An Bord Pleanála to get interim board members in bid to overcome turmoil in planning system

Anxiety in Coalition over growing backlog of cases before planning body and recent board departures

The Government is preparing to make emergency appointments to the board of An Bord Pleanála in a bid to overcome turmoil in the planning system.

The move comes amid anxiety in the Coalition at the growing backlog of planning cases before the planning body and recent board departures that have weakened its capacity to work through files.

There was already one board vacancy before deputy chairman Paul Hyde resigned in July and the terms of two other members ended in September, leaving the board with only five ordinary members instead of the usual nine. Three of the five are scheduled to leave next year.

Now Government departments have been asked whether they can provide any senior civil servants to be seconded on to the board of An Bord Pleanála on a temporary basis. The aim is to boost board numbers from the start of November, according to two people familiar with the plan.


In a recent report for the Office of the Planning Regulator, planning experts said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien should consider temporary appointments to ensure An Bord Pleanála has “more than 10 board members” in the coming 12-month period.

“[It] is clear that ongoing (and subsequently arising) board vacancies are going to have a significant impact on An Bord Pleanála’s capacity to deliver planning decisions at anything like the pace at which cases will be received,” the reviewers said.

After months of turbulence, they also said the planning authority needed “urgent reform” to repair its public standing.

Mr Hyde, who has always denied any wrongdoing, is facing prosecution under the Planning and Development Act after a Garda investigation into claims of impropriety in his conduct at the planning authority. The Garda inquiry which led the Director of Public Prosecutions to instigate the proceedings followed a senior barrister’s report for Mr O’Brien on allegations that Mr Hyde was conflicted in some of his work.

At one point in the controversy, Mr Hyde’s representatives inquired whether An Bord Pleanála might fund some of his legal costs.

Asked whether An Bord Pleanála received requests to pay any personal legal fees for any individual, the body said: “No beyond one such suggestion being made on behalf of a former board member in 2022. An Bord Pleanála advised that it was not in a position to discharge any such costs.”

Mr Hyde declined to comment on this issue.

An internal report for An Bord Pleanála that examined Mr Hyde’s work and “further allegations of wrongdoing” was under legal review last week.

Concern about the fallout from the controversies at An Bord Pleanála intensified in recent days when the board conceded seven court challenges against housing, infrastructure, wind power and development projects it previously approved. Ministers fear further concessions might follow, it is understood.

Although Mr O’Brien is advancing legal changes to overhaul how appointments are made to the An Bord Pleanála board, new procedures will not take force until next year.

In their review for the regulator, planning experts noted the increasing number of cases and said moves to halt using two-person decision panels would have “an inevitable knock-on consequence” for clearing cases.

The reduced board had 2,122 cases on hand at the end of August, up from 1,637 at the end of 2021 and up from some 1,100 that was usual at the end of years between 2017 and 2020.

“Not only does this reduced capacity in terms of board member vacancies pose a risk in relation to delivering on a burgeoning workload, a diminished board would also impede An Bord Pleanála’s ability to transition through this period of corporate instability and to successfully implement the required improvements suggested in this review,” the reviewers said.

“This is necessary so that An Bord Pleanála can sustain operational functions on an effective basis in the immediate term while transitioning to a new appointments model and also while rejuvenating its corporate configuration.”

According to the reviewers, temporary board appointments cannot be made for a term of more than one year.

“Accordingly, making temporary appointments now as a priority will immediately ensure An Bord Pleanála’s capacity at this crucial time and will allow the backlog of cases to be addressed,” they said.

“Furthermore, the appointment of temporary board members offers the reassurance of business continuity compared to a scenario whereby new board members would be appointed in 2023 to a depleted structure with an already formidable workload in front of them.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times