Report findings: 'unacceptable' practices

 

FAILURE TO enforce the planning laws, poor administration, files getting “lost”, exceeding delegated powers, sidelining of professional planners, poor morale and non- response to complaints were among the failings of Carlow County Council.

A report published in 2010 by former Louth county manager John Quinlivan, commissioned by the council after the Local Government Audit Service raised concerns about “corporate governance”, found that several of its practices were “unacceptable” and should be changed.

Among these were that that management allowed former director of planning Séamus O’Connor to prepare local area plans. This practice “undermined staff and placed the individual in an exposed position of being ‘judge and jury’ of one’s own work”, Mr Quinlivan said.

He took evidence from 49 complainants, who made a variety of allegations about the operation of the planning section of the council. These included former Green Party TD Mary White, who highlighted complaints about permission being granted on flood plains.

The report was ordered by Carlow county manager Tom Barry in 2010 after he had received complaints from members of the public relating primarily to the council’s planning function, which was overseen by the then director of planning services Mr O’Connor.

Some staff were effectively precluded from doing their jobs by being “placed in a position of non- involvement”, as the report said, noting that staff evidence was “too vivid to have any doubt” about this. At the same time, there was “excessive processing at director level”.

Mr Quinlivan also found it unacceptable that former director of planning Mr O’Connor had unaccompanied meetings with planning applicants and did not record notes of many such meetings – a breach of the section 247 (5) of the 2000 Planning and Development Act 2000, which specifies that records must be kept.

“Over the years, the planning directorate assumed unto itself a dominance and independence,” said the report, which was published in November 2010.

This led to “a perceived culture of leniency and inaction regarding compliance with, and application of, planning law”.

Mr Quinlivan said effective planning enforcement to ensure legislation was observed “was not in place” in Carlow, and his report recommended that the practice of engaging in “prolonged consultation with those who breach the planning system must not take place”.

A planner’s report on a large quarry at Clonmelsh, operated by Dan Morrissey (Irl) Ltd, found that there was no permission for its biofuel or gravel-washing facilities, asphalt, ready-mix concrete or block-making plants, offices, sewage-treatment system or ESB substation.

There was also a particular problem with “default permissions”, where planning applications were not processed within the statutory period, thus the applicants got permission by default.