preliminary report, Aidan Culhane, special adviser to Mr Penrose and to his successor Ms O’Sullivan, concluded that “no investigation under the Act is required”, adding that Mr Gormley “picked the wrong battles to fight” on investigating the planning system. “The seven examples . . . are mostly concerned with differing interpretations of a very narrow range of issues,” he wrote. “Some of the issues verge on the vexatious, some are in the normal spectrum of planning debate, and some do merit some further examination.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan yesterday claimed that Mr Hogan and other Ministers were “deliberately misleading the public”. He said Mr Gormley “worked assiduously” to progress the inquiries.

The seven local authority reviews related to:

 - Complaints from An Taisce that Dublin City Council was not adhering to policies in its development plan, specifically on tall buildings;

 - A report from the Local Government Audit Service highlighting weaknesses in Carlow County Council;

 - Complaints from An Taisce that Galway County Council was not adhering to its development plan in granting planning permissions;

 - Procedures around the holding of pre-planning consultations in Cork City Council;

 - Complaints questioning the appropriateness of a liaison between planning department and councillors on specific planning applications in Co Cork;

 - Complaints received in Co Meath on adherence to development plan policies;

 - Complaints received about processes in the planning department at Donegal County Council.