Planning review finds 'no abuses'

 

A review of complaints about planning in seven local authority areas by the Department of Environment has not found any evidence of corruption or abuse of public office by officials.

Instead, it found areas of policy and planning where greater clarity, consistency and transparency is needed in order to improve the planning system.

These deficiencies include a failure to correctly interpret aspects of planning law, a lack of transparency over decisions by planning authorities and an over-emphasis on the input of developers into local area plans.

The review followed an announcement by the previous minister for the environment, John Gormley in June 2010, that he would examine the operation planning laws and policies on foot of complaints against seven local authority areas.

These included Dublin City Council, Cork City Council, Cork County Council, Dublin City Council, Meath County Council.

The report into these complaints recommends 12 main steps to address deficiencies in the planning system including legislative changes aimed at making the planning process more transparent.

Launching the report today, Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning Jan O’Sullivan said she will implement the recommednations immediately.

“There are a number of areas and policy and practice that, quite honestly, don’t measure up and need to be addressed,” she said.

“Essentially, the planning system has to serve communities and not developers. We want to ensure we have a proper planning system which is fit for purpose.”

Defending the review’s findings, which did not find evidence of any corruption, Ms O’Sullivan said the review was aimed at assessing the processes and systems behind planning decision, rather than the merits of individual decisions themselves.

Ms O’ Sullivan said this was the nature of the review announced by Mr Gormley in 2010. She pointed out that while the then minister announced plans to initiate a review, he had not commenced it while in office.

She said the review's findings vindicated the decision of her predecessor, minister Willie Penrose, not to “rush headlong into appointing seven external planning consultants to embark on costly, open-ended inquiries.”

The Minister said that in addition to acting on the review's reommendations, she will appoint an independent planning expert to examine issues raised in the review and to propose any additional measures deemed appropriate.

The Irish Planning Institute (IPI), which represents professional planners, said it welcomed the "general thrust" of the announcement today, in

particular the consolidation of planning Acts and regulations.

"The institute also agrees with the need for decisions by An Bord Pleanála to be properly interpreted by planning authorities¸ including the need to review existing policies or future decisions made on similar planning applications," it said in a statement.

It said it shared the Minister's concern about the confidence in the planning system by the general public and "very much welcomes the examination by the independent planning expert of the theme of 'communication of planning policy".

The institute also called for an examination of how planning authorities currently engage with the public and for mechanisms to improve the communication of how the planning system works.

Heritage body An Taisce said the recommendations fell "far short" of the appointment of an independent planning regulator, as called for by the Mahon tribunal.

"An Taisce trusts that this will be part of the Government response to the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal which Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan will publish in the coming weeks in the Government's commitment to 'developing a 21st century planning system that provides a democratic, transparent and coherent framework for creating thriving sustainable communities'."

It said the report revealed that the investigation process "was not intended therefore as an investigation of specific alleged irregularity or impropriety on the part of particular planning authorities" and that its aim was to "identify measures to ensure consistency of approach in the implementation of planning legislation".

"We note the report calls for councils to review the results of appeals to An Bord Pleanála so that lessons may be learnt, we trust that this will stop councils from continuing to repeat those mistakes."