A month after Paul Hyde’s resignation from An Bord Pleanála, the fate of its former deputy chairman is now in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions. That it has come to this underscores the gravity of the situation.
But the issues are no less serious for the planning board, a quasi-judicial body that exercises huge power in the determination of appeals. The authority has also faced a torrent of High Court cases over its contentious role in the fast-track approval of large housing schemes, work overseen by Mr Hyde.
Mr Hyde is well connected politically and was appointed to the planning board by former minister for the environment Phil Hogan and once co-owned a yacht with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Although the former deputy chairman has been at the centre of attention for months, the big question now is whether the planning board can regain public confidence.
At the very least, the controversy unleashed by the Hyde affair points to breakdown in the planning board’s internal controls at high levels in the organisation. That explains the push by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien for an overhaul of the board and his support for a formal review of the organisation by planning regulator Niall Cussen. The requirement for a monthly report on corporate governance to be submitted to the Minister speaks volumes.
But will it be enough?
The answer in the first instance may depend on what happens next in Mr Hyde’s case and any litigation against the planning board that may flow from the controversy. The board has insisted it can’t reopen any cases on which he decided, but that does not preclude legal claims being taken against it arising from decisions made by him.
There is more. Mr O’Brien has made it clear that an internal planning board review established to examine the work of the former deputy chairman is also looking at “further allegations of wrongdoing”. The Minister was no more specific than that. But the fact this review is ongoing raises the possibility at least of further damage to the board’s already battered reputation if adverse findings are made.
Senior counsel Remy Farrell investigated several claims of impropriety against Mr Hyde, among them an undeclared conflict of interest when signing off a decision in an appeal taken by his sister-in-law.
He also acknowledged not declaring to the planning board his quarter share in a company — H20 Property Holdings Ltd — but said there was no need to. The company has property near the site of a proposed apartment development in Cork that was refused permission by the board under the fast-track rules.
There is some distance to go yet before these matters are finally put to bed. But the longer it goes on, the worse it will be for the board’s authority.