The investigation findings into An Bord Pleanála must be published as soon as possible to restore confidence in the planning board, the chairman of the Oireachtas housing committee has said.
Green Party TD Steven Matthews called for the investigation by Remy Farrell SC for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and the review by the Office of the Planning Regulator and board’s own internal review into alleged conflicts of interest to be completed as soon as possible.
“It is in the public interest that confidence is restored in An Bord Pleanála. They have a critical role in housing, transport infrastructure and renewable energy development permission,” Mr Matthews said in the wake of the resignation of the board’s second highest official.
[ Paul Hyde resigns from An Bord Pleánala following allegations of conflict of interest ]
[ Investigation at An Bord Pleanála unaffected by resignation, says department ]
Mr Matthews has joined Opposition politicians in calling for the various reports on the planning board to be published as soon as possible.
The Department of Housing confirmed last Friday night that Paul Hyde, deputy chairman of the board, had resigned from the organisation. He has denied any wrongdoing but temporarily stood down from the board “without prejudice” in May before his resignation last week.
The investigations are focusing on claims that Mr Hyde was conflicted in some planning decisions and is looking at his personal property investments, his debts and his statutory obligations about his various interests to the planning appeals authority.
A spokesman for An Bord Pleanála said there were no plans to delay the board’s own internal review of 100-200 planning decisions in which Mr Hyde was involved in the decision-making process, including large-scale housing developments approved by the board.
This review is likely to be completed by the end of this month, he said.
Mr Farrell was appointed to investigate the allegations and his six-week investigation was due to conclude at the end of last month but was extended by a further five weeks.
Senator Rebecca Moynihan, Labour Party housing spokeswoman, said Mr Farrell’s report must be published “so we can get an assessment of whether there are systemic issues in An Bord Pleanála” or whether a more significant inquiry was required.
“We know there have been allegations that have been published but we don’t have any official recognition of that and what has happened in An Bord Pleanála,” she said. “I would imagine there may be recommendations in the Farrell report on how to tighten things up and what went wrong. If the issues are more serious, we need to be moving to a public inquiry but until we see those two reports, we won’t know whether there are serious issues or not.”
Mr Hyde was appointed to the board in 2014 by then Fine Gael minister for the environment Phil Hogan. He became deputy chairman of the board in 2019 as well as chairman of the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) subcommittee. The SHD process was introduced as part of the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland housing plan to fast-track the large-scale construction of residential homes by bypassing local authorities and applying directly to An Bord Pleanála.
Ms Moynihan said the SHD process has already “completely undermined” the board’s credibility built up over many years, illustrated by the number of judicial reviews taken against the board’s decisions in recent years.